By Eduardo Monk Jr.
The Bulls are a team fresh off an offseason seeing in which they flipped the switch to full rebuild mode, leading to the complete and total gutting of the roster. From moving on from Jimmy Butler for a dunk contest champion and a couple of promising prospects, letting aged veterans like Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo walk in order to sign a bunch of no-names and effectively killing off any chance of a successful season.
And this isn’t to say this is a bad thing by any means. With another loaded draft on the horizon, having a rough season is worth a Luka Doncic or a Michael Porter Jr. After an offseason like the Bulls had, this is clearly the path GarPax plan on taking. A tank year to bring on a potential superstar in the draft. It’s been awhile since a Bulls rebuild and this honestly couldn’t have come at a better time.
The Bulls made a move up in this year’s draft for the good reason, even if it cost them the beloved Butler. We all knew going into this there were going to be multiple superstars and the Bulls might have pulled in an All-Star level talent at the seventh overall spot. Currently sitting in the top two for rookies in both points and rebounds, Lauri Markkanen has impressed in his first nine games as a pro with his three-point shooting prowess and incredibly improved rebounding game.
The former Arizona Wildcat was taken for his three-point ability at the forward spot and boy, has he delivered. Averaging 2.7 threes per game a la Dirk Nowitzki is good for a top fifteen spot in the league. Rebounding was considered an issue for him coming into the NBA but an 8.2 clip has put that to sleep.
His defense is still a work in progress but it’s clear the Bulls have a surefire All-Star in their midst. Add in proven potential like Bobby Portis (who had a strong 21 point-13 rebound-3 three performance in his return), defensive stud Kris Dunn and the electric Zach LaVine combined with raw talent like Denzel Valentine and Paul Zipser, it’s a core that is going to be pretty solid come 2020. Throw in a Marvin Bagley III or a DeAndre Ayton and that’s borderline championship contender if all the talent pans out like hoped.
However, 2020 may come a little earlier than we think.
The Eastern Conference is weird this year. Not just because the Western Conference sucked all-stars from every roster except the Cavs and Celtics, but from this has led to a landslide of too much mediocre to bad teams duking it out against each other.
Eastern conference teams most of the time will play the Eastern Conference. Other than their 30 matchups against the West, these mediocre teams play against mediocre teams almost nightly. And when the Detroit Pistons play the Philadelphia 76ers or the Charlotte Hornets play the Orlando Magic, this kind of contests come down to almost a coin toss.
When both teams are considered beatable, it really comes down to who has the hot hand on any given night, something that is nearly impossible to track. This leads to teams like the Magic and Pistons leading the conference with a bunch of easy wins against easy teams, even though they are just as easy to beat as any other team in the East.
With the Cavs sliding hard with really no answer, the Celtics are the only team with a guaranteed playoff spot unless Kyrie Irving happens to go down with injury (knocks on wood real quick to be sure).
Now the Because of the explosion of Markkanen and the return of Portis, this team is Bulls that now isn’t any worse than the Heat but aren’t any better than the Pacers. They fit the mold of mediocre to bad team and are stuffed in a conference full of them. It’s early in the season and ignoring the 2-7 spot, the Bulls could very well make the playoffs by accident.
We have already seen the Knicks go on a multiple three-game win streaks. A run like that easily puts Chicago back into playoff contention. And in the East, a soft spot in the schedule can more than likely trigger this.
The only problem is this isn’t the plan for the Bulls. With enough luck, they’ll make the playoffs. And this is a scary thing considering what’s at stake. A tank season would result in a high pick in a great draft. A playoff season would land them in No Man’s Land, landing them a mid-round pick and a first-round sweep to Cleveland or Celtics.
Chicago was going into this year with a solid plan that in theory, shouldn’t fail. Chicago could end this year with that same plan failing. A little luck and it’s a lost season. There is simply too much at risk for a cheap playoff spot. As great as a playoff spot would be, Michael Porter Jr. in a Bulls jersey sounds even sweeter.