The signs were obvious as last season was winding down. Backup center Cristiano Felicio was regressing fast.
Felicio went from averaging 18-plus minutes in January and February to getting limited playing time in the last few weeks, including a handful of games in which he didn’t even play.
Still, general manager Gar Forman rewarded Felicio’s declining play with a four-year, $32 million extension last summer.
How has it worked out? Felicio hasn’t played in the Bulls’ last three games and in five of their last eight.
‘‘I don’t know if it’s a step backward,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said. ‘‘There are going to be times for Cris to get out there and make an impact for this team. The big thing is to keep himself ready, keep himself in shape, which he’ll do.
‘‘He’s been doing a good job staying after shootarounds, or he’ll stay after and get a good, solid workout. That’s the big thing right now is to keep his conditioning and keep his timing when his name is called.’’
Translation: Felicio has no real staying power in this rebuild.
Twenty-five games into the regular season is enough of a sample size to see which players are solid pieces to move forward with.
Lauri Markkanen: Forman and vice president of basketball operations John Paxson nailed this one. The rookie has been better than
advertised and plays beyond his years. He is already the best scoring threat on the roster.
Kris Dunn: There were some early questions about his outside shooting, but he is improving on his shooting fundamentals and can develop into an elite defender. Now he has to start cleaning up all those turnovers.
Zach LaVine: He has yet to play in a game for the Bulls, but his athleticism and scoring ability will be huge as the rebuild moves forward.
Keepers for now
Bobby Portis: He isn’t an NBA starter, but he is a rotation guy, even on a playoff team. His energy and ability to rebound will keep him in the league — and on the Bulls’ roster.
David Nwaba: His off-the-charts athleticism and potential to be an elite wing defender continue to open eyes. When LaVine returns, will Nwaba take minutes from Denzel Valentine? That remains to be seen.
Denzel Valentine: It’s still hard to figure out what he projects to be. Yes, he can get hot from outside and can play-make, but doing it consistently is the question. His lack of athleticism is sometimes obvious.
Jerian Grant: The former starting point guard is where he should be — on the bench.
Robin Lopez: He has a friendly contract and is a no-nonsense big man who will do whatever is asked of him.
Nikola Mirotic: If he keeps playing the way he has since returning, his stock will be way up come the trade deadline in February.
Justin Holiday: The perfect rotation piece for a playoff team, he is worth making a phone call about.
Paul Zipser: He still has trouble putting the ball on the floor, and his defense hasn’t been as consistent as it was last season.
Cristiano Felicio: His game is going backward.
Quincy Pondexter: He’s a great guy, but he would be better served on a playoff team than babysitting.
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