Two weeks from today, we will know what fruits the (more than likely) one-season-only tankathon will bear for John Paxson and the Chicago Bulls. As a first time fan of a team that was purposely losing games, banking so much on where a few ping pong balls fall is an infuriating thing to wrap your head around. So much so that I ALMOST understand why John Paxson doesn’t want to participate in it any more (He’s made it very, very clear that the Bulls are NOT interested in spending another 82-games in the pits of the NBA.). Jockeying for position among eight to ten teams in a battle towards the bottom in hopes of having better odds at selecting an 18-year old that’s an entire contract away from hitting their prime is a tough pill to swallow. Even for someone that is pro-tank. But, here they (we) are, invested heavily in made-for-television event that will pull at our heart strings and mess with our minds unlike anything we’ve witnessed before (The Derrick Rose lottery notwithstanding. That was just pure fun).
As bad as I want to, calling the lottery a pivotal moment for the front office seems silly. I’m not sure there ever was or ever will be a “pivotal moment” that will leave Jerry Reinsdorf itching to make a change to a management team that has been securely in place for almost ten years.
But for the fans that have dreams of contending with The Process and the Celtics and wherever LeBron James decides to go next, what happens in May and June means more than anyone can even put into words. For better or worse, when the Bulls tip off again in October, it will be with the core of the future in tow (free agents not included).
As most of you know, the Bulls are expected to have the 6th overall pick (thanks in part to the Rockets playoff rest, the Kings continued stupidity and a coin flip); a spot that could easily leave PaxPax (Gar Forman doesn’t deserve to be mentioned anymore) with the opportunity to select a future wing standout like Michael Porter Jr. or Mikal Bridges. Or a big to pair with Markkanen in the post with guys like Wendell Carter and Mo Bamba.
Unless of course, as hosts, we get some that Windy City luck that kick us to the front of the line (fingers crossed).
No matter whose name is ultimately called, I can’t help but wonder if Dunn, LaVine, MPJ and Markkanen can be enough to push the Bulls back into Eastern Conference supremacy?
I’m not so sure.
The up and coming landscape of the East is more competitive than it was when the Bulls and Heat reigned just a few seasons ago. Not only is it still home to The King (who is somehow still outdoing himself), there are players like Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving, Gordon Heyward (and, honestly, the rest of the Celtics), Giannis Antetokounmpo, Blake Griffin, the new Victor Oladipo and running mate Myles Turner, John Wall, Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis, Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan marching around. It also doesn’t help that the Pacers and Atlanta have plenty of cap space to make moves this off season, with New York, Brooklyn, Detroit and Philadelphia a move or two away from doing the same.
It’s a dark forest through the upcoming lottery trees.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a guiding light that can help navigate through it. Full on tanking in it’s most basic form is more than likely over. But if you’ve listened to all the things Paxson has said throughout this past season and during his press conference a few weeks ago, the Bulls do have an opportunity to continue to rebuild in a different way:
- Only signing players to one or two year deals with the hope that they can then be used as chips at the trade deadline or in bigger splash moves for high end talent.
- Using the space for teams like the Lakers as a cap dump paradise.
It’s that latter option that should intrigue Paxson the most. If the NBA landscape is about to rapidly change this summer (as many people with knowledge of the league are expecting), the Bulls should be open for business. LeBron James, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green, John Wall and/or Bradley Beal could all potentially be on the move. For teams like the Lakers, Cavaliers, Heat, Knicks, Clippers or even the Rockets to be real contenders to land some of these names, they’re going to have to off load some of their dead money…along with a young piece or a coveted draft pick.
Looking at you Luol Deng, Carmelo Anthony, Evan Turner, J.R. Smith and Ian Mahinmi.
Being their safe haven is the smartest thing the Bulls can do right now to better set themselves up for the future.
It’s not tanking. It’s asset management.
The Bulls objective shouldn’t be the playoffs. It should solely be the acquisition of more young pieces and picks that can be used in deals for the next wave of disgruntled stars or in a sign-and-trade for the likes of Anthony Davis in a few summers.
I commend John Paxson for doing what he had to do with Jimmy Butler. It was the only way he could conceivably restart this franchise. I also applaud him for finally doing what he should’ve two seasons ago: giving the young players on this team minutes so they could fully identify their talents. I know that it must’ve been hard for him to do this. But his job is not over despite what he may believe. Pushing the Bulls back into NBA hell should not be an acceptable end game.
Jimmy Butler in a Bulls uniform did not die for those sins.
Bulls fans and the front office alike may not like it, but there are no half measures here. The rebuild game is a fickle beast. But at no point should any of us, both fans and those that are paid to make these decision, accept moving forward with the same plans that have routinely failed before.
It’s time to try something different. And hopefully that plan just so happens to produce some end of season tanking.