The Bulls were almost universally praised for a strong offseason, raising expectations heading into Year 3 of the rebuild after a disastrous 2018-19 campaign. While Vegas odds still aren’t all that bullish on the Bulls, various statistical models have them flirting for a postseason berth.
Sure enough, the Bulls made it pretty clear that their goal is to make the playoffs. John Paxson didn’t totally come right out and say it to start his press conference, but he effectively did.
“We have revamped this roster in a big way and a way in that we can look at this team and we see real talent,” said Paxson, the executive vice-president of basketball operations, during the press conference to open Monday’s media day. “We see a versatile roster, we see depth on this roster, we see some leadership on this roster which we haven’t had. And because of that our goals this year are really simple.
“First and foremost we want to compete at a high, high level. We think we can compete. And when you compete at a high level, you have an ability to be a playoff-caliber team. And we set that as a goal. Jim (Boylen) talks about it. He’s not afraid of it, and our guys, through their work, have shown us that they want to make that commitment, so we feel good about that.”
Bulls head coach Jim Boylen was much more direct:
“Our goals for the season are to make the playoffs and every day to prepare like we’re a playoff team, to work like we’re a playoff team” said Boylen, the Bulls coach. “I’m excited for that. I think that’s the only way to do it. There’s no way that we were going to stand up here and say, ‘Hey, I hope we can win 10 more games or we hope we can be better.’ We want to get to the mountaintop.’’
This outlook trickled down to the players. Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine both talked about playoffs before Media Day and reiterated it on Monday. Otto Porter Jr. also said the “p” word and made it a point to say the whole mentality in the organization has changed.
“A lot has changed. I think the mentality of this organization changed. Since I’ve come here, just what we want to do here has changed. With that being said, I think everybody’s on the right page, I think with all the talent that we have, we’ve come early to put in that extra work to get to know everybody, every piece in here, even in the front office, because we want to do something special here.
“And I think it starts by coming together, being around each other. I think that’s what starts it. And then working together on and off the court. Playoffs is a definite achievement that we want to accomplish.”
I think it’s great the Bulls are being so open about all this. They’re owning their expectations and putting themselves out there. I think they’re going to fall short of the playoffs, but they need to at least be in contention for a spot until the end of the regular season. If that doesn’t happen, this season is an unmitigated failure and heads should roll all across the organization.
Wendell Carter Jr.: He’s feeling 100% after undergoing surgery for a core muscle injury this offseason. He even claimed he’s feeling better than he ever has in the last five or six years.
Denzel Valentine: Joe Cowley suggested Valentine wouldn’t be fully ready for camp after missing all of last season due to reconstructive ankle surgery, but that’s not the case [classic ‘shitty at his job’ Cowley, gotta re-learn every season -yfbb]. Valentine is ready to go and already thinking about participating in the 3-Point Contest in Chicago, because why not?
Chandler Hutchison: Hutchison is still recovering from a hamstring injury suffered this summer and will “be out for a little bit,” per Paxson.
Luke Kornet: The Bulls’ new backup center has turf toe and will miss the start of camp.
Lauri Markkanen: Markkanen insists he’s all good after his rapid heart rate scare last season. Dr. Zach LaVine agrees.
The point guard situation
There will be a battle in camp at point guard. While the consensus is Satoransky will earn the starting gig, incumbent Kris Dunn can still help the team.
The Bulls spent the offseason trying and failing to trade Dunn, and they addressed the point guard position by drafting Coby White, acquiring Tomas Satoransky and re-signing Arcidiacono. Dunn didn’t get a turn at the podium on Monday, but he said the right things in side interviews as he addressed his standing on the team.
“Do I view myself as a starter? I think anybody would view themselves as a starter. Who doesn’t want to start?” Dunn said. “But it’s Coach’s choice. And I’m going to do whatever I can to help this team win. Whatever the team needs me to do, I’m here for it.”
Paxson made sure to note that Dunn impressed in informal September workouts:
“I do want to specifically mention Kris Dunn, though, because he really had a terrific month. I think all of us up here are really proud of him, the commitment he’s made. As players, he’s obviously playing for something. But he’s really committed himself to this group. Sometimes guys get challenged, and we’re all proud of how he’s responded. I really am. That’s been a big thing. And he can help us. Kris Dunn’s a very good defender. And he can do some things on the floor that we’re going to need. Like Jim said, he’s got a little nasty to him. That never hurts.”
