Shoehorned

shoehorned

Summer League is over for the Bulls. Last Saturday, they exited in the second round of the championship tournament, losing to the Detroit Pistons, 72-66. Here are my final thoughts and expectations for the key players on Summer League Bulls:

  • Wendell Carter Jr was the breakout star Bulls fans hoped he would be. Not only did he shine on the offensive end of the court, he displayed great defensive instincts and quickness. He blocked shots, he rotated into good position to help on defense, and most impressive of all, he stayed with guards when defending the perimeter. Summer League was an excellent showcase for Carter, I believe he will be a starter in the NBA.
  • Chandler Hutchison had a “meh” kind of Summer League. He had flashes of brilliance on both sides of the court, but was very inconsistent with his production. He did show steady improvement throughout the games, and fans should expect more improvement as Hutch gains NBA experience. He could become a very good player in a season or two, but it will take time for him to realize his full potential. I suspect Hutch might spend some time in the G-League this year, not because he is bad, but more likely, he will need the minutes so as not to get rusty while sitting on the bench with the Bulls.
  • Donte Ingram was a bit disappointing this Summer League. He missed a lot of three pointers and wasn’t very impressive on defense. He will have to work his way into the NBA from the G-League or on a European club team. I don’t think he is ready for NBA competition just yet.
  • Ryan Arcidiacono was exactly the player Bulls fans have come to expect: plucky and undersized. He ran the offensive competently, making sure everyone got to touch the ball, setting up the top of the arc weave action the Bulls run; He was adequate. Also, he exerted a lot of effort on defense and occasionally made a difference. With Jerian Grant no longer on the roster, the line up is a little thin at point guard. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bulls keep Arcidiacono on his 2 way contract.
  • Antonio Blakeney did what he does best. He scored… a lot. He averaged over 20 points a game and was one of the top scorers in all of Summer League. He was also trying to play a bit of point guard, bringing the ball up the court, but most of those possessions seemed to end with him shooting the ball, so he still has some room to grow as a facilitator. Blakeney also needs to improve on the defense of end of the court before he becomes a full time NBA player. For now, I think the Bulls will try to keep him on his 2 way contract.

Alright. That’s enough Summer League talk, it’s time to talk about the only thing Bulls fans really care about right now: Jabari Parker

The Contract –

Two years. $20 million per year. The 2nd year is team optional, meaning if, God forbid, things aren’t working out with Parker, the Bulls can walk away from the deal at the end of this season. As I understand the CBA (and I’m not sure I do), because of the amount of money and timing of the contract, the Bulls now have “Early Bird Rights” to Jabari Parker. This means Parker has an automatic “No-Trade” clause attached to his contract for this next season. If the Bulls were hoping to sign Parker and flip him mid season in a trade, they might run into some difficulties because of the “No-Trade” clause. It’s the same issue the team faced last season with Niko Mirotic. If, God forbid, things don’t work out with Parker, the earliest date the Bulls can trade him is January 15th of next season (another rule of the CBA). Parker would have to approve any trade the Bulls made.

The Fit –

It’s hard to see Parker fitting into the current scheme of the team. His best position is at the “4,” or Power Forward, a position currently occupied by Lauri Markkanen. The Bulls are going to play Parker at the “3,” Small Forward, the position he played in Milwaukee and a position he is none to fond of. This awkward shoehorning of talent into uncomfortable positions is not unique to Jabari and the Bulls, and it is not destined to fail by any means, but it is a tough way to start with a new team. The only way we can possibly know that Parker at the 3 with the Bulls doesn’t work, is to see it not work.

Playing out of position isn’t the only thing threatening Parker’s fit with the team. $20 million is an awful lot of money to be paying for a possible one season rental, especially when face-of-the-franchise, newly re-signed Zach LaVine is only making $19 million a season. I don’t know how LaVine feels about Parker making more money than him, but I know I would feel a little salty if I was in his shoes. The Bulls seemingly dragged their feet when it came to signing LaVine, waiting until the Sacramento Kings offered a generous contract and then quickly matching it. It took another team goading them into being generous to LaVine, yet they were more than happy to give Parker a substantial payout. Yes, LaVine’s contract is longer with much more guaranteed money, but the willingness to overpay for a player with TWO ACL injuries in his past certainly seems hypocritical. How do you penny pinch on the LaVine contract, yet rush to overpay Parker? The dollar amount of the contract might be a source of friction for the team and LaVine.

Another source of friction will be playing time. The Bulls have too many bigs on the roster. Even if Centers Omer Asik and Cristiano Felicio never play any minutes next season, the Bulls will have to balance the playing time of Robin Lopez, Wendell Carter Jr, Lauri Markkanen, Bobby Portis, Chandler Hutchison, Justin Holiday, and Jabari Parker. I certainly do not envy Fred Hoiberg that personnel nightmare. Shoehorning Parker into the rotation is the REAL concern when talking about team fit. He is going to be “stealing” minutes from at least four players.

Bobby Portis, whose stats are remarkably similar to Parker’s over the course of their careers, will definitely lose time on the court. He had an excellent 2017-18 season coming off the bench as a scoring big. Portis proved to be a source of consistent production, and while porous on the defensive end, his leadership and effort were a steadying force for a young inexperienced team. Portis probably feels like the rug has been pulled out from under him, and this might translate to a dip in effort, consistency, and production. By signing Parker, the Bulls may have alienated one of the key leaders of this team. Let’s hope this doesn’t result in a divided locker room.

 

Chandler Hutchison could be the future Small Forward on the Bulls, but he needs time and experience playing that position in the NBA to grow into that role. This should be a development year for the rookie, and he should get a lot of minutes to make his mistakes and learn how to play as a professional. The amount of minutes he gets this season will probably be diminished because of the Parker signing. With Parker taking minutes away from the rookie, you have to assume that will negatively effect Hutchison’s growth and development.

Lauri Markkanen is also developing. He showed flashes of stardom last season, and was an unflappable professional even when his shot wasn’t falling. I don’t think the Bulls will reduce the amount of minutes he plays this season, but his role will undoubtedly change. I imagine the Bulls will play him as a Center more often this season, as they try to give Parker minutes at his true position, Power Forward. It will be a new challenge for Markkanen, but one I think he can overcome. I believe the Bulls always planned on trying Markkanen out at Center, the addition of Parker just gives them an excuse to implement the plan.

Finally, Justin Holiday is no longer the starting Small Forward of the Chicago Bulls. Obviously, Holiday is the player impacted the most by this signing. The Bulls will probably try to trade Holiday before the season is over. With Parker as the starter and Hutchison waiting in the wings, it’s hard to imagine a role for Holiday moving forward. It is another unfortunate blow to the Bulls defense. With no David Nwaba and the future seemingly void of Justin Holiday; the Bulls will be hard pressed to find anyone on the roster capable of defending opponents wing players. While a prolific scorer, Jabari Parker is not known for his defense. Sure, Holiday was never a lock down defender for the Bulls, but he was certainly competent. With Parker in Holiday’s role, expect the Bulls to give up an awful lot of points.

The Upside-

Even with all the issues plaguing Parker’s fit with the team, it’s hard to argue against the signing. Parker is young. He is talented. He can score from all over the court. Parker is an asset on a one year “show me” deal. The team option on the second year of the contract keeps the Bulls contenders in next years free agent market. It’s that team option that really makes this deal acceptable. If they had locked themselves into multiple years with Parker, it would have devastated the Bulls cap space for next summer. GarPax maintain their precious flexibility, and that’s all that really counts in the end.