Bulls

With tanking all around, Gar Forman not turning back on rebuild

With tanking all around, Gar Forman not turning back on rebuild

Rebuilding is painful and never pretty, even if the steady stream of clanked jumpers and disorganized play from the Chicago Bulls Monday was only indicative of the hazards of Summer League as opposed to a Tuesday night in Philadelphia.

But even with the recent developments of an Eastern Conference that’s now following in the Bulls’ footsteps, making next season sure to be a Tank Tour of epic proportions, Bulls general manager Gar Forman isn’t having any second thoughts about trading Jimmy Butler on draft night to start this long and arduous process.

The Indiana Pacers traded Paul George to Oklahoma City and will take a step back this season, along with the Atlanta Hawks looking like a franchise headed in that direction after some of their personnel moves under new management.

The Bulls could’ve positioned themselves with minor moves to stay afloat in the East with Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo then went after it next offseason, as one of the few teams with a star east of Minneapolis.

“We look at it as far as what we need to do, what we feel we need to do in a rebuild,” Forman said following the Bulls’ 75-55 loss to the Hawks at Cox Pavilion Monday, in a game where the score didn’t indicate how ugly the contest was. “You never know until you’re in somebody else’s shoes as far as what’s going on, but I do know that we feel really good as far as taking a step back, the direction we can now head as far as rebuilding around these young guys, and continuing to add to that.”

Of course, Forman would probably gain nothing from admitting a level of regret even if he felt it, considering how he spoke of rebuilding being a six-to-seven year process he didn’t want to take the franchise down as recently as a year ago.

“We understand that it’s always hard when you have had a level of success, and then you’ve got to take a step back and go in a new direction as far as a rebuild is concerned,” Forman said. “And we know that it’s going to be a process and there’s going to be ups and downs within that process, but we think the trade kind of gave us a step in the right direction as far as heading that way, where we got three young players who we really like.”

One of those players is rookie Lauri Markkanen, who went through the rigors of what it’s like to be a rookie in the NBA as he struggled in his second game like the rest of his teammates.

[MORE: Still the point guard of the future? Fred Hoiberg confident in Cameron Payne] 

Markkanen missed 12 of his 13 shots and all 10 of his 3-point attempts, scoring eight points with nine rebounds and four blocks in 31 minutes. Nobody will remember a meaningless Summer League performance come November, especially when he’ll have plenty of chances to create his own impressions.

Forman, of course, is undeterred in his confidence in the seventh pick. And other league executives were raving about Markkanen’s potential at Summer League.

“I like him a lot,” said a high-ranking western conference official for a playoff team. “He’s very skilled and he was high on our boards.”

Markkanen had an impressive opener so this is just the ups and downs of a start.

“I think it’s good. I thought he played really well the other night,” Forman said. “And then when he struggles to make shots, the first month is a learning process. Knowing what kind of kid he is, he’ll take that hard and continue to work and grow. We’ve all seen it in summer league.”

Forman pointed out the debuts of Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon that weren’t so special, so getting Markkanen in the Advocate Center over the summer will be important, especially since he wasn’t brought in for a workout in the pre-draft process.

“The big thing is just getting the process started, being with our coaching staff, learning what’s expected and this being the first step of a long summer,” Forman said. “He’ll be in the gym with our athletic performance people getting stronger and coaches working on his skill development. It’s just getting adjusted to this being a full-time job.”

And a rebuild is even more of a full-time job that cannot allow for mistakes, so Forman thinking the free-agent money drying up is something that will work to their advantage in the long run.

“I think we’re seeing the market suppress some this summer,” Forman said. “And I think as we go into next summer as the cap is flattening, the ability to have young players, develop those young players, have flexibility in order to add assets, and then draft picks will get us a step up in trying to go forward.”

But assets and draft picks are only as good as the people picking them, and the Bulls have a hefty task ahead in the next few years—as time will tell if they’re truly up to it.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

There's not often hype surrounding a game between two of the NBA's worst teams, but Tuesday's Bulls-Lakers matchup was intriguing to many because it offered a chance to see a pair of top rookies compete. 

