Sunday Bulls Update: The First Third

Thadd Young and Zach LaVine going over strategy.

25 games into the season means it’s a little past the 1/3 mark. Let’s do a quick check in with how our favorite basketball team is fairing. The Bulls are 10-15, sitting in the 11th seed in the Eastern Conference, just a half game behind the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat for the 9 and 10 seeds and a chance at the playoffs, and tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the 6th worst record in the NBA. The Bulls are pretty much where we expected them to be, bad but not awful, on the cusp of the playoffs but definitely not ready to compete in them.

The Bulls are in a very interesting place as a franchise. They seem to be teetering on the proverbial knife’s edge, with Zach LaVine as the man balancing on the blade while shouldering the load, and Arturas Karnisovas holding the knife. If Arturas twists the knife one way, the Round Table will lean into a Zach LaVine centered team, trading their young developing talent and draft assets for proven players, and build around the borderline All-Star. If the Bull’s VP of Basketball Operations twists the knife the other way, then the Round Table burns it all down and tries to rebuild through the draft, trading both young players and vets alike, and even LaVine himself for draft capital. One thing seems certain in my mind, you can’t expect this balancing act to continue much longer. The NBA Trade Deadline looms ever closer. It’s time for Arturas, Marc Eversley, and the rest of the Round Table to make their mark on this team, and twist the knife.

Me, I’m in favor of building around Zach. I don’t have any illusions that the Bulls will be NBA Champions with Zach as the main superstar, but I know that with the right supporting cast, he could make some noise in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls would be in Basketball Hell, that interminable space of making the playoffs but not being talented enough to make the finals. It’s an ugly spot to be in, it’s the same space that brought about the last GarPax rebuild, and the last 3 seasons of Tanking for draft picks. The Bulls went looking for a Messiah, and only found Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr, and Coby White. Meanwhile other teams found Jayson Tatum, Luka Doncic, Zion Williamson and Ja Morant.

I see Zach LaVine as a bridge player. The man that acts as a Steward to the franchise before the real King takes the thrown. Other teams have had similar players; Monta Ellis was that man before Steph Curry arrived in Golden State, Demar Derozan was that player in Toronto before Kawhi Leonard took them to the championship. It’s a long NBA tradition of the borderline All-Star bridging a franchise to the next great champion. Zach LaVine can be that bridge.

This is what I propose, trade away the old regime’s players (i.e. Lauri, Wendell, Coby) and try to find teams willing to give back solid rotational players that fit around Zach. I’m talking about players that are in their mid to late 20’s, guys that are on their 2nd or third contracts, who know what their role is in the NBA and aren’t afraid to be “a piece”, instead of “The Man.” Then, over the next 4 to 5 seasons, Arturas and Eversley can start adding players through savvy draft picks, trades, and free agency, hopefully finding that star that can take the Bulls to a championship.

I believe there are good role players out there in the NBA that other teams would be willing to part with for the promise of young talent. I know the Bulls can make the playoffs this season, and for seasons to come, by trading for a couple of those players. I also believe you can rebuild, and develop young talent, without doing a full roster tear down. Look at the Boston Celtics, they are a perfect example of a team that has been able to stay competitive while developing young players. And yes, I know they had the advantage of fleecing the Brooklyn Nets out of almost a decades worth of draft picks for an aging All-Star team, but the Nets themselves are an example of a team that used nothing but savvy free agent signings and late lottery draft picks to position themselves for relevancy.

There are multiple ways to be successful in the NBA. There are a number of paths that can be taken to become champions. Burning it all down and starting from nothing is not the only approach the Bulls can take. I’m advocating for a different approach than the one GarPax tried, and I trust that Karnisovas and Eversley can pull it off.

A third of the way through the ‘20-21 NBA Season and it’s time for the Round Table to start shaping this team. I’m just afraid that my offseason prediction will come true, that the front office makes no trades this season or next offseason, and they commit to developing the roster they have. The cheap and easy route. I guess we’ll soon see what their approach will be.

Until Arturas twists that knife, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!