Coach Jim Boylen’s mission statement over the summer wasn’t ambiguous at all, but it has yet to be hammered home to the Bulls’ fan base.
Expect that to change once training camp begins next week, when the entire Bulls organization will join Boylen in making that plan public.
Simply put, it’s sink-or-swim time for Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine in taking that big step to superstardom.
Look at the roster makeup.
Look at how the salaries are set up.
Dissect the free-agency moves this offseason.
It all screams make-or-break for Markkanen and LaVine, even if the Bulls really haven’t been that vociferous about it.
“We believe in them,’’ Boylen said after the free-agent frenzy subsided this summer. “I think it’s a statement of belief. I think we’ve made a commitment to this roster.
‘‘I use that kind of saying that they’ve got to take their crown, and they’ve got to run with it. They’ve got to wear it, they’ve got to own it and they’ve got to do it. We think they can.’’
And Boylen has made that message clear to LaVine and Markkanen throughout the offseason. He even went to Finland to visit with Markkanen and to make sure he understood the expectations being placed on his newly buffed-up shoulders.
LaVine was in and out of town this offseason for different training blocks, but he also had that message delivered to him several times.
“We have honored where we think Zach and Lauri can go, and we’ve cleared a way for them to become what we hope they can be,’’ Boylen said.
The clock starts now.
LaVine was signed to an extension in the summer of 2018. He’ll be 27 when the deal ends after the 2021-22 season. The Bulls’ two big free-agent additions — Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky — also were signed through the end of the ’22 season.
That’s a three-year window for LaVine to become an elite NBA player, with a supporting cast that already knows its role in all of this.
“We know [LaVine’s] our guy,’’ Young said. “He’s going to be the guy going forward. My thing is, just go out there and harness those skills, continue to be the leader that I am, continue to help him get better as a leader, get better as a player, and hopefully help him make the All-Star Game.’’
While Markkanen, who was drafted in 2017, is on a different pay-scale clock, the goal is identical to LaVine’s: Show the Bulls star power, and a max deal awaits. In Markkanen’s case, they could start talking extension after this season.
A big ask?
Not really, considering what Markkanen showed last February, when he averaged 26 points and 12.2 rebounds, while shooting just under 49 percent from the field and 34.8 percent from three-point range.
Those are elite numbers, let alone for a 7-footer. Eleven games, however, is not an 82-game season.
So both have knocked on that star door in this rebuild, but the organization wants them to finally kick it in.
“I know they can,’’ Boylen said. “They’ve done it. What we want them to do is do it more consistently, and they’ve both had great moments in a Bulls uniform, a great month, a great streak of games, but now we’ve got to do it for 82. That’s my challenge, their challenge, and we’re going to do it together.’’