The Bulls have been burned this season, but it is part of the plan.
"We're throwing them into the fire. We knew we were going to get younger," Bulls Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson told reporters before Friday's game with Indiana. "We knew there would be struggles. We need to see what our young guys can do. Hopefully they'll respond in a competitive way. I keep telling Jim (Boylen, coach), 'This league is always about wins and losses, we always want to win. But right now we have to focus on other things.' We've said that all year long."
The other thing, for now, is the debut of likely the youngest starting five in the NBA, the Bulls with Chandler Hutchison at small forward following the trade of Justin Holiday to the Memphis Grizzlies. Hutchison joins a core of Bulls lottery picks Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Wendell Carter Jr.
It's truly the first step forward after several steps back to try to get the franchise going in the right direction again.
"We need to see growth," Paxson said about the young core. "We need to see how they play. We're a month into Jim's tenure now and I think they understand what's expected. So we're going to go out on the road here after these next two games (five starting in Portland Wednesday). That's a good time for a young team to get together. They're going to be hard games. We just need to see development. That's going to be a big key."
It's hardly a finished Bulls product with veterans like Robin Lopez and Jabari Parker still on the roster with hopefuls like Ryan Arcidiacono and newly acquired Wayne Selden from the deal. The two second round picks were crucial, Paxson said.
Paxson left open the possibility of Parker playing again after being benched the last seven games.
"The one thing Jim has been really consistent with is the accountability aspect," said Paxson, who has supported Boylen's decisions. "I believe you can hold players to a certain standard of what you want as a coach. Jabari is a really good guy. He's a terrific person. If we can acclimate him back into things, he's going to get a chance. This league is about getting chances, even for players who have been through what Jabari has been through.
"We were all on board with (signing Parker)," said Paxson. "That's all in the past. We're not even going to worry about that. With the situation the way it is, we'll look and see if Jabari gets an opportunity. This thing will be fluid. We have a month until the trade deadline. A lot can happen. We feel really good about getting something done a month early. It's all in building a team. Given where we were at and where we are at today, trying to roll the dice on a young talent (like Parker) is not a bad thing. A lot of teams have had success doing that. The one thing that we continue to do and we think we're on the right track with is if something doesn't work, it's not going to be a long-term issue for us. We'll continue to operate that way."
Paxson said there is nothing imminent regarding other trades. "If we can acquire young players, draft assets, we can maybe look at our roster and think there's a better fit, we'll go that route," Paxson said.
Paxson admitted the team's offense is more stagnant than he'd like, but it's all part of a moving parts roster and staff.
"We've talked about that and the issue right now is we've got to get a little more pace to our game," said Paxson. "Jim came in and talked to us about it. He wanted to try to establish something on the defensive end. We're doing a better job there. We're a young team; it's going to be a work in progress for a while. Jim knows. We talk about it every day. We've got to find a way offensively to get some easier shots and that type of thing and get guys to find some comfort zone out there. That's what the rest of this season is, 40-plus games left. Again, hopefully our guys will be healthy and we can see this group, how they grow together, what our needs will be going down the road. That part is exciting. Obviously, and I say this all the time, my expectation is for our guys to compete hard. That's fallen short at times, but we need to do a real good job of that.
"I don't think you can necessarily pay attention to everything all at once," Paxson added. "You make a (coaching) change in season it's very hard for the coach. You didn't have a training camp to establish things. Practice time is limited. This will be a good time for us to improve in that area. We've got a lot of games left.
"Obviously, what we did is consistent with our direction," Paxson added. "Getting the two second round picks was important to us. Letting Justin go is always hard. He's been such a model teammate for the players and has represented us so well. But it speaks to the direction and accumulating draft assets. We're going to keep Wayne Selden. He's a young player who at some point, we'll see if he can give us something.
"You make decisions and hope for the best," Paxson said about releasing Cameron Payne. "The reality is both Arch (Ryan Arcidiacono) and Shaq (Harrison) have outplayed him. They fit what we want to do. Cam had some struggles with his foot and trying to get him back.
"What it does is it gives Chandler an opportunity to play. He'll play some significant minutes I would think," said Paxson. "He has to live up to the standards that Jim wants and we want. But he'll get opportunity. We still have some decisions to make with our roster. But our young guys will play. We're going to be starting a really young team. Looking long term and big picture, this is about the future. We think a year and a half into the big move we made (trading Jimmy Butler), we have to focus on that. It's hard to lose. You walk into the locker room and guys are competing, coaches are preparing, so that's hard. But from my seat, Gar's (Forman) seat, ownership's seat, we have to keep the big picture in mind. And that's what we're doing.