The 2018-19 NBA Regular Season wrapped up last week, leaving the Bulls outside of the playoffs yet again. Not that that’s surprising. It was an awful season, not worth dwelling on, which is why when John Paxson addressed the media in his traditional “End of the Season” press conference, he looked to the future.
I’ve been thinking about how to present my views on this press conference. On the one hand, I’m not a huge fan of the Front Office or how they conduct business, but on the other hand, there is room for optimism concerning the players. That is what this blog was originally set up to do, give a little light in the darkness of a rebuild. So, I’ve decided (despite the picture above) to dial back the GarPax bashing and look at some of the positives gleaned from this presser.
The best piece of news to come from John Paxson was that Lauri Markkanen was given a clean bill of health and should be fine going into next season. I think we all know how important the young Fin is to this team and it’s future, Paxson certainly seems to understand as well. He also laid out some of the ways the Bulls hope Markkanen can grow and improve this summer.
The plan for Markkanen is to build up his lower body strength so he can compete in the post. It seems the Bulls are serious about using him as a stretch center in some lineups. Paxson also said Lauri needs to improve his ball handling, which suggests they liked what they saw from him this season, pushing the ball up the court in transition. Shot creation, separation from defenders (the ability to get open), and playing at different speeds, were other areas earmarked for improvement, but Paxson was very clear that Markkanen is a rare breed of basketball player, the kind that can rise to greatness.
When asked about the under achieving Kris Dunn, Pax said very plainly that they have not given up on the fiery point guard. With one more year left on his rookie contract, the Bulls are more than willing to give Dunn another chance to prove himself. That being said, whether it’s a veteran free agent or a rookie draft pick, it was also clear that they will be pursuing another point guard to replace, or backup, Kris Dunn. Paxson helpfully laid out some of the criteria they are looking for in a point guard; They are looking for a “Push Guard,” someone that can breakdown defenders, get into the paint and feed the 3 point shooters (i.e. Otto Porter Jr, Zach LaVine, and Markkanen).
Another encouraging tidbit from Paxson was they way he addressed questions about the draft. He spoke of “keeping a broad mind,” which I interpret as “being open to a trade.” As it stands, this draft appears to be top heavy and light on talent. If the Bulls find themselves with a 3rd, 4th, or 5th pick overall it might be in their best interest to trade out of those positions for veteran talent and future picks. In the past, the Bulls have been reluctant to trade down, but with a “broad mind” anything is possible.
The penultimate positive I took away from this press conference was the emphasis Paxson put on finding solid veterans to fill out the roster. “We need physical and mental toughness from some vets to help our guys out. That’ll be our priority.” Over the last few seasons the weakest link in the Bulls has been its bench. With all the injuries this team has suffered in the last decade or two, it’s good to know that Paxson is focusing on making bench depth a strength. When Lauri and Zach inevitably get injured, it will be nice not to have to rely on Jabari Parker and Cam Payne to fill in.
There is a new goal for the Bulls, a new catch phrase by which we are meant to judge the team’s success next season: In the Hunt.
John Paxson, Gar Forman, and the Reinsdorf Family, all expect the Bulls to be in the playoff hunt next season. Not in the playoffs, mind you, but “in the hunt” for the playoffs. This is still a pretty nebulous goal. Technically, every team is “in the hunt” for the playoffs simply by playing games, but at the very least there is a colloquial understanding that the Bulls will be middle of the Eastern Conference and not bottom of the barrel, as they have been for the past couple seasons. We shall see. I am cautiously optimistic that this will indeed be the case.
Those were the big positives I found in the press conference; Markkanen’s clean bill of health, Dunn getting another chance to prove himself, the targeting of another point guard (rookie or veteran), Draft Day open mindedness, boosting the bench with veterans, and the goal to be IN THE HUNT (sounds like the title to a Tom Clancy novel). Too much of the press conference was spent talking about “meh” coach, Jim Boylen. It sounds like the Front Office and owners love the guy. Evidently, Boylen is a great communicator and teacher (just like Hoiberg was?), and a long term commitment to him is “very possible.” Cool. It’s worth noting that the Front Office and owners were pretty high on Hoiberg during last years “End of the Season” press conference and where did that get him? 3 months paid vacation and a head coaching gig at Nebraska University. So please, Bulls fans, take all the Boylen love with a grain of salt.
A lot of people have already written about the Paxson Presser; much of what has been written isn’t nearly as rosy as this post. I admit, most of those articles echo many of my own fears about this organization, and probably yours as well, but it is important to see the positives this Front Office is responsible for. The big thing they do well is the draft (well, 1st round at least). The next few months will be directly in the Bulls wheel house and that alone should be exciting.
From now until the start of training camp for the 2019-20 season you can expect one post a week from me. I am on my summer writing schedule. There may be a couple of emergency posts for breaking news and a week or two off for vacation, but I’ll let you all know when those are coming. I am also toying with changes to the layout of this blog. I like the template I’m using now, but there might be something better out there, we’ll see. I also have some wacky ideas kicking around on ways of making this blog more unique (don’t worry, “more haiku” is not one of them), but those plans will require me greatly improving my drawing skills. Until then, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!
P.S. Here’s the Paxson press conference in its entirety. The audio quality is a bit poor, so you might have to turn the volume up on your speakers to hear what Paxson is saying. Enjoy…