At some point in the next few weeks, someone in the Bulls’ organization has to gather the front-office troops and remind them of a cold reality:
Year 2 of this rebuild is lost.
It was lost when Lauri Markkanen felt his right elbow rip, sidelining him for what appears to be the first two months of the regular season.
So while coach Fred Hoiberg and his players were patting themselves on the back for their victory Wednesday against the lowly Suns, it actually was a defeat, another opportunity to ensure a top-three finish in the new-look lottery this spring slipping through their hands.
Even if Markkanen, Bobby Portis (right knee) and Kris Dunn (left knee) return, continue to develop and mesh with Zach LaVine and rookie Wendell Carter Jr., the Bulls are at least a star short of truly becoming anything more than mediocre.
They’re basically back to where they were when they traded Jimmy Butler and opted to rebuild: good enough to get into the playoffs, bad enough to be sent home in the second round.
But if general manager Gar Forman and vice president of basketball operations John Paxson have bigger aspirations, they need to let go of the rope on this season and get back to the business of tanking, I mean, “player development.’’
Getting in the bottom three would ensure the Bulls a 14 percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick, the same percentage as the second- and third-worst teams.
That means a step closer to landing the standing-room-only game of Duke freshman Zion Williamson.
RJ Barrett is a nice consolation prize, potentially a mix of DeMar DeRozan and Tracy McGrady, but Williamson has a chance to be a franchise-changer.
With Charles Barkley’s girth, Shawn Kemp’s ferocity around the rim and former Cincinnati Bearcats dunking legend Melvin Levett’s vertical leap sprinkled on top, Williamson has a combination of size and athleticism never seen in the NBA.
It’s simple optics right now.
A 2019-20 starting five of Carter, Markkanen, Williamson, LaVine and Dunn or a starting five of Carter, Markkanen, Indiana’s Romeo Langford, LaVine and Dunn?
The Bulls are making two big mistakes in the rebuild, beginning with the misconception that they’ll only need the lottery a few years.
NBA history shows it doesn’t work that way. This isn’t the Spurs dipping their toe in the lottery, grabbing Tim Duncan, then instantly becoming a championship contender for the next 15 years.
When an organization commits to a rebuild, expect at least four consecutive lottery years.
Their second mistake is relying on this mythical big-name free agent who’s going to be wooed by Forman. When has Forman ever landed that piece?
No, this is about this organization doing all it can to plunge to the cellar with more vigor than it did last season. Stop playing Jabari Parker. He’s not in the plans beyond this season. Give LaVine more rest. Proceed with the Markkanen comeback with extra caution. And when playing bum teams such as Cleveland, Atlanta and Phoenix, insert bum lineups.
Otherwise, stay on the same path and enjoy the No. 5 seed for years to come.