The Bulls have a chance to be much improved, and what’s wrong with that?
That Thursday was the message from General Manager Gar Forman, who spoke to reporters at the Advocate Center following Rajon Rondo’s introduction as the Bulls’ new point guard. Forman was not permitted comment by league rule about Dwyane Wade, who is expected to sign soon with the Bulls as a free agent. But the Bulls in a surprising free agent flurry have remade their roster into what appears to, at least, be an Eastern Conference top four contender. All the while, Forman said, while not deviating from the team’s long term plans and goals of, among other things, trending toward younger and more athletic.
“Going into the draft and into free agency I talked a little bit about how we’re going to retool this roster,” Forman said. “We studied the options and we didn’t want to go into an absolute rebuild, but we did want to get younger. And we do want to get more athletic, and at the same time we want to be able to compete and put as good a product and team as we can out there on the floor. I think we’ve accomplished those things. I talked at that time that this is going to be a process. You don’t snap your fingers and it all happens at once. That’s the plan moving forward.
“You look at our roster today,” Forman pointed out. “We’ve added Jerian Grant, Denzel Valentine, Paul Zipser. Robin Lopez is a younger center who’s locked up long term. We’ve got seven players on this roster with three years or less experience. We’re really high on Bobby Portis, McDermott, Nikola Mirotic, (Cristiano) Felicio. We want to bring those guys along and develop those guys. We also have all our first-round picks into the future. We have the possibility of a Sacramento pick a year from now. That’s our goal, to get younger, to get more athletic and at the same time retool, not rebuild. Part of developing young players and a culture for these young players is we want them exposed to winning. It was just our sense we didn’t want to rebuild where we become possibly a lower lottery team long term. We’ve studied the history of the NBA. When you make a move to go that direction, it can sometimes take six or seven years to get out. So we feel we’re in the process of improving our basketball team, that we’re getting younger, that we’re getting more athletic. The moves that we’re in the process of making, we haven’t given up any of our young players. We haven’t given up any of our picks. Really, we’ve kept our (financial) flexibility long term. We’re happy the direction we’re headed.”
In addition to a high powered backcourt, Lopez, who averaged a double/double last season, will be at center with probably Mirotic for shooting at power forward. But that also gives the Bulls a strong bench with Taj Gibson, Felicio, McDermott, Valentine, Grant and Portis and the likelihood of a veteran guard being added in free agency this summer.
Forman says it means the team is heading in the direction of the new building phrase of “younger and athletic,” but at the same time remaining competitive with a roster that can compete—if not for a championship, though no one says never in the summer—but certainly with respectability in the Eastern Conference.
Dramatic rebuilding plans provide hope, though more like the lottery. Someone will get rich; most don’t.
“We knew this (free agency) market would be different because of the spike in the cap,” said Forman. “I think we saw a lot of long term big money contracts, and I think next year with the spike we’ll see it again. And so part of our goal in addressing needs yet staying within the plan we talked about of retooling is we didn’t want to go long term. We wanted to keep some level of flexibility. So for us, that’s how we can continue to look forward and continue to improve this team. By maintaining flexibility long term, by having the young players, by having the picks and continuing to try to have a competitive good team where some of our guys can grow, we think that’s the best path to go ahead and continue to improve into the future.”
And if you are in the business of attracting high level free agents, success does matter.
It’s been dramatic this season with the 73-win Warriors getting the best free agent, Kevin Durant. The Philadelphia 76ers didn’t get much interest as well as most of the other rebuilding project teams.
“I think we’re bringing in guys that are pros, that are leaders, that are part of winning,” said Forman. “Like with Rondo, there was very open dialogue over a couple of day period and we were very transparent with some of the background stuff. He was transparent in talking about it and at the end of the day he had a good understanding of what our expectations were and I think we had a good understanding of what his were. After those conversations, we thought it was a fit and he’s here and we’re happy to have him. We think we’ve got a guy who’s a winner, who’s a competitor, who’s been a high level player in the NBA, an All-Star, part of winning championships. We’re excited to have him.
“We’ve always talked highly of Chicago and we think we’ve got a lot of positives to sell,” said Forman. “Obviously, the more good players we attract it’s going to help attract players down the road. Continuing to put as good team as we can and continue to build and grow down the future, it’ll be a positive in attracting guys.
“I know there’s going to be a transition period because we’ve got a lot of new guys and guys that are coming from different situations,” said Forman. “But our feeling is as we continue to build and looking into the next week, continue to add our roster we’re getting talented basketball players. I think Fred (Hoiberg) is excited to coach this group and I think when you have good basketball players they figure it out. One of the goals will be to have a group that works together moreso than a year ago. I think it was splintered in some ways. I think we’ve added some guys who will continue to help us in that direction and we’ll continue to add guys to help in that direction.”