The Tragic Tale of Jabari Parker and the Chicago Bulls


This summer, before NBA free agency started, I wrote about some of the restricted free agents that would be available for the Bulls to bid on. I put Jabari Parker at the top of that list, not because I thought the Bulls would make him an offer, but because he was from Chicago. In my little write up, I detailed some of his positive attributes and a number of my concerns with his game. The two negatives I listed were, Parkers defensive deficiencies and his extensive injury history.

When Jabari signed with the Bulls, I felt very conflicted. It was nice to see Parker get a chance to play for his family, friends, neighbors, and supporters. That’s always fun, when a homegrown kid has a chance to make good in his home town. However, there were still questions that had to be answered about Parker’s game, primarily, would he play defense? And how would he get minutes on a team with a boat load of bigs?

Both of those questions were answered the day of Jabari’s introductory press conference. The Bulls front office signed Parker to play the “3,” or small forward position, and not the “4,” where Lauri Markkanen was expected to start. After the presser, in a phone interview with Dan Bernstein and Connor McKnight on WSCR, 670 The Score, Parker made a fatal error, he told the truth.

“They don’t pay players to play defense. I’m not gonna say I won’t, but to say that’s a weakness is like saying that’s everybody’s weakness.”

Defense was obviously not a priority for Jabari Parker.

…And a whisper of discord rustled through Bulls fandom…

Those of us who were staunchly against the Parker signing from the start took immediate umbrage with Jabari’s comments. Those of us on the fence started to lean toward the anti-Jabari faction. Those of us who were Parker supporters hunkered down to defend our guy. Jabari Parker had unintentionally become a lightening rod for criticism, hot takes, and debate among Bulls fans and the NBA.

Things only got worse when, after the first week of preseason, Coach Fred Hoiberg threw the “Parker at the 3” plan out the window. Sure, Parker causes a huge match-up problem for an opponent if you play him at the 3 on offense, but he causes an equally devastating match-up problem for the Bulls while on defense. It was painfully obvious that Parker didn’t have the speed, defensive understanding, or instincts to defend small forwards in the NBA. Parker is a “4,” a power forward, end of conversation.

It was a rough start for Parker with the Bulls. He showed up to training camp out of shape. He struggled to find his rhythm in the Bulls offense. It took him time to grow comfortable with his new teammates, with a new coaching staff, and a new system. He didn’t pick up the Bulls defensive scheme at all to begin with, which left him looking frustrated and lost on the court.

If it hadn’t been for the elbow injury to Lauri Markkanen in the very first practice of the preseason, the Bulls would have had a very big problem on their hands. As it stood, Jabari Parker, the teams big free agent acquisition and highest paid player, was going to be the backup power forward to Bobby Portis to start the season. Not a great look for Parker or the Bulls, and the discord within Bulls fandom spread like wildfire.

Even after Portis suffered an MCL sprain and Hoiberg was forced to start Parker, things didn’t go well for the Chicago native. It wasn’t until the 4th week of the season that Parker found his groove, and started cooking on offense. By then he had gotten into playing shape and was exerting effort on both ends of the court. His understanding of both the Bulls defense and offense had grown exponentially, and while he still struggled on D, he was making up for it with consistent offensive production.

It was too little, too late for Parker. Markkanen returned from injury. Fred Hoiberg was fired. Jim Boylen was named head coach of the Chicago Bulls. The team mutinied. Order was restored, and by the time the dust settled, Jabari Parker was no longer in the Bulls rotation. He was no longer a part of rebuilding his favorite team. He was out of the Bulls plans.

The way I see it, Parker made two fatal mistakes: He made the unfortunate (but true) statement about defense in his radio interview, and he showed up to training camp out of shape. Other than that, Parker has been an excellent Bull.

He has done everything the coaching staff has asked him to do: Jabari, will you…

-Start the season on the bench as a back up? Okay.

-Lead the second unit as the primary scoring option? Sure, no problem.

-Step up and start for the injured Markkanen and Portis? Absolutely, would love to!

-Put forth more effort on defense? You got it!

-Go back to the bench now that Markkanen is healthy? No doubt, I completely understand.

-Try playing the “3” even though we all know that it won’t work? That’s why you brought me in, I’d love to give it a try.

-Sit out for the rest of the season, or until we can trade you? If that’s what you need me to do.

Jabari Parker has been a true professional at every twist and turn in this ill-fated saga. I feel sad that he was dragged into this era of Bulls dysfunction.

There’s the crux of it.

As many holes as there may be in Parker’s game, the dysfunction of this team is not his fault.

After years of watching him play in Milwaukee, the Bulls front office and scouting department should have known that Parker was NOT suited to play the “3” on any NBA team, let alone their own. If me and a bunch of other NBA bloggers, podcasters, traditional media reporters and even other NBA teams knew that Jabari would struggle to fit into the role the Bulls needed him to fill, why did the front office sign him? Was it just a PR stunt, like so many other Bulls free agent signings seem to have been? Was it always the Bulls intention to try to flip Jabari in a trade before the deadline? Were they hoping against hope that they might catch lightening in a bottle and he would work at the 3? Was he just an insurance policy against injuries to key Bulls players?

I don’t know if we’ll ever get answers to those questions.

As of now, the Bulls are shopping Parker around the league. There have been reports that a number of teams (as many as 15) have expressed interest in making a deal for Jabari.

Parker, ever the professional, has said he is open to being traded, and will continue to work on his game while he sits on the bench for the Bulls.

It would be great if the Bulls could get a draft pick or a young wing player for Parker, but those are two returns that teams loath to give in a trade. The best case scenario is that a bidding war breaks out between multiple teams. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Until then, we get a chance to experience what it’s like to be a professional basketball player, as we join Jabari sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the front office to get a deal done. The sad end to the tragic tale of Jabari Parker and the Chicago Bulls. Thanks for reading and Go Bulls!