It will be a sink-or-swim summer for the Bulls, but several are about to drown
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The Lauri Markkanen lovefest was in full bloom the last week of the regular season.
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg excitedly sang his praises and vice president of basketball operations John Paxson called the seventh overall pick from last June’s draft a “cornerstone’’ for the organization moving forward.
They undoubtedly feel like they hit on that draft pick, and Markkanen’s play substantiated that belief.
“I probably haven’t spoken enough about Lauri,’’ Paxson said during his end-of-season address. “I’ve said this many times this year: We loved him in the draft, obviously, but we didn’t know what we had. I’m incredibly impressed with the poise he plays with.
“He’s a young man and has played just one year in the league, but he, at least from my seat, exceeded expectations.
‘‘And we believe we have a good one there and a foundational piece for everything we want to be and the way the game is being played.
‘‘So, yeah, we’re lucky. We feel very lucky he was part of that deal we made last summer.’’
And Markkanen wasn’t the only Bull to feel the love from Paxson.
No life jacket needed
Robin Lopez — No player sacrificed more than Lopez this season, and even if the Bulls land a big man in the draft, Lopez would be a perfect one-year mentor.
He has a year left on his deal at $14.3 million, makes the team more efficient offensively and defensively and is probably one of the humblest players in an ego-driven league.
More important, Paxson said they want him back.
The coaching staff — As expected, Hoiberg and his coaching staff aren’t going anywhere. Paxson reiterated that and gave the staff a huge pat on the back.
“Yeah, Fred will be back,’’ Paxson said. “I thought Fred and our staff did a tremendous job of keeping our group together. When you lose, it’s not an easy thing. Coaches, players, coaches more than anybody, they live and die every game. . . . I know Fred enjoyed coaching this group.’’
There could be some changes in roles within the staff, and expect the group to come together and establish more of a defensive identity rather than reacting with a game plan to counter opposing offenses, but the same faces will return for the 2018-19 season.
Grab the life jacket!
Jerian Grant — Hoiberg was trying to sell the idea that Grant and Cam Payne will go into the summer competing for the role of backup point guard. But the competition already is over.
“I feel really good about going into next season with Kris Dunn as our starter and Cameron Payne as our backup,’’ Paxson said.
“All these young guys have a lot of things to work on and clean up, but Cameron showed a competitiveness to him, an ability to push the ball probably better than any guard we’ve had in a while, and he showed a defensive edge to him that will help us going forward.’’
If Grant is back in a Bulls uniform next season, then something went very wrong this summer.
Paul Zipser — Zipser’s name hasn’t been mentioned in the last week. And when Paxson said the Bulls will be looking for wing help in the draft, you could connect the dots.
The Bulls have a team option on Zipser for next season, but too many injuries and not enough upside likely will end his stay.