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Analysis Bulls

The Bulls Made a Nice Move, Now What?

The Bulls made a nice trade on Wednesday, but David Wildman wants to know what's next. And the answer is muddy.

Something of significance occurred Wednesday in the world of Bulls basketball. For the first time since acquiring John Salmons and Brad Miller in a trade with the kings on February 18th, 2009, the Bulls made a trade aimed at actually improving the roster. Acquiring Otto Porter from the Washington Wizards in exchange for the soon-to-get overpaid Bobby Portis and the never-should-have-been paid Jabari Parker. A deal that on paper makes sense for a team that has among a litany of other problems, lacked a capable scoring option at the Small Forward position since Luol Deng was nearly killed by the Bulls medical staff traded.

In Otto Porter, the Bulls acquired a 25 year old wing, who when right can rain three’s down on opponents, while playing adequate to above average defense. Porter’s .441% three-point field goal percentage was actually third in the league last year. At a position as vital as the small forward, having that kind of shooting ability can be invaluable, particularly in today’s three point happy league. The issue with Porter, is that even with that sort of elite shooting ability, he’s never broken 15 points per game for a season, and is averaging just under 13 this year. While his skillset is a welcome addition to a team severely lacking even average NBA talent, Porter comes with a contract that has the Bulls on the hook for $55 million dollars over the next two years.

According to Sportrac.com, this figure will take up 23% of the Bulls cap figure for the remainder of his contract. Combine that with Zach LaVine‘s $19.5 million dollar figure through 2022, and all of the sudden the Bulls have tied up nearly half their cap space for the next two seasons in two players that at best qualify as good, not great. It’s not a winning equation for the Bulls, if the purpose of this rebuild is indeed championships.

Trading for Porter raises some questions, and answers others. The biggest message sent by the trade is that the Bulls are aware that simply being the Bulls is no longer a selling point to free agents. It’s a realization that after a year and a half this rebuild is not panning out as expected. It raises questions about the true motives of the John Paxson and Gar Forman. Was the intention of this rebuild championships? Was it simply to sell tickets and return to slight relevance? Have they judged this fanbase as one that would be placated simply by a few playoff appearances in a row? Perhaps they have. The way they follow up the Porter trade will likely clarify their intentions.

There’s a chance the Bulls wind up with the top pick in the draft and draft Zion Williamson. There’s a chance Williamson, who is dominating college basketball in a way never seen before, is indeed a franchise changing/saving player. Unfortunately, that’s likely the only avenue in which the Bulls will be able to make the kind of addition to this current core that would lead to it becoming a contender. There are a bevy of other small moves that could potentially keep the franchise trending up, but none would put the Bulls into a true position of contention with this current core.

It’s possible that the Bulls Front Office is no longer trying to squeeze a championship out of this current core. Maybe their hope is that with a few years of respectable outcomes, and maybe less off the court turmoil, the Bulls can repair their image enough to become a free agent destination. If that’s the case, and it very well may be, the Bulls have started with a step in the right direction. But, it’s fair to question whether this organization can stop stepping on their own toes long enough to rebuild their reputation.

It’s possible, and understandable that Bulls fans wouldn’t be happy with the sudden shift in philosophy for this rebuild. That waiting at least two more years before the idea of being contenders again is realistic isn’t doable. It’s also possible that fans can’t accept the fact the current Front Office continues calling the shots. After all, they’re the ones that put the Bulls into a position where they’re already waiving the white flag on a first massive overhaul. It’s a difficult situation to be happy with.

As mentioned before, it’s unclear what the Front Office is thinking at this point. Other than knowing they aren’t going to players in free agency for at least two years. It’s also of course possible the Bulls receive a much needed jolt by landing a franchise savior in April’s draft. But with reduced lottery odds and muddied picture at the top of the draft, drafting that sort of player is by no means a reasonable plan to bank on. Otto Porter is nice, but when will this team finally be ready to compete again?

It’s been a long time since the Bulls legitimately competed in 2011-2012. Since then the franchise has undergone every type of turmoil and bad luck a franchise can experience. They have come out of the other end a laughing stock. A front office that former star Derrick Rose recently revealed he had to “worry about” in Chicago. A coach that seems to think he’s a young Greg Popovich but comes off as an overzealous dad coaching in a house league. Most importantly, an on the court product reminiscent of a franchise that has no idea how to to do get back to where they were seven years ago, barring another Draft Lottery miracle. Small steps in the right direction are nice, and with this Front Office should be commended, the way you commend a child completing a simple task, but it’s time for dramatic results. And dramatic results seem to still be a ways off, if they’re even coming at all.

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