It was a time when we were in movie theaters and restaurants, cheering for our teams inside and out and scooping nacho cheese off our shirts. It was, indeed, the best of times.
It was a time when we went to the beach and the fair, when we watched the Bulls in a springtime of hope. When we could greet old friends with a warm hug. Well, perhaps we're not missing everything. It was March, 2020.
Today there's still few restaurants to patronize or fairs, shows or amusement parks to attend in the winter of our despair. But perhaps here comes the best of times. Here comes the Bulls again. They're back! Sure, I'm overusing that one. But it's difficult to get past the delirium in what seems to have been an epoch of incredulity. Did I mention, here come the Bulls!
NBA training camps, at least for gradual individual workouts, begin Tuesday with what the NBA is terming group sessions starting Friday. Heck, it's been basically so long since we've seen the Bulls it could even be a glee club session and we'd watch.
It's a new song and band director for this Bulls crew, Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley leading a new management team and former Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan heading up a new coaching staff. Though for now they're just putting the old band back together and, at least, on a mission for respectability.
There's rookie No. 4 overall selection Patrick Williams and journeyman free agent Garrett Temple as the primary new additions. Adam Mokoka returns and Chicago native Devon Dotson joins him as G-league two-way players. Former Bull (and several others) Noah Vonleh attempts to make his way back during camp. Otherwise, it's the same guys we last saw get a win in Coby White's only start on March 10 and who were on the way to Orlando when they had to turn back and begin nine months of wondering how they still were 21 games under .500.
That was twice the NBA wouldn't allow to go to Orlando. Talk about some upset kids.
It doesn't look like a Bulls playoff team for the NBA season that is scheduled to begin Dec. 22. Though we all believed there had been enough talent for those payoffs last season with the additions of Thad Young and Tomas Satoransky. So maybe with a new coach? Karnisovas and Donovan have generally agreed there is more there than meets the standings, so it's time to start proving same.
There are a lot of questions facing these Bulls players in what may be a 72-game sprint for their futures, several players facing free agency, possible contract extensions and perhaps appointments with Realtors. For many it may be the December of their Bulls careers unless they begin to show some spring in their step if not also in their shots. In nine months a lot of growth can occur. Or be left unfulfilled. It's the birth of a new Bulls era. These players will provide the baby steps.
Coby White: The brassy guard is expected to get the opening assignment at point guard. There was much speculation about a draft or free agency addition of a facilitating point guard to help all the others. But there was none other than Dotson. Can White and Zach LaVine be a starting guard tandem? Is White destined for a scoring reserve role? Can he become that facilitator? Does he need to be? Last season as a rookie, White struggled trying to force his round shooting game into a square playmaking role. Finally unleashed after failing to even make the rookie team in the Chicago All-Star game, White was Rookie of the Month and one of the best scorers in the league after the break. He got his first start... and then sat down for nine months. Now how much will he stand out?
Zach LaVine: He's been easily the best and most potent player on the team the last two seasons, the top scorer, a clutch shot maker (and misser) who attempted every big shot as few as there were. No one in the NBA averaged more points the last two years, almost 25 per game, without being an All-Star. Is he a star? Can he carry a team? Is he your No. 1? No. 2? First trade option as your most sought after player? LaVine has been a popular, supportive teammate. Does he remain the primary scoring option? Does he need to pull back to equalize the offense with more healthy players? Can he lead? Will others follow?
Otto Porter Jr.: He looked like the answer (and a steal) when he came to the Bulls midseason of 2019 for Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis. The Bulls quickly had their best run that season, including five of six wins ending in that four overtime classic in Atlanta. Porter had 31 and 10 in that game, his second 30/10 game in the previous five. Then he sat out the last month of the season, seemingly for precautions (or draft positioning) and then pretty much all last season. Now he's healthy again and on the last year of his contract attempting to show the NBA he's worthy of another. And show the Bulls he's that versatile wing player with the excellent shot and supplementary ball handling they thought was a final piece more than a missing piece.
Lauri Markkanen: The big question mark of the team and season. Is he the clever and competitive Finnish guy the Bulls believed they could build around? Or is he finished as a Bull? Markkanen was in a draft group with the likes of Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum two years ago, stumping many on the question of who would you take first in that draft. Donovan and Tatum excelled and got huge contract extensions. Markkanen's game collapsed last season in his poorest pro efforts in scoring, rebounding and shooting. Other than that, he seemed to retain his winning personality. His renewal and fate is the biggest challenge and question for the new coaching staff and management if not also the good cheer of his nation.
