It doesn’t happen very often on these pages, but it’s time to give Bulls general manager Gar Forman some credit.
Year 2 of NBA rebuilds aren’t supposed to go this smoothly.
Since trading All-NBA two-way standout Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves in the 2017 offseason, Forman has amassed a starting point guard in Kris Dunn, a two-guard with All-Star potential in Zach LaVine, a stretch-four with unicorn potential in Lauri Markkanen and a young center hell-bent on being a defensive stopper in Wendell Carter Jr.
The addition of free agent Jabari Parker makes more public-relations sense than basketball sense, but even that comes with a possible one-year expiration date, with the Bulls holding the second-year option.
But before Forman goes on injured reserve for patting himself on the back, the job is only halfway done, and it’s Part 2 that should have Bulls fans concerned.
The rebuild model starts with acquiring young talent. Check that box.
The next step is using the salary-cap space to court at least one superstar player to take the team from printing first-round playoff tickets to being a serious threat in a very weak Eastern Conference.
The Bulls own the $20 million option on Parker for the 2019-20 season, so they can shed that if necessary. Robin Lopez and his $14.3 million come off the books after this season, when the big man becomes a free agent. Heck, even with Omer Asik owning an $11.9 million option for next season, he has an expiring contract. That’s back in fashion when it comes to dumping him on other rebuilding teams.
Really, the ugliest mark still on the books is the guaranteed $24 million-plus Forman owes Cristiano Felicio over the next three seasons.
Add in the fact that the 2019 free-agent class is loaded with franchise-changing talent, and it would seem that the Bulls are in perfect position to become an elite team.
Therein lies the rub, and it might be the reason the Bulls eventually have to hit eject on Forman’s GM chair.
Not once has Forman been able to land a superstar player.
Not LeBron James, not Carmelo Anthony and not the prime version of Dwyane Wade.
Landing old-man Wade doesn’t count, especially when the Bulls had to pay the then-34-year-old $15 million to simply go away.
Yes, vice president of basketball operations John Paxson commands a lot more respect from players and agents around the league, but Forman also has to sit at that dinner table and shake hands to consummate a deal.
The Sun-Times has reported numerous times that there aren’t a lot of good feelings and trust leaguewide for Forman, and that could end up being the downfall of the rebuild.
Luckily, there are several soon-to-be big-name free agents who walk to the beat of their own drum and are unpredictable in their decision-making:
1. Kevin Durant: Will he continue his run with the historically dominant Warriors, or is it time for him to reboot on a new legacy? There are already rumors that the Knicks, Heat and Lakers are possibilities. So how far-fetched would it be for Durant to play in the shadow of the Michael Jordan statue?
2. Kawhi Leonard: There is no bigger enigma of a personality than Leonard, who could change the fortunes of a franchise and not say a word the entire time.
3. Kyrie Irving: The Sun-Times expressed his interest in coming to Chicago last offseason, but that was with the idea of playing alongside his good friend Butler. Has that changed?