Last season for the Chicago Bulls was, in a word, confusing. In the first year of a rebuild, no one expected them to be particularly competitive. They weren’t at first, anyway. That was until they went on a seven-game win streak and started improving. Management quickly put a stop to this, trading Nikola Mirotic and resting Lauri Markkanen copiously. They returned to their losing ways and scraped the 7th pick. Many Bulls fans hoped that this season would be more positive. However, 17 games into the season, Chicago finds themselves in a situation they’re familiar with. Not good enough to win, but too good to tank.
Chicago Bulls Stuck in NBA Limbo
Coming into the 2018-19 season, the Chicago Bulls looked promising. They re-signed key player Zach LaVine, drafted a stud in Wendell Carter Jr, and also secured Jabari Parker in free agency. They were not championship level, but many believed they could prove competitive in the east. Then the injuries began. Markkanen suffered a lateral elbow sprain. Kris Dunn sprained his ACL, as did Bobby Portis. Denzel Valentine tweaked his ankle and will need ankle reconstruction surgery. These were all key players for the Bulls, and all were expected to make significant jumps in performance this season. Losing these players, Hoiberg has been forced to go deep into his bench for the rotation, and the team is clearly suffering because of it, with a record of 5-13.
However, barring Valentine, all of these players will return in the coming weeks. This is where the confusion begins for the team. Presumably, the Bulls will continue to lose more than they win with these players out, securing a high draft position. However, once the injured players are back, the Bulls may look like a competitive team. Increased wins towards the end of the season could plummet their draft position, leaving them towards the bottom of the lottery. For a second straight year, the Chicago Bulls cannot figure out what they want to do.
The Chicago Bulls are also showing confusion, through the rotations being played. It seems so far, the only certain starters are Zach Lavine and Wendell Carter Jr. Cameron Payne played a stint at starting point guard, before being dropped to third string, with Ryan Arcidiacano and Shaquille Harrison both bunnyhopping him. Jabari Parker has started at both Small and Power Forward, as well as coming off the bench. Both Justin Holiday and Chandler Hutchison have also started at the three spots. Cristiano Felicio and Robin Lopez have continued to swap between second and third string centers.
Hopefully, the return of the injured players will return some consistency to the rotations, with Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen both clear starters. But for now, it seems as if Fred Hoiberg is unsure of what he wants out of this team, and which players will get him there.
Chicago needs to decide on a direction for this season, and they need to decide it quickly. If they want to be competitive and fight for a playoff spot, the intensity has to increase. Hoiberg needs to settle on a rotation that works, and fight until his starters return. If they choose to tank, they can afford to keep those players out longer and ensure they are healthy. They can play the younger players increased minutes, and hopefully, develop them through this. However, one thing is for certain, they cannot remain in NBA limbo.
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