Both vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and coach Jim Boylen have said all the right things concerning Robin Lopez.
The conclusion from both is they would like to have Robin Lopez back in a Bulls uniform for next season.
Possible, but very unlikely.
Lopez has gone beyond being the perfect soldier. The 7-foot veteran has sacrificed a starting job and playing time for over two seasons, all the while being more than happy to mentor the likes of Wendell Carter Jr. and even Lauri Markkanen when he’s moved into the center role late in games.
So while the front office and coaching staff have praised Lopez and said there’s room on the roster for him next season, the question is where?
Unless the Bulls get lucky in the draft lottery and hit on Zion Williamson at No. 1, Carter will be back as the starting center. Boylen also liked the success the Bulls had in February, often closing out games with Markkanen in the middle.
Then there’s Cristiano Felicio, who is locked in for $15.6 million over the next two years thanks to general manager Gar Forman feeling like he outsmarted the league when he extended the unproven commodity two years ago.
That’s three possible centers, and a reality check for Lopez to start shopping elsewhere.
“I think he’s a winning player, and he’s been terrific,’’ Boylen said of Lopez. “He’s been terrific in helping the young guys, he’s had my back the whole time I’ve had the job, and he’s a pro’s pro. What I want is what’s best for him, and I think he’s going to have a market. I hope he plays for a long time. It would be great if it’s with us, and if it’s not I hope it’s where he wants to be.’’
The gamble in all of this is putting all the chips on Carter developing into an NBA center.
The 19-year-old rookie is listed at 6-10, but that might be an exaggeration. That’s why Carter was overpowered at times against bigger, craftier centers.
“Wendell is still a 19-year-old young man,’’ Paxson said. “He’s got the physical frame to add muscle and bulk, which ultimately will help him. I do think that he has the ability to defend that position better. He was overwhelmed sometimes and rightfully so. But it was from a physical standpoint, not a mental standpoint, going against those big bodies. Andre Drummond was big when he came into the league but not as big as he is now. Wendell is going to grow. With some of the young guys we drafted the last several years, you have to be a little patience in terms of that development physically. We’re going to look at a lot of different things this offseason, but we’re going to try to build a roster that Jim is comfortable coaching.’’
Unfortunately, one likely without Lopez.
WHAT THE BULLS HAVE: Carter Jr., Lopez, Felicio and Markkanen.
WHO COULB BE ON THE MOVE: Lopez as a free agent.
THE DRAFT: This draft is not ideal for a center, especially where the Bulls will likely pick. Both Jaxson Hayes and Bol Bol have interesting tools, but are raw and huge developmental projects.
FREE AGENCY: The Bulls have cap room, but won’t be in on any big-name center with too many other holes to fill and very little playing time to offer up.
WILDCARD: If the Bulls hit on the 12.5 percent and land Williamson, well, there could be a lot of moving parts. Carter could be moved in that scenario, which means the Bulls would have to kick the tires on a defensive big man like a DeAndre Jordan.