Aaaaaaaannnnnnnd now, the starting lineup for your Chicago Bulls.
A 6-5 guard from from UCLA, Zach LaVine.
From Providence, guard Kris Dunn.
The man in the middle, from Duke, 6-10 Wendell Carter Jr.
At forward, from Boise State, Chandler Hutchison.
A seven foot forward from Arizona, Lauri Markkanen.
The starting lineup for your Chicago Bulls!
“A year ago draft night, we made a decision to trade Jimmy Butler and start a rebuild and we thought we got a jump on that with the three pieces we got, Lauri being the seventh pick, the cornerstone of our direction and with Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn,” said Bulls Executive Vice-president of Basketball Operations John Paxson Thursday after the NBA draft. “Tonight is just an extension of that and we walk away feeling really good about the two players we drafted and the direction we are heading, two positions of need and two players we feel fit us and hopefully help us grow, hopefully quickly. And though we are going to be patient, maybe more quickly than some of the teams in the past have in rebuilding situations.”
That’s perhaps because with the additions of Carter Jr. with the No. 7 selection and Hutchison with the No. 22 pick, the Bulls hope they have the outline of a future starting five to develop and grow together, a quintet that could even be starting together before the end of the 2018-19 season.
“Possible, sure,” said Paxson. “No young player comes in as a finished product. We want our guys to come in and understand how hard they have to work. Look at where we were a year ago and what we decided to do and one year later we feel we have added five really good, young core pieces to build with. We’re excited about the future and direction we are headed.”
It’s, of course, premature to suggest the Bulls have their future already. But with the burly Carter Jr. and the active wing player Hutchison, the Bulls, in theory for now, have assembled a unit with defense, shooting, ball handling and rebounding, five players under 25 who can grow and develop together, players with athletic ability and the possibilities for court spacing and defensive coordination.
Sure, there will be opportunities with substantial room under the salary cap opening these next two summers for free agents or salaries with players in trade to take from other teams. There could be another draft lottery pick next season, though maybe not depending on how quickly these new players adapt and evolve along with the presumed core three and the likes of Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine, among others.
But a rebuild that began just 12 months ago with the loss of All-Star Butler, soon to be followed by the buyout of Dwyane Wade, the departure of Rajon Rondo and then a season that led to the trade of Nikola Mirotic and a descent into defeat suddenly is showing some light behind those clouds of misery.
Carter Jr., was the main figure for the Bulls Thursday, a rugged all-around big man who has drawn comparisons to players like Al Horford and Elton Brand. Perhaps not athletically dominant, but with a wide variety of skills on offense and defense. He appears to be a seamless fit with Markkanen as both can switch off on defense, shoot from three-point range and defend centers. Carter Jr. at 6-10 and about 250 pounds, played center to complement No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley.
There was much discussion in recent weeks of the Bulls trading higher in the draft. Paxson and General Manager Gar Forman acknowledged discussions, but declined to offer specifics. It seemed apparent they didn’t want to give up the No. 22 pick they used for Hutchinson.
One story of the last six weeks was that Hutchison received a first round promise from the Bulls, and it seemed to work out that way, He stopped workouts after the Chicago Combine, and then he was there at No. 22 Thursday. Though he certainly won’t be a starter in October, that position likely to go to Valentine, Justin Holiday or David Nwaba, Hutchison at 6-7 and 200 pounds has the abilities, Paxson said, to make plays off the dribble and finish at the basket and fits the profile of the modern NBA wing player.
Robin Lopez likely will be the starting center next season. But he’s going into his final contract season and could be available in trade depending on how fast Carter Jr. progresses. Carter Jr. was recruited by even Ivy League Harvard for his academics and is known as a studious and hard working teammate.
“We think Wendell will be a really good complement to Lauri,” Paxson said. “We’ve got Robin in that position already and can bring Wendell in and he can earn his time, his minutes and that’s a good thing for a young player. He’s a rim protector as well. Wendell can run, he’s big and thick and you can’t knock him of his spots. You heard him talk about setting screens for guys. This a young man who will fit in to the team concept we want to have and Chandler the same. In our game today, bigs have to step out and guard; he’s a smart kid and we think he will be really good.
“We (also) needed help at the wing position,” said Paxson. “Gar and I have been talking about the versatility necessary in our game. You see guys like Chandler who can guard different perimeter spots. He addresses a position of need, his ability to rebound the ball and take it off the board and make plays; those things are really valuable in our game today and the way we want to play with pace and uptempo. So he fits.
A lot of what happens with us this year — Lauri, Kris, Zach, Bobby, Denzel — will be their development and growth as players. We feel these two players complement the team and the rosters we have well.John Paxson
Paxson emphasized the so called “process” teams mention, talking about patience. Yet he made the distinction from, for example, baseball or some of the NBA experiments with young players dribbling in over four or five years to perfect a core and starting five. In one year over two drafts — and Forman said drafts should remain a building block — the Bulls might just have not only a five-player group going forward but one fans can watch playing together within months.
There was considerable interest in this draft with the last Bulls season pretty much dedicated to adding talent in this draft. One big question came down to the possibilities with promoted Michael Porter Jr., a 6-10 wing with supposed star potential. But he had back surgery which concerned teams. He was once considered a top three pick for the draft. But he dropped with the medical reports, which were not publicly revealed, and the Bulls also passed. He eventually was selected far down at No. 14 by Denver, suggesting red flag warnings in his reports.
There also were rumors the Bulls wanted to trade up in the draft for a chance at a player like center Mohamed Bamba or guard Trae Young. Young went fifth when Atlanta traded down with Dallas, which took Luka Doncic third. Bamba went sixth as somewhat of a surprise to Orlando, whom many believed wanted a point guard.
Paxson and Forman indicated the Bulls believed there was more value in taking the player at No. 22, and that being able to trade up to get Bamba or Young was not worth giving up the draft pick that became Hutchison.
“We feel we’re in a situation now where to give up draft assets to move up a spot or two didn’t make sense for us the way we are planning,” said Paxson. “As we looked at this draft, a move up didn’t make sense. If value is out there we will jump on it and explore that, but we are in the beginning phases of this.”
Thus it seems like the Bulls aren’t quite yet in the mix for a a serious playoff push, though with the uncertainty in the Eastern Conference and so many teams in phases of rebuilding, the Bulls could easily be in a playoff race next season even with their young group. Though the priority seems to get those players working together since even LaVine, Dunn and Markkanen rarely played together last season.
Though Bamba was ranked somewhat higher in these informal mock draft ratings than Carter Jr., Bamba probably is more of a project given his slight build. Plus, Bamba doesn’t have an offensive component. As for Young, his defensive deficiencies might have proved too burdensome to be offset by his offensive panache. Also, despite the projected high talent ceiling for the raw Jaren Jackson Jr., the price was proving exorbitant with Memphis to move up three spots, a cost of taking on players that might eliminate the Bulls from free agency for years. It’s why after the first two picks with Deandre Ayton and Bagley, it became as much about fit with a team for the next six or seven selections. The Bulls believe they found their own Goldilocks Principle in that this one seems just right.
“This is a process,” Paxson reiterated. “We’ll look at everything. You hope you draft players who can become stars. We believe last year in drafting Lauri he has the potential; he has a long way to go, but we believe he has the potential. A lot of times you start with the draft and that’s the stage we are in, trying to draft to put a core together who we think can play together and win, play hard and compete and play the right way. And we feel we are in the beginning stages of that.”
With perhaps a fairy tale happy ending?