Tunnel

It’s been nearly a week, the dust is finally settling after the madness of the 2018 NBA Draft. The Bulls turned their tanking season into two solid college basketball players; Wendell Carter Jr and Chandler Hutchison. Most Bulls fans, myself included, are happy with the picks. Carter was one of the best, if not the best player available at #7. After 4 years at Boise State, Hutchison proved himself a versatile hardworker, and should become a capable pro. Throughout the various post-draft interviews, both Hutchison and Carter proved themselves intelligent, earnest young men eager to verify they belong in the NBA and the city of Chicago.

I like both Wendell Carter Jr and Chandler Hutchison. I too, am eager to watch them prove they belong in the NBA and Chicago. I would like to make it clear that this post is not about Wendell Carter Jr or Chandler Hutchison; this post is about the Bulls front office, and the all too familiar unease the GarPax inspire in my mortal soul with the decisions they make.

It all started with a promise, or rather, the rumor of a promise. It was a promise from the Chicago Bulls to Chandler Hutchison that they would draft the versatile wing with the 22nd pick overall, if he was still available. The promise was made during the 1st day of the Draft Combine, and it was enough to send young Hutchison home early, that same day in fact. He no longer needed to work out, he had impressed the Bulls enough, and he knew he was going to get a shot at the NBA.

That was the rumor that surfaced during the draft combine, a rumor so persistent that some fans nicknamed Hutchison “The Promise” (I prefer “Hutch” myself, especially when paired with Carter… Carter and Hutch. It’s very ‘70’s buddy cop). It was a rumor that apparently proved true, because here we are a week or so after the draft, and Hutch is the newest member of the Chicago Bulls.

As a fan, when I hear about a rumor like “The Promise,” a small pit forms in my stomach. One of those small stomach pits capable of swallowing Hope itself. “How could the Bulls limit their options so drastically at pick 22?” I, and many other Bulls fans, wondered. “There will be sooo many talented players to take a chance on in the draft. Are they that dumb?”

Like many other Bulls fans, I tried to convince myself it was just pre-draft smoke and mirrors. Maybe Hutchison’s agent was trying to drum up some interest from teams. Maybe another team had actually made the promise. Maybe this was some sort of elaborate trade bait plot thingy that the Bulls were floating in hopes of snagging a trade. But, in the end, it was that Hope swallowing pit in the depths of my stomach who asked the one question capable of shaking some measure of reality into my delusional brain. “Which is the only franchise in the NBA ludicrous enough to waste time and resources scouting a 4 year basketball player out of Boise State?”

We all know the answer to that question.

It was a series of questions asked during the Bulls “Introduction” press conference that really brought the absurdity of “The Promise” to a head for me.

Sam Smith, looong time Bulls journalist, asked several questions of Hutchison regarding the improbability of his rise from second-rate high school recruit to 1st round NBA draft pick. Hutchison responded with polished dignity, citing his own hard work in the gym, his disregard for rankings, the chip on his shoulder, and the need to prove others wrong. It was in Hutch’s DNA to get better, it’s what made him the first ever 1st round NBA Draft pick out of Boise State. It was an inspiring response.

Sam Smith went on to write a glowing article on chicagobulls.com about Hutch overcoming the odds via hard work and moxy; starting as a scrub, becoming a better basketball player each of his 4 season at Boise State, until finally, senior year, he blossomed as a leader and star. But that damned Hope swallowing pit in the depths of my stomach whispered the truth once again, “So…You’re saying we could have picked Hutchison in the 2nd round?”

…And this is the unease that the GarPax leaves me feeling after every move they make. The feeling like we just got the short end of the stick. The feeling of continuously diminishing returns.

It’s as if Gar Forman and John Paxson have tunnel vision. They find a player they like and they focus on that player. They watch that player. They like that player even more. They begin to covet that player, and soon enough, they are doing whatever it takes to get that player on the Bulls, including trading bona fide stars and rebuilding the entire team. No matter how many times they are told “you’ll shoot your eye out,” they just have to have that damned Red Rider bb-gun.

Don’t get me wrong, the GarPax do an above average job of finding players with NBA talent in the Draft. They rarely miss with draft picks. But it’s not the hitting or missing on picks I worry about, it’s the question of getting full value from the picks themselves. If you could draft Chandler Hutchison in the 2nd round (and it seems likely the Bulls would have been able to), then why waste a 1st round pick on him?

Hutch said during the press conference that he was aware the Bulls were scouting him his sophomore year at Boise State. That means they scouted him for at least 3 seasons. That is A LOT of time and effort to spend on a struggling 4 year player from a 2nd tier Division I school. An organization would almost have to draft that player just to justify all the time scouting him. Sam Smith hinted at the ridiculousness of the situation with the questions he asked of Hutchison, but this is hardly the first time tunnel vision has forced the Bulls to overreach.

Jusuf Nurkic and Garry Harris became Doug McDermott. Doug McDermott and Taj Gibson became Cameron Payne. Jimmy Butler became Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine (remember, Lauri Markkanen was just the kicker). Tom Thibodeau became Fred Hoiberg. The equation is simple: Tunnel vision leads to over valuing a player, which leads to a move that leaves the Bulls holding the short end of the stick, which results in Continuously Diminishing Returns.

The best teams understand not only the value of the player, but the value of that player in relationship to each and every team in the league. The best teams do not covet players, they leverage value. The Boston Celtics have built a solid young team simply by leveraging the value of their picks, picks they received from a team that foolishly coveted players. The Celtics also pounced on opportunities that presented themselves in the market.

The Bulls did not value Chandler Hutchison correctly. They should have used the 22nd pick on someone else and bought a 2nd round pick to use on him. Or they should have traded down, picking up additional assets while still giving themselves an opportunity to select the player they had been targeting for over 3 years.

In both of those scenarios it would take two to tango. Who knows? Maybe the Bulls tried trading down but couldn’t find anyone willing to deal. Maybe there wasn’t a team willing to sell a second round pick to the Bulls. More likely, there was a team interested in selling a 2nd rounder but they couldn’t get the GarPax on the phone because they were too busy holding a self congratulatory press conference BEFORE THE DRAFT HAD EVEN FINISHED! UGH! Here comes that Hope swallowing pit in the depths of my stomach again. Oh well.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Europe…

 

 

 

 

Lauri Markkanen is playing for his national team, Finland, so he will not be participating in Summer League. That means the spotlight will be firmly affixed to Carter and Hutch.

Go Bulls!