When the Chicago Bulls traded for Nikola Vucevic (and four additional players) on March 25th, they picked a direction. No, that direction didn’t scream “win-now or bust,” but it did calmly say “win-soon, please.”
Rather than starting from scratch, the front office watched Zach LaVine reach a new level and became convinced they could create a consistently competitive product. Again, that doesn’t necessarily mean they expected it to happen right away, but when you trade for a 30-year-old All-Star with just one season left on your other All-Star’s contract, it implies a goal to turn things around sooner than later.
We are only three games into this fresh start, so making any conclusions would be flat-out silly. However, we do know thanks to previous comments by Arturas Karnisovas that a push for the playoffs is somewhere near the top of the to-do list.
“I thought we really improved today, and we have, what, 29 games left? We’re going to make a push, and we’ll see what happens to the rest of the playoffs.”
“Expectations are always, obviously, winning, and getting to the playoffs, and getting your team better.”
Both quotes are from Karnisovas’ media availability after the deadline, which you can watch here.
Working their way up the Eastern Conference standings is not the end all be all for the Bulls this season, but it’s surely something the front office would like to see over these next 26 games. And, unfortunately, they have only gone backward since their deadline acquisitions.
While there have been some immediate positives with this new roster, the Bulls are still flirting with a seven-game losing streak. The team has currently lost five in a row with the Jazz set for Friday night and the Brooklyn Nets scheduled for Sunday afternoon. We also can’t forget that Zach LaVine has suffered an untimely ankle injury. The schedule eases up significantly after this week, but there is no denying that any extended losing streak is bad news for any team stuck in this Eastern Conference cluster.
Currently, the Bulls sit in 10th place with a record of 19-27. They are two games behind the Indiana Pacers and two games in front of the Toronto Raptors. Sure, that definitely leaves the door open for the Bulls to move up … but the same can be said about moving down. And, according to ESPN’s BPI Playoff Odds, down is exactly where the Bulls are predicted to go.
ESPN’s current projection has the Bulls finishing 30-42 and 11th in the Eastern Conference behind the New York Knicks. More specifically, the Bulls chance of making the playoffs (10.7 percent) currently sits lower than their chance at a top-3 draft pick (17.0 percent). There is still plenty of time for these numbers to change further in the Bulls favor, but I think we can all agree that isn’t exactly the mark we hoped to see after a satisfying deadline.
Likewise, Five Thirty-Eight also puts a damper on the Bulls playoff hopes. The site only gives the team an 8 percent chance, which is down a good amount from their late-February evaluation.
In such a crowded East, I assume odds for any team will move pretty drastically over the next several weeks. So while I might be disappointed that things are not immediately trending in the right direction, I’m not yet ready to slam the panic button yet. Also, even if the team’s struggles continue in this 11th-toughest second-half schedule, I will still feel better about heading into the offseason and the 2021-22 season with this roster.