There’s something in journalism called the nut graf, which basically is the point of the story, the all-in-a-nut shell substance. You distract them with some fancy stuff in the lead paragraph and maybe a clever allusion. And then you tell them why to keep reading.
Like when Bulls Executive Vice-President of Basketball Operations Thursday explained why the Bulls traded Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker and a future second round pick to Washington for small forward Otto Porter Jr.
“Before the trade we were looking at having some cap space in the range of about $40 million,” Paxson told media at an Advocate Center briefing. “This cuts that in half. We are realistic in terms of what the free agent market is. We’re not in the position to go after the big names, the franchise changers. We’re looking at things realistically. We also looked ahead to this summer and even the summer beyond, looked at available wings and versatile players, and the list is what it is, no guarantees of getting players like that. We thought this was a perfect opportunity to get a player like Otto. Is he making a lot of money? Of course he is. A lot of players in our league are making a lot of money, and it does take away some of that cap space. As we evaluate our team we looked at having Lauri Markkanen as our starting four, Wendell Carter as our starting five for hopefully many, many years. To invest a lot of money right now at this time, as much as we love Bobby, in a position that was going to be a back up for us when we knew we could get a starting small forward that made more sense to us than anything…..
“We’ll look at the free agent market this summer,” Paxson said. “We’re going to have a high draft pick, a second round pick, and with the money we have available we want to address the veteran players that we feel can fit the team and help our young players along. That’s been the challenge with the rebuild, finding the right veterans and lead in the locker room. And even though Otto is 25 and a quiet guy, he has been in the league six years and has had success. It just made sense because we’re realistic knowing we’re not going to be huge players in terms of the big names.’’
Can you handle the truth!
Which is presumably what most observers ask of their teams, though many really privately prefer the fantasies and ordering their foam No. 1 fingers.
The Bulls, as much as they would like to be, aren’t in position to make a realistic case to the LeBron James juniors occupying this summer’s NBA free agency. There are too many teams as players, and not enough players who make enough difference for a team.
So the Bulls chose transparency and honesty, which often are preferable alternatives with a winning record.
But the reality is this is fewer than two seasons into a massive restructuring. The Jimmy Butler trade still is the right one to have yielded Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Krws Dunn. Just playing together regularly the last month, they’re being analyzed. But they need support, especially a young player with size who can shoot and defend. Perhaps Porter doesn’t fulfill enough fantasies, but he fits a position.
So the Bulls made a bold stroke even if it was not universally recognized as such. Realistic responses and reviews aren’t the currency for teams with losing records. The Bulls are, ouch, 12-42.
“Every organization is at a different point in their cycle as a team,” said Paxson. “We’re at a very beginning point of a rebuild. So we’re still very positive with the direction we’ve chosen. We understood going into this that it would be really hard and at times painful. This year it’s been more painful than we thought just given when we started Day 1, we were healthy, we were excited, those types of things. Those things have changed over time. And when our guys have been together, candidly, we probably haven’t played at the level you would hope. But with that said, over the last two to three weeks we’re seeing some signs – we’re not winning games – but we’re seeing signs of defensive improvement, which is good.
“We have to sit here every day and say to ourselves and be honest that we are a young basketball team,” Paxson added. “Very difficult to win in this league with a young team, but we are committed to the plan, we’re committed to adding another young player in this draft that you hope will be an impact player to go along with the guys we have, and now after this trade we feel that we’ve got a starting two in Zach, a very athletic athletic starting two, a guy that’s putting up offensive numbers. In Otto, we have a consistent three-point shooter that has been at 40 percent for his career as our (small forward), and now we’ve got Lauri and Wendell and we still are evaluating Kris Dunn.
“We were able, in our minds,” said Paxson, “to make a deal where we added a player who fits our timeline, 25 years old, fits a position that we’ve been looking for and has versatility in terms of the way the game is going. Otto Porter is a guy who we believe can play three, slide over to four. It will give our coaching staff options, especially when Chandler (Hutchison) comes back in the lineup. For us, this was consistent with the direction we chose. We feel really good about it. We’re going to stay committed to the long term and what we’re trying to build with some sustainability. I’m confident in our ability to get there because we’ve done it before (with the Luol Deng/Ben Gordon/Kirk Hinrich group and Derrick Rose/Carlos Boozer). And we understand that as painful as it is for our fans and everybody else, that we have to remain patient and continue to constantly make the decisions we’re making.”
Paxson along with General Manager Gar Forman also discussed other issues facing the team.
They conceded the acquisition last summer of free agent Parker didn’t work out as hoped, but with a one-year guarantee it was worth the risk for a young player and high lottery pick coming off injury and unrestricted.
“We accept responsibility for the all the moves we make,” said Paxson. “We thought at the time it was worth a roll of the dice given where we’re at. It didn’t work out for either party. That sometimes happens. It has allowed us to make a move that we’re happy with.”
They plan for now to retain veteran center Robin Lopez despite rumors of a trade and a buyout.
Paxson implied teams often thwart chances of a team like the Bulls from making a trade with the suggestion of being open to certain post-deadline buyout candidates. So why reward a team operating improperly? After all, Lopez is being paid.
“My feeling right now – it can change – but Robin will be with us,” said Paxson. “Our players love him, he’s a great teammate, he’s a good guy. We don’t feel it necessary, and again I’m speaking today — but we don’t feel it’s an absolute given that we have to just buy a guy out to help another team.’’
Point guard is perhaps the most important position in today’s NBA and Kris Dunn has had significant injuries the last two seasons. The Bulls hope in the rest of this season he will show he fits well enough with LaVine, Carter, Markkanen and Porter. Dunn’s progress was perhaps the No. 1 question coming into this season.
“The point guard position is a critical position,” Paxson acknowledged. “It’s a tough one to play. You have to be a leader. You have to be a distributor. You have to be a scorer. That’s what the position requires. It will be interesting to see now as we’ve added another legitimate wing in Otto how Kris handles that role with scorers. We’re excited about that. We’ve said all along that this process is about learning who fits, who doesn’t. We still like Kris a lot. He’s had some ups and downs this year in terms of his consistency. And that’s always a challenge for players. Being consistently efficient in your game, at all positions, but especially the point guard position, is something that all teams value, and we’re still taking a long look at Kris. But we like him. He’s been competitive. He can still defend. And he’s playing hard. So we’re going to keep evaluating him.”
The Bulls are bullish on coach Jim Boylen, who replaced Fred Hoiberg in December.
“Jim’s doing the right things, and from our seats he’s promoting the right message to our players and what we expect and what we want,” said Paxson.
“One thing we’re really pleased about and we talk to Jim about this because we’re such a young team, is just the teaching component of the game to our guys consistently every day. That first week with the whole Boston game (and mass benching) that was a bad way to start. But when you’re in it with him every day you see his passion, his commitment and the care he has for his players and our organization. So we feel he’s doing the right things. He’s trying to get our guys to understand what being a professional is, and to play hard every night and practice hard every day. So we’re doing fine with Jim. Jim’s been great in terms of communicating every single day. We’re on a good page there.”