What a difference a year makes. This time last year, Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, and Jimmy Butler were being hailed as the Bulls new big three and most of the questions centered around how Hoiberg’s pace and space offense would work with three guys who couldn’t shoot threes. Now, as for the Bulls media day ushers in the 2017-2018 Chicago Bulls season, the big three are gone as Dwyane Wade was (mercifully) bought out last night and is free to sign wherever he pleases. It was the right move by a front office that doesn’t always make the right move. The rebuild is here and the Bulls should be among the bottom five teams in the NBA. Bulls fans have had a hectic offseason. Just to recap: After the Bulls were unceremoniously disposed of by the Celtics via the Rajon Rondo injury and Jimmy Butler‘s inability – or unwillingness – to step up, the Bulls made their first major trade in ages by trading Jimmy Butler for some maybes and hopefuls in Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, and the draft pick that became Lauri Markkanen. A few weeks after the draft, we were entrenched in a highly disappointing Summer League in which both Kris Dunn and Cameron Payne both left for family reasons, Lauri Markkanen struggled, and the surprising Antonio Blakeney earned himself a roster spot on these Chicago Bulls. Then, Lauri Markkanen ignited Eurobasket 2017 and earned the hype of the entire basketball universe (minus me, who reminded folks this isn’t NBA competition, he struggled in Summer League, and to not put all this hype on this kid and set him up for failure before he’s played a real NBA second). It’s been a wild ride already and we haven’t even started training camp.
But this season promises to mostly be about transition and growing. The Bulls have officially entered a rebuild after the Butler trade and aren’t likely to make the Playoffs this season. Folks, brace yourself: We’re in for a lot of losses. The last time the Bulls went through a rebuild like this was in 1998-1999, i.e. the Tim Floyd era, who is the current and reigning Tournament of Trash champion, and when you listen to Jack Silverstein draw a direct correlation from Tim Floyd to current Bulls management, it really makes you want to die because you start losing that glimmer of hope that this could be the start of something big. But this season will be NOTHING, I repeat NOTHING, like those Bulls. Those Bulls were hopeless. They were ugly, they were scrubs, has-beens, and frankly, trash. These Bulls may have some of those same elements, but the brand of basketball you will see on the court will be different and could actually be exciting for three reasons:
1) The Bulls have some promising young players in Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine (if he returns this season), Kris Dunn, and others.
2) We will finally see elements of “Hoiball” now that Jimmy Butler, the isolation specialist, is gone. The Bulls will finally play with pace and space. The Bulls have a plethora of shooters on this team including LaVine, Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis, Lauri Markkanen, Justin Holiday, the streaky Paul Zipser, the much maligned Nikola Mirotic, who just resigned and I think he’s going to have a big year – something like 17/7 45% FG/40%3pt. I haven’t given up on Mirotic.
3) We might actually see dunks! The Bulls have some real athletes on the team!
Even though this is a transitional year and the Bulls are going to be at the bottom of the standings, I don’t think the team is going to be awful or frustrating to watch, but Bulls fans, you have to lower your expectations slightly. Don’t look at the wins and losses. Look at the potential and growth of the young talent the Bulls have acquired, look to see if Fred Hoiberg has shown any semblance of competence or ability to be an NBA head coach, watch the front office’s transactions and if they are good moves or more stupidity from Gar/Pax. These are the things to focus on this year. Look for moments that you can say, “Wow, Lauri Markkanen could be something!” or “Kris Dunn is a pitbull on defense” or “Zach LaVine is more than just the evolution of Jamal Crawford!” This year isn’t going to be pretty, but we can find promise in these moments.
The Bulls’ ultimate goal is to be awful and enter into the Luka Doncic/Marvin Bagley III/Michael Porter Jr. (my personal favorite) sweepstakes. There are some game-changers at the top of this year’s draft and the Bulls want to be in that conversation. The other goal is to possibly be in that conversation next year and end up with 3-4 solid players in LaVine, Markkanen, this year’s top pick, and next year’s top pick. That gives the Bulls the young core they desire and begins a potential rise as LeBron begins his decline (or if he transitions out West as many are predicting this offseason). The East could literally be up for grabs.
That all begins this year. The Bulls will be bad, but possibly enjoyable. They aren’t competing for titles, but the highest possible draft pick. This is the current situation at the United Center. Enjoy expectation-less basketball, Chicago. You’re going to be here for a few years.
Brandon Pence is the author and founder of “The Bulls Outsider” and co-founder of “B2 Hoops.” Follow “The Bulls Outsider” on Twitter and Facebook.