There was a time not too long ago, the 2016-17 season to be exact, when the Chicago Bulls had three Alpha Dogs running the team: Jimmy Butler, Dwayne Wade, and Rajon Rondo. It proved to be too many dogs in the kennel, and ultimately convinced the Front Office to trade Jimmy G. Buckets and rebuild the team. Unfortunately, that season was the last time the Chicago Bulls ever really had a chance at winning anything, and proved the importance of having an alpha dog on the team.
The entire ‘16-’17 season was filled with drama; Butler and Wade tried to exert control over Coach Fred Hoiberg and openly complained about the rest of their teammates. Meanwhile, Rondo blasted the two “Hollywood as Hell” prima donnas for throwing their teammates under the bus, taking to social media to call out Butler and Wade’s behavior. Wade and Butler responded by shutting the rest of the team out and doing their own thing on the court. It was an ugly, soap opera of a season, but the Bulls were competitive and they made the playoffs.
Over the last 3 seasons, the Bulls have been missing something. They’ve been missing that one key ingredient that takes a “meh” team and turns them into a spicy meatball of a playoff contender. They are missing a player that can take over down the stretch of a game/series/season and will the Bulls to victory.
The Bulls are missing an Alpha Dog.
As messy as the ‘16-’17 season was for the Bulls, it resulted in a trip to the playoffs due to the efforts of those same three snippy, drama-for-the-sake-of-drama, egomaniacal Alphas. Even as they lashed out at everyone around them, those 3 Alphas did what alpha dogs do; They won.
If there is one thing the Bulls have not done over the course of the last three seasons it’s win basketball games.
I’ve just finished watching the Bulls blow a 19 point lead to LeBron and the Lakers. I’m angry, upset, and disappointed in the team. A lot will be said, and justifiably so, about the coaching decisions in the 2nd half of this game. It appears as though Jim Boylen stuck with the second unit longer than he should have. Another common gripe will be that he didn’t use his timeouts to calm and collect his team as the Lakers were making their inevitable run. More will be said about how the Bulls players went away from the flowing offense that got them that 19 point lead and started chucking up contested shots. That’s a legitimate complaint too.
None of that matters.
This is basketball. A simple game.
The team with the best player usually wins the game.
It’s a very simple formula to understand:
LeBron > LaVine.
The Lakers didn’t play very well against the Bulls, especially in the 1st half. They looked flat. Bored. Hungover? And they played that way for two and a half quarters. Then they remembered who they were, and they put the Bulls away.
Here’s another easy formula:
Kuzma > White.
Now don’t get me wrong, I like Coby White, and maybe in a season or two that equation will be flipped. But in this game, when the chips were down and it really mattered, it was Kyle Kuzma who led the Lakers on a 16-0 run, deftly erasing the 19 point lead that the Bulls had built up. When LeBron checked back into the game for the first time during the 4th quarter, all he had to do was add to the momentum that Kuzma had started. A completed triple-double later, LeBron and the Lakers had just won their 6th in a row, and the Bulls were left once again, to stare numbly into the abyss of defeat.
Very few (if any) players will ever be greater than LeBron, so it’s hard to compete against him in a series. But some teams have players that can be greater than LeBron on a given night, or they can overwhelm his effort with outstanding team play. The Bulls are not one of those teams.
Three seasons ago, when the Front Office made the decision to rebuild, they traded Jimmy Butler, their Alpha Dog, in the hopes of developing a young core of talented, hungry players that could eventually take the league by storm. Through the Butler trade, the subsequent tanking years, and further trades and free agent signings, the Bulls Front Office has tried to solve this simple equation:
X > Jimmy Butler.
Three seasons later, they haven’t solved it yet.
This isn’t a post about whether or not it was the right move to trade Jimmy Butler. I’m not trying to blast GarPax for that trade, or any of their other moves up to this point in time. In fact, I was in favor of the Bulls hitting the reset button and trading Butler. All I’m saying is, that the Front Office still has work to do.
They’ve assembled an interesting mix of talent and potential. They have some players on this Bulls team that are capable of great things on a given night. But the key ingredient still eludes them. GarPax still haven’t found the Alpha Dog that will put the Bulls on its back and carry the franchise to victory.
It’s been a rough start to a season that had such high hopes and promise attached to it. There is a silver lining in all the losing. The silver lining is knowing that there is still work to be done. GarPax know it’s up to them to find that Alpha Dog and build the team around him. If the Bulls continue to lose games, there has to be a major shake up to the core of this team. Serious thought will have to be given as to who should stay, who should/could be traded, and what is a reasonable return for those players.
If I were in the position of GarPax (God help us all), I wouldn’t just look at trading guys like Thaddeus Young, Otto Porter Jr or Tomas Satoransky. Those are the glue players that fill out a contending teams roster, but they are also the veterans that can shape and guide a developing young star, which is another thing the Bulls have been missing this entire rebuild.
For me, the main players on the chopping block would be Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine. Their talent and potential could bring the most value back in a trade.
Right now, LaVine is playing like a poor man’s Lou Williams. He should be coming off the bench and destroying second units with his offense. He should be winning sixth man of the year awards and getting comfortable with who he is: a damn good scorer. He’s too worried about being an elite player and an all-star. He has to start doing what’s best for the team and not just himself. LaVine is not an Alpha Dog in the current role he is trying to fill.
Kendall Gill and Will Perdue have a great saying that they repeat quite often on NBCSports Chicago’s post-game show: Be a star in your role. I take that to mean two things; 1) Know yourself. Know what you can and can’t do well on the court. Know how you fit with the rest of the team, and how you make the team better. 2) Excel at being yourself. Do what you do, the best you can. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Don’t take on other peoples responsibilities (i.e. trust your teammates). Zach LaVine has yet to learn this lesson.
Something is not right with Lauri Markkanen. Whether it’s his heart, his back, or between the ears, something is off. He doesn’t seem happy, or even content. He has so much potential, but his struggles in the early going this season have been mighty. Maybe he needs a change of scenery? Maybe he just needs to play with someone other than LaVine? Maybe he needs more time? I don’t know. As of today, he is not the Alpha Dog the Bulls need.
And that’s about the size of it. None of the players on this roster are the Alpha Dog this team needs. Not yet anyway. There’s still some hope for Wendell Carter Jr and Coby White. Who knows maybe this loss to the Lakers will trigger something in LaVine and/or Markkanen. Maybe they’ll shake off whatever it is that’s holding them back and they’ll rise to the challenge. I hope so. I really don’t want the Bulls to trade Markkanen or LaVine. I’d much rather have the two of them reach their full potential and usher in a new golden age of Bulls basketball. So far that hasn’t happened, and that means GarPax still have some work to do.
So, wake up, GarPax! Go find that Alpha Dog!
Until they do, true believer, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!