Bulls

Zach LaVine's recovery and performance will either inspire confidence in Bulls rebuild or doom it

Zach LaVine's recovery and performance will either inspire confidence in Bulls rebuild or doom it

The smiles were around as the newcomers of the Bulls put on their best faces as the new era of Bulls basketball was officially presented to the public.

The men who brought them to Chicago, John Paxson and Gar Forman, began the painstaking task of introducing Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen to a skeptical public that believes the Bulls were robbed without a ski mask for Jimmy Butler.

Sitting next to them was coach Fred Hoiberg, who’s entering his third season with a third different roster and a chance to change a narrative that’s largely nondescript to this point.

“Thursday night we made a decision to move a great player (Butler),” Paxson said. “But over these last four or five days, we sat and talked and are really happy about the direction we’re about to head down.”

It’s a direction they’ve chosen where they know everything has to be done right for it to be fruitful. High draft choices are to be expected, and Paxson has said publicly and privately that they must hit on every single one, starting with Markkanen.

But for the sake of narrative and performance certainty and erasing errors of the past, LaVine has to be the one who leads the rebuild on the floor. It could be awhile before Markkanen develops, and in Dunn it’s uncertain if he had a bump in the road as a rookie or if the Bulls see something in him the Timberwolves failed to focus on.

Dunn could merely be a long unrequited love the Bulls have held onto without actually looking at the evidence he presented in an underwhelming rookie season.

But it’s LaVine who has the most pressure and is as close to a household name as anyone, winner of two straight dunk contests in 2014 and 2015 at All-Star Weekend.

A high flyer with a higher ceiling than anyone on the Bulls roster, LaVine must show he’s not damaged goods as he’s returning from a left ACL tear he suffered in February.

Bumping knees with Detroit’s Andre Drummond on an athletic drive to the basket, LaVine shook off the pain to play another six minutes in that third quarter in Detroit, completely unaware of the severity.

“I just thought it was a sprain,” LaVine told CSNChicago.com. “It wasn’t until I went to the locker room at the end of the quarter and more doctors were called in that I started thinking something was wrong.”

The bad news arrived and surgery wasn’t far behind, turning a promising campaign into one of uncertainty, the same kind that mirrors this franchise. Doctors have told LaVine, his family and representatives his knee doesn’t have the typical wear and tear of average athletes, probably buoyed by the fact his recovery is ahead of the nine-to-12-month usual schedule that accompanies these injuries.

Considering the last torn ACL in Chicago still haunts the franchise, considering LaVine plays the same position as the man he’s replacing and the fact he’s relishing being the man in charge in a similar way Butler did, LaVine’s recovery and development is the one most critical to this franchise’s credibility.

“We talked about it. Hey, look, you wanted to be an All-Star guy,” Paul LaVine, Zach’s father who was in attendance at the Advocate Center, said to CSNChicago.com. “You’re in a bigger market, go out here and get it done. I’m not concerned because my son, each situation, he’s surprised me.”

He averaged 18.9 points in 47 games as a third option behind Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, but when he steps on the floor, yes he’ll have more opportunities but also more defensive attention and a spotlight he hasn’t had to deal with as a pro.

“High school, I didn’t know,” Paul LaVine said. “His first 15 games at UCLA, that’s what got him drafted, he exploded. When he got here, I knew if he got an opportunity on the NBA stage, it doesn’t surprise me.”

But the newest Bull knows he must fight the urge to come back in a superhuman manner, especially playing for the franchise Michael Jordan built. Jordan, through highlight videos and the movie “Space Jam,” became one of LaVine’s idols. More directly, Kobe Bryant became the player LaVine has modeled himself after, as LaVine chose the number eight and wore Bryant’s signature Nikes during his photo shoot after his introductory news conference.

“I'm only 22. I'm ready for it. I'm very humble,” LaVine said with a smile of confidence. “When it's time for me to get going, I'm going to come in here and work my butt off like I always do, going in with full confidence. I'm just extremely excited to get this ball rolling and see what we can do.”

LaVine is often pulled back when he passes through certain benchmarks of his rehab and has to continue to play the long game. Coming back too soon or being pressed to come back got others in trouble.

Headed into restricted free agency after next season, LaVine certainly wants to prove his worth so contract negotiations will be smooth in the offseason. But since the Bulls have clearly chosen their path of a rebuild, one wonders how the two ideals will compete against one another this season.

“Regardless, I’m going to be safe. That’s the main thing, always being safe,” LaVine said. “I always have to take care of myself and this franchise, as well. I’m going to be safe, I’m going to do everything I can physically to get back. Then when I’m at that point, I’m going to be ready. I’m the type of person that’s going to work my butt off to get there as fast as possible. I’m going to be ready when I am there.”

For the Bulls’ sake, LaVine has to be the face of this first step as it might be the closest thing the front office has to inspiring any level of confidence to a weary fan base.

Making of a Chicago legend: A look back at Jabari Parker's decorated Simeon career

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AP

Making of a Chicago legend: A look back at Jabari Parker's decorated Simeon career

From the moment Jabari Parker started his local basketball career, he's been a special talent who has produced at every level. Parker's signing with the Chicago Bulls this offseason brings back a lot of memories of his decorated four-year high school career at Simeon.

For Bulls fans who didn't follow Parker before Duke or the NBA, here's some of the notable moments from four years in the Public League.

As a freshman with the Wolverines, Parker was seen as one of three big incoming freshman in the area for the Class of 2013, along with forward Alex Foster and center Tommy Hamilton. Although all three players had the size and skill level to be varsity contributors, it was Parker who was special from his debut game.