This was something Dunn had not been good at previously. Given the reporting out there, a lot of this is likely Dunn and the Bulls just putting on a good face. I would still expect a Dunn trade during the season to help balance out the roster. However, Dunn can certainly help himself and the Bulls by playing well in a contract year and raising that trade value.
While Jim Boylen said some encouraging things about playing faster, playing better defense and his new coaching staff, there was also a share of Boylen still kissing butt:
And other odd Boylenisms:
Zach LaVine is "getting his man body," per Jim Boylen. Had a great offseason in the weight room/gym. #MuscleWatch— Mark Strotman (@markstrot) September 30, 2019
While the Bulls’ front office and a certain beat reporter are all in on the Jim Boylen Experience, my lowly blogger self is still skeptical. I’m willing to give the guy a chance, but he’s going to have to earn my faith in him as the right head coach for this team.
Zach LaVine wants to play in all 82 games and was feeling himself a bit:
Zach LaVine: "I had an All-Star caliber season. But everything comes with winning. I want that to be more important."— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) September 30, 2019
While I don't believe Lavine was an All Star last season, he had reasoning. According to @KCJHoop Lavine said compare his numbers to Donovan Mitchell and tell me "what's the difference?". The difference he was alluding to was wins. His words not mine.— The Bulls GM (@RyanBorja) September 30, 2019
Speaking of All-Star, LaVine hinted at participating at the Slam Dunk Contest in Chicago:
Zach LaVine said if his legs are the right way, "I feel like maybe I'll do (the dunk contest)" at Chicago All-Star Game— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) September 30, 2019
The new guys
Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky received plenty of praise, and Young is establishing himself as the vocal leader of the team, via Mayberry:
“Being a vocal guy that’s going to speak up when we’re doing it wrong,” Young said. “Hold everybody accountable, including myself. It starts with me holding myself accountable. Going out there each and every day, and when these guys see a guy who’s going into his 13th season going just as hard, taking charges, and diving on the floor for loose balls and stuff like that, it makes them want to go out there and do the same thing. It makes them want to play at a high-intensity level. So just bring a lot of intangibles to the game but also respecting the game and making sure that my teammates are being led the right way and make sure I’m helping them grow their games the right way.”
Young turned down offers from championship contenders in order to join the Bulls and help build a culture, per Strotman:
“It was more about need than anything. I felt like this team needed me in the process,” Young said Monday at Bulls Media Day. “I felt like this team would give me a chance to come and help lead, help build something, help grow something and build some culture.”
As for Satoransky, he’s feeling good after a strong run in the FIBA World Cup. The Bulls love his versatility when it comes to playing multiple positions, and Otto Porter Jr. is clearly happy to be reunited with his former teammate from the Wizards, per Mayberry:
“Just seeing the player that he is and how he’s developed; amazing guy on and off the court,” Porter said. “Obviously hard worker, plays the right way, one of those high character IQ guys. And a guy that competes and a guy you want to have on your team, especially at the point guard position.”
The Bulls really have taken advantage of the Wizards of late, haven’t they?
In our building watch
The Bulls love talking about guys working out in their building in the offseason, and they stressed how important that was, per Strotman.
We had Pax:
“The commitment our guys made this last month to be here when they don’t have to be, to get together, to form some camaraderie, has something that has been a powerful thing around this building,” VP John Paxson said. “We know as well as anyone that we have not done anything. For us we know we have to evolve into a very good basketball team, but we like our talent level and we like what we have in this building.”
“You can just see the vibe that’s just happening in this building as far as the camaraderie with the new guys, the old guys, as far as a belief system in just putting in the work,” general manager Gar Forman said. “And the last thing I would say is that the job Jim and his staff have done, watching them throughout the draft process, through Summer League, through individual workouts, through what they’ve done in September, to me has been top notch.”
“We had full attendance,” Boylen said on what made the September workouts so special. “I think the energy that they brought and the dedication to being here is a statement. It’s a statement that they want to be here and they want to win.
“We can’t start camp with a limited camp, with the shortness of camp, five preseason games, behind. We talked about that. And they made the commitment to come in and work and care. I feel we’re starting camp in great shape.”
Mayberry shared an anecdote about one Bulls veteran who has been with the team several seasons claiming the rapport is the best it has ever been. I suppose this means we won’t hear next year the same story about guys getting hurt because they weren’t around enough.
The Bulls are certainly talking a big game, but they’re going to have to do a lot to back up this talk. It should be exciting to see them try.