Monday was Media Day. The day when the Bulls meet with reporters, take pictures, shoot promos, and wear their uniforms for an awkwardly extended period of time without actually playing basketball. For the media, it’s kind of like the first day of school after summer vacation. Reporters get to see how their old pals, the players, have changed over the break. They ask each player what they worked on over the summer, how much weight did they gain or lose, what areas of their game should we expect to see improvement in, etc. The day is a giant tease, a slot machine of basketball cliches that rarely ever pays out.
If you stand on the edge of a cliff made out of pure expectation long enough, even the most patient of souls is eventually going to walk away out of boredom. Media day leaves me wanting to scream “Start the season!” at the top of my lungs and not stop shouting until they finally do. What was the main take away from all the press conferences, sit down interviews, and candid conversations of Media Day? The 2018-19 Chicago Bulls are a pile of TBD: To Be Determined.
During the front office press conference, John Paxson was asked if this season was going to be competitive or focused on player development. He responded with what was essentially an “I don’t know” answer; He asserted that the way the season goes will determine whether it’s a competitive one or focused on development. As always, the Bulls front office fails to take responsibility for their own creation. For all their bluster about competition, holding each other responsible, and building a winning culture, GarPax are too frightened to own their possible failures.
They pick out ingredients. They combine the ingredients. They bake a cake. They decorate the cake. They talk up the cake to those around them, giving subtle hints that the cake might not be to everyone’s liking, on the other hand, the cake could also be the greatest anyone has ever tasted, who knows? I mean the cake has X, Y, and Z in it, how could it not be good? They serve the cake. They watch the reactions of the people eating the cake, and, depending on how the cake tastes, either take credit for it or blame anyone but themselves for its poor quality. “It’s hard to get terrific taste when working with sub-par X, Y, and Z. The piping tips for the frosting bag broke again, so we’re just waiting on Derrick to get better. It’s hard to play consistent, winning basketball when the team is dealing with so many injuries.”
There is always an excuse for failure. What there is no excuse for is a lack of vision.
GarPax, give your team something to play for. When you say all you’re looking for this season is improvement, or just to win more games than last season, that sounds an awful lot like a development season to me. Just own it. Say it with me GarPax, “This is a development year.” It’s that simple. It’s OKAY to still be developing the team in the second year of a rebuild. It is very unusual for a team to be competing for the playoffs just a season removed from replacing the foundation of your franchise.
To their credit, and with no surprise, the Bulls players all spoke of the playoffs as the ultimate goal for this season. Even if the front office is unclear what the direction of this team is, the players all seem to be leaning the same way. Questions about who the #1 scoring option is, or the leadership of the team were generally met with a stock sports cliché response: “This is a team game.” “Depending on who’s hot that night, everyone will get a chance.” Only Kris Dunn took ownership of his leadership role.
In his press conference, he spoke about being the leader on defense. It will be his job to make sure his teammates are in the right spots to defend opponents. He took pride in being the best defender on the team, and he accepted the responsibility that comes with being the best at something. He knows he has to set the tone, be the example, and be the player who gets in his teammates ears when they aren’t doing their part. He also described how it will be his job to run the offense, making sure the ball is constantly moving, that plays are flowing, and his teammates are getting enough touches.
“I’m going to be more communicative on the court… You’re going to see more of a vocal leader… You need that to be a point guard… I’m the quarterback. I got to make sure everybody’s in the right spots, and because I feel like I’m the best defender on the team, I got to do it on both ends of the floor.” – Kris Dunn during his Media Day presser
Dunn gets it. This is all obvious stuff. Everything he needs to do to prove himself a capable point guard is plain as day for everyone to see. He acknowledges it. He owns it. He embraces it. He accepts responsibility for it. He even acknowledged and accepted his weaknesses on offense. He acknowledged and accepted that Wendell Carter might someday become a better defender than he is, but not right now, not just yet. And while Dunn still wears the mantel of Best Bulls Defender, he plans on leading. It’s on him. He accepts the responsibility. He doesn’t make excuses. Setting his fear of failure to the side, he looks forward to the competition.
That’s the courage of a budding leader, being able to accept and willingly shoulder responsibility. Kris Dunn has his goals, for both himself and his team, will he achieve them? TBD.
…And that’s okay. This is a development season after all, whether the front office is comfortable with that label or not. That doesn’t mean the Bulls won’t compete for the playoffs, or that they won’t win more games than they did last season. There is just too much unknown about the goals of the front office and the fit of this team to call it anything other than a development season.
Who will the #1 scoring option be? TBD.
Will the 15 lbs of muscle Lauri Markkanen added help him in the post? TBD.
Will Jabari Parker be able to play the small forward position effectively? TBD.
Will Carter start at center or Robin Lopez? TBD.
Can Zach LaVine and Jabari Parker improve on defense? TBD.
Is there any room in the rotation for Justin Holiday and Denzel Valentine? TBD.
Who will win the last 2-way contract? TBD.
Here I am again, standing on the edge of that giant expectation cliff, screaming into the void:
START THE SEASON!!!!