For all of his shortcomings on the court, speaking his mind off of it has never been a problem for Denzel Valentine.
The 14th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft pulled no punches regarding his unhappiness about being in and out of the starting lineup for the Bulls last season. In fact, he sent a message to the coaching staff and front office at the end of the season.
“I feel like I should have a bigger role next year,” Valentine said. “I definitely should be a starter coming in. I definitely want to improve and be a for-sure starter on this team.”
It took awhile, but the Bulls’ reply came during the last month.
First, they drafted Boise State wing Chandler Hutchison in June, and last week they signed former Simeon High School standout Jabari Parker to a two-year, $40 million contract.
Guess who dropped deeper on the depth chart?
No current Bulls player was more affected by the offseason roster changes than Valentine, who played in 77 games last season (37 starts) before being shut down because of a procedure on his left knee. The former Michigan State standout averaged 10.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists. He basically lost his starting spot once Zach LaVine returned from rehabbing his knee.
Valentine was considered a key member of the second unit, but after the last four weeks, it’s hard to figure out where — or if — Valentine fits in.
He can play some two-guard because of his playmaking, but he obviously will be behind LaVine. Parker will hold down the starting small-forward spot, so any idea of a training-camp battle to fill what looked to be a vacancy is over before it started.
With Justin Holiday still in the mix for playing time and the Bulls loving the athleticism of Hutchison on the wing, there’s a good chance Valentine could be third on the depth chart at the off-guard spot and small forward.
LaVine and Parker have had surgeries on their anterior cruciate ligament in the last two seasons, so the Bulls need insurance for them.
Valentine’s hope? That the front office isn’t done making moves this summer.
Holiday is a great veteran, but he’ll be a free agent after the 2018-19 season. Could the Bulls look to move him before camp starts?
Beyond this season, Parker’s contract was set up as a one-year trial, with the Bulls holding the option on 2019-20. If he doesn’t live up to the hype that was floating around the United Center at his introductory news conference last week, the Bulls can always escape it.
Considering Valentine is still on his rookie contract and the Bulls don’t need to make a decision on him until next summer, he’s in roster limbo.
He’s not good enough to start, but he’s cheap enough to keep because of the fragility of LaVine and Parker.
“You can’t worry about the franchise’s plans … or what people want you to do,” Valentine said when the season ended. “You just got to do your job as far as making sure I’m ready to play. And when I’m in the game, I’m playing the best I can of my abilities. Making the right plays, shooting the right shots, playing defense, and if people don’t like it, the team doesn’t like it, then whatever.
“But as long as you can say that you competed and played your best, that’s all that matters in my eyes.”