This column originally was going to be about the Bulls’ recent, maddening habit of winning basketball games, a development that might harm their chances of landing once-in-a-generation college star Zion Williamson.
But then White Sox vice president Ken Williams defended his team’s unenlightened offer to free agent Manny Machado, and my indignation required a duplex.
So now you get two tortured howls at the sky for the price of one.
Neither franchise is playing the tanking game right. Either they can’t quite commit to it, or they’re playing by different rules than everybody else. They’ve spent the last three weeks aboard a drifting ship, the SS What The Hell Are They Doing? We’ll get to Admiral Jerry Reinsdorf in a bit.
Let’s start with the Bulls, who have decided that chemistry, culture and development are more important than Williamson, who will be the runaway prize of the lottery. They have won six of nine games since acquiring Otto Porter Jr. in a trade Feb. 6 with the Wizards. That is decidedly not good.
The three teams that finish with the worst records in the NBA each will have a 14 percent chance of landing the top pick in the lottery. The Bulls have been fourth for a long time, but now their distance from the third-worst record is growing, thanks to a commitment to things that have nothing to do with getting Williamson. The team with the fourth-worst mark will have a 12.5 percent chance of getting the first pick and the team with the fifth-worst mark 10.5 percent. Every bit of bad matters.
Since the trade for Porter, Bulls coach Jim Boylen has gushed about the progress his players have made. Anyone looking at the big picture, the one filled to the margins by a certain 6-7, 285-pound, ultra-talented 18-year-old, says: ‘‘I don’t give a whit about that.’’
This is a franchise missing the forest for some shrub.
The Bulls panicked by getting Porter. They fell back on the idea that not being so dreadful would satisfy a fan base that had been staying away from the United Center. It’s what they did in 2016, when they signed Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, two veterans who didn’t fit anyone’s idea of a rebuild.
There are no guarantees of getting the top pick, of course. But if the Bulls took Porter as insurance in case they don’t get Williamson, they were terribly misguided. For the record, they’re guided by vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman.
There’s only so much pounding a head and a wall can take.
The Sox had a chance to get Machado but made an offer that seemed to be drawn up in an alternate universe. The Padres got their man with a 10-year offer of $300 million guaranteed. The Sox offered Machado an eight-year, $250 million deal that could have been worth more had he met certain incentives. The entire issue was guaranteed money, and the Sox acted as though it wasn’t.
The Padres were playing the game. The Sox were playing something else — chess, the piano, I don’t know.
‘‘It’s a shame if it’s being portrayed that we were on the cheap on this thing,’’ Williams told the Sun-Times’ Daryl Van Schouwen. ‘‘That’s really interesting because, holy s—, that’s a quarter of a billion dollars we offered with a chance to be higher than what he’s getting.’’
Cheap? No. Off-course? Yes.
‘‘People are lost on the fact that, on a yearly basis, our offer was more than San Diego’s,’’ Williams said. ‘‘The average annual value was $31 [million] and change. So it was about years guaranteed. So there is an argument that could be made that our offer was the better of the two. It certainly had more upside for him. All he had to do was basically stay healthy.’’
No, no, no. It was clear from the beginning that the burden was going to be on teams to supply the money and not on Machado to earn it through incentives. That’s just reality. The Sox chose to avert their eyes from it.
It’s not coincidence that Reinsdorf owns both teams. If you say he has become more hands-off as his years on earth have piled up, you’re wrong. But even if it were true, both franchises carry his attitude, his posture and his worldview. His executives act the way he does.
I don’t think Reinsdorf is comfortable with tanking, and I don’t think the people he has put in key leadership positions are, either. So when push comes to shove comes to doing what it takes to pull off a rebuild, the Sox and Bulls revert to what they are.
For the Bulls, that means trying to win games they should absolutely not want to win. For the Sox, that means not doing what it takes — on his terms — to get one of the best young players in the game. It doesn’t matter if you think Machado was worth their efforts. The important thing here is that their efforts were so badly off-target.
Are the two franchises all in? Sure doesn’t look like it.