I like to consider myself a relatively rational person.
More often than not, I attempt to think critically through situations, practice patience, and evaluate both sides of an argument. And I’m not saying this as some sort of flex. Honestly, if anything, this isn’t the best approach to take when your job resides in today’s sports media landscape. This is the era of hot takes and passionate declarations! I should be aggressively sharpening my pitchfork instead of making a diligent list of pros and cons. Yet, here I am, forcing my “Big J” Journalism brain to cramp up as I try to think through the Bulls’ future.
The easy thing to do right now is call for Billy Donovan’s dismissal. If you’ve dabbled at all in the Bulls Twitterverse or Facebookverse or probably even Myspaceverse, then you know this has been an extremely popular take after a frustratingly weak 6-9 start to the season. But I just don’t believe it’s the correct direction.
Does Donovan deserve (at least) a slap on the wrist for the team’s ongoing slow starts? Absolutely. He also should have to answer questions about lack of effort and intensity after back-to-back blowout losses. But the Chicago Bulls’ current problems stretch far past whatever Donovan is preaching on the sideline.
Nobody is denying that this Bulls team has talent. But what matters more than how Donovan uses that talent is whether or not that talent even fit together in the first place. There were immediate questions about this when the front office opted to build a core around three offensive-minded All-Stars. And we’re talking *extremely* offensive-minded. Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic have each been considered sub-par defenders throughout their entire careers, which means there were bound to be some defensive concerns with this roster.
We then saw those concerns on full display as last season dragged on. The Bulls handed opponents the 9th-most points in the paint per game and finished the year 23rd in defensive rating. The other problem that became painfully clear was that this team lacked the kind of long-range shooting that is necessary in today’s NBA. As great as these three offensive players can be, they all tend to do their best work near or around the paint. Not only did this lead to the Bulls taking the fewest 3-point attempts per game, but it led to opponents daring the Bulls to beat them behind the arc.
Jump to the offseason and the front office had a chance to fill the holes. Instead, they went on to sign a veteran point guard in Goran Dragic and a backup big man in Andre Drummond. Both deserve a tip of the cap for their early-season effort. What they’ve done together in the second unit has saved the Bulls in several games thus far. But the fact of the matter is that neither player fixed the key issues we mentioned above.
The Bulls are still shooting the third-fewest 3s in the league and nailing them at just the 15th-best clip, and they are still allowing the 18th-most points in the paint each night. And I simply can’t see a path where that changes any time soon.
We know that Lonzo Ball checks several of those important boxes for this team, including shooting, length, and even rim protection in a sense (his ball pressure makes life so much easier on the big men). However, the fact this team has to rely that much on him to check certain boxes is – within itself – a flaw. It speaks to just how few two-way players are on this team, and it reminds us how little has been done to address that.
So, speaking of which, how can the Bulls address their roster issues? I think this is where the real worry begins to set in. The front office invested significant assets into the current core we see today. They have few tradable contracts, and those that they do have may not be tied to players who are valuable enough to bring back the kind of talent they need.
I mean, seriously, unless they finally bite the bullet and deal Patrick Williams, how else are they going to add a player of significance? Coby White’s value remains at an all-time low. Derrick Jones Jr.’s value is unknown. Javonte Green will make salary-matching hard. The Bulls might be able to flaunt some draft capital, including their lottery-protected first-round pick from Portland, but how much more of that do they want to give up? And at what cost?
Let’s also not forget what hangs over the head of all this: The cheapest ownership in all of the land. The Chicago Bulls have entered the luxury tax once in franchise history, and they are only a couple of million away from that line right now. So, even if this front office found the right-sized plugs to fill these holes, how can we be sure they get their hands on them?
I swear I’m not trying to sound like Mr. Dooms Day. These are just the thoughts that have been circling my head as we watch the Bulls stumble out of the gate. The good news is that their schedule should only ease up from here and that players like Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan remain really freakin’ good. But looking into the future of this team is like driving into a fog storm. It’s hard to tell what lies ahead.