Dear Bulls, Part Two: Trust The Process

Feb 10, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie prior to a game against the Sacramento Kings at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 10, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie prior to a game against the Sacramento Kings at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

The Chicago Bulls organization is at a crossroads as the 2016 NBA free agency period opens, it might be time for the franchise to trust The Process.

Gar Forman, general manager of the Chicago Bulls, doesn’t seem to have a plan for the future. If he does, it is so confidential that he won’t let on about a single detail of any actual, well-thought-out plan. When pressed on anything, he simply refers to Chicago’s Eastern Conference-best regular season record over the past decade. Making the playoffs in seven consecutive years is also a good thing. After all, only one team can win it all each season and the Bulls certainly had more than their fair share during the 1990s.

Yesterday, I detailed, at great length, Gar’s best option as the general manager of the future for the Bulls. Today, we need to look at part two: The Process.

must read: Stop Trying to Trade Jimmy Butler

This is the nuclear option. It would be devastating for fans and one of the biggest basketball markets in the United States. It also might be a future without Forman or John Paxson. The due has, unwittingly, already started The Process, but they may not have the fortitude or vision to complete it. It’s one thing to find yourself in a hole and another to ask for a shovel to keep digging.

As terrifying as it may be, the Bulls may need to ask if Sam Hinkie is available.

Again, this is a completely nuclear scenario. I, for one, don’t want to envision a future where I write about the most futile and depressing organization in the entire league. Sadly, it might be closer to that than what it seems already. Consider that the Bulls have already missed the playoffs and the player with enough talent to be considered among the top 20 or 30 players in the league is Jimmy Butler. The rest of the team is either middle-tier talent, young and requiring development, or a roster spot filled that isn’t offering much else than a body for off-day practice sessions.

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  • If you still haven’t read part one, I detailed what I believe to be the best option for the Bulls heading into 2016-17. They should wait for 2017, clear cap space and chase all of the big names – Westbrook, Durant, and Griffin in particular – to pair with Jimmy Butler and Robin Lopez with a solid bench group of Doug McDermott, Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis and/or Nikola Mirotic. It’s a long play, but better than chasing DeMar Derozan or Dwyane Wade this season, just to be rebuffed, or worse.

    If we forego that possibility, it is time to consider a total rebuild.

    Entering 2017, the Bulls will have the following players on contract:

    Jimmy Butler
    Robin Lopez
    Jerian Grant
    Mike Dunleavy (seriously!?)
    Bobby Portis
    Doug McDermott
    Denzel Valentine
    Paul Zipser

    This presumes that Zipser is brought over this season and that the Bulls can’t find a way to offload the Dunleavy contract. Of the players listed, five will be in some stage of their rookie deals. There are a whole series of variables that also need to be loosely taken into account, including Chicago attempting to re-sign Nikola Mirotic next year or re-signing E’Twaun Moore this summer. Barring any major moves and without the exact contract numbers, that will leave the Bulls with somewhere around $50 million in cap space heading into 2017. If the Bulls can’t turn that into at least two of the top four free agents on the market, I believe that the roster is alternately set up for The Process.

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    There are only two types of players on this roster right now – players with some level of real trade value and players who are young, unknown quantities that need to be developed.

    First, the players with value. This group consists of Butler and Lopez. Both players have very, very tradeable contracts. With teams looking at paying players like Bismack Biyombo, Ian Mahinmi or Dwight Howard $18-20 million per year on contracts that could be four-year deals, Lopez is a better player right now and will cost less than any of the above for the next three years. That could be worth a lot both in young players or draft picks.

    Whatever Lopez is worth, and he is worth more than you think in light of the new salary cap, Butler is worth exponentially more. Butler is locked up long term on a deal that will be one of the last steals of the NBA. Along with players like Kawhi Leonard and Steph Curry, historians will someday look back at the contract value on Butler and marvel that he could be had for less than $28 million per.

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    The hot draft night rumors swirling around Butler had the Timberwolves offering Ricky Rubio and the No. 5 pick for Butler. That trade is bad and probably wasn’t a real thing. The No. 5 pick turned into Kris Dunn and even GarPax wouldn’t trade one of the 20 best players in the league for not just one point guard, but two.

