The Chicago Bulls' Year in Review: 2018
Sam Smith reflects on the Bulls highlights of 2018.
J.M. Barrie was the creator of Peter Pan, the boy who would not grow up. So he knew something about that process, of which he said it is a barbarous business, full of inconvenience and pimples. And so it is with sports teams taking their first steps again, as the Bulls did starting mostly in the past year.
The year 2018 was a difficult one for the Bulls because, well, growing up is never easy or straight forward. Why do you think they call it growing pains?
And so last year was the first full year of the Bulls youth following the trade of Jimmy Butler with the introduction of Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn and with the return from surgery of Zach LaVine. It was also a process of creating an identity, which comes with blemishes, and to per chance dream a bit about better times.
Here’s a look back at the Bulls highlights of 2018:
Zach LaVine outdoes Jimmy Butler in Bulls only national televised game Feb 9
LaVine had returned less than a month before just about a year after ACL surgery. He had 14 points in 19 minutes in his January 13 debut and was on a playing time limit. But he was ready for his former team and Butler. LaVine scored 25 of his 35 points in the second half, including the last 11 for the Bulls, who had trailed by five points with 70 seconds left. Butler had 38 points, but it was LaVine with the clutch plays down the stretch with Butler defending him, showing the Bulls that they perhaps had their closer. It gave LaVine an average of 26.5 points the last four games. But he sat out periodically afterward and was shut down the last 14 games of the season in which LaVine acknowledged he was never that close to being healthy. Except perhaps for that one night.
Lauri Markkanen takes on the big stage in Madison Square Garden with his career game in a double overtime win Jan. 10
Markkanen scored 33 points with eight threes and 10 rebounds in outplaying Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis and posing for a highlight dunk over Knicks seven footer Enes Kanter. Kris Dunn finally gave the Bulls the winning margin with a banked runner in the second overtime. Though it was Markkanen’s shooting and all around game in his first ever game in Madison Square Garden that carried the evening.
Kris Dunn outduels Dallas prized rookie Dennis Smith Jr. with a career-high 32 points, nine assists and four steals and crucial baskets down the stretch for the victory Jan. 5 in Dallas.
It was almost the culmination—though not known at the time—of Dunn’s coming out party month with several game-winning scores the previous month. Dunn had scored at least 17 points in five of the previous six games while averaging 10 assists per game the last seven games. Dunn was averaging about 13 points and eight assists the next six games until with a chance to beat the Golden State Warriors he took a hard fall and sustained a serious concussion that kept him out almost a month. Then he also sat out the last 14 games. But each of the Bulls three youngsters from the Butler trade had shown in stretches the possibilities in their play. Going into that Golden State game, the Bulls had won 14 of 21 with their three young players sharing starring turns. But Dunn soon was out and Nikola Mirotic traded.
Nikola Mirotic on Feb. 1 was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans along with a second round pick for the Pelicans 2018 first round pick (used for Chandler Hutchison at No. 22), Omer Asik, Jameer Nelson and Tony Allen. The latter three were eventually traded, released or bought out.
The beginning of the end for the Bulls and Mirotic was a truncated contact negotiation in the summer of 2017 and then his training camp fight with Bobby Portis. Portis was suspended eight games and Mirotic missed 23 games. When Mirotic returned, the Bulls had their best run with 10 wins in 12 games and seven straight. But Mirotic wouldn’t relate with Portis and wanted to be traded. The Bulls accommodated him after the Pelicans lost DeMarcus Cousins to injury. The 23rd pick by the Bulls in the 2011 draft joined the Bulls in 2014. He was averaging 16.8 points mostly off the bench when traded. He is averaging 17.4 points per game this season, but has missed a dozen games with injuries and illness.
Bulls draft center/forward Wendell Carter Jr. from Duke No. 7 in June 21 NBA draft.
Carter Jr. quickly evolved into a starting center for the Bulls with impressive maturation for a player still 19 years old. He’s ranked all season among the top 10 rookies in scoring, rebounding and blocks. In the annual survey of NBA general managers, Carter finished tied for second for most likely to win Rookie of the Year and biggest steal in the draft. Rookies voting during summer league selected Carter to have the best career. Carter comes into the new year with double/doubles his past two games and averaging barely under a double/double his past five games.
Zach LaVine scores a career high 41 points Nov. 5 in a double overtime win in New York.
LaVine scored all the Bulls points in the second overtime and made the winning free throws with two tenths of a second left. Plus, he scored the Bulls last 11 points in regulation for the tie. LaVine was carrying the Bulls with Kris Dunn, Lauri Markkanan, Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis injured. LaVine had moved into the league leaders in scoring and seemed a strong contender for the All-Star game until suffering an ankle injury in December. LaVine was the leading Bulls scorer with at least 24 points in each of their wins until the injured players began to return in early December.
Lauri Markkanen scores more than 30 points in back to back games as the Bulls Dec. 21 and Dec. 23 win two straight for the first time in the 2018-19 season.
Markkanen’s back to back new season highs started with a ferocious slam dunk over Orlando center Nikola Vucevic and then five three pointers against the Cavaliers. This while Markkanen continued to work himself back in shape after missing two months with an elbow injury. The Bulls last week just began starting LaVine, Markkanen and Dunn together for the first time this season and figure to spend the first half of 2019 hoping they develop into that unique and talented core of players to carry the team out of their youthful ambiguities.
Chicago native and former No. 2 overall draft pick Jabari Parker signs for $40 million over two seasons with a team option second year.
Parker had a slow start after a celebratory July press conference to announce his signing. Positioning was an initial issue with power forward occupied by Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis. So Parker began at small forward, then went to the bench and back to start with injuries. But shortly after Jim Boylen became coach and emphasized a defense-oriented game, Parker was taken out of the playing rotation. He was averaging 15.2 points, then second on the team in scoring to LaVine. Markkanen has since passed Parker in scoring. It doesn’t seem likely Parker will play again for the Bulls with a trade a possibility.
Associate head coach Jim Boylen replaces Fred Hoiberg as coach after Bulls start 5-20.
Hoiberg was in his fourth season as Bulls head coach, though limited by the team’s decision last season to begin a rebuilding process and the injuries to start this season. The change was made just after Markkanen’s return on limited minutes with Dunn and Portis still out. Boylen had been a longtime NBA assistant with stints in Houston and San Antonio when they won championships. He was a head coach with the U. of Utah. The Michigan native also had worked at Michigan State for Jud Heathcote and Tom Izzo at different times.
Within an eight-day span under new coach Jim Boylen, the Bulls overcome double-digit deficits to defeat Western Conference contenders Oklahoma City and San Antonio.
With Dunn still out, LaVine scored 25 points and Markkanen added 24 and the Bulls rallied from seven points behind in the last nine minutes against the Thunder with Markkanen’s winner with 4.9 seconds left. The Bulls had mostly been playing deliberately under Boylen, but outpaced the fast-paced Thunder. Then despite trailing by 21 points in the first half and by 20 points with 7:32 left in the third quarter, the Bulls got a big third quarter from Dunn and held the Spurs to 31 second half points in San Antonio. And now the Bulls hope the three talented youngsters can find that fourth star to the right and keep going straight on ’til morning for a happy new year.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.