Young Bulls core doesn’t accept the idea that this is a ‘tank’ season

LAS VEGAS — If these young Bulls have been assembled to gain leverage in the Michael Porter Jr. sweepstakes, well, they didn’t get the memo.

“I don’t even know what that means, to be honest with you,’’ second-year guard Kris Dunn said after the Bulls’ 91-75 Summer League loss Saturday to the Mavericks. “I don’t know what tanking means. I try to win every game. Nobody in the locker room is gonna lose the game on purpose. Because then, why are you playing the game?’’

Dunn was right about one aspect: NBA players don’t tank. It’s not in their DNA.

Franchises? That’s where the tanking begins and ends.

And the Bulls have initiated that process.

Dunn, Zach LaVine and 2017 seventh overall pick Lauri Markkanen were acquired on draft night from the Timberwolves in the Jimmy Butler deal. The move signaled that general manager Gar Forman and vice president of basketball operations John Paxson finally had decided on a rebuild.

So ugly times are ahead.

“We understand what this means,’’ Paxson said last month. “It’s going to be a difficult process because that’s what rebuilding is about. But I think that as we look forward, it’s not just about [draft night]. We added three really talented young pieces to our team. And as we go forward, we anticipate having other high draft picks. And you’ve seen teams turn it around through the draft.

“That’s going to be our job now. That’s how we’re going to proceed. We hope to get better through the draft in the choices that we make.’’

Dunn wasn’t hearing any of that.

“We’re gonna try our hardest, and we know we don’t have the superstars on our team, but that doesn’t mean anything,’’ Dunn said. “If we play hard and play together, we’ll be fine.

“I think some teams take us for granted. Some teams think they can take you for granted, take you lightly. And that’s how you scratch out wins.’’

It’s a nice slogan for a T-shirt, but it’s not what management wants.

Cameron Payne was even more defiant about the idea of being part of a roster that could be in that 20-win ZIP code.

“We’ve got to make the playoffs next season,’’ Payne said when reminded that the Bulls are considered a team on the tank. “That’s really it. I’m pretty sure they want to make the playoffs, too. John Paxson and Gar Forman want to make the playoffs, and it starts here. We’ve gotta work, try our best when the regular season comes.’’

Not that there isn’t some intrigue with this group.

Obviously, Markkanen’s development is huge, and it starts with Summer League play. Then there’s also the little matter of deciding on a point guard, and Dunn and Payne began making their cases against the Mavs.

Payne was considered the “point guard of the future’’ by Forman when the Bulls acquired him in February from the Thunder.

Dunn had 11 points on 3-for-12 shooting, and Payne scored 11 and shot 5-for-15 from the field. No clear-cut favorite emerged out of the gate.

Payne said there has been no mention of these next few weeks deciding a regular-season starter.

“That’s like four months away,’’ Payne said. “I’m not sure. I’m worried about Summer League right now.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley @suntimes.com

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