Utah's success proves the Bulls made a massive mistake in 2021

Utah Jazz v Toronto Raptors
Utah Jazz v Toronto Raptors / Mark Blinch/GettyImages

As much as I hate to admit, the Chicago Bulls are stuck in what I like to call NBA purgatory. Too good to land a franchise cornerstone in the draft, but not good enough to make any noise in the NBA Playoffs. Although the Bulls are built to win now, their record does not reflect this, as the team has stumbled to a 20-23 record and appears to be a likely candidate to suffer their second-consecutive play-in tournament elimination later this year.

When you take a look around the league, many other teams in the league who possess similar records to the Bulls actually have a much brighter outlook for the future. That's because these teams are built around young talent who are still growing and developing together. Instead of being bogged down by bloated contracts and aging veterans — like the Bulls — these teams have laid the foundations for sustained success.

Last year, the Thunder were roughly in the same tier as the Bulls, and we have since witnessed them take off and ascend into the upper echelons of the NBA's elite. This year, I'd like to bring our attention to the Utah Jazz, a team with a 22-21 record that currently sits in 9th place in their conference, just like the Bulls.

Although the Jazz were expected to endure a long period of losing and tanking for a better position in the draft lottery, that has not been the case. That's because former prized Bulls prospect Lauri Markkanen has come into his own as a true number one option for Utah. No longer bogged down by the inadequate coaching ability of Jim Boylen or the selfish playstyle of Zach LaVine, Markkanen has shown the world just what he can do when asked to do more than stand in the corner and wait to take three-point shots.

The Bulls could certainly use players like Lauri Markkanen or Kris Dunn on the roster right now.

In his 99 games played since joining the Jazz, Markkanen has averaged an astounding 25.1 points, and 8.7 rebounds per game while being a true three-level scoring threat. As hard as the Bulls tried to make Lauri a three-point shooter, his 39.4% shooting on 7.8 attempts per game in Utah is a substantial improvement over his 36.6% clip on 6.1 attempts per game that he posted in Chicago.

As a result, Markkanen immediately received an All-Star nomination and even took home last year's Most Improved Player award. He looks well on his way to another All-Star appearance and could even land a spot on All-NBA Team if he continues playing at this level. Of course, he isn't the only former Bulls prospect currently making noise on the Jazz.

That's because Kris Dunn is experiencing a career resurgence of sorts, as he's gone from being a fringe role player to a certified starter on a winning team. The former No. 5 pick in 2016 isn't padding his box score stats, but he's made a very clear impact on this roster since being elevated to the starting lineup.

The Jazz are currently 13-4 with Dunn at the helm, a massive upgrade over the 9-17 record they posted with him on the bench. Utah is outscoring opponents by 6.3 points per 100 possessions with Dunn on the court, and they are 10.8 points per 100 possessions better when he's on the court compared to when he rests on the bench.

Given that the Jazz are built around young talent like Markkanen, Collin Sexton, and John Collins as well as interesting prospects in Walker Kessler and Keyonte George, it's not hard for me to admit that they have a much brighter future than the Bulls currently do. Chicago is on the brink of suffering another losing season while their 'Big 3' (if we can truly call it that) gets another year older and other teams like the Jazz continue improving by the year.

And to top it all off, Utah's charge is being led by two players the Bulls already had under cheap team control. Two players the Bulls turned into Derrick Jones Jr. and a first-round pick that may never actually convey. Two players that should have been the future of the Chicago Bulls, but are now proudly leading the Utah Jazz to postseason contention. This disastrous mismanagement of assets in 2021 may come to haunt this franchise for years to come.

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