Chicago Bulls: It’s time for the tanking to officially end

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 17: Fred Hoiberg and Zach LaVine
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 17: Fred Hoiberg and Zach LaVine /

It’s safe to say that the Chicago Bulls weren’t trying to win games during the 2017-18 NBA season. They were tanking. However, it’s time for that to end.

When the Chicago Bulls traded Jimmy Butler last summer, they chose to take the franchise in a different direction. Instead of being mired in mediocrity, they would be bad (with the goal being of accumulating young, talented prospects to build around). Well, approximately one year later and they have done exactly what they needed to do in order to move forward.

Lauri Markkanen developed faster and better than literally anyone could have expected. The rookie big man from Arizona averaged a nice 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, earning his way to being one of the five players named to the 2017-18 NBA All-Rookie first team.

Some people thought Lauri would pan out, some didn’t. The thing is, even those who thought he would pan out, didn’t expect it to happen as quickly as it did. During his rookie season, he looked comfortable on offense and better than advertised on defense.

He has the potential to be one of the best players to come out of the star-studded 2017 NBA Draft class.

Everyone knew he could shoot the 3-ball, but not everyone knew he could do this:

The Bulls also got more production from Kris Dunn than they could’ve ever asked for, especially only one year after his abysmal season for the Wolves. Dunn went from averaging 3.8 points, 2.4 assists and 2.4 rebounds per game to averaging 13.4 points, 6.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game. He’s already elite on defense and the offensive growth was incredible. If that continues, he’ll cement himself as the point guard of the future for the Bulls.

Zach LaVine didn’t exactly have a stellar return from injury, but there were some encouraging moments. Despite being extremely inefficient on offense and lackluster on defense, his athleticism looked really impressive considering the serious knee injury he suffered while in Minnesota.

If LaVine can improve his efficiency and his defense (which I expect he will since he actually has a full off-season to work on his game, unlike last year), then there’s no reason he can’t be an elite player. The skills are there, they just need to be there night in and night out.

Those three players (Markkanen, Dunn and LaVine) were basically what the Bulls got in return for Jimmy Butler. However, they also got the chance to tank last season which resulted in them drafting Wendell Carter Jr. 7th overall in the 2018 NBA Draft. Carter had an extremely nice season at Duke and after an impressive Summer League run, he has Bulls fans ecstatic about what’s to come.

The Bulls also shocked the nation (kind of) when they signed Jabari Parker this summer in free agency. While the fit doesn’t necessarily make sense on paper, on the court I think it’ll work itself out. Parker could stand to improve on the defensive end of the court, but he’s still a former no. 2 overall draft pick with immense upside.

Yeah – it’s safe to say the Bulls will have a talented team next year.

It’s time for the tanking to end

Some people expect the Bulls to wind up back in the top-10 for the 2019 NBA Draft. I couldn’t disagree more.

They barely got as high of a pick as they did for the 2018 NBA Draft. If it wasn’t for an improbable run from Nikola Mirotic and a couple fluky wins down the stretch, the Bulls easily could’ve been drafting in the 9-12 range instead of at no. 7. Plus, they’ve only gotten better over the last year.

Both Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine will be healthy to start the season, Lauri Markkanen has the first year under his belt, Wendell Carter Jr. should be able to make an immediate impact, Jabari Parker is coming home and they still have a lot of nice role players (Robin Lopez, Chandler Hutchison, Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis, Antonio Blakeney and more).

There’s absolutely no reason to be losing games intentionally during the 2018-19 NBA season. Even if they did manage to sneak into the top-10, they likely wouldn’t get a franchise changing player. The 2019 NBA Draft isn’t going to be nearly as deep as the draft was the last two years.

I also think the importance of developing a winning culture gets swept under the rug when teams get caught up in consecutive years of tanking. The young guys need to learn how to win as soon as possible – and that’s this year.

No, they aren’t a going to be a contender and no, they probably wouldn’t make a lot of noise in the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean the automatic answer is to tank. This team is far too talented to tank.

The East is wide open (especially after the top 3 or 4 teams) so the Bulls need to put their heads down and go for it. They need to do whatever they can to sneak into the playoffs. Getting playoff experience for players like Markkanen, Carter, Dunn and LaVine would give this rebuild a huge boost.

Next: The Bulls won't sign Jahlil Okafor... Right?

Playoff experience is invaluable for a young team, even it means getting bounced in four games to the Celtics. It’s time for the Bulls to congratulate themselves on a speedy rebuild by trying to win games now.