There was no chance that Anthony Davis, a native Chicagoan, was coming home. No chance that he and his agent would engineer a trade to bring him to the Bulls.
That’s the toughest pill to swallow when it comes to the franchise that Michael Jordan, the superstar of all superstars, lifted up six times. The Bulls never seem to be in the conversation when the best players decide to give the NBA’s tectonic plates a shove. Not even when one of the best players is a 26-year-old, ultra-talented big man who played high school basketball about four miles from the United Center.
Will it ever be the Bulls’ turn?
The easy out is to say that Los Angeles, where Davis will reside following the massive trade that sent him from the Pelicans to the Lakers, is warm most of the year and Chicago is not. The other easy out is to say that the Lakers have LeBron James, and Chicago most certainly does not.
Superstars run the game, and they don’t want to come here. James turned down the Bulls as a free agent when he chose the Heat in 2010. Every time this type of thing happens, Chicago sniffs its armpits. Is it us?
Agent Rich Paul represents both Davis and James. That was the most important factor in the two players ending up together. Davis demanded a trade, the Pelicans feared getting nothing for him if they made him play out his contract and a deal with his team of choice came about.
Right now, the Bulls are trying to build a winner the only way they can, through the draft. They’ll have the seventh pick in Thursday’s draft, and they already have a young core in Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Wendell Carter Jr. It’s too soon to say whether that core, along with Otto Porter Jr., will turn into a winner. Future success was one of the measuring sticks Davis used when figuring out where to force the Pelicans to trade him. The Lakers, 37-45 last season, suddenly are one of the favorites to win the 2020 NBA title.
Think of this as one, big lament: Why are we always watching the world go by? Even when (if?) the Bulls are ready to compete, will big-time free agents want to come to Chicago? The company line is that players always go where the money is, and if the Bulls have more of it to offer than other teams, then good players will come.
The reality is that players want to make money and have a chance to win. If it were June 2020 or June 2021 and Davis had made his trade demand, would he have tried to manipulate the system to go to the Bulls? I’m guessing it would have taken remarkable progress from Markkanen et al. to stop Davis from staring at the sun and LeBron.
Is Jordan still poisoning the Bulls to potential free agents? He did that when he and the team went their separate ways in 1998. It was as if someone had spilled acid on a garden. You were lucky if you could grow a beard. But that’s ancient history, and when the Bulls have whiffed on free agents, it’s been because of their present, not their past.
Under vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman, the team hasn’t done much to make Chicago a landing spot. When superstars gaze at the NBA landscape, the city is flyover country. That might change someday, but it’s a truth still very much in place.
Some good news: The Raptors’ recent title shows that a gathering of superstars is not the only way to have success. None of their players was a lottery pick. Toronto was more a team than a collection of stars, though one big star acquired in a trade, Kawhi Leonard, made a huge difference.
The Bulls are hoping a similar approach pays off. They’re betting that their young players turn into very good players and that one trade or one free-agent signing leads to a great team.
I’d like to say that this is Gar-Pax’s last chance, but I think we all know better. There’s nothing in the team’s recent history to suggest that anyone in the front office will lose his job if the rebuild fails.
But let’s think happy thoughts. That the Bulls’ first-round pick Thursday turns out to be the best player in the draft. That their young players stay healthy, something they haven’t been able to do. That someday a superstar decides the Bulls have something good going on and wants to be part of it.
It could happen. Soon would be much appreciated.