What does this Bulls team want to accomplish this season?

Most people start a new year looking forward to goals and accomplishments they hope to achieve. Maybe they set a road map with way points, “By March I’ll have this done, and June this, etc.” At the beginning of the season, many of the Bulls players had the pie-in-the-sky goal of making the playoffs. Good for them. That should be their goal every season, and not just “make the playoffs,” but WIN the championship. That should be every teams pie-in-the-sky goal every season.

John Paxson set a different, more nebulous goal for his young Bulls team; he wanted to see them improve. It sounds modest enough, and, some might say, easy enough for the team to achieve. We’re nearly halfway through the season and some players seem to be meeting that broad goal.

Zach LaVine is averaging 23.6 points per game, which is 15th best in the entire NBA. Kris Dunn is averaging 6.9 assists with 2.5 turnovers per game, both numbers are better than his averages last season. Lauri Markannen’s field goal percentage and 3 point percentage are both up from last season (43.8% and 40.4% respectively). The core has gotten better, and the team’s defense under new head coach, Jim Boylen, has improved as well. John Paxson’s nebulous goal is being met in some way.

With all the injuries to start the season, with the coaching change just as players started getting healthy, with the switch to Jim Boylen’s philosophy and style of basketball, and having won only 10 games so far this season, the question remains:

What does this Bulls team want to accomplish this season?

I’m putting on my detective cap, let’s logic this together.

The teams immediate goals seem to center on trading Robin Lopez and Jabari Parker without taking back players who have big money, multi-year contracts. The fact that the Bulls are unwilling to take on players with long term contracts seems to indicate that they intend on being active in free agency this summer. So right away, we seem to have sussed out a short term goal (trade Robin and Jabari) and a long term goal (land a big name free agent this summer) for the front office.

If the focus this summer is on the free agent market, I find myself asking, how important is this years draft to the front office? If we assume that GarPax is happy with the core players they’ve assembled, and we assume that they will be active in free agency, then having a top pick in this years draft is probably not a priority for the front office. Unfortunately, we probably won’t see the Bulls tanking for Zion Williamson of Duke.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. The new rules that the league instituted for the draft lottery have flattened the odds for most lottery teams. The teams with the three worst records in the league ALL have a 14% chance at drawing the #1 pick overall, and lottery teams are drawing for the top 4 picks (no longer 3, as in previous years). This means there is less incentive in tanking, and, even if the Bulls start winning games, they will still have a good chance at landing a top pick. As always, I will direct you to the great Tankathon.com website for anything you might like to know about the NBA draft, it’s new rules, and what some possible outcomes might look like.

So the draft doesn’t seem to be a priority this year. What are the goals for this roster?

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune asked John Paxson a similar question in an article he wrote last Sunday.

paxoncoregoals

Basically the core (LaVine, Markkanen, Dunn, and Wendell Carter Jr) has to play together. The roster has to stay healthy, develop chemistry, and gain experience. Success in the NBA is usually tied to experience. It’s very rare that a young player can come into the league and have an immediate impact on a team, one that catapults a team to instant success. It can take a point guard 3-4 seasons of NBA basketball before they find their groove. The Bulls have one of the youngest rosters in the league. The average age of the Bulls roster to start the season was 24.5 years old. The most important thing they can do this season is play together.

That’s the road map for the rest of this season. It’s fairly straight forward, though it might prove difficult to complete:

1. Trade Robin Lopez and Jabari Parker, but not for bad money and long term contracts

2. Play the young core together, and don’t worry about winning

3. Don’t worry about tanking either, because the odds will more than likely still be in the Bulls favor

4. Make a big free agent acquisition (or two) this summer

They have the map, now it’s up to the team to follow it.