Running of the Bulls has failed in Year 3, but the intrigue remains
Losers of six straight going into the All-Star break, it’s easy to label the Bulls another bum team not worth investing time in. But that’s just not the case, as the fate of players, coaches and front office personnel are on the line these last 27 games.
For most teams in the Bulls’ position, there wouldn’t be much intrigue left.
The trade deadline came and went — and did so with a big thud around the Advocate Center. Now All-Star Weekend is upon us, and the 19-36 Bulls are on the outside of the playoff picture once again looking in with only 27 games left when the season resumes next week.
Most teams will be going through the motions. Good or bad, the Bulls aren’t most organizations.
The next few weeks will showcase more painful-looking basketball, but then the most important last six weeks in the three years of the rebuild will arrive.
Otto Porter Jr. (left foot), Wendell Carter Jr. (right ankle) and Lauri Markkanen (right pelvis) are expected back by the beginning of March.
Everything will be under the microscope, and that includes the coach and the front office.
“We need to get those guys back and playing,’’ vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said last week. “Relevancy will depend on the growth of those guys, in particular Lauri, Wendell, Coby [White], Chandler [Hutchison].
‘‘There’s no quick solution to it when you’re trying to develop players. And that’s what we’re trying to do.’’
So what exactly is at stake the rest of the season for the Bulls? Well, just about everything.
1. The end of Gar/Pax?
The Sun-Times reported in November that Gar Forman’s tenure as general manager was in trouble. That hasn’t changed. A source says the Reinsdorfs — Jerry and Michael — are still in the early stages of figuring out how the front office will be restructured.
Forman likely would be repositioned instead of fired, and the last 20-plus games could determine Paxson’s immediate job title, especially if the young core of Markkanen, Carter and White shows some life down the stretch. The organization has needed a new chair at the table for years, and maybe that’s finally being realized.
2. The ‘spirit’ of coach Jim Boylen
As long as the undermanned — and on most nights under-talented — Bulls stay competitive in games, Boylen is safe. If the players are blown out the last few months and appear disengaged, Boylen could see the ice crack underneath him.
But if the Bulls bring in a new voice with some say, Boylen could be out whether the team competes down the stretch or not, depending on how much power is granted to this new position.
3. Off the Markk
Markkanen hasn’t been happy with the structure of the franchise at all this season. Whether it’s his role in the offense or the makeup of the roster, the third-year big man isn’t the type of player to express his dissatisfaction publicly.
If the situation doesn’t change soon, however, Markkanen’s patience will be tested.
What he needs to show when he returns next month is an aggressive attitude with the ball in his hands, and if that means defying the Bulls’ analytics and shooting midrange, then defy away.
The last thing the Bulls’ rebuild can afford is Porter exercising his $28 million player option next season — which he will — and again being unavailable because of a growing list of injuries. The Bulls acquired him last season from the Wizards to be a veteran presence on and off the court.
So far, he only has been able to provide the off-the-court aspect with any consistency. He’s expected back at the beginning of March and needs to produce.
5. Getting defensive
With Kris Dunn (right MCL sprain) possibly done for the season, Carter needs to show that he can live up to the hype as the second-best defender on the roster.
Like Porter, the last six weeks will be huge for him.