Wendell Carter Jr.: The big question may simply be whether he is big enough and whether he finally can have that big season. Carter seemed on the way, especially as a rookie with a career game in Denver early in the season, outplaying star center Nikola Jokic and perhaps giving then Nuggets executive Karnisovas the shakes. But Carter couldn't shake bad luck, freak injuries the last two seasons along with an apparent directive last season not to shoot the ball if anyone else could. Good teammate that he is, Carter deferred demurely. Perhaps too much so. His conditioning wasn't always elite because of the injuries, so he was often out of games quickly on fouls. Officials often called fouls on him as players lined up for the opening tip. Now it's his time, also, to be the defensive presence and rim protector he was at times. He deserves a shot.
Thad Young: The savvy veteran was a rare iron man for the team, missing just one game and because of injuries to others starting more than expected. Though perhaps less than he hoped. Young signed a three-year deal, though with a third season partially guaranteed. So his play also will determine whether the Bulls want to move forward with his forward play. He's been the most frequently speculated by sources who may or may not know as a trade possibility because of his potential veteran value to a high level playoff team. He seemed to struggle at times with his reserve role on a losing team after playing more playoff games than anyone on the roster. He had a respectable season and improved his three-point shooting even though it's not a strength. He gives the Bulls the kind of veteran bench than belies their inexperience and lack of success. How and where will he fit?
Tomas Satoransky: Similarly like Young, his third season is not fully guaranteed as he plays for his role. He didn't miss a game, the older veterans other than Porter being the most reliable on the roster. He started every game at point guard until giving way to White in that final game. He's a serious, hard worker who was distressed about his play, shooting three-year lows after becoming a popular replacement for injured John Wall in Washington. He's also not the classic facilitating point guard and lacks some athleticism as he is yet another player who fighting for his career and reputation.
Denzel Valentine: For some reason not entirely clear except perhaps for a presumed dislike of actor Denzel Washington, former coach Jim Boylen didn't like the act of this Denzel. Valentine rarely played as he recovered from years of ankle problems. The new management apparently doesn't share that view as they offered Valentine a qualifying offer instead of more highly drafted Kris Dunn. Valentine showed some shooting and playmaking form in the abbreviated team bubble workouts of late September, enough apparently to tease the new management. He could fit as a secondary playmaker and shooter for a possibly very deep bench as he also faces the end of his Bulls contract and free agency.
Chandler Hutchison: The wing/forward has been a disappointment in his two Bulls seasons, rarely playing due to various injuries, missing more than half the games and shooting poorly. He's shown flashes of athletic play, primarily in transition, and last season desperately attempted to play through injury before he was sidelined again. Much will tell with having nine months off to recover and shoot and whether his body can withstand NBA rigors. He's a potential gem who could surprise. Or be headed for Europe.
Daniel Gafford: The jumping jack of a big man showed promise with his aggressive play, especially on defense. He also was prone to fouls and quick exits, not unusual for rookie second round picks. The Bulls are a small team, so his presence matters as long as he can remain present.
Luke Kornet: The perimeter seven footer is another on the way to free agency. He rarely played early with injuries and then began to show some shooting depth before being injured yet again. He's another who's somewhat frail with questions about surviving in the NBA game.
Ryan Arcidiacono: The undrafted floor burn point guard earned his way into the rotation and even the starting lineup more than expected as a coach's favorite for his relentless hustle board game picking up the charges and loose balls and being that model the coach can point to on film. He's got a credible shot he doesn't attempt often enough and figures to find it more difficult being in this rotation with the pre-injury depth the Bulls appear to have for now.
Cristiano Felicio: The favorite of fans to dislike, though a very likable guy who hardly should be at fault for accepting a four-year contract. What would anyone have done? He lacks the quick reactions of an NBA interior defensive player and he doesn't shoot well. He tries, at least, and also faces his final contract season with the team.
Patrick Williams: The No. 4 overall pick in the draft is that big upside kind of guy who looks more like an NBA power forward now with an explosive inside game who management hopes will develop into more of a wing player. He's so young at barely 19 with a good shot and a powerful body that it's difficult to project. He does look like a big piece for the future, though finding much playing time will be difficult this season with so many Bulls playing for their careers and futures with the franchise.
Garrett Temple: The primary free agent signing along with G-league two-way player Devon Dotson. Temple is a reserve shooting guard last with the Nets who knows the NBA real estate and travel guide market the best as the Bulls are his 11th NBA team. He remains a highly regarded defender as a shooting guard and one of the most highly respected NBA veterans who is a players' association officer and mentor to many young players.
Your 2020-21 Chicago Bulls.