Bulls

Bulls have emerged from a ball of confusion to parts unknown

Bulls have emerged from a ball of confusion to parts unknown

The big red button was pressed and Jimmy Butler was ejected from the Chicago Bulls’ present and future as they finally made the decision to rebuild after two years of resisting.

Trading Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the ability to draft Lauri Markkanen represents the Bulls committing to the draft lottery and fully going in on the Fred Hoiberg experience for the foreseeable future, as the prospect of trying to improve through shrewd moves in the East while also facing the likelihood of Butler commanding a $200 million contract wasn’t palatable to their pocketbook or their sensibilities.

On one hand, making a decision — any decision — can be applauded on some levels after years of their relationship with Butler being complicated at best. But the idea of rebuilding and the application of it are often two separate ideals, because the evaluation of a rebuild can often be as murky as the land the Bulls just left.

“What we’ve done tonight is set a direction,” Bulls Executive Vice President John Paxson said. “We’ve gone to the past where we make the playoffs, but not at the level we wanted to. You know in this league, success is not determined that way. We’ve decided to make the change and rebuild this roster.”

“We’re gonna remain patient and disciplined. The development of our young players is important. The coaching staff has done a phenomenal job. We’re gonna continue down that path. We’re not gonna throw huge money at people.”

The Bulls aren’t exclusive to this territory, the land in which they’ve inhibited for the last couple seasons, which makes the Butler trade about more than one thing.

Not equal parts but part basketball, part fiscal, part narrative and finally, masking some mistakes that have been made over the years but are not as easily rectified. Trading Butler seemed to be the easiest vessel used as an elixir to wash away missteps. Trading a star in Butler is also the easiest way to get heat off a coach or front office in today’s NBA, because few franchises like to make wholesale changes midstream or early in it.

Trading Butler — along with shipping their second-round pick in a box marked for the Bay Area — was also financial, considering many felt if he made it through the tumultuous evening that he would finish his career as a Bull, raking in a hefty sum of cash on the back end.

It’s because of these factors that the evaluation of this trade and subsequently, a painful rebuild, cannot be in a vacuum. (Note: No rebuild is painless, it’s the size of the migraine a team can endure that determines the type of aspirin necessary).

Just taking a look at the players the Bulls got back in the Butler trade illustrates the gray area they’ve now immersed themselves into. The Bulls fell in love with Dunn before he came to the NBA, and aren’t as bothered by him being a 23-year old second-year player who struggled mightily in his rookie year.

Zach LaVine is an explosive athlete who can put up 20 every night — when he’s on the floor. Recovering from an ACL injury is no given, as evidenced by a young phenom who once graced the United Center hardwood before his body betrayed him.

And Lauri Markkanen is a rookie with promise, but nobody can make any promises on what type of career he’ll have, or if he’ll fulfill that promise with this franchise in the requisite time.

“There’s always risk in anything,” Paxson said. “But here’s a guy that’s 22 years old and averages 20 a game (LaVine). He can score the basketball, he can run. He can shoot the basketball. He shot over 40 percent from three. That’s an area we’re deficient in. Markkanen shot over 40 from three in college. Again, it’s an area where we’re deficient. It’s trying to find the type of player that fits the way that we want to play going forward.”

[RELATED: Jimmy Butler bids emotional farewell to Chicago]

General Manager Gar Forman stated after the announcement of the trade that the Bulls would have to hit on their next few draft picks to stop this rebuild from being elongated, but even then there’s no guarantee.

The Sacramento Kings drafted a rookie of the year, then two future max contract players in the same year, followed by another player who’ll command close to max money very soon. But nobody remembers Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, Hassan Whiteside and Isaiah Thomas leading the Kings from the wilderness and into glory, unless recent memory has been scrubbed away from everyone.

Inconsistencies in organizational structure combined with multiple coaching changes and an inability to develop the right young players kept the Kings on the dais of the draft lottery every April.

The Timberwolves, heck, nobody could say they missed when selecting LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns and getting Andrew Wiggins in a trade for Kevin Love. It’s because it takes more than the right draft picks, or in the Sacramento Kings’ case, the right infrastructure and environment, to foster an atmosphere of winning.

The Bulls were ready, despite their claims that this was a decision that came across their table right before the draft, because common sense has to be applied. No team makes knee-jerk, franchise-altering decisions that will have reverberations for years to come on the whim of a trade offer from Tom Thibodeau. This was likely decided when the Bulls went out with a whimper in the first-round after shocking the NBA world in the first two games against the Boston Celtics, when their fortunes changed on the trifle of Rajon Rondo’s broken wrist.

It was decided that Hoiberg, the man who endured chants calling for his firing in the second half of the decisive Game 6 loss, needed to have the right type of roster to be accurately judged as a successful hire or failure, and Butler couldn’t be part of those plans.

And just as Hoiberg has been dealt an uneven hand, Butler wasn’t given the type of roster that would accurately judge how he could flourish as a leader, max player and face of the franchise — and probably had less time to show one way or the other relative to his coach.

The longer Butler stayed, the more empowered he would become as his individual accomplishments would rack up because of the dedication he applied to game, the drive he had to place himself in the upper echelon of NBA players.

The better Butler got, the more pressure Hoiberg would be under to mix and match his roster and to foster a relationship with Butler he might’ve been ill-suited to fix. The better Butler got, the more pressure the front office would be under to maximize a prime it didn’t see coming, a prime they can’t truly figure when there’s an expiration date on given Butler’s unlikely rise to stardom.

