Vincent Goodwill

With tanking all around, Gar Forman not turning back on rebuild

With tanking all around, Gar Forman not turning back on rebuild

Rebuilding is painful and never pretty, even if the steady stream of clanked jumpers and disorganized play from the Chicago Bulls Monday was only indicative of the hazards of Summer League as opposed to a Tuesday night in Philadelphia.

But even with the recent developments of an Eastern Conference that’s now following in the Bulls’ footsteps, making next season sure to be a Tank Tour of epic proportions, Bulls general manager Gar Forman isn’t having any second thoughts about trading Jimmy Butler on draft night to start this long and arduous process.

The Indiana Pacers traded Paul George to Oklahoma City and will take a step back this season, along with the Atlanta Hawks looking like a franchise headed in that direction after some of their personnel moves under new management.

The Bulls could’ve positioned themselves with minor moves to stay afloat in the East with Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo then went after it next offseason, as one of the few teams with a star east of Minneapolis.

“We look at it as far as what we need to do, what we feel we need to do in a rebuild,” Forman said following the Bulls’ 75-55 loss to the Hawks at Cox Pavilion Monday, in a game where the score didn’t indicate how ugly the contest was. “You never know until you’re in somebody else’s shoes as far as what’s going on, but I do know that we feel really good as far as taking a step back, the direction we can now head as far as rebuilding around these young guys, and continuing to add to that.”

Of course, Forman would probably gain nothing from admitting a level of regret even if he felt it, considering how he spoke of rebuilding being a six-to-seven year process he didn’t want to take the franchise down as recently as a year ago.

“We understand that it’s always hard when you have had a level of success, and then you’ve got to take a step back and go in a new direction as far as a rebuild is concerned,” Forman said. “And we know that it’s going to be a process and there’s going to be ups and downs within that process, but we think the trade kind of gave us a step in the right direction as far as heading that way, where we got three young players who we really like.”

One of those players is rookie Lauri Markkanen, who went through the rigors of what it’s like to be a rookie in the NBA as he struggled in his second game like the rest of his teammates.

[MORE: Still the point guard of the future? Fred Hoiberg confident in Cameron Payne] 

Markkanen missed 12 of his 13 shots and all 10 of his 3-point attempts, scoring eight points with nine rebounds and four blocks in 31 minutes. Nobody will remember a meaningless Summer League performance come November, especially when he’ll have plenty of chances to create his own impressions.

Forman, of course, is undeterred in his confidence in the seventh pick. And other league executives were raving about Markkanen’s potential at Summer League.

“I like him a lot,” said a high-ranking western conference official for a playoff team. “He’s very skilled and he was high on our boards.”

Markkanen had an impressive opener so this is just the ups and downs of a start.

“I think it’s good. I thought he played really well the other night,” Forman said. “And then when he struggles to make shots, the first month is a learning process. Knowing what kind of kid he is, he’ll take that hard and continue to work and grow. We’ve all seen it in summer league.”

Forman pointed out the debuts of Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon that weren’t so special, so getting Markkanen in the Advocate Center over the summer will be important, especially since he wasn’t brought in for a workout in the pre-draft process.

“The big thing is just getting the process started, being with our coaching staff, learning what’s expected and this being the first step of a long summer,” Forman said. “He’ll be in the gym with our athletic performance people getting stronger and coaches working on his skill development. It’s just getting adjusted to this being a full-time job.”

And a rebuild is even more of a full-time job that cannot allow for mistakes, so Forman thinking the free-agent money drying up is something that will work to their advantage in the long run.

“I think we’re seeing the market suppress some this summer,” Forman said. “And I think as we go into next summer as the cap is flattening, the ability to have young players, develop those young players, have flexibility in order to add assets, and then draft picks will get us a step up in trying to go forward.”

But assets and draft picks are only as good as the people picking them, and the Bulls have a hefty task ahead in the next few years—as time will tell if they’re truly up to it.

Still point guard of the future? Fred Hoiberg confident in Cameron Payne

Still point guard of the future? Fred Hoiberg confident in Cameron Payne

LAS VEGAS -- Since trading Derrick Rose, the Bulls’ relationship with the point guard spot has been “complicated”, if it were a Facebook status.

So while it’s not surprising to see the franchise’s evaluation of Cameron Payne fall flat to this point, one wonders how much progress should be expected given they still have Jerian Grant and acquired Kris Dunn on draft night.

Payne and Dunn played together in the backcourt in the Bulls’ Summer League opener Saturday and although the Bulls went to a two-point guard front, they looked disorganized and out of sorts for most of the game.

Not the best sign considering Payne was called the “point guard of the future” when he was acquired from Oklahoma City as the Bulls dumped Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott.

Considering the Bulls renounced the rights of Joffrey Lauvergne, making him an unrestricted free agent, Payne is the lone body remaining from the deal. And although the setting of Summer League is hardly the best ground to show what a player will do when the games really matter, going two for nine and missing all five 3-point attempts won’t do much to inspire confidence in Payne from the outside.

“I would agree with that. We watched a lot of clips on that this morning with Cam. He walked into a very difficult situation (in February),” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said following Sunday morning’s practice at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center

Hoiberg said Payne was a positive in the playoff prep for Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, where he played the role of Thomas for the scout team. Considering the way Thomas played in the series after Rajon Rondo was hurt, perhaps it was more the defense that was easily manipulated compared to the actual performance.

