The 21-54 Chicago Bulls are on pace for their worst season since the 2003-04 campaign. They have all but locked themselves in to have the fourth-best odds to get the top pick in the NBA Draft in June. Fans have witnessed key members of the core have good stretches in the slew of games that have followed the All-Star break. And the trade for Otto Porter has worked out for all parties involved. Zach Lavine even went so far as to offer to pay the fine for Head Coach Jim Boylen getting ejected against the Los Angeles Clippers.
That is all well and good. Except you have all been hoodwinked, bamboozled…you get the point. The Bulls, as predicted here, somewhat abandoned their tanking efforts and strung together a respectable run after the All-Star break. That was followed by a five-game skid that reminded everyone of what the goal was supposed to be. Then there is the question of personnel with regards to who is really part of the plan long-term for this team.
‘Tank’ was the word for the Bulls entering the season and at the outset, things seemed to be trending that way. Fred Hoiberg was replaced with Boylen. Then the front office committed to Boylen in the midst of what was being reported at the time as a mutiny of sorts. Through half of their games, the Bulls had only 10 wins and seemed destined for a top-3 pick. That is significant with the new NBA Draft Lottery rules. With a mere 14 wins at the break, it seemed intentional intervention was the only way Chicago would fall out of the bottom three.
Flash forward and they have won seven out of 16 games since All-Star weekend. That is not world-beating by any stretch, but it is emblematic of the front office’s reputation in this space. Their unwillingness to bottom-out is and will be their Achilles-heel. It is not apples to apples, but researchers at MIT say that the Oakland Raiders trade of Khalil Mack was the best move of the year. The big takeaway is that unless you gut the operation, those lingering pieces are more likely to hold you back than propel you.
In a time when year-to-year turnarounds are the norm, it may seem counter-intuitive to zero out. But the duo of John Paxson and Gar Forman have always been able to hang their hats on finding and developing talent. It would have made sense for them to tear it down to the frame. But a combination of their own history, and perhaps the growing animosity towards their perception locally had the Bulls powers that be scuffling. They ended up holding on to assets they should have released (Robin Lopez) and winning games they needed to find ways to lose.
Kris Dunn will not be a Chicago Bull next season. That much has become painfully clear. Not only have Bulls execs openly challenged and questioned the third-year pro, but reports have also surfaced about the team’s scouting of Murray State sophomore standout, Ja Morant. On top of all of that, Dunn’s best games all come with Lavine sidelined; just like his 26-13-6 game against the Washington Wizards. However you look at it, Dunn seems to be the odd man out of the young core.
Coach Boylen has grown on this team. Going from being reported for excessively tough practices to players volunteering to square your debts has to be an all-time boss move. But the team is abysmal in the very areas that Boylen was brought in to strengthen. They are 20th in points allowed per game, 25th in defensive efficiency, 26th in opponent effective field goal percentage, and 25th in opponent true shooting percentage. Those numbers are…ungood. And Boylen consistently referring to players playing with “fear” as opposed to actual strategy is unsettling, all things considered.
Injuries have struck this team all year so some of their statistical shortcomings are to be expected. It does not explain it all away and that is where Dunn and Boylen come into under scrutiny. Both are touted for what they bring defensively, but neither has lived up to that billing. Players have turned in favor of the embattled coach and teammates have voiced support for Dunn. Neither is a lock to return, but the Bulls have at least told us that the coach will. Meanwhile, Dunn, who was part of the Jimmy Butler trade, has seemingly been showed the door since he arrived.
D Is For…
‘Disappointment’ is the word of the 2018-19 season for the Bulls. A year filled with injury, coaching change, player unrest, and a war of semantics with the media can only be described as such. Even if being as bad as possible was the goal, as it should have been, the organization fell short. But anyone who has followed this group already knew what to expect. The rub is that knowledge does little to quell the disappointment (there’s that word again) of knowing that, in a year where they wanted to be bad, the team is likely to fall just short.