Oh, but you didn't think we meant Lonzo Ball and Lauri Markkanen, did you?

Nah, it was two different, less-touted first-year players that ended up stealing the spotlight at the Staples Center. 

Kyle Kuzma and Antonio Blakeney may not be household names, but they sure played like they were in the Bulls' 103-94 loss. 

Kuzma, the Lakers rook drafted 27th overall, has been a spark for Luke Walton's squad all season long. Boasting a terrific scoring arsenal, the Utah product carried the load for the Lakers' offense in the first half, dropping 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting. He finished the game as L.A.'s leading scorer with 22 in 40 minutes. But if you still need a more in-depth scouting report on Kuzma, just let Lonzo break it down:  

More importantly for Bulls fans, though, was the play of their undrafted guard who's signed to a two-way deal. 

Blakeney, the unofficial Summer League MVP, came off the bench on Tuesday and immediately left his mark on the game. The 21-year-old out of LSU posted 15 in the first half, finishing through contact as well as connecting on outside jumpers. 

Blakeney's shooting isn't reliable quite yet, but his energy has clearly influenced Hoiberg's rotation. The guard went from playing one NBA minute in the Bulls' first 11 games to playing 75 in the last four. Given that his two-way deal allows him to only spend 45 days with the team, it'll be fascinating to see how creative Gar Forman and John Paxson will get with his contract if this type of production continues. 

In a season that's obviously going to have its share of rough moments, an offseason flyer hitting is a huge plus for the rebuild. 

As for the recognized rookies, Lonzo's shooting woes persisted and Markkanen had maybe his worst offensive performance of his young Bulls career. Combined, they finished 7-for-30 with 21 points. Not ideal. 

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

The Zach LaVine comeback is one step closer as the shooting guard was cleared for contact practice after checking with his doctors in California. 

LaVine will go through a step by step process over the next few weeks and the Bulls will gauge his progress to see when the best time for his return will be. 

But, given the nine-month process from his ACL injury he suffered in February, he's right on track and there doesn't appear to be any setbacks. 

"There’s no real timeframe, I guess," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said at practice Monday. "It’s really going to be on how he feels. We’ll try to do a little more every day with him. We did a little bit, got him some light contact today just to get the process started.

"He’ll be able to play a little two-on-two with not a lot of practice time these next 10 days. But we’ll throw him out there and continue to try to get him feeling better. There’s going to be a mental hurdle that he’s going to have to clear as well. I know he’s excited. His teammates are excited and the coaches are obviously excited as well."

LaVine's recovery has gone as planned since his arrival in Chicago from the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night. Targeting a mid-December return seems realistic but of course, the Bulls will take every precaution to make sure he's healthy for the long term, both for LaVine and the franchise, as he's a restricted free agent this summer--and they have no plans on letting him walk. 

LaVine told NBC Sports Chicago recently that he wants to get on the floor immediately but the Bulls know they'll have to protect him from himself in the meantime. 

"He’s going to have to string together a lot of really good days, and he knows that," Hoiberg said. "He understands that. The important thing is he’s right on track from where it was said after the injury. He’s been doing a great job with his rehab. He’s on time. He’s doing everything that’s asked of him. His strength numbers are where they’re supposed to be. I’m confident he’s going to keep making progress. But we’ll absolutely monitor it daily and hopefully it’ll just continue to get better."

The Bulls aren't sure if they'll send LaVine to the G-League but it's certain they have plans on not only how to use him when he steps on the floor but also a regimen they've stuck to, to ensure there are no real setbacks. 

Hoiberg has been salivating over having a true scorer at that position since trading for him, and LaVine has been eager since his arrival to prove to the Bulls and fans that he is a franchise player. 

Prudence in the moment of progression, though, appears to be the approach taken by both sides.