The Bulls are switching course after getting chided by NBA


The Bulls are switching course after getting chided by NBA

Mum’s the word at Bulls shootaround Wednesday, aside from the revelation Justin Holiday will start against the Memphis Grizzlies while Robin Lopez will be inactive before the plan shifts for weekend road games in Detroit and Atlanta.

A good talking-to from the NBA league office put this plan in motion for the Bulls to modify their route of sitting Holiday and Lopez to evaluate their younger players for the rest of the season.

Whether it was the NBA trying to prevent the appearance of tanking or other teams complaining about the Bulls — believing the aim is to improve lottery positioning — the Bulls are switching course.

“I just know they said, 'Justin you're playing today,' and that's what I'm here to do. Just stay ready and do what I'm supposed to do,” Holiday said. “I know we're still trying to play the young guys, I understand that. I'm pretty sure I'm not playing 35 minutes.”

The rest guidelines were put in place with the intention to stop marquee teams from resting star players on nationally televised games, stipulating teams could only rest one healthy starter for a home game but not on the road.

As an unintended consequence, it’s affected the Bulls and it seems like they’ll proceed with playing Holiday and Lopez on the road but rest one for home games the rest of the season.

“We have a plan in place for minutes and rotations,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We plan on having both those guys start on the road trip. And then we’ll take it day by day.”

It becomes tricky because the guidelines don’t mandate how many minutes players should play and what consequences, if any, will be levied by the NBA. After all, they weren’t issued any official warning despite the initial report.

Holiday will start both halves, but Hoiberg wouldn’t elaborate on anything more. Holiday has been a vocal leader when things could’ve gone haywire early in the season and couldn’t help but laugh when bombarded with questions about league procedures affecting him being bounced around the lineup.

“The one thing I've learned about the NBA and things, you're not gonna understand everything,” Holiday said. “Just control what you can control. That goes from playing time to if you make a team or not to situations like that. It's all part of the business. I'm just here and what I'm paid for is to do my job.”

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How the NBA can put an end to tanking

How the NBA can put an end to tanking

Some would call tanking the NBA’s version of “original sin,” but is it a necessary evil for franchises to turn themselves around? Or a tool of incompetence for front offices that refuse to take any other team-building method besides hoping and praying for magic beans?

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has initiated draft reform methods that will take hold next season, where the worst three teams will have equal odds at getting the top pick, compared to existing rules where the single worst team has a 25-percent chance at getting the first pick.

Philadelphia made a mockery of competition for years in the hopes of getting enough top picks to build a champion solely through the draft as opposed to the other methods.

And while Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are superstars in the making, they’ve squandered other picks in the “Process,” such as Nerlens Noel, Michael Carter-Williams and Jahlil Okafor. And now they could very well have ruined Markelle Fultz, the top pick in the 2017 draft.

Now, the NBA has to stop the copycats before it loses the overall momentum it’s enjoying. Things are going well for the league with ratings, sponsors and the image of its stars as pristine and positive as ever — but the NBA can’t ignore what’s going on beneath the surface.

Some teams are terrible because they’ve made bad decisions in the draft through the years and aren’t purposely tanking, so whatever measures could be taken can’t move away from the general premise of the point of the (unfair) draft: giving the worst teams the best chance at getting better, quicker.

So a solution could be setting the lottery odds at midseason instead of after 82 games to prevent the race to the bottom. Or setting them at the trade deadline. Anything to maintain a level of integrity for the final half of the season — for the game itself, the players who don’t make the choice to tank and the paying customers who have to endure this nonsense.

There will be loopholes, as no plan is foolproof, but at least it’s a start. Or a continuation of the changes the NBA have begun.

Bulls streak tempting but it shouldn't alter plan

Bulls streak tempting but it shouldn't alter plan

It’s tempting, certainly.

With every Lauri Markkanen glimpse of stardom and every Nikola Mirotic eye-popping triple, it’s temping to picture the possibilities.

The possibilities of bucking the odds and turning your own narrative upside down, from choosing a path on draft night that promised to be ugly to a road where “Parts Unknown” seems optimistic instead of ominous.

But the Bulls need to stay the course they selected five months ago and ignore the desire to see this version of their vision through.

Whatever it requires, however ugly it is, the Bulls must do what needs to be done with this rebuild. If it means sending Mirotic to a good team that needs shooting for a low first-round pick on Jan. 15, so be it.

There’s no prize in constructing a better roster than you planned, one that wins a few more games just to prove to the public that things weren’t as bad as projected.

