With a starting lineup of Robin Lopez, Wayne Selden Jr., Shaquille Harrison, Ryan Arcidiacono and Brandon Sampson against the Raptors on Saturday — a 124-101 loss at the United Center — the focus, of course, was on who wasn’t playing for the Bulls.
With arguably their top seven players for next season sitting out — from Lauri Markkanen (fatigue/rapid heart rate) and Zach LaVine (knee) to Otto Porter Jr. (shoulder) and Kris Dunn (back) to rookies Wendell Carter Jr. (thumb) and Chandler Hutchison (toe) and the almost-forgotten Denzel Valentine (ankle) — are the Bulls getting anywhere?
The Bulls have acquired some promising pieces in two years of the latest rebuild but really have no idea about how well they fit. The Bulls’ best starting five this season — Markkanen, LaVine, Carter, Porter and Dunn — has yet to play even one game together. A setback for the rebuild?
“I understand your question, and I’m sure there’s some fact to that, but I’m not going there,” coach Jim Boylen said. “We’re going to make progress with the guys we have.”
Uh, OK … about Shaq Harrison …
“I’m not going negative,” Boylen said, still answering the previous question. “It’s not part of me. We’re going to try to win and play well with the guys we have. I’m not trying to be flippant or disrespectful to your question. I’m just not going to go there — that there’s an excuse or reason.
“I think we know who Lauri Markkanen is. I think we know who Zach LaVine can be and who he is. I think we know who Otto Porter is. I think we know who Dunn is, and it’s unfortunate with the injuries. But we’re gonna keep climbing the mountain with our head up. We’re not looking behind us.”
Fair enough, but just don’t look straight ahead because the woefully short-handed Bulls (21-56) are not a pretty sight. Newcomer Walt Lemon Jr., the Chicagoan called up from the G League Windy City Bulls the previous day, led them with 19 points and added six assists and four steals against the Raptors. Timothe Lawawu-Cabarrot added 18 points and 10 rebounds, Harrison had 15 points and eight rebounds and Antonio Blakeney scored 12 points as the Bulls lost their fourth consecutive game to stay within two games of the Cavaliers (19-58) for the third spot in the draft order.
But all of them are long shots for significant rotation minutes next season. And, at this point, Boylen can’t wait till next year.
“I’m really looking forward to training camp,” Boylen said. “I’m looking forward to the Summer League, [which] will be kind of our test site for some of the things that we’ll do and the preparation for that, and then training camp will ramp up.”
The Bulls obviously need a lot of work. They have to get healthy and stay healthy. And tremendous luck in the draft lottery seems pretty crucial at this point. It remains to be seen if Boylen is the right guy to lead them out of the wilderness. But after a painfully awkward transition after Boylen replaced Fred Hoiberg, a fresh start with a full offseason and training camp under Boylen figures to be beneficial.
“We’ve gotten a feel for our guys,” Boylen said. “It has been a season of discovery and a season of growth. And, overall, I think we’ve done a darn good job without a training camp. So hopefully we’ll do even better with one.”