Coming off the bench for a top-5 Simeon team against a top-10 Thornton team at Chicago State, Parker had 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting with two 3-pointers as the Wolverines went on to win in his first game in high school. Eventually becoming the first Wolverine freshman to start on varsity, Parker piled up high-major scholarship offers and national acclaim, as he was the team's second-leading scorer behind Brandon Spearman.

But Parker was hurt on the eve of the IHSA Class 4A state championship weekend and was on the bench injured as Simeon went on to surprisingly win the state title after some late-season slip-ups. Parker contributed heavily to Simeon winning the state title during his first season, however, as he was leading scorer in six games during that season.

During his sophomore season, Parker blossomed from a prospect into a full-blown star as Simeon once again captured a state title. By this point in his career, Parker was a consensus top-5 national high school prospect in his class as he regularly led a loaded Simeon team in scoring. Parker eventually averaged 15.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game as he won ESPN High School 2011 Sophomore of the Year national honors, while also Simeon won a title at the prestigious Pontiac Holiday Tournament.

The summer of 2011 saw Parker become a contender for No. 1 in his class -- and regardless of class at the high school level -- as he dominated the summer circuit against his peers and older players.

Making the 2011 USA Basketball U16 team, Parker won MVP honors at the FIBA Americas U16 Tournament as the USA team captured a gold medal. Parker also had big performances at the Kevin Durant and LeBron James Skill Academies before winning the MVP at the Nike Global Challenge in August against mostly older players.

Before entering his junior season at Simeon, some national scouts believed Parker was the best prospect in either the junior or senior national classes. With Parker garnering so many accomplishments as an underclassman, he had a huge reputation already as Simeon was an established national powerhouse.

Parker helped the Wolverines capture a third straight state title, a city title and another title at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, as they went 33-1. Simeon didn't lose to an Illinois opponent Parker's junior year (they only lost to nationally ranked Findlay Prep) with Parker setting a school record of 40 points in only 21 minutes against Perspectives on Dec. 19. For his junior season, Parker put up 19.5 points, 8.9 rebounds per game as he became the first non-senior to win Mr. Basketball in Illinois honors.

Gatorade also declared Parker the national boys basketball Player of the Year for that high school season as he became only the fourth non-senior to win that award. Sports Illustrated put Parker on its cover and proclaimed him as the best high school basketball player since LeBron James.

Facing an enormous amount of pressure during his senior year, Simeon played a national schedule and went 30-3, winning a fourth consecutive IHSA state title with Parker as he put up 18.4 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.

Becoming the only player besides Sergio McClain to start on four straight IHSA state title teams, Parker secured back-to-back Mr. Basketball in Illinois honors while also making the McDonald's All-American Game, Jordan Brand Classic and the Nike Hoop Summit. Parker played all over the country during his senior season, with nationally-televised games and packed crowds filled with fans.

Reclassifications and the emergence of other contenders, coupled with Parker's foot injury before his senior season, dropped Parker below the No. 1 ranking to end his high school career. But he still finished as a consensus top-5 prospect in the class who eventually rose to the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft in 2014.

Now that Parker has signed with the Bulls, he has a chance to resurrect his career in Chicago, the place where he had his most basketball success.

Would Wendell Carter Jr. be picked higher if the NBA Draft was today?

Would Wendell Carter Jr. be picked higher if the NBA Draft was today?

According to Bleacher Report, Wendell Carter Jr. would be taken fourth overall by the Memphis Grizzlies if the NBA were to redraft this year’s class based off of Summer League performances.

It may sound like a crazy concept (and it is), but Carter Jr. averaged the second most points, 14.6, through five July games in Las Vegas. He also averaged 9.4 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the field while averaging 28.8 minutes in his glamorous first-stint with Chicago. Those numbers are even more striking if you consider Carter Jr.’s 42.9 percent shooting from behind the three-point line.

Carter Jr., the real seventh overall pick of this year’s NBA Draft, looked like the all-around player the Bulls were hoping to get this offseason. He made his blocking abilities as a center known from the moment he stepped on the court in Summer League.

In their re-draft, Bleacher Report had Chicago using the No. 7 pick on the New York Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson, who was actually taken 36th overall in last month’s Draft.

Robinson, a center, averaged 13 points and 24.8 minutes per game over five Summer League contests. He was the best rebounder on his team with an average of 10.2 in the five games that the Knicks played.

The 20-year-old took the second most shots on the Knicks and had the highest field goal percentage at 67 percent, but Robinson did not have any three-point attempts.  What made his recent production seem even more surprising was the fact that the 7'1'' big man did not play a single minute of college basketball.

But would Robinson fit in the Bulls’ system?

Chicago has taken on an offense-first mentality, so Robinson would not be as great of a fit in the Bulls lineup as Carter Jr., but he would still be an impact player. He can be compared to the Bulls’ current center Robin Lopez, who averaged a similar amount of points per game (11.8 points in 26.4 minutes) last season as Robinson’s Summer League average (13 points in 24.8 minutes). And like Lopez, Robinson will likely be most effective around the basket and in the pick-and-roll.

Robinson would also have to learn the defensive concepts that a veteran like Lopez has mastered over his 10-year career.

Next season, the Bulls will have an exciting scoring trio of Jabari Parker, Lauri Markkanen and Carter Jr. in the frontcourt. And the fact that Carter Jr. is getting so much love in the national spotlight is yet another reason for Bulls fans to be excited about this upcoming season.