30teams30days 2018

30 Teams in 30 Days: Savvy summer moves renew optimism around Chicago Bulls

Draft proficiency plus free-agent maneuvers equals hope for Bulls

What offseason?

That’s a question many fans ask as the flurry of trades, free agent news and player movement seems to never stop during the summer. Since the Golden State Warriors claimed their third title in four years back on June 8, NBA teams have undergone a massive number of changes as they prepare for the season ahead.

With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2017-18 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.

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Today’s team: Chicago Bulls

2017-18 Record: 27-55, did not qualify for the playoffs

Who’s new: Jabari Parker (free agency), Wendell Carter Jr. (Draft), Chandler Hutchison (Draft), Antonio Blakeney (free agency)

Who’s gone: Jerian Grant, Noah Vonleh, Paul Zipser

The lowdown: The reconstruction of the Bulls in the post-Jimmy Butler era continued for a second phase with encouraging signs on the floor and poor results in the standings. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago’s top pick from 2017, became a lead option because of his shooting range and post-up ability. In addition, guard Justin Holiday shot 35.9 percent on 3-pointers and Kris Dunn rebounded from a discouraging debut season with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2016-17.

Then, things got weird. Bobby Portis slugged Nikola Mirotic, who was eventually traded to the New Orleans Pelicans. Guard Zach LaVine was inconsistent in his limited return from knee surgery. In the end, the Bulls found themselves back in the lottery as their desperate search for more youth and assets turned intense.

The Bulls’ oft-embattled front office hasn’t always inspired heavy confidence among the fan base, but maybe GM Gar Foreman and team president John Paxson changed a few minds this offseason. Armed with a pair of first-round picks and ample salary cap space, the Bulls by all accounts had a solid summer by retaining their leading returning scorer (LaVine) and grabbing three players projected to be instant rotation pieces/regular contributors in the near future.

Yes, the summer of 2018 will likely dictate the fortunes of the Bulls in the next few years, with LaVine getting paid, Carter Jr. and Hutchison forming a bright and high-character rookie combo and Parker coming in free agency to revive his injury-interrupted career.

Thanks to an offer sheet from the Sacramento Kings that sent somewhat seismic shocks around the NBA globe — a contract that was eventually matched by the Bulls — LaVine will make $78 million over the next four years. The size of the deal was questioned for legit reasons as LaVine only played 24 games in a show-me-something, post-injury trial run before entering restricted free agency. He also lacks all-around gifts and flopped in his attempt at being the Bulls’ point guard.

LaVine, 23, is just touching his prime and the former two-time Dunk Contest champ brings scoring tendencies to a team that needs buckets. His jumper is streaky yet improved and besides, the Bulls had the cap space. And if he averages 18 or so points per game in 2018-19, that’s the going rate for a player of that ilk these days.

They’re understandably high on Carter Jr., who looked terrific in NBA Summer League and should be an ideal fit next to Markkanen. Carter Jr. is a smart player bringing a combination of dirty work and fundamental skills that project him to leave his fingerprints everywhere. He’s 6-foot-10, yet is stocky and plays taller than he is and might get almost all of his time at center. At some point, he’ll replace veteran Robin Lopez — maybe sooner than later — especially in the final two minutes of tight games.

Hutchison is a sleek swingman who moves amazingly well with or without the ball, especially in the open floor and in transition. He can handle the ball through traffic and covers lots of ground in just a few steps. Plus, he’s a willing 3-point shooter. He led Boise State last year in scoring (including a 44-point game), rebounds, assists and steals and is a jack-of-all-trades type. The Bulls nabbed Hutchison as a part of the Mirotic trade, but the downside was they had to become a salary-dumping spot for Omer Asik’s toxic contract in return.

Then there’s Parker, a former No. 2 overall pick. The Bulls jumped on an opportunity to steal the restricted free agent from the Bucks — who didn’t want to approach the luxury tax — with what is essentially a one-year gamble (the second year of the contract is a team option) for $20 million. Yes, Parker plays forward and the Bulls suddenly have a glut of those. But again, they had the cap space to spend, and the investment is limited, so it’s a potential win-win for both sides. Parker, an solid scorer before his second injury, can use this season to play his way into a longer stay in his hometown.

The Bulls remain youthful, with the meat of next season’s rotation projected to be 26 years old or younger. But this allows them to develop players on the cheap and therefore keep their cap space manageable in case a trade or free-agent signing becomes available.

For those keeping track of the arc of the Bulls, consider this: the identity of this team has suddenly flipped. It wasn’t too long ago when the Bulls had Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo before collapsing under unrealistic expectations with few assets to show for it. They were broken. Now they’re stockpiling some potentially major pieces which can be kept or dealt.

It’s seemingly coming together. If so, then history will reflect very kindly on the summer of 2018 — potentially one for Chicago to remember.

Coming next: Brooklyn Nets

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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