Another positive week for the Chicago Bulls as they went 2 and 1, beating the Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves, and losing to the Phoenix Suns. Also this past week, Zach LaVine made the All-Star Team. The Bulls are now 15-17 on the season and currently in the 8th seed of the Eastern Conference. Like I said another positive week in the books.
One thing that was made painfully clear this week is that the Bulls are squarely in the middle of the NBA pack. They’ve only managed to beat three .500 or better teams this season (Portland, Dallas, and the New York Knicks), and while they were able to hang with the Phoenix Suns, elite teams like the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers have had the Bulls number.
The Bulls are talent starved. Even after 3 seasons of tanking, the Bulls don’t have the talent to seriously compete for an NBA championship, and they barely have the talent to compete for the playoffs. There is a lot of potential on the team; Patrick Williams looks like he has the makings of a solid 2-way NBA player that could blossom into a star. Coby White could be the next Zach LaVine. Wendell Carter Jr is starting to settle into his role as a more offensively minded big. And Lauri Markkanen has looked much more himself (when healthy and playing). The potential is undeniable, but it hasn’t been actualized.
The three best players on this roster are Zach LaVine, Thaddeus Young, and Garrett Temple. Zach is the obvious best player on the Bulls, from his offensive efficiency to his defensive effort, he’s been on a mission to win this season. Zach leads the Bulls in win share with a hearty 3.7. Thaddeus Young has been filling up the stat sheet on a nightly basis. He has flirted with several triple-doubles this season, leads the team in steals, and has shown himself to be an excellent focal point for the offense, serving up assists out of the center position almost as well as any of the Bulls guards. While Zach and Thad are the on-the-court leaders, Garrett Temple seems to be the mental and spiritual leader of this Bulls team. His intensity and professionalism are what give the Bulls their “never say die” attitude, and has helped spur them to some incredible come-from-behind victories.
As fun as it has been to watch this Bulls team, we have come to a point when some serious, far reaching, decisions have to be made. Billy Donovan has said that in the next couple weeks, he is going to meet with Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley, and they are going to make some of those decisions. From where I sit, it seems as though there are 3 choices for the franchise going forward:
1) Build around Zach LaVine. Trade some of the potential on the team for players that can help Zach win now (or very soon). This might mean trading for a veteran point guard, or an established big, possibly even finding a way to pry a versatile wing away from a team. Moves like this will cost you players like Coby White, Wendell Carter Jr, Lauri Markkanen, and future 1st round draft picks. You only make these kinds of moves if you believe LaVine will become one of the best (i.e. top 5 players) in the NBA.
2) Start from scratch. Tear it all down and build through the draft. This would mean trading anyone and everyone that can either get you young players or draft picks. Thad Young would be traded. Otto Porter and his large expiring contract, traded. Zach LaVine would be shipped out for a bevy of picks and young talent. All hope would ride on the shoulders of Patrick Williams and any future draft picks the Bulls acquire. This would reset the Rebuild Clock to “Year One”, and it might be another 5 seasons before the Bulls reach any sort of relevance.
3) Trust Billy Donovan, and keep on keeping on. Maintain the current roster with maybe some minor tweaks at the trade deadline, and hope that the team continues to grow. The strides the Bulls have made in under a half a season of playing for Billy Donovan have been remarkable. The growth we’ve seen from Wendell Carter and Zach LaVine has been tremendous. The struggles of Coby White as the lead ball handler have been well documented, but even he has looked better in a role he has never really played before. The success of Thaddeus Young, finally being used as he should be, can also be attributed to Donovan. The shifting rotations that prove you can develop all 15 players on the roster without playing them all every night. Billy Donovan is a hall of fame basketball coach that gets the best out of his roster, it wouldn’t be absurd to just let the man cook with the ingredients he already has and see what he can do in the 2nd half of the season.
I have a feeling the Round Table will probably go with option 3. I don’t get the sense that the Bulls new front office is in any rush to make significant changes. They’re still feeling out this team, and making big moves might be a little more difficult than we fans would like to imagine. There are a boatload of teams (especially in the Eastern Conference) that are in the same position as the Bulls. Teams that have one All-Star, or borderline All-Star, and a bunch of young talent and/or talent capped veterans, looking to fight their way out of the NBA middle. Orlando, Indiana, Toronto, Atlanta, Washington, all these teams and more have the same sort of decisions, regarding their direction, to make as the Bulls, especially as the trade deadline approaches.
Another piece of this decision making process will be the Bulls schedule for the second half of the season, which came out last week. A quick glance reveals the Bulls have a large number of games against top teams in both the Eastern and Western Conferences. Wins will be more difficult to come by in the second half of this season than the 1st. The Bulls will have to grow even more, and prove they can beat top tier talent if they are to maintain, or improve, their current winning pace. It’s never easy in the NBA, nor should it be. If you want to be the best, then you have to beat the best, that maxim will certainly prove true for the Bulls in the second half of the season.
The Bulls have three games this week. It’s starts with a Sunday-Monday back-to-back against the Toronto Raptors and Denver Nuggets respectively, and concludes with a Wednesday contest against the New Orleans Pelicans. Those will be the last 3 games the Bulls play before the All-Star break, I’m hoping we can steal a win against Toronto, and we should beat New Orleans, meaning the Bulls would finish the 1st half of the season with a record of 17-18. That would be a lot better than I expected from them, and would build some momentum moving into the tougher 2nd half of the schedule.
Until that happens, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!
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