    A fair offer, which was never coming and is why this was not a viable trade reality, would be absent of Rubio and would have included Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, the No. 5 pick and possibly more, think Gorgui Dieng or Shabazz Muhammad.

    The possibility exists that between Lopez and Butler, Chicago could anticipate no less than two first-round picks, an additional second-round pick, and some combination of prospects. That isn’t even stretching beyond the realm of reality, the baseline for those two players in the current NBA is first-round picks and high-ceiling prospects.

    Once you move Butler and Lopez, the Bulls are set up to struggle tens of millions under the salary cap.

    Now, it is time to develop prospects, move to the top of the draft board and stay there.

    There would be a strong response to this approach. I have written a dozen pieces for various sites, primarily The Lottery Mafia, where I condemned the Sixers for their approach. I couldn’t stand watching Philadelphia blatantly sink their own ship, throwing however many life vests were available to players like T.J. McConnell, while they abandoned players like K.J. McDaniels to fend themselves, swimming for whatever shores they might find. The memory of The Process is real, all of the losing and frustration. But the frustration wasn’t just because they weren’t trying or beating all the other teams in the league, it was because they were accruing top talent from every draft for years. It has been well-stated that part of Hinkie’s problem wasn’t that he elected to spurn competitive play for stockpiling potential. It was that he grabbed injured players or players who were stashed overseas. Nerlens Noel missed his first season, Dario Saric is just now rumored to make it to America, Joel Embiid still hasn’t done anything.

    If you remember feeling outrage or jealousy, then try to recall this, from just a week ago: The riotous joy of the Philadelphia faithful after Adam Silver called out the name Ben Simmons as the Sixers selection with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft. Think about how our entire perspective of an organization has changed now that Simmons will join Noel, Embiid, Saric and Okafor on the court. They’re all there, or on their way, and they are ready to play. But the Sixers aren’t done there, because they can trade Noel and/or Okafor to bring in established talent at the wing or point guard and they will have an absolutely insane amount of cap room to chase a point guard or wing in free agency in 2017. The Process was ugly and it hasn’t produced yet, but the only other franchise that appears to be better structured for the next five or six season is Minnesota. By the way, since realizing that Kevin Love was as good as gone, the Wolves quietly did a milder rebuild than the Sixers, but with the same mindset.

    Love is a great example of where the Bulls are sitting right now with Butler, except Chicago is in a better position. Love was on his way out with a contract that was just good, not great, for the existing salary cap. Butler is long-term committed with his deal and is around $10 million or more under a max deal. The Bulls have the option to prompt the same type of rebuild the Wolves and Sixers did, but from a better position, and perhaps turn it around even faster. And maybe that is why both fans and those within the organization are tricking themselves into thinking a rebuild or The Process Part Two is absurd.

    It isn’t just in basketball that this model is paying dividends. While Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf may be loath to acknowledge it, the cross-town rivals of his White Sox baseball club are destroying the world of baseball. Right in his own city, in the sport he loves more than he could ever love basketball, the Chicago Cubs are demonstrating that some variation of The Process is universal. Sam Hinkie wasn’t the first or only one to go nuclear. Theo Epstein immortalized himself to Boston Red Sox fans, and is on the verge of an even bigger accomplishment, giving the Cubs their first World Series win in over a century.

    The Houston Astros are trying to do the same thing, they were even worse off than the Cubs and are experiencing a slower ascent, but it is still working. Following suit, the Braves, affectionately referred to by their own fans as the Barves, are in a painful Process of their own.

    Next: Dear Bulls, Part One: Forman, Free Agents, and the Future

    Suffering in sports fandom is universal. It isn’t exclusive to Cleveland, or Philadelphia or the North Siders of Chicago. Only one fan base is ever truly happy, that is the fan base of the San Antonio Spurs. The rest of us are bent by the cycle of winning and losing. Forman has presumably done what he thinks is best, but Forman’s best might not be enough. What the Bulls might just need is Forman’s worst. And if he can’t give it to them, it might be time to call Sam Hinkie.