Because seemingly, it only elevates you to purgatory and not the penthouse.

The Bulls thumped the Indiana Pacers 119-107 at the United Center to register their 10th win in 12 games and seven straight wins at home for the first time since the end of the 2012-13 season and start of the next campaign.

The Pacers were without All-Star candidate Victor Oladipo, but it’s highly unlikely he, at 6-foot-4, would’ve bothered Mirotic’s rocket launches from the perimeter or Markkanen’s smooth release.

The duo combined for 60 points and 13 of the Bulls’ team-record tying 18 triples as Fred Hoiberg keeps throwing out different lineups and they keep working.

Ever since trading Jimmy Butler on draft night and getting Markkanen, Hoiberg had been salivating over using the two big men together—stretching the floor, stressing defenses and scoring at a pace the United Center scoreboard hasn’t been used to considering the previous era of ground-and-pound ball.

“We’ve been trying to play those lineups with those two guys out there at the same time and I thought they were pretty good out there,” Hoiberg said.

Markkanen had a career night with 32 points after there was a school of thought he was headed for an extensive slump no less than four days ago. Like a toddler learning how to walk, defenses can’t keep their eyes off Mirotic for one second or else he’s launching from wherever he catches—or spinning off a defender in the post—or firing a pass to an open shooter in the corner.

“Lauri had an amazing game too. I’m very happy for him,” Mirotic said. “The team is growing, we’re all excited and having fun. Each game we’re understanding more how to play. When he’s rolling and popping, I’m trying to find him in the low post the same way he’s trying to find me.”

And considering the revelation Kris Dunn has become, the point guard many around the league thought was broken after his rookie year and was an afterthought in the Butler deal, one could be seduced into thinking the Bulls are a lot closer to being a playoff team than before.

Even with Dunn being a late scratch, revealing with eight minutes before tipoff his knee tendinitis was too bothersome to play, backup Jerian Grant stepped forward with a career-high 12 assists to go with 11 points and seven rebunds.

Add in the headliner of the Butler deal, Zach LaVine, readying himself for a debut that will drop in athleticism and shot creation to the Hoiberg system, could John Paxson and Gar Forman be talked into taking a shortcut and pulling the plug on securing the (Marvin) Bagley or whatever twitter hashtag will be applied for Luca Doncic and DeAndre Ayton?

Perhaps they could be persuaded, but they shouldn’t be.

They did beat Philadelphia without Joel Embiid and Boston without Kyrie Irving along with the Pacers missing Oladipo, so there could be a little grain of salt in this sweet streak.

“I think if you put the small goals out there, the bigger goals take care of themselves,” Hoiberg said. “If you go out there and play hard and play with great effort have attention to the game plan and the small details, then generally you’re gonna be in it at the end of the game.”

And likely, at the end of the regular season, too.

They’re a different team than the outfit that left Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Dec. 6, losers of 10 straight games and chugging along to the ocean of the Eastern Conference.

“(Since) we had that devastating loss, our guys have really kind of found themselves, found each other and we’ve really made good, unselfish plays,” Hoiberg said.

The Bulls had another 30-plus assist evening, with 31 helpers on Friday and averaged 25.8 assists in the 11 games since the heartbreaker to the Pacers. They’ve averaged 108 points and shot 47 percent in that period, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a Eastern Conference Coach of the Month who also presided over the top three pick in the next season’s draft—yes, Hoiberg will likely come away with the coaching hardware for December, as he should.

He’s found a way to integrate Mirotic into the rotation, pairing him with Bobby Portis and magically, it’s worked. His positive, encouraging style has helped rebuild Dunn into a player who doesn’t look over his shoulder, into a player who plays empowered.

Hoiberg’s competence and effectiveness as a coach has been just as much a discovery to the general public as Dunn has been. The most recent vision of Hoiberg was the coach standing on the sidelines, helpless as the Boston Celtics embarrassed the Bulls in Game 6 of their first-round series last April.

The chants of “Fire Hoiberg!” were so audible, Celtics coach Brad Stevens was seen muttering “shut up” under his breath as an act of mercy to his comrade in the profession.

Now, for the first time in his three years as Bulls coach, Hoiberg’s job performance isn’t being questioned as the team heads into January. For the first time, it’s being lauded—and deservedly so.

But a long rebuild shouldn’t hinge on a streak that looks good and feels good in the moment. Hoiberg and Dunn being evaluated this positively is almost gravy for the franchise but they shouldn’t push their luck.

Do what you set out to do.