But the Bulls have confidence in Payne and will continue to express it outwardly, as evidenced by Payne being more on the ball than Dunn in the opener. Dunn expects to play more point guard Monday afternoon, though.

“Cam is a good basketball player. He’s a competitive kid,” Hoiberg said. “He was really disappointed last night. It’s all about bouncing back, watching film, getting better from it. Hopefully he finishes summer league strong.”

More than the statistics, it didn’t appear Payne had a strong feel for the game and its rhythm, requirement number one at that position. At times he rushes the offense while looking for his shot and even more, his cadence often gives away when he’ll forsake the offense to look for his own shot.

And considering the lack of positive experiences Payne has had since being acquired, one has to wonder about his confidence level being affected before it can actually be built.

“We talked a lot about going out there and just making the right basketball play, making simple plays,” Hoiberg said. “We had a lot of examples in our three-day minicamp that we had of making solid plays. When Dallas went on a run last night, it looked like it became my-turn basketball. We just came down and jacked up bad shots.”

On the criticism Payne has received, Hoiberg keeps pumping Payne up: “You can’t let negative comments affect the way you play. Hopefully he’ll be better tomorrow and throughout these last four or five games,” he said.

Payne has spent most of the offseason in Chicago, a must after Bulls VP John Paxson said Payne needs to work on his body and conditioning before next season

“Yeah, I feel like I began to improve. I’ve still got a ways to go, but I mean it’s a process,” Payne said. “I’ve been feeling pretty good. I’ve been in Chicago. That’s been my summer. Just trying to get bigger, stronger. Pick my conditioning up, improve my stamina on the court.’’

Stating pointedly that there’s no time for summer vacation, Payne hopes this experience is a building block for himself personally as he hopes to rewrite a narrative that hasn’t gone his way thus far.

“I mean of course. I mean Summer League is definitely a big task for us,” Payne said.  “We’ve got to build a good chemistry and it starts here. That’s going to translate into the regular season.”

Tom Thibodeau enjoying having Jimmy Butler as a recruiter

Tom Thibodeau enjoying having Jimmy Butler as a recruiter

LAS VEGAS — Wearing a Cheshire grin while making his way through the Cox Pavilion was one Tom Thibodeau, still wearing the newlywed glow of a man who pulled off quite the heist.

The Timberwolves coach and president acquired the player he longed for since taking the top post in Minneapolis in Jimmy Butler on draft night and while it doesn’t guarantee his team a playoff spot, it definitely increased its chances for next season.

And it probably gave him a little satisfaction to send his former franchise into a rebuild that could take years to get out of. Still, he insists it was a “good deal for both teams”.

“I think, here’s the thing. Having been there, they had a great run and you have to make a decision, where you are with your window. You know they had been thinking about it (trading Butler),” Thibodeau said. “Both of our windows matched up, what they wanted to do and what we wanted to do. I think it was a good deal for both teams. They got quality players, we obviously got an elite player and thrilled to get Justin Patton also.”

In adding to a core that includes talented youngsters Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, the Timberwolves agreed to terms with former Bull Taj Gibson in the opening days of free agency and Saturday evening, added free agent guard Jamal Crawford as a scorer off the bench.

The Timberwolves also acquired Jeff Teague to replace Ricky Rubio at point guard, giving them a bonafide starting lineup that should be interesting in the West. For a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2004 and owns the longest streak of futility in the NBA, legitimacy has been added in the last two seasons with handing Thibodeau the keys to the franchise and now, acquiring the likes of a top-15 player in Butler.

It’s safe to say Butler was instrumental in the signings, necessary acquisitions in a stacked Western Conference. Butler was supportive of Gibson when Gibson was traded at the deadline from Chicago to Oklahoma City, telling him to “go get the bag (of money).”

Apparently, Butler did his part in making sure his new team brought another familiar face — albeit with a substantial bag of money.

“I think it’s critical. I think anytime you can add an elite player to your team most players are aware,” Thibodeau said. “When they’re looking around, when they become free agents, they’re going to look at the first part is obviously the financial part. And then the second part is going to be who are they playing with and how do they fit into the group?”

Butler’s relationship and recruiting of Dwyane Wade was instrumental in Wade’s signing last summer, but Thibodeau plans on using his players even more as time goes on. One could say the Bulls have been reticent in that department, not taking much input from players in personnel matters.

“And I think when you add in a guy like Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, I think it makes it that more attractive,” Thibodeau said. “And of course Jimmy has relationships with a lot of guys in the league because of his experience in All-Star Games, with Team USA, so that all factors into it.”

Thibodeau’s fondness of Gibson was well-known, and he fawned over Gibson Saturday, calling him the most versatile defender in the NBA and more than anything, he’ll be an advocate for Thibodeau’s culture next season as the expectations will rise exponentially.

“I don’t think there’s a better defender switching to two’s (shooting guards), 3’s (small forwards), point guards, and his ability to finish,” Thibodeau said. “You have 3-point shooting (on the roster). Defensively we’re a better team. Next to Karl you have a big time multiple effort guy. I think that goes a long way to being a good defensive team. As they learned, multiple effort is necessary and required.”