ATLANTA — On one side of the rebuild argument, there’s the idea of developing the core through winning.
Yes, playing time builds skills, but victories teach confidence and help accelerate the rebuild.
On the other side, there’s the argument of using playing time to develop players but knowing when to pull the reins in certain games to ensure the best possible position for the draft lottery — sometimes at any cost. It’s about collecting talent, especially if it’s a player who might be generational, such as Duke star Zion Williamson.
This is the fine line the Bulls have been walking since last season. Lately, however, they seem to have chosen their path: It has become about the push for victories.
Thanks to a career-high 47 points from Zach LaVine, the Bulls outlasted the Hawks 168-161 in four overtimes. It was their fifth victory in their last six games, and the 168 points set a franchise record.
The cost for the Bulls (18-45)? Higher than usual for a game on March 1. They are now only three games behind the Hawks in the battle for the fourth-worst record in the NBA — and the fourth-best odds in the lottery.
Coincidentally, the Hawks announced before the game that forward John Collins was out with flulike symptoms. Collins was the player who torched the Bulls for 35 points Jan. 23, when the Hawks beat the Bulls by 20.
Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen said he was dealing with ‘‘something up with my body,’’ but he played anyway, insisting afterward that NBA stands for ‘‘No Boys Allowed.’’ He had 31 points and 17 rebounds.
‘‘I think there’s value in learning how to win with a group you are moving forward with,’’ LaVine said of the dilemma facing the Bulls. ‘‘For a team to win in the NBA, I think it’s the hardest thing to do, so I think you have to learn how to do that first.
‘‘We only have a few guys with playoff experience on the team, so it’s tough to weigh the two, but I want to go into the offseason knowing that we did the right thing. We’re all competitive dudes, and we’re all playing for ourselves and the team, so having a losing mentality isn’t something you want.’’
LaVine acknowledged there is something to be said about adding talent, especially a player such as Williamson, but he said the present outweighs the uncertainty of the draft.
But several other factors come into play, especially for the Bulls. First, the organization came under fire from the NBA last season for what the league called an obvious attempt at manipulating the lineup for tanking purposes. No fine came of it, but a warning did. That means the Bulls are on the radar.
Second, Jim Boylen has dreamed about a head-coaching job his entire career. Now that he has one, the last thing he wants to do is put losses on his résumé. He is trying to validate his hire, and what better way than to be competitive and collect victories.
‘‘I think we’re all maybe hoping that you get a good draft pick, but I think we’re all hoping, too, that you can build some chemistry and some culture and some toughness and some togetherness,’’ Boylen said when he was asked what the Bulls are looking to accomplish the remaining five weeks. ‘‘So our front office has done a great job of drafting, and we’ve gotten two really good players at No. 7 [in Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. in the last two drafts].’’
That’s why Boylen wasn’t about to apologize for another victory.
‘‘There’s no shame in losing this game for Atlanta,’’ Boylen said. ‘‘This was a great game.’’