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.
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.