Not long ago, I offered some credit to the Chicago Bulls organization for trading Derrick Rose, viewing it as a sign that the organization was ready to build a new championship window instead of clinging to one that was closed.
The very next day, the Bulls selected a solid basketball player in Denzel Valentine with their #14 overall pick after, as rumor had it, aggressively looking to move Jimmy Butler for the right price.
And then today, Forman hinted at the Bulls not looking to a make a huge splash in free agency, possibly using their cap flexibility on a low-profile free agent or two as a way to keep getting “younger and more athletic”.
After all, if you’re not a serious player to land a Kevin Durant-type player that instantly upgrades your team, why bother overpaying for B-list free agents when you have negligible title aspirations and could save for later?
The general logic of what the Bulls have done, so far, seems to make sense. And yet, somehow, I find myself trusting in general manager Gar Forman less and less every time he opens his mouth.
Bulls GM Gar Forman on the sales pitch he is going to give to prospective free agents this summer.
"Great city,… https://t.co/xoCw8WRdQO
— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) June 24, 2016
While this is probably not news to anyone who already has a negative view of Forman and President John Paxson, Forman has fired off a few interesting quotes in recent weeks regarding the future of the Bulls that have me, and probably a bunch of Bulls fans, wondering what exactly he thinks is transpiring with his ballclub.
First, while this may be an overreaction to semantics, Forman’s assertion that the Bulls are “retooling” their roster rather than rebuilding lowers my optimism for this team’s future by the day.
Why? Because it tells me that the Bulls GM is either really bad at pragmatism (for evidence, re-visit last year’s failure/refusal to move Pau Gasol at the trade deadline) or is opting to pander to fans rather than be upfront about the direction of this franchise. Or both.
Chicago Bulls Gar Forman made clear retooling likely 2 yr process. Hopes to add 2 1st Rd Picks during 2017 Draft. (Source: Mark Schanowski)
— Chicago Bulls Rumors (@chicagobullsbot) June 29, 2016
Though the Bulls have retained Jimmy Butler (for now…) and drafted a promising, versatile young player in Valentine that will probably contribute immediately, they don’t have a whole lot else that makes one think of championship contention.
They just traded Derrick Rose (and a solid role player in Justin Holiday), watched Pau Gasol decline his player option and essentially ditch Chicago for good, and look no more likely to sign Joakim Noah at this point than they are to sign Durant.
That leaves the Bulls with players like Butler, Valentine, Mike Dunleavy, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott, Tony Snell, Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant, and Jose Calderon (who hopefully will only play like ten minutes all season).
Upon viewing that roster of misfits, how many of us are thinking championship? Even in the Eastern Conference, how confident are we that the Bulls will make the playoffs? While there might be some optimism being that Butler appears to have full reign with Rose and Gasol gone, the fact remains that the Bulls missed the Eastern Conference playoffs with a far more talented roster than they look to have this coming season.
With LeBron James’ newly minted champion Cavaliers, Paul George’s Pacers, and the Andre Drummond-led Pistons in the Bulls’ division, and other teams like the Toronto Raptors, Miami Heat, and Charlotte Bobcats lurking elsewhere, the Bulls could conceivably miss the playoffs two years in a row.
Unless the Bulls have some elaborate scheme for signing LeBron James, Durant, or bringing Michael Jordan back from the past, this “retool”/”rebuild” could take a while.
Given this outlook and roster, why would one be viewing the Bulls as a “retooling” team? “Retooling,” in my mind, suggests something similar to “reloading,” the way that the San Antonio Spurs seem to do every year despite losing role players and Tim Duncan getting that much closer to 100 years old.
Teams like that can conceivably contend for a championship every year.
In the Bulls’ case, “retooling” may sound like a nice word for fans who hate the idea that the Bulls could end up in the lottery as a “rebuilding” team, but the only thing Chicago basketball would be retooling for this upcoming season is another season of mediocrity.
