The 2021-22 season kicks off for the Bulls tonight, and for this blog entering its (ugh) 19th campaign it is among the most exciting.
Hey, that’s a low bar. But especially after the last 10 years post-Rose-injury (and especially in the total traveshamockery that was John Paxson’s final gutless and stupid rebuild), simply seeing an organization that’s motivated to win and displays competence in trying to do so is a huge factor in rooting enjoyment.
And what the Bulls front office of Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley (that’s AKME, if you’re new to the shorthand) did this past offseason went above and beyond baseline motivation and competence. After a first offseason at the job that was underwhelming at best and downright worrisome at points, AKME followed up their ambitious first trade deadline by doubling and tripling down on their vision for the franchise they are in charge of running.
AKME (and with help from an appropriately-sized staff - another new feature of this regime, though it contains still too many holdovers for my liking) not only showed an appropriately unsentimental attachment to the many ineffective former lottery picks left on the roster, they combined that purposeful evaluation with acumen. Instead of giving in to limitations of cap space and a dwindling cache of draft picks, the Bulls got creative (the Bulls!), plowing ahead and making moves like a big market team should.
Even setting aside the effectiveness, the mere volume of transactions is impressive enough. After years of jokes questioning whether Gar Forman had a monthly phone plan, AKME completed 4 sign-and-trades, shipped out 10 players, with several draft picks being given and received along the way. No need for much of a recap in the wake of so much hype for the last couple months, but: there was the first day where Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso were acquired to address perhaps their most pressing need (guard play on both ends). Then the DeMar DeRozan acquisition to fill another hole (FT generation and employing wings), followed a few weeks later by a move salvaging some value out of Lauri Markkanen’s restricted free agency. They then even worked around the fringes of the roster, where simply ‘working’ is a huge improvement in that area.
Nearly all of these these moves can be scrutinized for not completely ‘winning the transaction’. The cost - both monetarily and asset-wise - for DeRozan has been panned. In the Lauri deal, I would’ve preferred a good player over expiring salary and picks. Even the more lauded Lonzo Ball trade looks worse if the Bulls lose picks for tampering.
(and there’s always the looming specter of the ‘dorfs, with a luxury tax bill coming as soon as next year. If overpaying now means bad cuts later, that in hindsight makes some of these moves worse. Hopefully AKME showed them they want to actually run this team as opposed to the more stewardship relationship of the last regime.)
But when you look at this roster makeover in totality, the individual transaction concerns matter less when it is part of an overall plan. And the execution of all these moves should show fans and the league that AKME isn’t likely to be content. It is simply not logical to see all this and then think the Bulls are ‘locked in with this average team’ Instead, who says they wouldn’t - as soon as this trade deadline - upgrade one of their starters into another superstar?
Mere use of the word ‘superstar’ reminds me I hadn’t yet mentioned the most important player on the roster, Zach LaVine. But while these additions do show a commitment to LaVine as the team’s leader, it also shows that they are not really that committed to anybody. If LaVine takes yet another leap in performance to max-contract-ville, that’s fantastic. But if not, the Bulls have not only shown that they won’t hesitate to move on, but if they do the cupboard won’t be entirely bare. That is a much better position than before, where it looked like the only reaction to disappointment would be another rebuild.
Because rebuilds - especially ones led by gutless incompetents - fucking suck! If the question is ‘::snort:: would you rather get into the treadmill of mediocrity for an exciting cool team that may not ::guffaw:: win 50 games?’, the answer is unequivocally hell yes.
AKME did a lot of the job in simply getting me to be excited for Bulls basketball. There’s that little thing remaining in their job: being right.
In evaluating the team on paper and seeing their perfect preseason, the offense looks like it’s going to be great, a fast-paced egalitarian show. The defense was statistically dominant even though I still have my doubts.
But it could go badly. AKME has shown to have the chops to make a bunch of transactions. They could fall short in identifying who exactly to target and who to keep: maybe DeRozan falls off, maybe LaVine had unsustainably good shooting last year and doesn’t round out his game. The Bulls could fail in player development to where their current strategy of throwing numerous fringe players at the backup big wing spot (and not many backup point guard options) shows none of them sticking, and it’s all of a sudden looking like too top-heavy of a roster. Billy Donovan could see some of that ‘he’s not Jim Boylen’ glow wear off as he has greater expectations in year two.
In short, AKME hasn’t proved they know how to build a good team. But it’s important to note that GarPax weren’t simply bad at that part of the job: the drafting, scouting, development, coach selection, etc. They were feckless middle-management with personalities that were downright antagonistic in relationships with players and other teams. It was truly depressing to not only have a bad team but no faith that the people in charge knew anything was wrong, cared enough to do anything about it, nor had the skills to fix it. AKME has that more existential part of the job completed, and faith in that is what is driving this hype and excitement towards this season. Couple that with fun - even average fun - on the court, and that is way better than what we use to have.