So getting rid of Butler was the solution and the Bulls have now chosen their path, definitively and with confidence. Emerging from a ball of confusion to parts unknown, from one land of uncertainty to another.

Bulls crack the top-10 in ESPN's NBA League Pass Rankings

Bulls crack the top-10 in ESPN's NBA League Pass Rankings

The Bulls have struggled through the 2019-20 NBA preseason but have shown signs of a team on the rise in a drastically different Eastern Conference. ESPN's Zach Lowe released the second half of his NBA League Pass Rankings, with the Bulls making a surprise leap into the top 10 that supports the notion that they are a team set to be entertaining and much more effective in the 2019-20 NBA season.

While Lowe's League Pass Rankings are not power rankings, they go hand-in-hand with the idea that the Bulls are starting to become an interesting team on the national stage.

The highest score a team can get in Lowe's League Pass Rankings is a 50, based on a 1-10 ranking in five separate categories. The Bulls received a score of 34.5, finishing right behind the Utah Jazz.

Lowe credits the potential for Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. to develop into a "rare frontcourt pairing" as one of his main reasons for telling readers to look out for the Bulls this season.

While Markkanen has yet to shoot over 50% from 2-point range and Carter has yet to attempt more than 18 3-pointers in a season, the potential is there for both of these players to improve greatly in both of these areas, truly making them a "rare" and formidable offensive duo. 

Throughout Lowe's League Pass Ranking-breakdown of the Bulls, he had kind words for the Bulls' new pinstriped jerseys, the improvisational ability of the Bulls' veterans and LaVine's dunking ability.

LaVine is the best dunker since prime Vince Carter... 

-Zach Lowe on Zach LaVine 

And while Lowe hinted at Bulls head coach Jim Boylen playing a bit of a character, he had positive thoughts on him as well. Lowe calls Boylen, "a smart coach," and states "there is even some logic in how he stripped the Bulls down to the basics of physicality and effort upon taking over."

The Bulls have lofty goals for the 2019-20 season, making the playoffs being the biggest one. At the same time, they are not pressuring the roster as Boylen himself has stated the most important goal is to "get better every day."

From what has been written about the Bulls this preseason — including Lowe's League Pass Rankings — it would appear most NBA writers expect the Bulls to be a more entertaining, effective, and cohesive unit over the course of the 2019-20 season. On October 23, when the games start to count, we will see if the Bulls can back up the hype.

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Kevin Durant chimes in on Zach LaVine's comments on mid-range shooting

Kevin Durant chimes in on Zach LaVine's comments on mid-range shooting

There is much discussion in the basketball community surrounding the value of the midrange shot following a Sun-Times article from Joe Cowley that discussed the Bulls analytics department wanting Zach LaVine to limit his mid-range attempts, and a segment on ESPN's The Jump, discussing the same topic. On Tuesday morning Matt Moore of the Action Network chimed in, offering up the statistics that clearly support the notion that LaVine should be shooting many, many more 3-pointers than 2s. 

While Moore's points were solid and backed up by the numbers, NBA superstar Kevin Durant offered up his opinion from a player's perspective. Durant backed up LaVine's quote of "sometimes there's nothing better than putting the ball in your best playmaker's hands and letting him get the shot he needs rather than the one you want." KD commented that he has seen too many players pass up wide-open midrange shots to force up 3-pointers or contested shots at the rim, with analytics having an influence on the shots that players take, referring the mid-range as "forbidden."

Durant went on to comment and respond to users' comments on the situation. In one response Durant agrees with a user who states that he is teaching his son to work on his mid-range game first and shoot 3-pointers once he is strong enough, stating "that's how I was taught."

Moore had some fun with the response from Durant, stating that when he initially tweeted about the topic, his intentions were not to get into a debate on the value of mid-range shots with an active NBA player who is already among the all-time greats. 

 Moore's original sentiment agrees with what the Bulls' analytics department is trying to accomplish. LaVine has always been a good mid-range shooter but last year alone he shot 35.8% on mid-range shots and 37.4% on 3-point attempts.

It is obvious that players still need to have to players who can hit mid-range attempts, as some of the best teams in the league—including recent NBA champions Toronto and Golden State, who finished second in the league in percentage of points coming from mid-range shots—have relied on players who can generate solid mid-range attempts in high-leverage moments. But Durant's point is important to note too.

Durant stated that you have to be "confident to make any shot" but countered that whatever you work on the most is what you will be best at. He doubled down on that point, saying most primary scoring options in the NBA shouldn't worry about analytics and should play off of feel, rather than numbers. 

Ultimately, there has to be a balance.

As we have seen through the preseason, taking fewer shots from the mid-range has certainly appeared to benefit LaVine's game, as he is currently fourth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 23.3 points per game through three contests. But taking what the defense gives you, especially when you are as confident of a player as Durant or LaVine, still needs to be emphasized. 

In what should be a huge season for LaVine, he will again have a high-usage rate as he looks to lead the Bulls to a bounce-back season and mid-range shots, while limited, will still be a part of his shot profile.

So as far as Chicago Bulls fans should be concerned, this is a win-win. LaVine has clearly taken to heart was the Bulls' analytics department is preaching by shooting fewer mid-rangers but he still understands that that shot is going to be necessary for certain moments. So when LaVine is open from mid-range in 2019-20, the Bulls coaching staff will likely be saying the same thing Durant did on Tuesday morning, "Shoot em Zach."

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