The Bulls were good, not great, and heavily reliant on Jimmy Butler when they traded him for young players 2017. Of course, they were going to stink.
Chicago went 27-55 in 2017-18 – its worst record since those ugly years right after Michael Jordan’s second retirement.
“We did this year what we felt was in the long-term best interests of the Bulls,” Bulls executive John Paxson said after that 2017-18 season. “It’s not a situation that any of us want to ever be in again. It goes against everything as a competitive person that you believe in. But it’s the way the system is set up.”
Chicago was even worse last season, 22-60.
Whether or not they knew it, the Bulls dug a deep hole by trading Butler. This summer, Chicago took key steps back toward ground level.
A big reason the Bulls grabbed a shovel in the first place: There are lottery picks down there. Last season’s losing netted No. 7 pick Coby White, who both presents good overall value and fits a need at point guard.
Lauri Markkanen (No. 34 on our list of 50 best players in 5 years) is the big prize from the Butler trade. Zach LaVine is again on the right track after arriving from the Timberwolves with a torn ACL, though his expensive contract raises questions about his value. The expected losing in 2017-18 also got Wendell Carter Jr. in last year’s lottery.
But the other player acquired for Butler, Kris Dunn, never seized the starting point-guard job. Now, White steps in to provide positional balance with the young core.
In a few years, we’ll see whether that works out.
But the Bulls aren’t content to wait that long. With a couple savvy signings, they gave themselves a chance to compete for the Eastern Conference playoffs as soon as next season.
Tomas Satoransky can help now (likely as starting point guard) and later (ideally as backup point guard after being surpassed by White). Chicago gave him $30 million over three years and relinquished second-round considerations in a sign-and-trade with the Wizards, who never appreciated him enough.
The Bulls also signed Thaddeus Young (three years, $43,635,000 with the third season unguaranteed). He’s quite good. At 31, he probably won’t remain this good when Chicago’s young core comes around. But Young could help sooner than later. At that price, the Bulls get plenty of value with the veteran.
Chicago made a few other small moves looking toward the future – drafting Daniel Gafford (No. 38), re-signing Ryan Arcidiacono (three years, $9 million with a team option), signing Luke Kornet (two years, $4.5 million). Maybe one of those low-cost swings connects.
The Bulls’ rebuild is hardly assured of working out. Neither is their attempt to win moderately now.
But Chicago has a reasonable chance of both succeeding after a helpful summer.