Bulls Insider

Mailbag: How do Bulls land a star? Carter's future?

/ by K.C. Johnson
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
Bulls Insider
USA Today

An intriguing start to the season has led to an intriguing number of questions, plus answers.

I like the way Patrick Williams has played so far. But it seems on the offensive end the Bulls are holding him back. I don't see a lot of plays run for him. What are you seeing? --- Tom H.

I’m seeing a 19-year-old who is physically ready for this jump and someone whose court awareness at both ends belies his age. I’m seeing someone whose midrange game is on point and who takes the right shots from 3-point range. Not trying to belittle the question or disagree with your point, but anything else is just gravy.

Zach LaVine really seems to be taking another step as a leader of this team and making the case he deserves to be an All-Star in the NBA. I've seen his name mentioned as a consolation prize for teams who weren't able to trade for James Harden. Obviously, Zach is no Harden. But do you think the Bulls would entertain the idea of moving him when the team is finally enjoying some success? Would LaVine bring back a decent haul considering he's on a reasonable contract? --- Ben G.

 

Two things: Nobody is, or should be, untouchable on this roster. And at least for now, word around the league is that the Bulls aren’t looking to move LaVine. Why would they? As you say, he’s playing on an All-Star level and on a value contract.

The tricky part, of course, comes when that contract expires. LaVine will be seeking a max contract. So it’s up to Artūras Karnišovas and Marc Eversley to figure out either how to build a championship roster around a maxed-out LaVine or maximize him as a trade asset. It’s my guess that that decision doesn’t get made during this season. And in the meantime, you hope LaVine continues this ascension.

Amid the weirdness of COVID and various injuries, the Bulls bench rotation has looked different almost on a nightly basis. When completely healthy, who do you think is the odd man out between Denzel Valentine, Tomáš Satoranský, Otto Porter Jr. or Ryan Arcidiacono, etc.? --- @arturasfanclub, via Twitter

Etc. is a funny way of spelling Chandler Hutchison, because he’d be in this picture too and was in the rotation before his positive test. I’d think Arcidiacono would move back to his role as a spot minutes player who is there in case of injury or emergency. Satoranský and Porter are locks to play if they’re healthy. I’d guess Hutchison would play over Valentine, but it’s clear the coaching staff values Valentine’s shooting, passing and confidence. The rotation also could be a situational thing, where certain players play based on matchups.

The big-man rotation is jammed, too. Billy Donovan has liked playing Lauri Markkanen at center with reserves for stretches. Same with Thad Young. That’s why Daniel Gafford was dropped from the rotation for one game -- Markkanen's first back from protocol -- though Donovan heaped praise on the second-year big man after he handled that and responded with a strong performance the next time out.

I wrote in one of these mailbags before the season that it sounds weird, but this is a deep team for a team that only won 22 games last season. You’re seeing that play out now.

 

Do you think the amount of turnovers can be attributed to the fact the players are trying to learn new systems and different ways of playing under Donovan? So therefore, normally instinctive decisions are becoming hesitations by the players, which in turn causes the errors in possession? --- Ross D.

I definitely think this is part of it. When he first took over, Karnišovas said he envisioned an offensive system that featured ball and player movement and centered on read-and-react principles. Donovan has talked about the need to work for good shots and the importance of cutting. So all this stuff takes time. Throw in the disjointed nature to some of the lineups because of a shortened camp and COVID-19 protocols and there are plenty of disruptions. That said, the Bulls need to be better at ball security. And they don’t really have a true point guard. So there’s that.

If the Bulls are exceeding expectations and pushing towards a playoff spot when the trade deadline comes around, do you see us shopping any of the veterans on our roster? --- @JLC1317, via Twitter

I assume you mean to try to sabotage playoff chances and improve draft positioning? I don’t think so. But I also don’t think you can lose sight of the bigger picture to chase, say, the eighth or seventh seed. I do think it would be important for these young players to taste playoff basketball. But if the right deal presents itself, you have to pull the trigger. Regardless of how improved the Bulls look right now or how this season plays out, this roster needs to get better.

Although we are working from a small sample size due to injuries his first couple of seasons and only a small part of this season played, I believe we should look to move Wendell Carter Jr. He is not a good shooter or passer, which are two things that are valued with the new front office. And he appears to have regressed defensively as well. He has been outplayed by Daniel Gafford, who I think fits the system better as a rim protector/runner at the center position. Do you have any sense what the new coaching staff or front office thinks of him? --- Mark F.

Speaking of trades...

 

I’d strongly dispute your assertion that Carter isn’t a good passer. In particular, I think he has shown great improvement this season in an increased role. His recognition in making the right read out of the high post after a short roll has been impressive to me. As for his 3-point shooting, you’re on target there, even if he isn’t with that shot. Also: Gafford hasn’t outplayed him. Period. End of sentence.

Now, does that mean you don’t trade him? No. As previously mentioned, nobody on this roster is or should be untouchable. I’d rank the safest as 1) Patrick Williams, because he’s linked to the new regime; 2) Coby White, because he presumably hasn’t hit his ceiling and is on a rookie deal; 3) LaVine, because he’s playing like an All-Star on a value contract.

