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Bulls position breakdowns: Costly mistakes have hurt depth at center

He was warned by former assistant coaches that Cristiano Felicio was a bad investment, but ex-general manager Gar Forman dumped $32 million into the unproven commodity anyway. The roster is still reeling from that miscalculation.

The Bulls’ heavy investment in Cristiano Felicio has hurt the team’s long-term depth at center.
The Bulls’ heavy investment in Cristiano Felicio has hurt the team’s long-term depth at center.
AP

Organizations make mistakes when building rosters.

That’s the nature of the business, and all franchises inevitably swim in the muck.

Some deeper than others.

But mistakes made purely out of a lack of communication or, even worse, a defiant arrogance are hard to move past.

Welcome to the latter stages of the Gar Forman era.

The misses were happening much more frequently than the hits for the former Bulls general manager, and Cristiano Felicio might have been the nadir.

Even though several assistant coaches warned Forman to stay away from investing too much into Felicio in the summer of 2017, he was hell-bent on showing the doubters in his organization — and the rest of the league — that he was smarter than them.

Forman was responsible for scouting and discovering the 6-10 Brazilian, and he was going to be the one to give him an extension.

The concern the staff had was Felicio’s hands. They just didn’t work well. For his size, Felicio could move, but when catching a basketball was added into the equation, it was akin to watching a newly born giraffe trying to walk.

Even former coach Fred Hoiberg got involved, coming up with drills to try to improve Felicio’s hand-eye coordination.

Three seasons later, Felicio is a seldom-used reserve making more money than starters such as Kris Dunn, Wendell Carter and Lauri Markkanen. Heck, Clippers super-sub Lou Williams was pulling in $100,000 less than Felicio this season.

A contender loaded with star power can cover up a $32 million mistake. But for a rebuilding team backed into a salary-cap corner for one more season, well, there’s a reason new head of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas fired Forman on his first official day on the job.

The good news is Felicio’s contract expires after the 2020-21 season, as does the contract of fellow reserve big man Luke Kornet.

Kornet was a Jim Boylen special last summer, mostly based on his analytics in New York the previous season.

He had an awful start as a Bull, but after surgery to clear up a sinus problem, Kornet actually started playing well. Then a broken bone was discovered in his foot, and his first season with his new team was over.

Any wonder why center is a concern for the Bulls? Carter is undersized, Daniel Gafford is a rookie and Markkanen hasn’t shown an ability to consistently play minutes at the five, so that leaves Felicio and Kornet as depth.

Whenever the NBA decides the draft will happen, there’s a reason why 7-1 James Wiseman could be in play if the Bulls hit lottery luck and move into the top five.

Evaluating the centers

The situation

The Bulls lack depth in the middle — even in today’s small-ball basketball world — and will have even more holes to fill after next season, when they can move on from the Felicio and Kornet contracts. Carter wants to play more power forward, and Markkanen has gone backward in his development. That leaves Gafford with his raw ­ability as the only real piece off the bench looking ahead.

The resolution

Everything could change if the Bulls finally hit lottery luck rather than roll sevens again, with Wiseman a possibility at No. 4 or 5. Otherwise, it’s free-agent shopping during the 2021 offseason.

Bold prediction

Carter will enter next season in the middle, but look for Gafford to fully embrace development under the new regime. He’ll start pushing Carter for more playing time and possibly push Carter toward that position change he has wanted.