Only the draft lottery can salvage a Bulls season that was a waste of time
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
If the Bulls don’t get the first pick in the draft, we’ll look back on the just-finished season as the show about nothing.
They didn’t tank well enough to have one of the three worst records in the league, which would have given them a 14 percent chance of getting the top pick, also known as Duke’s Zion Williamson. They finished fourth worst, which means their chances of picking first are 12.5 percent.
There wasn’t much player development, unless you count Shaquille Harrison, and if you do, stop. There certainly wasn’t development in terms of chemistry or teamwork among the players who matter most. The whole idea of the season was for Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn to spend time together on the court. To grow together. Due to injury, that didn’t happen nearly as much as the Bulls had wanted.
It’s hard to see how anyone would know if Jim Boylen can coach based on this season, but that apparently hasn’t stopped the Bulls from discussing a three-year contract extension with him.
Other than that, the 22-60 campaign was a roaring success.
It officially will be a lost season if lottery luck cackles at the Bulls on May 14 and gives the No. 1 pick to another team. Unofficially, it was a lost season when they traded for Otto Porter Jr. in February. It ensured that they would win a few more games this season, which they did, causing them to miss out on the top three spots in the Zion Sweepstakes.
Bulls officials argued all season that the development of their young players was more important than tanking in earnest. But Markkanen, slowed by an elbow injury, didn’t look much different than his rookie season. LaVine looked very much like the player he has always been, a guy who likes to drive to the hoop for a dunk or a reverse layup. Dunn took a step back.
Wendell Carter Jr., a first-round pick in 2018, was the team’s brightest spot. He averaged 10.3 points and seven rounds in an injury-shortened season, which was the only kind of season the team knew.
In a press conference last week, vice president John Paxson said that the postseason was the goal for the team in 2019-20. Williamson’s addition would make that possible. Perhaps Duke’s RJ Barrett would, too. Or even Murray State’s Ja Morant. But what if the Bulls pick fourth? What if they drop to sixth?
The playoffs as some sort of certainty? Not based on this season.
Next season is going to be another restart of the development that was supposed to begin two years ago with the drafting of Markkanen and the acquisition of LaVine and Dunn in the Jimmy Butler trade. It looked like a good trade for the Bulls, but injuries have delayed proving that it was. It could very well end up being a positive, but the way this whole thing has played out does not have a good feel to it.
I’m not saying the Bulls can’t pull themselves out of the hole they gladly put themselves in when they decided to rebuild. I am saying there’s very little about 2018-19 that would give anyone a rush of confidence that it’s going to happen.
We spent the season watching players get injured. That’s it. Management loved that Boylen changed the team’s “culture,’’ which is the buzzword of the moment in sports. In this case, it’s a new word for an old approach: Hire a coach who is the opposite of the previous coach. Where Fred Hoiberg took a more relaxed approach, Boylen took over and immediately implemented a boot camp.
Does that mean he can coach? No, it doesn’t. The best coaches in the NBA are the ones who have the best players. That’s how it’s always been. See Jackson, Phil.
When teams don’t have good players, they build legends around them to calm the masses. Remember David Nwaba from the 2017-18 season, when the Bulls went 27-55? You would have thought the guy was Draymond Green from some of the lofty language used to describe the rugged guard. When he went to the Cavaliers, his scoring average dropped from 7.9 points a game to 6.5.
The same kind of hype inflation happened with Harrison’s game this season. As for Bulls center Robin Lopez, his Hall of Fame induction ceremony is apparently only a matter of when.
Maybe Paxson will get lucky the way he did when the Ping-Pong balls went his way in 2008 and the Bulls got the No. 1 overall pick, which became future NBA Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose. Maybe Paxson will have a huge smile on his face June 20 because of words coming out of commissioner Adam Silver’s mouth: “And with the first pick of the 2019 NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls select Zion Williamson of Duke University.’’
Maybe Williamson will like playing for Boylen.
There are too many “maybes’’ here. And that’s the scary part.