The Bulls actually will be trying to win games this season. What a concept! You’d think that would be the least a fan could expect, but Chicago’s competitive vision got turned upside-down in 2017-18 as the Bulls maneuvered for a good spot in the Draft. They were so determined to rack up as many Ping Pong balls as possible for the lottery that a 15-8 stretch over about six weeks in the middle of the schedule, after a 3-10 start, spooked the bosses. By managing injury recoveries and assorted variables, coach Fred Hoiberg and his staff closed out the season on a 9-27 spiral. But the league has flattened the lottery odds to dissuade dedicated losing, and the Bulls have enough young talent already.
How’d that “tanking” work out for the Bulls? They won so much that they slipped to No. 7 in draft order, yet wound up with a player they were thrilled to get. Wendell Carter Jr. has a game and maturity beyond his years (he won’t turn 20 until six days after the regular season ends). The F/C made lofty comparisons to Boston’s Al Horford and looked legit in NBA Summer League … Jabari Parker’s repeat ACL tears and lengthy rehabs had worn on his relationship with the Milwaukee Bucks, so the Bulls stepped in to bring home the Chicago native and free agent. Only the first season of Parker’s two-year, $40 million deal is guaranteed, so Parker will be on the clock for whether this is a stopover or a long-term arrangement … Second-round pick Chandler Hutchison was a late-bloomer at Boise State but will be counted on quickly in Chicago, judged on his 3-point accuracy and his long-wingspan defense.
1. All that’s left for Zach LaVine is defense. He’s athletic, exciting and presumably healthier than when he returned in the second half of last season from his ACL surgery. Despite inconsistency, LaVine got paid when the Bulls matched Sacramento’s four-year, $80 million offer. Now he has to hush up an array of critics who claim he’s effective on only one side of the floor.
2. Dunn can’t possibly be done. Kris Dunn was playing the best ball of his first two seasons when he took a header against Golden State. He missed 25 of Chicago’s final 37 games, so re-establishing himself as the starting PG is his top priority.
3. At least 2-pointers sting less. Oddly, Chicago ranked last in the NBA both in making 2-point shots (.474) and in defending against them (.534). It’s typically not good to be 30th in any stats category.
MAN ON THE SPOT
Hoiberg survived his first two seasons with a veteran-laden roster and expectations set too high. He dealt with the cross-purposes of 2017-18. Now he’s finally got a team that should be taking a big step upward -- and he’s into the fourth year of his five-year contract.
Kris Dunn| 13.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 6.0 apg
Not a perimeter shooter but an aggressive attacker and feisty defensively.
Zach LaVine | 16.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.0 apg
Defense isn’t his only challenge after shooting 38.3 percent with a minus-13.2 net rating.
Robin Lopez | 11.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.9 apg
Underrated team leader who was outrebounded by wing Denzel Valentine (5.1).
Jabari Parker | 12.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.9 apg
Shot corner 3’s well (50 percent) but only launched 17 percent of his 3-point attempts from there.
Lauri Markkanen | 15.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.2 apg
First team All-Rookie pick dispelled notions about toughness, now stronger.
Bobby Portis | 13.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.7 apg
Intense stretch big man will set his crazy eyes on Sixth Man award.
Wendell Carter Jr. | 13.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 2.0 apg (Duke)
Can play 4 or 5, makes solid decisions, values defense and will push for minutes.
Justin Holiday | 12.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.1 apg
Veteran voice who started 72 times vs. 13 in first six NBA seasons.
The roster is more suited to Hoiberg’s preferred style than in the past, and there’s enough talent to challenge for the bottom of the East’s playoff bracket. The young Bulls will need to sort out a pecking order, with LaVine and Parker central in walking that line between asserting themselves vs. assimilating to teammates who carried bigger loads last season. Expected W-L: 37-45.