Chandler Hutchison Friday makes his debut as the Bulls regular starting small forward following the Thursday trade of veteran Justin Holiday.
So it's time for Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen to improve?
"Lauri, Zach and Kris (Dunn) have to do more," Bulls coach Jim Boylen said after Friday morning practice. "Not just play; they have to do more at the defensive and offensive end now. And they have to make people better. Justin was a big-time defender, big-time team guy and was reliable. Guys have to pick up the slack. And I'm banking that they will."
And so the next phase of the Bulls rebuilding project begins.
Much of the foundation is in with the trade that netted Dunn, LaVine and Markkanen and the draft picks from last year for Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison. This is the first time the five core youngsters start together, and it's the first real glimpse of where the Bulls are headed with this rebuilding.
"I'm going through it for the first time, so seeing a coaching change, that was a surprise. Seeing guys get traded, that was a surprise, seeing guys come in, that was a surprise. I'm just trying to take it for what it is. But we all have to be ready and it's the next man up type of deal." - Chandler Hutchison
Now it's time to get a first look at the potential structure.
"Chandler will start at the three (small forward)," Boylen confirmed. "I like his defense, his length and rebounding. He can handle the ball. He can drive the ball. I'm excited to see him play. I want to see him compete. He doesn't have to do anything great. Just compete. Play within yourself and play like ‘Bulls' across his chest is important.
"I'm hoping we can redistribute some of those threes to other guys," Boylen added. "Hopefully Zach and Lauri get a couple more. I'm hoping Hutch can be the glue in that group that spaces it, drives it when it's appropriate, slashes when he has an opportunity, pushes it maybe and becomes a ball handler with those guys running with him. I can't tell you exactly how it's going to work out. But I like his heart and his spirit. Maybe we get less of one thing and more of the other and it works for us."
Which means the excavation isn't quite filled in yet.
The Bulls traded Holiday to acquire the two second round draft picks in 2019 and 2020, but also to move out Holiday. Boylen had been relying on Holiday perhaps too much in the new coach's desire to create something of a winning culture while attempting to develop the young talent.
Holiday was leading the team in minutes played and threes attempted and generally defended the opponent's best player. Though Holiday was a streaky player, and lately streaking the wrong way with his three-point shooting. It was 29 percent in December after 40 percent in November. But the trade was also to move on from a player not considered part of the group going forward.
The speculation is that includes backup center Robin Lopez, who also is in the final season of his contract. Though he is more difficult to trade earning about $14 million this season to about $4.5 million for Holiday. The Bulls received reserves Wayne Selden and MarShon Brooks from Memphis along with the two picks to match salary for trade. Thus the Bulls had to release a player to complete the trade; that was Cameron Payne. The Bulls will not retain Brooks.
"I'm going to miss playing with Justin," said Lopez. "I enjoyed it from a personal standpoint, both California guys, played against each other in high school. From a basketball standpoint, he had an ability to make a huge impact on both ends of the floor. He's a heck of a player.
"There's kind of been a little shoe dangling over the past couple years," Lopez joked about being the so called next shoe to drop. "I'm looking to play basketball. That's what I'm here to do. I like playing with these guys, so whatever happens I'm going to go out there and work for my teammates. I'm not worried about management. We've got the leadership committee. We've got one down, so I think we're trying to promote KD [Dunn)."
The Bulls installed a so called player leadership committee following the off day practice issues and the 56-point loss to Boston. Holiday was a member. It has not met.
"There's always a lot of (trade) talk going around," Lopez acknowledged. "That's kind of the nature of the NBA and good players stay focused. Keep doing the job."
"I like his defense, his length and rebounding. He can handle the ball. He can drive the ball. I'm excited to see him play. I want to see him compete. He doesn't have to do anything great. Just compete. Play within yourself and play like ‘Bulls' across his chest is important." - Jim Boylen on Chandler Hutchison
Now the uncertain small forward job falls to Hutchison, who has played intermittently this season. The Bulls figure to still be in the market for a small forward depending on how Hutchison plays.
Hutchison had three starts this season, but five DNPs. He is averaging 4.2 points and 3.5 rebounds, only recently showing some aggression on offense. He's been a reluctant offensive player mostly brought in games for defense. He's had a flair for dunks on the fast break, though the Bulls are playing more deliberately since Boylen became head coach.
So the loss of Holiday will put something of a strain on an offense already ranked at the bottom of the NBA. But the Bulls prefer to look at the display model, a group of five No. 1 draft picks playing together and perhaps into the future.
The 6-7 Hutchison was acquired with the No. 22 pick from the trade last year of Nikola Mirotic to New Orleans.
"Our focus lately has been (having) better first quarter starts, so now my focus comes on wanting to start the first quarter (more quickly)," said Hutchison. "Whether offensively or defensively, I'm just going to continue to play the game and be aggressive when opportunities come and then just continue to be reliable on the defensive end.
"Everything that really goes on this year has been a surprise to me because everything is new," Hutchison acknowledged. "I'm going through it for the first time, so seeing a coaching change, that was a surprise. Seeing guys get traded, that was a surprise, seeing guys come in, that was a surprise. I'm just trying to take it for what it is. But we all have to be ready and it's the next man up type of deal.
"I think that's (shooting threes) going to come naturally with being on the court more and being in more of a scoring role out there," said Hutchison. "As for whether it's three-point or whatever it may be. I'm just going to continue to play my game. I can't try to (take) shots just because of the type of player Justin was. I'm just going to continue to be who I am out there and do what I can to help the team win."