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The Bulls rebuild has hit an annoying crossroads

tank-humpers and sensible cynics at odds!

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Chicago Bulls David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a clear existential crisis going on with the “Niko’s Back” era of the Bulls, which Seerat Sohi deftly laid out on This was before the Bulls lost 4 out of their last 5 games, but the point still stands:

LaVine, Markkanen, and Dunn share the trappings of a formidable young core. There might be room for Mirotic who, despite being 26 years old, is only beginning to unlock his potential. But they’ll need more firepower to build a core that can contend for a championship, which is the goal they implicitly set when they shipped Butler out and tore down a team whose destiny was to consistently fight for low playoff seeds in the East.

The future should look clearer today than it did at the start of the season, except every win threatens to put a cap on their potential.

The article goes on to blame the NBA’s incentive system of the draft lottery, and it really is a scourge. If only for our own sanity, as Sohi points out “the best play is to cheer for them to lose”, and without the lottery maybe you don’t get bombarded with GIFs of literal tanks and various ‘galaxy brain’ insanity like suggesting Fred Hoiberg is intentionally holding out Mirotic to lose games or Cameron Payne is somehow a good thing in any capacity.

But it more practically affects analysis of the upcoming trade deadline, and specifically Mirotic’s status. Hey you can say this much for the Bulls: by allowing a hostile workplace environment that didn’t really condemn face-punching all that much, they may have indirectly helped themselves by persuading Niko to allow a trade in the first place.

But while there’s word of optimism with the Bulls getting a mid first-round pick for the player most responsible for their turnaround, is that enough? Michael Pina at Vice is skeptical.

If the Bulls focus on developing their mainstays (this probably doesn’t include Mirotic) in a winning environment, actualize a promising culture, and turn organic momentum into a spear for free agent fishing, it’s not impossible to envision a scenario where they land a couple significant pieces and are able to maintain status as a competitive organization for the foreseeable future, at a rate much faster than anyone thought possible back on the day they traded Jimmy Butler.

I’m all for a good tank job, but self-sabotage for the sake of the seventh overall pick and a future asset that may not ever produce at the level Mirotic currently is probably isn’t worth it when a serious opportunity to make the playoffs presents itself. There’s no right answer here, though. Luck goes hand in hand with the consistently shrewd decisions Chicago’s front office will need to make, no matter what they choose to do.

But dealing Mirotic and/or any other helpful pieces on this team would be super depressing.

Sohi, too, laments the optics of a trade deadline dumpage:

Tanking, especially mid-season, is never as simple as cutting dead weight. Real assets can be undervalued and sacrificed, and morale can be shot. Positivity is an asset as well, one the Bulls haven’t had in a long time.

If there’s indeed “no right answer”, even more reason to affirm preconceived bias that the Bulls will choose the wrong one. I’m figuring that for self-preservation purposes they’ll still follow through with sabotaging their team and buying themselves even more time in THE PATH, but they also like patting themselves on the back so maybe they hold on to guys they really like. It’s pretty much no-lose for them, and no-win for us.

Kelly Dwyer, as you’d expect, had a thought-provoking take on the Bulls ‘surge’.

The Bulls are still a mess, don’t let the noise from up north distract anything. All they’ve done is win a ton with a player that would rather be anywhere else.

Too many Bulls know that this isn’t what the team will look like when things get better, better for good. Too many are reasonably convinced that when they eventually play on a sustainably good team again, it won’t be in Chicago.

Chicago started 3-20 in the last season of the sorts of NBA lotteries than can get you something out of that winning percentage, there are franchise-tilting players at the top of the 2018 draft and the Bulls currently do not feature any franchise-tilting players

The Bulls don’t have to apologize for the 2017-18 team getting more wins than expected, but they should apologize (and fire themselves!) for putting the fanbase in this conflicted state for this season. On a draft night where they ‘chose a direction’, they wound up with fewer picks than they started out with, and thus put an outsized importance on their own 2018 pick as an asset (some even call it a trade piece!). The Butler trade return is looking a bit better as they’ve scouted well (or just followed Thibs’s work? thanks, coach!) on Markkanen and Dunn. But as the Michael Pina piece points out as evidence, the Boston rebuild (an ideal, sure, but still a worthwhile comparison) didn’t require sucking so much to get a blue-chip asset, and it was thus much easier to root for. As we head into the trade deadline and the more overt-tanking season, fandom only going to get more frustrating.