For what it’s worth, I’d be surprised if both Carter and Markkanen are on this roster in two or three years. Which one goes, I’m not sure.

Do you know if Wendell’s struggles on pick-and-roll defense comes from a new system and he’s having growing pains or do you think it’s something with him as a player? --- @BigRicky34, via Twitter

Carter has admitted this is his first extensive stint in a scheme that features drop coverage, although, to be clear, the Bulls haven’t used just one strategy to defend the play. Also, to pin any failures on one player is a bit of an oversight to me. Donovan has talked consistently about the Bulls getting beat at the point of attack. Translated, guards are getting hung up on screens too much. So, yes, there have been some high-profile moments where Carter has sagged too far off shooters. But he’s a smart, mobile defender. So I don’t think it has anything to do with his talents or tenacity.

Is it me or is Donovan slowly cutting Wendell's minutes? He didn't look good those first few games, but I've thought that he's picked it up and looked a lot better---better reaction on D, scoring off rolls, and drawing fouls. But his minutes are down in January. Any story behind that? --- Alejandro Y.

This quickly has steered into the Wendell Carter Jr. edition of a Bulls mailbag.

Donovan also has openly talked about the logjam of big-man minutes, particularly because he likes the matchup problems that playing Markkanen at center creates. It’s also been evident that Donovan sometimes favors riding veterans down the stretch. Enter Thad Young.

 

So any reduction in Carter’s minutes are a reflection of those two elements.

The Bulls have been fun to watch and look massively improved in so many areas.  Zach LaVine, in particular, appears to have taken further steps in establishing himself as a key contributor on a contending team. However, amongst the refreshing brand of basketball being displayed, the question remains: How do the Bulls go about getting a superstar to propel them to the next level.  Even if LaVine ascends to the level of a 1B star, player 1A is still missing.  It's still early enough to say that Patrick Williams has limitless potential, but superstardom seems like a big ask.  And, while the jury is still out on Lauri, Coby, and Wendell, I think it's safe to say their ceilings are that of key contributors. Continued competitive play would almost certainly suppress the odds of finding a star in the draft as well. And, the path moving forward is further blurred by LaVine's contract situation.  A max extension seems reasonable at this point, but fails to answer any of the above.  A LaVine trade while his value is peaking also makes sense, but the haul would have yield multiple swings at that No. 1 guy the Bulls have been missing. What to do K.C., what to do? --- Drew C.

And now we’ve reached the buzzkill moment of the mailbag. Damn you, Drew.

I’d say this: This is why Karnišovas works on a higher paygrade than me because I don’t have a good answer for this other than to say you hope perhaps LaVine becomes that player or the roster improves enough that him being a 1B or whatever he becomes is enough? Or the aesthetically pleasing style of offensive basketball continues and you parlay that, the city of Chicago, the Bulls’ first-class amenities like the practice facility and a player-centric organization with respected personalities like Donovan and Karnišovas and Eversley into a star free agent?

I wanna take a look at this 2021 Bulls team and make a point I have not really heard many others making regarding this team's future. Remember that one team from 2019, with a budding star in the making, a young core, and defying everyone's expectation in becoming the sixth seed in the East? Yep, that same team that now has KD, Harden and Kyrie, the Brooklyn Nets. We take a dive into that development of that team, they proved to everyone that year it's a franchise that will be competitive, a destination with a promising young core (DLo, Jarrett, Caris), and approaching a huge FA summer with cap space. That team looks exactly like the Bulls this year. Now I'm not by any means saying our trajectory is to grab three superstars but what I am saying is we're working on building and establishing a winning culture in Chicago. I see too many people still saying we should tank, and I get it. But at the same time, the next step of developing our guys is to learn winning. With winning comes free agents more likely to come. And with a trusted front office in AKME, I think the next steps are not to look to find the next guy in the draft, but through free agency, trades, unhappy stars, and developing our own guys. I wanna know your thoughts on this route versus the tank many are still shouting. Thanks! --- Jeff M.

 

Jeff, meet Drew. Drew, Jeff.

I just alluded to a less starry-eyed version of this very notion. Get competitive. Develop a strong reputation as a player-first organization. Sell the city and the franchise’s first-class amenities and hope for the best.

And I will never get tired of AKME for Karnišovas and Eversley. Ever.

What type of performance do the Bulls need to show in order to get some national recognition as being an improved and competing team?  Seems like all our wins (and almost wins vs LA teams) have been pushed aside because of some factor (struggling Wizards team/Luka & AD Out/Mavs down 6 key players/no more Harden).  All the while, we have been down rotational players of our own as of late. There are plenty of issues to iron out of course, but let's remember that these were the "easy" games that we lost in prior years. --- Carson O.

Change those almost wins vs. LA teams to wins and you’d have something. That said, I think in general people are looking at the start to this Bulls season as intriguing.

At the start of the season I asked you in a mailbag what you thought the Bulls season record would be. You stated 27-45. Has this prediction changed for you? --- Matthew A.

As previously stated, I don’t change predictions. They’re just guesses. I’m wrong a lot. Just ask my wife.

Thanks for all the questions. Talk to you soon.

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