The Bulls’ front office has never been shy about throwing the word “accountability’’ around the Advocate Center during the last five years.
The problem, though, is that it hasn’t stuck.
That will be tested again this season, as vice president of basketball operations John Paxson, general manager Gar Forman and coach Jim Boylen preached Monday. They also said the expectation for Year 3 of the rebuild is a trip to the playoffs.
“We have revamped this roster in a big way, and a way in that we can look at this team and we see real talent,’’ Paxson said during media day. “We see a versatile roster, we see depth on this roster, we see some leadership on this roster which we haven’t had, and because of that, our goals this year are really simple. First and foremost, we want to compete at a high, high level. We think we can compete. And when you compete at a high level, you have an ability to be a playoff-caliber team. And we set that as a goal.
“Jim talks about it, he’s not afraid of it, and our guys through their work have shown us that they want to make that commitment, so we feel good about that.’’
It’s a much different message from Paxson than in previous seasons of the rebuild, where the company line since 2017 had been patience and the expectations of a painful process.
Guess who feels suddenly healed?
“Our goals for the season are to make the playoffs,’’ Boylen said, doubling down on Paxson’s message. “And every day to prepare like we’re a playoff team. Every day to work like we’re a playoff-bound team. I’m excited for that. I think that’s the only way to do it. There’s no way that we were going to stand up here and say, ‘Hey, I hope we can win 10 more games or we hope we can be better.’ We want to get to the mountaintop.’’
Tough talk, no doubt.
But is it realistic?
For this group, they definitely feel it is.
“We have high-character guys that want to work and want to be coached,’’ Boylen said. “That’s the first choice. It’s a choice to be coached. It’s a decision to say, ‘Hey, I want to be a teammate and I want to get better.’ We have the right guys on the bus that want to do that. That’s where the hope comes in. Now, we’ve added talent, we’ve added veteran leadership. We’ve added the things that we thought were holes in last year’s group, and that’s where this feeling comes from.’’
It also comes from the idea that both Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine are poised to take huge steps toward stardom. It’s something they are embracing.
“I know how we play on the court,’’ LaVine said of himself and Markkanen. “Let’s be realistic, we’re the main scouting report on the other team. That’s respect from other teams. I draw double-teams. He draws double-teams. So I don’t think it’s much validation. [The playoffs are] goals you have for yourself and have for your team.’’
But what if it all goes wrong? What if the Bulls fall short? Where does the accountability then fall this time?
Believe it or not, Forman said it comes right to the front office.
“We take that very seriously, being accountable,’’ Forman said. “And we will continue to. We think with the summer we’ve had, both with the draft, free agency, the summer we’ve had with what’s happening on the floor with Jim and his staff, we think we’re headed in the right direction.’’