Robin Lopez is just a different cat.
His favorite game is “Ticket to Ride,’’ his dog, “Muppet,’’ looks and acts half-human, as if he was adopted from “The Island of Dr. Moreau,’’ and NBA fans everywhere know how Lopez loves to antagonize the mascots of the opposing team.
So if there is a player better equipped to handle all the trade talk and uncertainty that hovered over him last season like Lopez, well, name him.
Lopez could have complained about the Bulls’ front office dangling him out there, he could have publicly pointed a finger in their direction when they just flat-out decided to not play him so that the tanking effort would be better served.
Privately, he was disappointed with the latter decision, but he never laid down that anger card.
“It was rough for me, but I get it, I understood it,’’ Lopez would say on several different occasions when pressed about the frequent DNP [Did Not Play] Coach’s Decision or inactives next to his name. “I always want to be out there playing on the court.
“I want to be playing obviously, but we’ve got a great group of guys here. I think the future is bright and I think I can be a part of it in some way.’’
With media day on Monday and then two-a-days tipping off camp on Tuesday, surprisingly Lopez is still a part of it. The question is for how long and in what capacity?
The 7-footer is the ultimate locker-room veteran, which is essential in a rebuild. He’s also in the final year of a contract that is a very reasonable $14.3 million this season.
In comparison, the Bulls are paying veteran big-man Omer Asik – who is out indefinitely with inflammatory arthritis – $11.2 million this year, and an underachieving Cristiano Felicio $8.4 million.
With Wendell Carter Jr. drafted last June and having a huge showing in Summer League, the intrigue surrounding Lopez’s staying time only thickens.
The logical scenario is he just edges out Carter in the starting lineup when the regular season begins, with the hope that Carter develops and Lopez’s trade stock increases.
The likelihood that he finishes the year in a Bulls uniform this time around? Minimal at best. But Lopez isn’t the only Bull who might be playing a “Ticket to Ride’’ come the trade deadline.
Jabari Parker – Don’t believe the hype that the Bulls coveted the “hometown’’ kid for their rebuild. Yes, they brought Parker home, but he could become the ultimate trade piece come February.
What if Parker flat-out balls out of the gate, but the Bulls have the fourth-worst record in the league? Because of the second year of his contract being a $20-million team option, Parker, who figures to often be playing out of position at the three this season, could be another way to acquire more assets in what is shaping up to be a top-heavy 2019 draft class.
No one said rebuilds would be pretty.
Justin Holiday – Like Lopez, a huge positive influence in the locker room. And while Holiday won’t bring the Bulls back a huge return on the market, he’s a nice bench piece for a playoff team.
More importantly, Holiday plays a position that is suddenly seeing a logjam, standing in the way of the development of Denzel Valentine and rookie Chandler Hutchison.
Holiday has an expiring $4.5 million contract, so that also helps the cause.