The Chicago Bulls are 2-1 since the NBA Trade Deadline and 20-36 overall going into tonight’s game against the Raptors (the squad I’m backing to win the Eastern Conference Championship). Not only did they beat the Magic on Monday night in what was easily one of the sloppiest games of basketball I’ve ever watched (for those that might have missed it, the Bulls were up 93-75 with a little over eight minutes left in the 4th quarter… they were tied at 101 with :15 seconds left), they also played turrible hosts to Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson in their first game back at the United Center since being traded from the organization that raised them.
And that’s all happening without Kris Dunn, who is without a doubt going to make this team even better when he comes back from his concussion.
As of this writing, the Bulls are three games back of getting the most ping pong balls (the Suns, Mavericks and Hawks are all currently tied for the best of the worst) and two games back of simply sliding into the 5th slot (which is being held by the Kings, who won last night).
— NBA (@NBA) February 13, 2018
With 20 wins already in the hopper and games against the Nets three times (six straight losses), Hornets twice (four straight losses), Grizzlies twice (six straight losses), Mavericks (two straight losses), Hawks, Knicks (seven straight losses) and Magic still on the schedule, the Bulls (and by proxy, DougPax) need to take some somewhat drastic measures to ensure they create the best possible odds of landing a Top-3 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
Before I get to what they are, it’s important to remember that this season was never about getting RoLo or Justin Holiday or Jerian Grant or even Niko Mirotic minutes. It was never about projecting where the Bulls might stack up against the East. It was never about seeing if Fred Hoiberg can be a solid NBA coach (although, I am glad we found out a positive answer to this question). And it surely was never about landing the eighth and sixteenth pick.
It was to tank to get the best possible chance of landing another transcendent player that you can pair up with the “Jimmy 3” while remaining flexible financially in the process. Don’t forget, the lottery pick that came along with this tank was a big part of the reason why GarPax pulled the trigger on the Butler deal in the first place.
So, how does the Bulls front office right this ship, outside of hoping for a bug to wipe out the entire roster? I’m so glad you asked.
Unfortunately, the Bulls have to play seven teams who will be doing their best to tank to the bottom. Luckily enough for them, a few of those games are a part of the four back-to-backs left on the schedule (Nets/Hornets, Bucks/Pistons, Heat/Magic, Celtics/Nets). DougPax should institute a rule RIGHT NOW that forces Hoiberg to rest both LaVine and Dunn (at a minimum) in one of those games. Maybe I’m being naive, but doing that alone should produce roughly six or seven more loses.
Let the kids play
I love Robin Lopez. On this week’s podcast I argued that his value goes well beyond what he does on the floor. And I stand by that. But that doesn’t mean he should be playing 27.8 minutes per game anymore.
Same goes for Justin Holiday, who leads the team in MPG at 34.2 per game.
Triple that for Jerian Grant’s 23.6 minutes.
Now that the trade deadline has come and gone, these guys need to find their way to the bench for the remainder of the season. That doesn’t mean that I want them in street clothes. That couldn’t be further from the truth. But by forcing Hoiberg to withhold a strict minutes restriction on – at least – RoLo and Holiday, it instantly creates time for guys like Cristiano Felicio, Ryan Arcidiacono, Paul Zipser, David Nwaba and Cam Payne (more Cam Payne more better) to go out there and play through their mistakes.
I would also think long and hard about instituting a soft cap on LaVine and Dunn’s minutes too. Say, 26-per game.
Test the waters
I think it’s safe to say that the Bulls organization is very comfortable with what they have in Dunn and Markannen together. These two guys realized early on (and after the Portis/Niko situation) that they needed to play off of one another if they wanted to produce offensively. And to this point in the season, I think it’s safe to say they were very successful at that. Hell, it’s partly why all of us raised our expectations on the future of this Bulls team in the first place.
Hoiberg was forced to throw these guys into the fire and they succeeded beyond what we could’ve expected.
I want to see Hoiberg put others through the same process. Throw out the rotation. Change it up early and often. Force your new Big-3 to build chemistry with the young players that you’re giving RoLo and Holiday’s minutes to. Make Dunn play off the ball with LaVine/Payne/Arcidiacono at the point (he needs to learn how to do this if you want LaVine to be worth the contract you’re going to give him). Make Markannen and LaVine do nothing but run P&R in the half court when they are on the floor together (It’s no secret that Lavine and Markannen look uncomfortable playing together. I think that’s on LaVine to get right. He needs to relearn not to just stare at the rim every time he touches the rock .). See what you have in a Dunn, Payne, Valentine, Portis, Felicio unit. Make Portis play the 5 in a small ball lineup with Markannen, Zipser, Valentine, and Dunn.
Just try some things out during strategic times that are both mutually beneficial to your roster and your FO’s future plans. Put these players in different situations than they are used to and see what they are made of.
Test the waters. Test everything.
By doing those three simple things, DougPax and Hoiberg should be able to positively tank the remainder of the season and give them the best possible odds at landing one of the Top-5 guys they’ve been scouting throughout the entire season and end the rebuild just as quickly as it started.