And even if it is a two-year process in Forman’s mind, what evidence do we have to suggest that the likes of Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, or Kyle Lowry will come to Chicago in the 2017 free agent period given the struggles the Bulls have had attracting everyone else? Or can a few first-round picks and someone like Kent Bazemore get you closer to a title when you fail to land a big fish?
Forman is being disingenuous at best, suggesting that the Bulls don’t have major work to do before they can sniff a Larry O’Brien trophy just for the sake of not admitting what position his team is in.
At worst, he’s being completely and utterly unrealistic. Personally, I hope he’s just being a bad liar, though that comes with its own set of problems.
Speaking of which…the Bulls definitely tried to trade Jimmy Butler on draft day. They tried really hard (and may still be doing so), and they’re right to explore those options.
And given some of the offers discussed, such as a potential Kris Dunn + Ricky Rubio/Zach LaVine-for-Butler swap, I’m perfectly fine with the fact that the Bulls didn’t sell Butler rashly.
That said, I really wish Gar would stop lying and claiming that it was all a hoax. He couldn’t even get through his press conference last week without contradicting himself.
If you hear Forman tell it, the Bulls had “no discussions during the entire draft this evening as far as Jimmy Butler was concerned” and were in “no talks with any team,” despite also actively discussing the possibility of trading up in the draft to get Dunn.
Who were the Bulls planning to trade to get Dunn? Taj Gibson? Anything involving trading into the top five of the draft involved Butler, and whether Forman was trying to get off on the technicality that the Bulls never “made any calls” to other teams, he and the rest of Chicago’s front office definitely fielded calls on Butler and considered every single offer heavily.
Bulls have held advanced discussions w/ Celtics centered on Jimmy Butler and No. 3 pick. Bulls love Kris Dunn. But Bulls don't love Cs offer
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) June 23, 2016
Vertical Sources: Chicago and Minnesota talks for Jimmy Butler broke down. Bulls wanted Zach LaVine, not Ricky Rubio.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 24, 2016
The kicker for me is that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the fact that they shopped Butler and considered every option. In the past few months, the Bulls have even explicitly said that they would think through all draft and trade scenarios and hinted that Butler wasn’t safe.
I have a hard time believing that they suddenly changed their minds and that Butler is now untradeable, so why lie? What’s the point?
Ultimately, full disclosure is not something that Forman owes to those outside of Chicago’s front office. After all, we’re not writing his checks. The problem with Forman’s inability to be honest about what’s going on in this organization, intentionally or not, is that he just makes it even more unclear that he is the man capable of righting this ship before it sinks completely.
Lying about whether or not he sought to trade Butler, while not being a crime, adds to the dysfunction already clouding this organization. Do you think Butler, or even other Bulls players, feel comfortable with all these conflicting reports?
Trade rumors are part of the business, of course, but it’s a slightly different matter when the organization appears to change their mind every couple of weeks as to who will be playing for them in the near future.
How do you think free agents around the league view this circus? Situations like this make the fact that Carlos Boozer is the Bulls’ highest-profile free agent in a decade make a lot more sense…
As far as “retooling” the roster, I’ve been a Chicago White Sox fan long enough to know that when you don’t accept that it’s time to rebuild, you stay bad for a while.
What exactly are the Bulls building on right now? Butler, for as good as he continues to get, is still not a superstar and is not good enough on his own to defeat the likes of LeBron James in a playoff series, which it almost inevitably will come to for probably next three to four years.
After him, I’m counting 14 question marks. Even if the Bulls make a strong push for Harrison Barnes, he’s not exactly a game-changing star either, or maybe I’ve just soured on him after he took a vacation the last three games of the NBA Finals.
If the time comes to pull the plug and truly rebuild through the draft, will GarPax make that call, no matter how hard it is to accept? And can a front office that appears to struggle with accountability at the moment reverse that trend and make Chicago a place people want to play basketball? I would hope so, because the Bulls have already been laboring through basketball purgatory.
Basketball hell might not be far off.