Bulls must keep one eye on present, the other on future

The team is trying to find its way into the playoffs today, but it can’t completely take its mind off tomorrow.

SHARE Bulls must keep one eye on present, the other on future
Coach Billy Donovan has the players’ trust and has watched the Bulls win nine of their last 13 games.

Coach Billy Donovan has the players’ trust and has watched the Bulls win nine of their last 13 games.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

This is not a bad time to be the Bulls.

They smoked the high-flying Grizzlies on Sunday with an astounding 44-point turnaround. Down 23 points in the second quarter, they won 128-107 for their ninth victory in their last 13 games.

Just as impressive, they had nine steals and committed only three turnovers. The Grizzlies had 18 turnovers.

Of course, the Bulls are only 38-40, which puts them behind 18 other NBA teams. So be it. They can make it into the playoffs and show what they’ve got.

But here’s why it might be cool, overall, to be a Bull:

They finally have adjusted — after fits and starts and sadness — to the fact that injured guard Lonzo Ball might never be back.

The addition of defensive fireball Patrick Beverley — of course, he got another technical foul Sunday — has helped fill the hole where Ball would have been and added grit.

Alex Caruso (three steals, two blocks against the Grizzlies) is another wizard on defense whose presence never will show up on the offensive stat sheet but who makes a team whole.

Scoring machines DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine (67 points combined Sunday) are at ease and gliding. LaVine’s oft-damaged left knee seems to be OK and his game-on/game-off routine in the rearview mirror.

Big man Nikola Vucevic is shooting just as well as he did 10 years ago with the Magic (52.1% this season) and pulling down 11 rebounds a game.

The bench can come alive with Coby White and Patrick Williams, either of whom might be on fire. Big man Andre Drummond can spell Vucevic.

That’s the team — the tangibles, as it were.

Oh, and they seem to believe in coach Billy Donovan.

But there are some changes in the NBA that affect all teams, the Bulls included, particularly looking toward the future.

To wit, the league and the players’ union tentatively have said yes to a new collective-bargaining agreement that should guarantee labor peace for years.

Once officially ratified, the pact will start next season and last until 2031. That stability is a key thing. Strikes, lockouts, grievances, off-court animosity, player anger — none of that is good for team-building. And the Bulls should be building their team, which is decent right now but needs new parts to be great.

The agreement also says players must play at least 65 games to be eligible for postseason awards. That should cut back on the growing trend of resting — a k a ‘‘load management’’ — that sees healthy stars sitting out games just to get playoff-ready.

There are two other novel elements to the contract: There will be a midseason tournament with cash rewards for winning players and coaches (motivation!), and marijuana no longer will be a banned substance.

So a team such as the Bulls can get hot for 40 games and win something, even if it stagnates for the other half. And marijuana? Well, all of you can fire up a bowl and forget about urine tests. It’s a new weed world on the horizon.

It’s nice where the Bulls are right now, solidifying when it’s key. But they have deficiencies when they go against teams such as the Bucks, with freakish Giannis Antetokounmpo, or the Celtics, with Jayson Tatum and his deep supporting cast.

The Bulls have no superstar player, the bell cow who clears the pasture. Indeed, they have nobody among the top 10 in points per game, field goals made, assists, free throws, steals, blocks, field-goal percentage, three-point shots made, three-point percentage or free-throw percentage.

What they do have is nobody among the top 35 in turnovers. Thus, a team and not a highlight show. And being a team is what it’s all about.

Still, they need a young superstar to further the goal. One thing the new agreement didn’t allow was the union’s request to lower the entrance age to the league from 19 to 18 and get rid of the one-and-done nonsense.

There are ridiculously skilled young players out there — such as 7-3 Victor Wembanyama (and his 8-foot wingspan) and guard Scoot Henderson — who are waiting to change the teams that draft them. College? Forget it. It’s possible the players who might be the first four draft picks in June are playing in the G League or elsewhere.

So the Bulls are surging, but they need to stay focused on the future. Because it’s almost here.

The Latest
Paul DeJong, Andrew Vaughn, Lenyn Sosa and Korey Lee homered and Erick Fedde worked out of trouble to navigate through six innings and provide the Sox with one of their most satisfying victories in an otherwise dismal first half.
From Garrett Crochet to Jake Eder, Bannister is watching a dominant development with the lefties in the organization.
Could the Sky’s starting lineup see a change Sunday against the Fever? Either way, Chennedy Carter will be a huge factor in their rematch with the Fever.
It might be prudent for the Sox to start monitoring Crochet’s innings, even with the dominance he has shown.