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.

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

This is part of a four-part series looking back at the historic career of Michael Jordan and the legacy he left on the game of basketball. It all leads up to Saturday when we unveil his top 5 moments on his 55th birthday. Here are 55-4544-23, and 22-6.

5. Jordan wins fourth title and finishes greatest individual season ever, June 16, 1996

It’s hard to comprehend just how much Jordan accomplished during the 1995-96 season. We’ll try:He won his fourth championship, was named NBA Finals MVP for a record fourth time, won All-Star Game MVP, won a record 72 games, was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, was the league’s leading scorer and became the Bulls’ all-time leader in games played. So when he dropped a casual 22 points in Game 6, it marked the end of one of the greatest seasons in NBA history. Oh, and Space Jam came out a few months later.
 
4. Jordan hits six triples, scores 35 points in first half against Blazers, June 3, 1992

During the 1991-92 regular season, Jordan never made more than three 3-pointers in a single game. In fact, the most 3-pointers he had in any two-game stretch that year was four. So when he began burying triple after triple in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, even Jordan couldn’t believe it, giving a shrug toward the NBC announcers as if to say, “I don’t know, either.” Jordan finished the first half with six triples and scored an NBA-record 35 points. The Bulls cruised in the second half, so Jordan finished with only 39, but his shrug remains one of the most iconic NBA Finals moments in history.
 
3. Jordan battles the flu, scores 38 in Game 5 on his way to fifth title, June 11, 1997

The Flu Game. Jordan was battling a nasty illness in the lead-up to a pivotal Game 5 in Utah, and there were concerns about whether he would even suit up. Hours before tip Jordan got out of bed and made his way to the arena, looking to halt Utah’s momentum after it had taken Games 3 and 4 to tie the series. The Jazz came out red-hot while Jordan looked sluggish, but he responded with 17 points in the second quarter alone to give the Bulls a halftime lead. Jordan then keyed a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to erase a Jazz lead, and he hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to give the Bulls a three-point lead. The Bulls hung on, and Jordan collapsed into Scottie Pippen’s arms walking off the floor. His final line? 38 points, 13 of 27 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Two days later the Bulls won the title in front of a sellout Chicago crowd.

2. Jordan scores 63 points against Celtics in playoff loss, April 20, 1986

Jordan had just turned 23 years old when he took to the Boston Garden floor to face Larry Bird in his prime and the Celtics. These Celtics had gone 40-1 at home, led the NBA in field goal percentage defense, started FOUR future Hall of Famers and had a fifth come off the bench. They would ultimately go down as one of the all-time greatest teams, and Jordan made them look absolutely silly. He played 50 minutes in the double-overtime thriller, shooting 22 of 41 from the field and making 19 of 21 free throws, including the last two with no time on the clock and the Bulls trailing by two at the end of regulation. He scored 54 in regulation, added five in the first overtime and four in the second. He also led the Bulls with six assists. It still stands as the NBA record for most points in any playoff game. Twenty-three years old. Twenty. Three.

1. Jordan scores 45 in final game with the Bulls, securing sixth championship, June 14, 1998

Jordan’s final game with the Bulls was iconic. Like so many of these moments, die hards know exactly where they were. The 45 points were majestic, and while he only had one rebound and one assist he affected just about every possession on both ends. But what we’ll remember most is the final 37 seconds. Jordan drove to the basket for layup that cut Utah’s lead to one, then stripped Karl Malone from behind on the next trip down. That gave the ball back to the Bulls with 20 seconds left. Jordan let the clock tick down to around 9 seconds before making his move from the left wing, driving right on Bryon Russell, (maybe pushing off) and pulling up for a jumper at the foul line. The shot was good with 5.2 seconds remaining, and John Stockton’s ensuing 3-pointer was off the mark. It gave Jordan and the Bulls their sixth NBA title, and marked the perfect ending to his Bulls career: getting it done on both ends, in the clutch, and finishing with a victory. Because it encapsulated so much of his 14-year career in Chicago, it’s our top Michael Jordan moment.