If the Bulls truly are chasing a championship, they need to be all-in on Zion
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The Bulls’ mission statement was laid out very clearly in June 2017.
‘‘We always know that’s not the goal, just getting to the playoffs,’’ vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said when discussing the trade of Jimmy Butler and the task of rebuilding the Bulls were taking on at the time.
So two years later, why does it feel ‘‘just getting to the playoffs’’ is the Bulls’ only goal?
Let’s start with the basics:
If an NBA title truly is the goal for Paxson and Co., here is a look at the last seven championships teams: the Warriors three times, with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson for all three of them and Kevin Durant added for the last two; the Cavaliers once, with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving playing the roles of Batman and Robin; the Heat twice, with James teaming with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh; and the Spurs, with an aging Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili but a very spry Kawhi Leonard.
Those aren’t just rosters with multiple superstars; they’re rosters with Hall of Famers. Name one superstar on this Bulls roster.
That brings us to the more important point of this so-called rebuild: Paxson was defending the front office after acquiring forward Otto Porter Jr. in a trade last month with the Wizards when he said, “I’m confident in our ability to get there because we’ve done it before.’’
The ‘‘done it before’’ he was referring to was the 2010-11 team, which fell to the Heat in five games in the Eastern Conference finals. So they really didn’t do it before if a championship is the goal.
The point is, the best team Paxson and general manager Gar Forman have built was because of a No. 1 pick in Derrick Rose. The obstacle that stopped Rose was a No. 1 pick in James.
The draft is filled with uncertainty most seasons, even at the top, but Rose and James were can’t-miss prospects, franchise-changers, superstars there for the taking.
Yes, the Bulls got lucky and won the Rose lottery with only a 1.7 percent chance in 2008. But the Cavaliers had a 22.5 percent chance to land James in 2003 after tanking the previous season and finishing with only 17 victories. They went all-in on the kid from Akron and eventually came out with a championship.
So why the heck are the Bulls a combined 6-1 this season against the Cavaliers, Suns and Knicks — the three teams below them in the standings — while Duke star Zion Williamson is about to enter the draft this summer?
Maybe they don’t value Williamson as highly as some do. Maybe they don’t value the math of the new flattened draft odds. After all, the three teams with the worst records have a 14 percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick and the team with the fourth-worst record — the Bulls right now — has a 12.5 percent chance.
Maybe that 1.5 percent difference isn’t worth it to the Bulls, but beating a Suns team in a meaningless game — as they did Monday — is.
No one knows what Williamson will be at the NBA level, but no player in the history of college basketball has had his combination of size and athletic ability. That screams all-in in every way possible, especially for a rebuilding team lacking a superstar.
Big-name free agents aren’t coming to the Bulls under this regime. That has been proved. The draft is their best free-agent pool.
They have 10 games left to start treating it that way.