Goodwill: Bulls roster at a crossroads, in need of real change


Goodwill: Bulls roster at a crossroads, in need of real change

On paper, it appears the Bulls are in the midst of a somewhat usual three-game losing streak that occurs in the throes of an 82-game season.

But things could be much more critical, and the front office must consider the crossroads the franchise is in.

Last year is over, and when the Bulls failed to show up for the second half of Game 6 in the Eastern Conference semifinals at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers, their best chance with the core being constructed as such likely went up in smoke with it.

The theories and finger-pointing has been entertaining, if not fruitless in the time since, as the same participants have deflected attention or tacitly stated the issue lies in other directions.

But none of that matters now, as the Bulls are in the one space teams aspire to get to, but hate staying in beyond a short period of time: the no-man’s land of contention.

Good enough to be better than the also-rans, talented enough to be ensured of a playoff spot in an improved Eastern Conference but not good enough to be feared by the true championship contenders.

Many have asked if the Bulls are the scintillating bunch that can win six straight, showing offensive efficiency to Fred Hoiberg’s intended desire or if they’re the seemingly lifeless bunch that doesn’t look very happy to play with each other consistently, and can’t sustain the proper mental concentration over a 48-minute game.

The uncomfortable answer: They’re both, which makes things that much more difficult for Gar Forman and John Paxson leading to the trade deadline a little over a month away.

When you’re good enough to pull off wins against the best of the best, it’s seduces many into believing this momentum can be carried into June because when called upon, championship-style teams have fallen to your talent and continuity.

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But there’s fewer games against the Spurs or the Cavaliers in the regular season and more against the likes of the Wizards or the Pistons or Bucks or Hawks, where consistency is formed.

Where a championship is forged, along with championship habits, which the Bulls don’t appear to have 37 games into the season.

Aside from Jimmy Butler and on occasion, a healthy Derrick Rose, there aren’t any other impact players on the roster, someone who can have a tangible effect on games consistently from a ball-handling position.

And how comfortable will the Bulls be with their swingmen headed into the playoffs being Tony Snell, Doug McDermott and presumably, Mike Dunleavy coming back off a back injury at his age, after the all-star break, which by proxy is after the trade deadline.

The team is built around Rose and Butler being stars for the Bulls to have a chance to overtake Cleveland, as long as LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving don’t get hurt.

James, Love and Irving are three impact players, with Tristan Thompson capable of winning a playoff game of his own with his offensive rebounding, and J.R. Smith capable of doing the same with a hot streak of shooting (although he can give one away, too).

By this count, that’s five potential impact players with your biggest rival, to one and a possible for the Bulls, assuming the two parties actually meet in the conference finals as-is.

And if you’ve played a game of spades, a guarantee of one book doesn’t leave you feeling very confident.

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Which leaves the Bulls in a spot where change is necessary and seems likely to happen, deemed by the contract situations of Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol and even Taj Gibson.

Noah will be an unrestricted free agent and Gasol has already told CSNChicago.com a few weeks ago that opting out is likely, even though one would say it’s a near certainty Gasol goes for his last payday approaching at age 36 come July.

Their contracts just so happened to be up at the same time, so it wasn’t some oversight from the front office that the two centers could very well leave Chicago for another city after the season.

And they have acquired a surplus of bigs, particularly with Bobby Portis having earned more minutes with his play—except there aren’t any minutes to have, and one can see him rushing to produce because he knows there’s likely one stint in the game plan for him with things laid out as such.

If they can acquire a decent swingman or at worst a shot creator, maybe Trevor Ariza away from Houston, or even take a chance on the likes of Phoenix's Markieff Morris or even Memphis' Jeff Green, maybe things can tilt a bit toward the Bulls’ favor.

Identifying the need for change is the easy part. Knowing what parts to change is where the curiosity about the remainder of this Bulls season begins.

Winning is fragile, so for all the Bulls’ inconsistencies, there’s a belief the players will get it together and continuity and familiarity will win the day, especially over the course of an 82-game season.

Making personnel changes requires the acknowledgement that the assembled roster isn’t good enough for compete for a title, and that taking a temporary step backward for the greater good is best.

Anybody with a set of eyes can tell this roster isn’t tailor fit to Hoiberg’s preferences, but it likely will be over the next couple of years where the front office brings in players to switch gears of a different kind of roster, and a different kind of philosophy.

The change will likely happen sooner than later, but to what extent?

Wendell Carter Jr. is now 6 feet, 9 inches---and other Bulls' height adjustments

USA Today

Wendell Carter Jr. is now 6 feet, 9 inches---and other Bulls' height adjustments

With player heights long a topic of question and debate, the NBA informed teams that all players must be measured by a team physician this training camp.

