There’s no question that Otto Porter Jr. makes the Bulls a better team, not only today but moving forward.
Porter is one of those gifted scorers who can roll out of bed and put up 18 on any given night. Factor in his wing defense, communication and leadership, and he’s a pro’s pro who still will be crushing guys at the local YMCA in 20 years.
But why is Porter a Bull with a $57 million price tag to pay out the next two years?
Because of one mistake after another by the front office.
They Bulls had an All-NBA small forward in Jimmy Butler but didn’t want to pay him the super max, so they fired up the rebuild. Fine, decision made.
Throughout the rebuild and most of the Fred Hoiberg Era, though, they ignored the fact that their coach’s offense was predicated on outside shooting, leaving the roster without a solid small forward and a consistent perimeter game.
The Bulls’ idea of a quick fix was throwing $20 million at Jabari Parker, a power forward his entire career, and squeezing that square peg into a round hole. Or in this case, the 250-pound mope into a small forward.
With that wound open and infected, the latest stitch job involved trading Parker and Bobby Portis to the Wizards and inheriting Porter and his big contract.
Was it by design or simply making it up as they go? Likely the latter, especially for a front office that has shown an inability to attract big-name free agents in their prime.
Through a series of hits and misses, the Bulls are actually left with a solid one-two punch at the forward spot. A championship frontcourt? No, but Porter and Lauri Markkanen change the dynamic, especially on the offensive end.
In his last six games entering the break, Markkanen averaged 25.3 points and 12.5 rebounds. He is handling the ball, playmaking and, maybe even more impressive, starting to show he can play center in a smaller look to finish games.
All this with a right elbow that’s still on the mend.
“I definitely feel confident,’’ Markkanen said of his recent play. “It’s starting on the defensive end, getting the board and getting out and running. Doing different things, getting to the rim, getting to the free-throw line. Just thinking, ‘How can I help the team win?’ That’s what I’m trying to do.’’
Even more scary? Markkanen looked even better at the end of the summer and heading into camp, before suffering the injury. No wonder Hoiberg was so upset about the timing of his firing. He had seen what Markkanen was turning into and had refocused a lot of his offense to go through the second-year 7-footer.
The injury was a setback for Markkanen, but it proved to be a death sentence for Hoiberg’s job security.
So what is the state of the Bulls’ forward situation? After a series of mistakes, it’s suddenly bright, but still thin:
Chandler Hutchison: He had a few good moments but also a lot of rookie moments. A foot injury was a big blow to his development, and with the addition of Porter, the writing is on the wall that Hutchison is a bench player the next few seasons.
Markkanen: He’s becoming a tough matchup at the four spot and could turn into a nightmare at the five.
Porter: A professional basketball player in every sense, and he can play either forward spot.
Wayne Selden: He has shown some flashes that at least make the Bulls contemplate keeping him in a reserve mix next season.