NBA back! To prepare for a new season, we’re breaking down one team per day, each day, until tipoff on October 17.
Team: Chicago Bulls
Coach: Fred Hoiberg (third year)
Last Season: 41-41 (eighth in Eastern Conference)
Notable Additions: Lauri Markkanen (draft-day trade), Zach LaVine (trade), Kris Dunn (trade)
Notable Subtractions: Jimmy Butler (trade), Rajon Rondo (waived)
Vegas Over/Under: 21.5
Best-Case Scenario: Tank it. Tank it real good.
Executives Gar Forman and John Paxson have so repulsed Chicagoans with their offseason orchestration—trading away Butler, picking up Markkanen—that a “Fire GarPax” GoFundMe page was created over the summer. Over $8,000 was pledged.
Vegas predicts an equally unpleasant future, giving the Bulls the worst over/under in the league. But Chicago’s best-case scenario actually starts with finishing last. After dealing Butler for an injured Zach LaVine, a dispiriting Kris Dunn, and a pick exchange, Chicago has no identity. Yet there’s no team better equipped to tank itself into opportunity. And by opportunity, I mean the right to pick Marvin Bagley III.
Dwyane Wade, who told Chicago executives that he had no interest in a noncompetitive culture, likely doesn’t fit into this scenario. The Bulls and Wade danced around a buyout last month, but per the Chicago Sun-Times, the latter ultimately asked for too much ($20 million) of his guaranteed $23.8 million for Chicago’s front office to agree.
Assuming the two sides do eventually come to an agreement, the Bulls roster will have one player with a career average over 23 minutes per game—and he’s expected to be sidelined for some time with a left ACL tear. Without success on the line, LaVine won’t need to rush his recovery, a relief considering the 22-year-old’s game relies on his athleticism. At least when he does arrive, he’ll be bringing party favors: LaVine, who put up 15.1 shots a game last season next to Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, will presumably have the green light in Chicago. For everyone else, especially the unproven Markkanen and Dunn, the 2017-18 season will be an … experience.
Worst-Case Scenario: Other than winning fewer than, say, 20 games, Markkanen looking like a bust would be bad news. The front office banked the Butler trade on the former Arizona big man becoming a 7-foot Steph Curry with all the Euro touch and potential of Dirk Nowitzki. Markkanen looked special enough for Team Finland at EuroBasket this summer for the Dirk comparisons to repopulate, which is exactly what Chicago fans and the Bulls front office need (i.e., some hope and a win, respectively) this season.
The other potential pitfall involves the two other big additions from the Butler trade, LaVine and Dunn, as well. The two-time dunk contest winner could rush back to the court prematurely to prove his worth—which LaVine seems eager to do, insisting this summer that he would return by training camp—and end up sitting longer than the team originally anticipated. Dunn will give Chicago a hit of the defense it grew so dependent on from Butler, but if he doesn’t flesh out on offense it could be Round 2 for Cameron Payne Jerian Grant (?) for the Bulls.
TL;DR: Come for Markkanen and LaVine tossing up 35 shots a game, stay for nothing. It’s in the Bulls’ best interest to be really bad.