While the Bulls paying Jabari Parker a significant amount of money to then force him to play out of position had little chance of ever succeeding, one would’ve guessed the team would at least try to make it work.
In the opening months of the season, then head coach Fred Hoiberg had little interest in a trial of Parker at small forward. However, as a silver lining to the injury-ravaged lineup without Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis, Parker was allowed to settle into his natural position at the four.
Now, however, with both Markkanen and Portis back in the rotation and splitting minutes at power forward, current coach Jim Boylen has refused to even entertain the notion of using Parker. And so Chicago’s big free agent signing sits, exiled at the end of the bench, appearing in only six of the last 17 games, playing him a total of 116 minutes.
On some level, it’s legitimately surprising to think Bulls management have allowed this to happen given their grand intentions of prioritising Parker as the team’s three, though less surprising they’re eschewing responsibility by ‘keeping that in the past’.
After trading Justin Holiday, now Chandler Hutchison is the only natural small forward on the roster, which - even for staunch opponents of his signing like myself - makes Parker’s continued absence just more confounding. While Parker collects dust (and a huge cheque) on the fringes of the bench, we’re watching a second unit featuring Shaquille Harrison act as a makeshift forward.
The painstaking process of having to sit through every Bulls game waiting for the offensively inept group of reserves was likely the impetus for K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune to pen the notion of throwing Parker back into the rotation to kickstart that group.
This isn’t a debate about whether the Bulls should’ve signed him in the first place. It’s suggesting that because they did, he should play. Parker is a versatile scorer and willing passer who can help a second unit that currently includes Harrison, Blakeney and Ryan Arcidiacono.
While Johnson posits a fair argument, I’m not sure there will be much support for the #FreeJabariParker movement.
There’s only two possible ways to reinstate Parker back into the fold: do as was originally intended and play Parker at small forward, or remove Robin Lopez from the rotation and shift Portis up to center to put Parker as the new backup power forward. Each option may be difficult from Jim Boylen’s professed standpoint. Boylen only views Parker as a power forward, and as a defensive-orientated coach who has prioritised playing through the post, Boylen abandoning Lopez is a decision a ‘road-dog’ simply couldn’t make.
And so Parker looks to remain as he has for the majority of Boylen’s tenure, fixed to the bench, wondering why he must sit as punishment for being a known defensive sieve while Antonio Blakeney (or Zach LaVine for that matter) still gets minutes.
As it stands now, there is unsurprisingly little information in their working of the trade market for Parker. As reported by Johnson, the Bulls are being asked by suitors to take on long-term money in exchange for Parker’s expiring $20M salary, something the franchise has little intention of doing. If such a stance remains [it shouldn’t, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic -yfbb], the team is unlikely to find any takers.
They could potentially exchange Parker for someone else who’s expiring yet not really playable, something the New York Knicks and Sacramento Kings have recently discussed, but in that scenario: why even bother?
Just end the charade now and be done with it. Put Parker out of his misery and agree to a buyout. There’s collateral goodwill to gain by letting him find a team who will better facilitate him, better than keeping him on ice even for the 4 weeks remaining until the trade deadline.
Clinging to hope that a team will offer anything of substance in a trade also represents an opportunity cost. As a rebuilding team, a buyout would allow the Bulls to pursue another wing option, one who may have some semblance of developing over the final half of the season.
And it also will end the daily questions regarding Parker’s status, which are only made more visible around the league while the team suffers this much offensively. Whether the Bulls decide to play Jabari Parker or cut him, it’s a more suitable option than the status quo, and should be done soon.