While the Bulls had solidified their tank in the Nikola Mirotic trade, things have gone slightly awry. They both didn’t move many veterans before the trade deadline (though it shouldn’t be undersold the drop-off between Jameer Nelson and Brian Arrivederci as the emergency PG), and the roster remaining dared to win a couple games lately.
The NBA’s race to the bottom is a giant mess, and ESPN.com’s Nick Friedell shined a light on the lamentable mindset Bulls fans have found themselves in. Though Friedell suggests that the Bulls were correct in not ‘giving away’ veterans like Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday (seems like a half-measure, no?) there’s other suggestions for team management and coaching down the stretch: continuing to rest Kris Dunn, holding back Zach LaVine’s rehab more, and playing the GLeague-level guys.
I don’t think that’ll be enough, and it speaks to how dumb a rebuild is when you’re putting outsized importance on a single-year’s draft pick while then also making moves to help that asset.
The Bulls wanted it both ways in their big PATH. They wanted to be bad, sure, but also try to spin from their (and hand-picked coach’s) past failures into new reasons to keep their jobs and see things through. Here was John Paxson to Michael Lee of Yahoo before the trade deadline:
I think the thing for us now is, we’re not starting from rock bottom. We’ve got these three young talents and you can throw Bobby Portis in [I’d like to throw him out, amirite? -yfbb], he fits the direction that we’re headed in. We feel we’re headed in the right direction.
But then KC Johnson reporting the actual mindset of the franchise:
Management absolutely expected — and hoped for — a top-five pick when it decided to trade Jimmy Butler last June and fully rebuild
So which is it, did you want to hit rock bottom or not? If you wanted to hit on the acquisitions from the Butler deal for this year, that would negatively influence the 2018 draft pick as an asset. If you wanted to go more all-in on the 2018 draft, you would’ve prioritized future assets over present ones and hurt the 2017-18 team record more.
I think the team very much felt the first thing: they wanted to get credit for their scouting with Kris Dunn, and to a lesser extent Lauri Markkanen (never!). LaVine is an actual solid tank-asset as he was hurt much of the year and doesn’t really help the team too much when playing the way he does. Ultimately the plan involved having Fred Hoiberg look more competent, and be perceived as a team on the rise instead of rock-bottom. So it’s being disingenuous or poor planning to also expect to out-tank teams who are much more adept at being awful. I mean, the GarPax regime can be pretty good at being bad, and the Mirotic trade was a solid step in that direction. But while that also gave us some fun distraction in rooting for the Pelicans to miss the playoffs, there’s still the cloud hanging over this season where the Bulls want to look better than their fans want them to.
It’s pretty clear-cut, to someone who’s admittedly fairly cynical about this stuff (but it’s hard not to be): GarPax deserved to be fired for their past 5 years, but they have the jobs and we can judge the rebuild independently. So let’s do that for this first year:
- the Bulls are at rock-bottom meaning they didn’t scout well in Butler trade-return and don’t have a good developmental coaching staff and GarPax should be fired
- or they are not at rock-bottom and didn’t follow through in maximizing the 2018 first round pick (it’s called tanking, I’ve been told) and should be fired.
- Or they’ll not be at rock-bottom, but still luck into a top pick, which is what happened about 4 Paxson cores ago and kept their jobs then, and it’s almost like fandom is meaningless especially when management can’t ever admit mistakes and even if they did would suffer no repercussions for doing so.
So then as to the ultimate question of whether we should root for the Bulls to develop or tank, the answer is it doesn’t matter! I suppose it’ll be ‘good’ if management tells Hoiberg down the stretch to have Cristiano Felicio show off his three-point range (and Hoiberg hilariously thinking the team will have his back when his coaching record plummets further), but the Bulls are looking to rely on luck more than skill or effort, and I suppose we should too.