Imagine the buildup to your first day of work consisting of an unending round of boos. Not very uplifting, huh?
That’s pretty much what Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen have been up against since the Bulls acquired them from Minnesota in return for Jimmy Butler, the franchise’s one and only star. The word you heard most often was “fleeced.’’ The Bulls got fleeced, played for fools, by giving up so much for so little. That’s how media and fans overwhelmingly portrayed the draft-night trade, and that’s why you wouldn’t have blamed the three players if they had shown up for Tuesday’s introductory news conference in body armor.
But they didn’t. In fact, they showed up wearing smiles about the opportunity to help the Bulls go from nothing, the start of a rebuild, to something. Don’t these guys know that they’re the embodiment of the organization’s knuckledheaded-ness, if not its doofus-ness?
Unless, of course, the organization did the right thing.
“I just ignore everything that other people say,’’ Markkanen said. “I just try to focus on the task at hand and do my work and my part. I don’t let it affect me. I heard about the trade right before I got drafted, and it’s just a great honor to be part of this organization.’’
“Growing up, I was a ‘Space Jam’ fan,’’ LaVine said. “I know everything about Michael Jordan. I was talking to [John Paxson], I’ve known him since before I was born.’’
That sounds almost biblical, and while we’re there, we should probably talk about the desert. The Bulls are going to be parched and hungry for a while, but that’s better than the basketball hell they found themselves in.
They weren’t going to win a championship with Butler. That’s not Butler’s fault. It’s the fault of Paxson, the team’s vice president, and general manager Gar Forman. We can argue all day about what the Bulls received in return for a three-time All-Star, although it wasn’t as if teams were knocking down the Bulls’ door to acquire Butler. But there’s no arguing that the Bulls were running on a treadmill the last two seasons, going nowhere fast. And that wasn’t going to change without a rebuild.
“When you make a deal like this . . . if you’re thinking about it in terms of winning and losing, it’s the wrong way to look at it,’’ Paxson said. “We defined a direction. I’ve always felt if you’re going to talk in those terms, Jimmy Butler is an All-Star player, so Minnesota got a great player in this deal. But we defined our direction. We made the playoffs nine out of 10 years, and it wasn’t good enough. We have to now reset what we’re about.’’
You can hate what you perceive as the sin (the trade) and the sinners (Gar/Pax), but it wouldn’t be wise to hate the result of the sin (LaVine, Dunn and Markkanen). First off, they might end up being good together. Second, if this doesn’t work out, the failure won’t be on them. It will be on Gar/Pax.
But the direction, south, is the right way to go for now.
Many people have dismissed Dunn as a bust after one season, but if someone had told you a year ago that the Bulls would eventually get the fifth overall pick in the 2016 draft (Dunn), the seventh overall pick in the 2017 draft (Markkanen) and LaVine for Butler, I wonder if your outlook might be a different.
A rookie point guard paired with Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau isn’t exactly a fair referendum on a player’s worth. Give Dunn a chance.
I’ve been a big critic of the Bulls’ apparent lack of concern about not being on a clear championship path, so I’m not going to criticize them for deciding to try something different and risky. Better extremely late than never.
“We were not satisfied with being middle of the pack, kind of in no-man’s land,” Paxson said.
Are the Little Three going to turn the Bulls into a winner? I don’t know. And nobody else knows definitively about LaVine, Dunn and Markkanen, either. The temptation is to dismiss them because so much of what the Bulls have done under this regime has been dismissible. Assuming that Gar/Pax aren’t going anywhere — a good assumption in Reinsdorf World — the only thing left is hope. I don’t know about Dunn just yet, but I like LaVine and there aren’t many 7-foot shooters who can get up and down the floor the way Markkanen can. Maybe the Bulls have stumbled into something here.
That’s the hope. Without it, all you have is the perception that the Bulls got fleeced (that word again). It’s too early to declare this trade a rip-off.
“I’m not worried about perception,’’ Paxson said. “We understand this will take time as a process. As long as these kids play hard and compete, our fans will appreciate them, and we’ll get better.’’
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.