Tonight marks the official start of the Chicago Bulls rat race towards the bottom. Or the top, depending on how you like to look at these things. While John Paxson isn’t calling it by it’s name (unlike that one dude on Shark Tank did this week), the Tankathon is 100% on and I’m excited for it:
Coach Fred Hoiberg said Lopez will get DNP-CD tonight. Holiday will play backup minutes. Lopez is only Bull to start all 57 games and one of 3 to play all 57. Big sacrifice. Big rotation: Felicio-Markkanen; Portis-Vonleh.
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) February 22, 2018
I, like so many of you, am still equal parts floored (I can’t believe Pax made the call to actually DNP RoLo AND give the backup point guard minutes to Cam Payne) and excited to see what the future cornerstones of this team (Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen, or who I like to refer to as the “JB3”) do on a consistent basis together. Outside of benefiting in the draft, this entire process is about collecting data and getting some real film on guys that were being blockaded by veterans that offer little to no value past this season.
Putting guys on tape, at least when those guys are David Nwaba, Cristiano Felicio and Payne, is the politically correct way of tanking.
The road ahead is unlike anything we’ve seen as a collection of Bulls fans (this is by my count, their first foray into tanking) and from what we’ve witnessed in the past, the journey to drafting a superstar is often dark and full of terrors (Jahlil Okafor, woof). But this is something that is necessary for the Bulls. With the changes that will take place in the lottery system, the drooping landscape of the Eastern Conference and the probability of the young players on this roster maturing together, the Bulls have to put their best/crappiest foot forward now.
And since we don’t know exactly how this is going to look or work, we decided we’d put together some month-to-month predictions on how we think it ought to go.
The rest of February
Schedule: Sixers, at Timberwolves, at Nets, at Charlotte (back-to-back)
Now that’s one hell of a way to start a second half tank. Not only are the Bulls going to get a healthy and rested Joel Embiid tonight at the United Center (which I believe is the first time our city has gotten the opportunity to see The Process live), but they’re going to have to figure out how in the hell Felicio is going to matchup with him (Hint: He’s not). After the beating that is going to come at the hands of a career night from either Ben Simmons or Embiid (or both), the tank-a-Bulls have a tough three game road trip against a refreshed Jimmy Butler (in a revenge game), and the first of four remaining back-to-backs against the Nets and the Hornets.
For the Bulls to go a perfect 0-4, it’s imperative that Pax forces Fred Hoiberg to use the back-to-back as an excuse to deploy his “blocks of games” approach. What Pax means by “blocks of games” is that he’s going to, at some point, force his coaching staff to play the JV team non-stop. It’s going to be so fantastic.
Predicition: Bulls go 1-3. The Process posters Felicio and tweets about it. Jimmy Butler plays every single minute against the Bulls while making it his personal mission to rip the heart out of LaVine’s body this time around (and nearly succeeds) in a 27-point Thibodeau-style victory. Hoiberg looks like a sad puppy as he tries to sub in RoLo and Markkanen for Felicio and Portis before remembering they’re not able to play against the Nets because of “ankles”.
Schedule: Mavs, Celtics, Grizzlies, at Pistons, at Hawks, Clippers, at Grizzlies, Cavaliers, at Knicks, Nuggets, Bucks, at Pistons (back-to-back), at Rockets, at Heat, at Magic (back-to-back)
March is a huge month for the Bulls and with a little crafty tinkering, things could easily go their way. With five games against opponents ahead of the Bulls in the lottery and nine games against teams contending for the playoffs, this is the perfect chance to subtly tank their little hearts out.
Prediction: Bulls go 4-11.
Lauri puts on his best Baby Dirk performance in a victory over the Mavs, but Dennis Smith Jr. coughs on Kris Dunn all game because he can’t stop him any other way. Kris Dunn gets the flu before the Celtics game, allowing Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier to literally run circles around LaVine and Cam Payne. Dunn coughs on Markkanen who coughs on Hoiberg who coughs on Nwaba and they all miss the next three games (all losses) against the Grizzlies, Pistons and Hawks (who win a tight one in front of a raucous Sunday Funday crowd). The JB3 come back strong at Memphis, combing for 72 of the Bulls 110 points before losing six of their final eight games including a Dwyane Wade/kiss the ring performance for the ages in Miami.
My vets this, ya bishes.
April showers bring Top-5 draft picks
Schedule: Wizards, Hornets, at Celtics, Nets (back-to-back), at Nets, Pistons
So many Nets. Just soooo many Nets.
Prediction: After beating the Magic in the final seconds of a “who wants to lose more” hot potato contest (again), DougPax can’t take anymore chances. So, they pull their punches the last six games. Suddenly, every meaningful player is nicked up, tattered, bruised and unable to play. They call up Ryan Arcidiacono and Anthony Blakeney to not only play, but to start. They cannot start NBA basketball games. Bulls go on an absolute savage tanking spree, finishing the season on a six game losing streak. Bradley Beal, Kemba Walker and Blake Griffin all score 40+. At the end of the Pistons game, Hoiberg finally cracks a smile.
Final Record Prediction: 25-57
Lottery Prediction: 6th
What say you? Do you have some predictions for how the second half of the Bulls season will go? Tweet them at us! We’ll read some of the best ones on our next podcast.