It’s all part of the league’s push towards transparency, which includes detailed reports on officiating and other initiatives.

So who grew and who shrank among the Bulls?

Wendell Carter Jr. dropped from 6 feet, 10 inches to 6-foot-9, which will do nothing to change the narrative that he's an undersized big man. Kris Dunn moved from 6-4 to 6-3. Daniel Gafford isn’t 6-11, as first advertised when drafted, but 6-10. And Denzel Valentine is no longer 6-6 but 6-4.

The Bulls even pushed down Coby White’s flamboyant hairstyle and discovered he’s 6-4, not 6-5.

As for those who grew, well, Zach LaVine’s All-Star candidacy now features him as a 6-6 guard, not 6-5. New big man Luke Kornet is really big; he’s 7-2, not 7-1. And Shaq Harrison somehow grew from 6-4 to 6-7.

That’s the official Bulls’ roster. 

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Insider K.C. Johnson calls Bulls the 'sexy pick' to make the postseason but tempers expectations

Insider K.C. Johnson calls Bulls the 'sexy pick' to make the postseason but tempers expectations

On the 2019 NBA Preview Show, NBC Sports Chicago Bulls insider K.C. Johnson broke down what it would truly take for the Bulls to make the jump into playoff contention following a particularly tough 22-win season. 

Johnson, like most of the national NBA landscape, is optimistic about the prospects of the 2019-20 Bulls. He stated that it is "widely accepted that they had a pretty strong offseason," but cautioned us against simply penciling in the Bulls for a playoff spot this season. 

Despite the additions of savvy veterans like Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young, the Bulls still enter the 2019-20 NBA regular season as the second-youngest team in the NBA, as good of a reason as any to temper expectations.

That being said, the Bulls, from a simple talent standpoint, are much better than last year's squad that featured a ton of injuries and many Windy City Bulls/NBA G League call-ups. 

With a new coaching staff around head coach Jim Boylen and a new offensive philosophy, things will be very different in Chicago this season.

But as Johnson stated in Tuesday's 2019 NBA Preview Show, for the Bulls to achieve their ultimate goal of reaching the postseason, "basically, all of those [free agent] additions need to hit.

"You need to see Tomas Satoransky prove that he can be a full-time starter at that point guard position, you need to see Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen take a step towards stardom, you need to see Otto Porter Jr. stay healthy enough to contribute at that small forward position and you need to see Wendell Carter Jr. hit the two-way potential that the organization believes he has... and Coby White... needs to bring you something off the bench."

If that sounds like a lot, that's because it is and it appropriately represents the amount of work needed to make the leap from 22-wins to a playoff spot. 

What the Bulls have working on their side as of now is that everything we have seen and heard from the team throughout preseason has indicated that there is good shot that every one of the things K.C. Johnson named happens. 

Carter was limited to just 44 games due to injury last season and while he has looked rusty in the preseason, he has also had some explosive finishes and shown his trademark appetite for help defense and blocked shots. Carter blocked 2.0 shots per game over two preseason games but was abysmal in terms of his offensive efficiency (26.7% from the field), something to keep an eye on throughout the first week of regular-season games. 

Boylen recently made comments about managing Porter's workload, so clearly keeping Porter healthy amid the backdrop of the Bulls questionable wing depth is already something the organization has discussed and seems to have a concrete plan for. 

Satoransky has shown that he can comfortably handle the starting duties at the one as Johnson suggested, averaging 7.5 points, 4.8 assists, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per game while being lights-out from 3-point range (80% on 1.2 attempts per game). And while Sato represents the steady hand, Coby White represents the true "boom-or-bust" option in the backcourt, capable of going off for 25+ points or fading into the background while playing more of an off-ball role. 

The factor that Johnson mentioned that will have the greatest impact on the 2019-20 Bulls season is if Markkanen and LaVine can take a step towards superstardom.

LaVine looks clearly poised to do so, finishing the preseason third in the league in scoring at 23.2 points per game on 59.3/56.0/ 83.3 shooting splits. Markkanen, on the other hand, struggled to find his shot and despite being one of the top-three scoring options on the team, struggled to get his scoring average just over 11.0 points per game (11.2). 

It is only preseason action, so all results are to be taken with a grain of salt. But as we gear up for the start of the Bulls games that count on Wednesday, it is clear that the national outlook on the Bulls is much rosier than it has been in the past.

Johnson stated that the Bulls are indeed shaping up as a "sexy pick" to make the playoffs and that alone is a monumental step in the right direction as the franchise looks to put last season's disappointment further in the rearview mirror. 

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