In the doldrums of the NBA offseason, a more brief period than ever, it was heartening to see that the Bulls were still doing work. Specifically on a holiday, even, with Labor Day bringing several signings to the roster.
Part of this sustained activity is because even after so many additions there are still a couple glaring holes on this team. But while this flurry of moves from using Markkanen in a trade to then filling open roster spots don’t have one feeling 100% confident with the race for the 5th seed (no shade, that’s a fine goal!), it at least engendered confidence that Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley are not going to be lazy about roster construction.
It was a constant source of irritation last year, especially after hearing local coverage of the AKME regime emphasize ‘player development’, to see in practice so many wasted roster spots on guys who were simply remaining because they were under contract. For some reason I recall WSCR’s Dan Bernstein, giddy with the possibilities of the new era prior to last season, get excited that the franchise (and fans) would get a chance to evaluate Adam Mokoka, a holdover signed to a 2-way contract.
As it played out, Mokoka was symbolic of how AKME more or less punted their first season when it came to this part of the roster. Mokoka (bizarrely) played on opening night but didn’t get much run all season. The other 2-way player, Devon Dotson, was assigned to a generic GLeague team because the Bulls didn’t field one. After the trade deadline, the Bulls didn’t look at other prospects or even win-now veterans as they instead fell out of the playoff race.
Again, this was especially frustrating because not only did management pay lip service to player development (and actual service to hiring a whole department instead of one guy), through their actions they were losing a lot of future opportunities in the first round picks traded away. After the very active first week of free agency, Bernstein again proclaimed that surely the Bulls were going to unearth young talent outside of the first round...because they simply had to. No mention of the previous season where this wasn’t done.
But it has been done now! As much as it’ll be wonderfully strange to see the marquee signings take to the starting lineup, it’ll also be a breath of fresh air to see new tryouts on the end of the bench. The Alize Johnson signing is the type I had always whined about the Bulls not doing, a young cut off of a team that couldn’t fit him (the Nets were busy signing guys who could start on Chicago...remember, 5th seed is a fine goal...) that anybody around the league could grab but the Bulls historically (and in year one of AKME) would lazily ignore.
Johnson isn’t even that young (25) or promising (but the rebound stats look good!), but there is still the element of the unknown, whereas we already knew last year’s goofs were useless.
And that has proved out in their career prospects after their contracts had run out in Chicago. Cristiano Felicio signed overseas. Denzel Valentine - good fucking riddance - signed a last-chance partially-guaranteed deal with the partially-NBA Cavaliers. Chandler Hutchison was paid to go away by the Spurs and signed a 2-way contract in Phoenix. Luke Kornet is on a training camp contract. Ryan Arcidiacono, who appeared in 44 games last year, remains unsigned.
A lot of the replacements are somewhat duplicative, also on partially guaranteed deals, and likely stink. But at least they’re different. And maybe the player development staff can be effectively put to work in year two. Because they do need to leverage that into increased value for some of these guys, to where they can either contribute to a playoff push or be used in a trade for more than salary ballast.