Bears showing Bulls how to actually pull off a successful rebuild

DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls, Justin Fields, Chicago Bears (Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports)
DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls, Justin Fields, Chicago Bears (Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports) /

Right now, it’s hard to be mad about how the Chicago Bulls are playing. Winners in 8 of their last 12, the Bulls are looking arguably the most competitive they ever have in the new ‘Big 3’ era. While winning feels good, we still don’t know how sustainable this current run is or if another injury in the vein of Lonzo Ball will bring it all to a screeching halt. Fortunately, if an unforeseen obstacle in the near future hampers this team in the long term, the Bulls won’t have to look very far to find the perfect blueprint for their rebuild.

That’s because another sports franchise in Chicago is well on its way toward executing a perfect rebuild of its own — the Chicago Bears. After drafting quarterback Justin Fields in 2021, the Bears have carried on to successfully secure the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s upcoming draft. Armed with a genuine franchise cornerstone, the top draft pick, and by far the most cap space of any NFL team (having freed up over $100 million to spend, with the next-highest team coming in at $55 million), the Bears are now in a fantastic position to turn things around.

Now, it should be noted that the context is slightly different here, as history has shown it’s quicker and easier to execute a full-scale rebuild in the NFL than it is in the NBA. After all, it’s easier to improve at the margins in the NFL with more than twice as many players on the field/court at all times and a 55-player roster as opposed to 15 in the NBA.

That being said, here’s where the Bulls lose the benefit of the doubt.

If the Chicago Bulls are to ever truly compete for a championship again, they’d be wise to follow in the footsteps of their NFL counterpart and rebuild.

After three relatively successful seasons from 2018 to 2020 that included two playoff appearances and a 28-20 combined record, the Bears decided enough was enough and that they’d have to hard reset to advance further. After drafting Fields, the Bears immediately bottomed out and secured as much draft capital as possible in exchange for their veteran talent.

This comes in distinct contrast to the Bulls, who failed to get a significant return for anyone outside of Jimmy Butler following their implosion in 2017, giving away Bobby Portis, Otto Porter Jr., and Nikola Mirotic for no assets that would still be with the franchise just 5 years later.

Even worse, the Bulls failed to successfully bottom out to and draft a single genuine difference-maker despite being absolutely horrible for four straight seasons. Fans were forced to endure four whole years of terrible basketball as their team limped to a 102-199 record despite not once receiving a top 3 pick in that span. As painful as it may be, here’s a reminder of who the Bulls could have drafted just a few picks ahead if they were willing to tank properly, and who they actually ended up selecting.

  • 2017: Jayson Tatum (3rd), De’Aaron Fox (5th), Lauri Markkanen (7th)
  • 2018: Luka Doncic (3rd), Jaren Jackson Jr. (4th), Trae Young, (5th), Wendell Carter Jr. (7th)
  • 2019: Zion Williamson (1st), Ja Morant (2nd), Darius Garland (5th), Coby White (7th)
  • 2020: Anthony Edwards (1st), LaMelo Ball (3rd), Patrick Williams (4th)

Each and every single one of these players is already a perennial All-Star candidate, and have the potential to be future All-NBA, All-Defense, and even MVP award winners. All except for the four players the Bulls drafted. In an league that’s bursting with more talent than ever, why is it too much to ask for the Bulls to put themselves in a position to actually draft one (or more) of these genuine building blocks that can be found in each and every draft?

Now, I hope the Bulls can maintain their current course and continue their winning ways. But if they can’t, they must be ready to bottom out after this season. And I mean truly commit to being bad.

We’ve seen plenty of other teams enact this same strategy to great effect around the NBA. Memphis is the prime example, already in a position to contend for a championship even with Morant, Jackson Jr., and Desmond Bane still on their rookie contracts. But you won’t have to look much further to find plenty of other examples.

The Pelicans will be a dominant force in the West for years to come if Zion Williamson can manage to stay on the court, the Thunder are stacked with young talent and looks very promising led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Pacers are looking much better than advertised thanks to Tyrese Haliburton, and the Pistons will inevitably return to the fold once Cade Cunningham heals up.

Tanking may not work in the end and certainly does not guarantee a championship, but so few strategies ultimately do; even if tanking fails, it still provides years of entertaining basketball provided a legitimate core is built from the ground up. That’s something you can’t say for much of the last decade of Bulls basketball.

Tanking now wouldn’t be ideal considering Chicago is built to win now and has already traded a pair of their future picks, but if their winning ways don’t carry into 2023, they’ll have to be honest with themselves and commit to starting somewhere. This much is especially true with DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine possessing potentially the highest trade value they’ve ever had.

I don’t mean to make the idea of a rebuild sound easier than it is in reality. Finding that franchise cornerstone is often a matter of luck just as much as it is a result of months, even years of intensive scouting. But with the 2023 NBA Draft and beyond bustling with more talent than we’ve ever seen before, the opportunity here is simply too great to pass up.

Again, I truly hope the Bulls can keep stacking up the wins, but it doesn’t have to be a complete disaster if they don’t. After all, all they have to do is follow the blueprint.

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