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Why the Bulls are quickly emerging as the NBA’s primary rebuild candidate this season

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At least give the Chicago Bulls credit for trying. In the NBA world, teams either traded all their picks or hoarded other people’s, they sought to find a middle ground. Instead of giving up all their draft equity for one star, they split a significant amount among several players. Two picks for Nikola Vucevic. One for Demar DeRozan. Several role players of Lonzo Ball. The idea was deceptively simple: if everyone else is going to sell out for two or three great players, we can capture the market with imperfect but good players.

For a moment it looked like they had found something. Chicago held the top spot in the Eastern Conference for much of last season. DeRozan looked like an MVP candidate. The Bulls’ best version was a viable alternative to the excellent NBA binary. They didn’t tank for stars, and they certainly didn’t trade for them. They went to the island of basketball losers and returned with an amazingly well-coordinated team.

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We know how the story will end because we had a preview last season. Superstars create margin of error that the Bulls simply didn’t have. A string of injuries limited Chicago to 46 wins last season. Denver has won 48 games without Jamal Murray or Michael Porter Jr because it’s almost impossible to win less with Nikola Jokic. The Bulls don’t have such a player, and so their margin of error is very small. Knock a few pieces of jenga out of place and the whole tower will collapse.

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Ball has not played this season. It’s not clear when it will be. Vucevic was an All-Star in Orlando and looks more like the average league starting center in Chicago. A year after shooting 53.5% in the clutch, DeRozan is about 35% this season. Chicago has gone from one of the NBA’s top finishers to 0-7 this season. Individually, each of these problems can be overcome. Together they make a rather dangerous situation increasingly untenable. The cracks are already starting to widen.

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On Friday, Zach LaVine expressed displeasure at being sent to the bench against the Orlando Magic after starting Game 1 of 14 from the field. “I need to work better early in the game to make shots, but you play a guy like me throughout the game.” LaVine said. “This is what I do. Do I like this solution? No. Should I live with it? Yes”. The Bulls are 16 games out of a five-year, maximum-money deal with LaVine. It’s rare for a team to pick up their franchise player this early in the season, especially when the rest of their roster is in transition. The Bulls may be loyal to LaVine, but that’s not the case for some of the other big players here.

Vucevic turned 32 in October and his contract is expiring. DeRozan turned 33 this summer, and while he’s still playing pretty well, it’s unknown how long that will last. The window to win with them is right now, but even though the Bulls managed to acquire them at reasonable prices, they still don’t have enough capital left to meaningfully build around them. They owe one first-round pick to Orlando and the other to San Antonio, making another significant trade toward wrestling difficult. There is no obvious way back into the circle of challengers, and the status quo is becoming more precarious by the day. This leaves only one viable alternative.

The total or all-out nature of the modern NBA creates annual frustrations by default. Each year there is one championship available to a dozen or so teams that have put their chips into it, and naturally one or two of those teams leave the table each year. The Utah did it this offseason, in particular, when, after years of postseason frustrations, Danny Ainge finally sold off a bunch of picks and young talent to Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Portland did it on a smaller scale on a deadline with a CJ McCollum deal, but he did it with the intention of rebooting, not rebuilding.

Both examples are potentially instructive because both paths are theoretically available here. The obvious way to defuse the time bomb of an aging roster is to give away all the players that aren’t nailed down. There is an obvious trading partner waiting if the Bulls decide to make LaVine or DeRozan available for sale. star hunger Lakers. Plug your nose in a few months of Russell Westbrook and you’ve added two most valuable draft picks in basketball. You may even accidentally stumble upon a third in the process.

The pick that Chicago owes Orlando this season is in the top four. At the moment, the Bulls are only one and a half games ahead of Orlando in the standings. The Magic currently have the fourth-worst record in the NBA. Dedicate a tank soon enough and Chicago can infiltrate the hunt for Victor Wembanyama. They would certainly be happy enough if they kept the number 4 pick. There will be trading markets for Vucevic, Alex Caruso and maybe even Ball if the Bulls are willing to explore them. If Chicago has decided its middle ground is more of a half measure and wants to explore something more traditional, the reset button is on the table, ready to be pressed.

But the Portland way is available here too. If the Bulls only traded DeRozan without taking on long-term money, they could just let Vucevic’s contract expire and potentially enter next offseason with maximum ceiling space or something close to it. Chicago could then revamp the younger supporting cast on the fly. With players like Ayo Dosunmu and Patrick Williams, there is already room for modest improvement. Force-feed them shots and minutes and their potential only increases. Lavigne is not Damian Lillard. He’s not gifted enough that the Bulls feel comfortable leaving him on the island while they recuperate around him. But he is only 27 and already five years old. Its window is wider than that of the current line-up. He can wait a year or two for change.

However, this change is likely to come in one form or another because, both literally and figuratively, the stars aren’t lining up in Chicago the way they did a season ago. It turns out there’s a reason why so few teams have adopted their approach to roster building. You need everything to go right when you’re trying to win without a few megastars, and in Chicago this season, almost everything goes wrong.



Source: www.cbssports.com

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