CHARLOTTE, N.C. --- On April 28, 2017, the Celtics ended the Bulls’ lone season of what Rajon Rondo brilliantly called “The Three Alphas,” closing out the first-round playoff series in six games.
As the Bulls begin their 54th season in franchise history Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C., only Denzel Valentine and Cristiano Felicio remain from that roster.
When John Paxson first succeeded Jerry Krause in April 2003, he took two years to similarly flip the roster, keeping only Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry.
This makeover was Paxson’s doing, beginning with the June 2017 trade of Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves. His last complete overhaul produced 10 playoff appearances in 11 seasons, albeit with only five series victories in that span.
Wednesday night begins the quest for sustained success.
“We have revamped this roster in a big way and a way in that we can look at this team and we see real talent,” Paxson said back on the team’s media day in late September. “We see a versatile roster. We see depth on this roster. We see some leadership on this roster which we haven’t had.
“And because of that our goals this year are really simple. First and foremost, we want to compete at a high, high level. And when you compete at a high level, you have an ability to be a playoff-caliber team. And we set that as a goal. (Coach) Jim (Boylen) talks about it. He’s not afraid of it. And our guys through their work have shown us that they want to make that commitment. So we feel good about that.”
There’s plenty to feel good about during a preseason. That’s when each team’s regular-season record is unblemished. The tests start for real against the Hornets, followed by Friday’s visit to Memphis.
Four of the Bulls’ first five games are on the road but all are against teams that didn’t qualify for the playoffs last season. Saturday’s home opener is against the defending NBA champion Raptors, who defeated the Pelicans in overtime Tuesday night in their first game since Kawhi Leonard left for the Clippers.
Plenty has to go right for the Bulls to make the jump from 22 victories to the playoffs. Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen need to step towards stardom. Tomas Satoransky and Thad Young need to continue being the low-maintenance complementary pieces they've shown to be during their careers. Otto Porter Jr. and Wendell Carter Jr. need to stay healthy. Coby White and Kris Dunn need to contribute off the bench.
Still, the bottom portion of the Eastern Conference playoff picture is wide open. The Bulls know this. It’s why Boylen indeed gave voice to the goal on that same September media day.
“Our goals for the season are to make the playoffs,” Boylen said then. “And every day to prepare like we’re a playoff team. Every day to work like we’re a playoff-bound team. I’m excited for that. I think that’s the only way to do it. There’s no way that we were going to stand up here and say, ‘Hey, I hope we can win 10 more games or we hope we can be better.’ We want to get to the mountain top.’’
The games count for real starting Wednesday. It’s time to start climbing.