With so many swirling NBA stars, it’d be great if Bulls grew their own galaxy
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With apologies to late Bulls executive Jerry Krause, players, not organizations, win NBA championships. That’s especially true now, with the best talent in the league congregating in a few cities, leaving the rest of the teams to sift through the cosmic matter that floats between stars.
You don’t have to like that LeBron James recently left the Cavaliers again to try to form his own superteam, this time with the Lakers. You just have to accept that it is so and that DeMarcus Cousins joined the Warriors so he could play with Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. That means the Warriors could become the first team since the 1975-76 Celtics to have a starting lineup of five All-Stars from the previous season.
And now, amid all this star-collecting, come the low-born Bulls, who are trying to grow their own — sort of. They matched the four-year, $78 million offer sheet the Kings gave to guard Zach LaVine, who, along with point guard Kris Dunn and 7-footer Lauri Markkanen, came in the 2017 trade that sent Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves.
Is there a chance that this maybe, possibly, someday Big Three eventually can thrive in a league doing a decent imitation of Chicago high school basketball’s transfer season? Of course, there is. But maybe the better question in light of what’s going on in the NBA is one full of longing:
Wouldn’t it be great if an organization built a winner, as opposed to a group of players getting on a conference call and deciding to conquer the world together?
The Bulls are the antithesis of what the best teams have done for the last decade. Given the track record of vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman, that might give you pause — in the way a heart attack might give you pause. But Markkanen is good going on great, LaVine looks primed to have a bounce-back season after dealing with the effects of knee surgery and Dunn finally did a decent imitation of the guard most experts thought he would be when the Timberwolves took him fifth overall in the 2016 draft.
There’s a foundation here. Granted, there is no guarantee that one of the players, never mind all three, will turn into a star. But if those players improve, mesh and — here’s a big one — like each other enough to stick together, perhaps the Bulls are on to something. Add a stud free agent or two and stir.
I’d love that to come true, if for no other reason than to show that it still can be done. Wishful thinking? It’s the only kind of thinking we have to work with right now.
Players run the NBA, which makes it different than the other major U.S. sports leagues. What we’re trying to celebrate here — a team being built the conventional way — very well might blow up when LaVine or another important Bull is up for his next contract. All it takes is one call to your resident superstar from Curry or Durant for your homegrown team to look like a ghost town. Whoever has the title of Warriors general manager is overpaid, even if he’s paid $1 annually.
The NBA has turned into two or three teams plowing through the 82-game season and eyeing each other until the Finals. Then we get down to the business of what the league is supposed to be all about: the best going against the best. That great NBA teams are built the way Amateur Athletic Union teams are built bothers a lot of people. It strikes them as against the noble concept of fair play.
Lose your self-righteousness and say hello to reality. It’s fair if the rules say it is, and they do.
If your sensibilities still are offended, grab on to a team like the rebuilding Bulls and see if the opposite approach is more to your liking. If it is, just know that you’re celebrating another so-called evil: tanking. The Bulls, like the 76ers, have lost with enthusiasm to get higher draft picks.
So, yeah, honor is dead.
I’d rather see a group of young players grow together and eventually challenge for a championship than see LeBron attach other stars to his coattails and compete for a title.
Can it be done in this day and age of star-collecting? I don’t know. I do know that I’m interested in finding out. And if it did come to pass that the Bulls were able to pull it off, it would be much more satisfying than if a few superstars decided to make Chicago their home.
Wouldn’t that be wonderful? A dream, perhaps, but it’s all we’ve got.
Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their candid, amusing takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, or via RSS feed.