On the surface, the Chicago Bulls are awful and not getting any better. Their best player heading in to the season is either the 35-year-old Dwyane Wade or the explosive guard, Zach LaVine, who’s coming off a torn ACL. The closer the season gets, it’s growing more likely that Wade’s contract will be bought out by Chicago, officially handing the team over to LaVine when he returns from injury. With so many young players looking to prove themselves, now is the perfect time for the Bulls to begin the tanking process.
Since the Philadelphia 76ers began “trusting the process,” the word “tanking” has been thrown around quite a bit. Anytime a team makes a questionable move, fans start pointing fingers at the front office, deeming it the start of a tank. This offseason, when Chicago traded Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves, it was thought to be one of those situations; the Bulls received two young players, LaVine and fellow guard Kris Dunn, and a top-ten draft pick, used to select sharp-shooter Lauri Markkanen.
This lead to several question marks on the roster: will the Bulls immediately start Markkanen or let him slowly adjust to the NBA level? Can LaVine find his old form following his injury? Will Dunn show improvement after a very lackluster rookie campaign? With this much uncertainty, Chicago has the opportunity to improve in the not-so-distant future if they play their cards right.
It all begins with Wade – the former champion and Finals MVP. The Chicago-native may be a hometown hero, but his time with the Bulls should be cut short. In the case of a buy-out, he’ll have no trouble finding a new team, as he’s drawn interest from Cleveland, Miami, and others. For Chicago, it’s about letting their young players, LaVine, Markkanen, and Bobby Portis, to develop and earn some experience leading a team.
With or without Wade, this team is set-up for a pretty rough season; Las Vegas oddmakers have predicted Chicago to be the NBA’s worst team in 2017-18. However, this isn’t exactly bad news. If the team is already projected to be in the basement of the standings, they have to embrace this and plan for the future. Begin trading some older assets, such as center Robin Lopez, to acquire more stock in upcoming drafts.
As of today, there’s no real proof that tanking works. Yes, the 76ers have managed to assemble a solid roster packed with young starpower, but they haven’t created any results yet. This season is huge for “the process;” if Philadelphia makes the playoffs and begins competing again, all is well. However, more injuries to players like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons could prove to be a disaster.
So why should the Bulls begin to tank now? If they can land the top pick in next year’s draft, they’ll have a choice between two incredible, possibly franchise-altering, players: Marvin Bagley III and Michael Porter Jr. Looking ahead to 2019, a top-five pick could land Chicago elite prospect RJ Barrett, or internet phenom Zion Williamson.
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A combination of any of those prospects could quickly flip the script, making Chicago an elite NBA team once again. However, future success will not begin and end with drafting; the Bulls need to make a few free agency splashes along the way.
Fortunately, Chicago has an incredibly flexible cap situation. For the 2018 offseason, the Bulls have over $53 million in cap space, and in 2019, they have a league-high $84 million available. Next offseason should still be a quiet one for Chicago in order to get another top-tier draft pick. However, the 2019 offseason could be a perfect storm in the Windy City; new elite talent, loads of cap space, and an enticing free agent class. Players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook could be unrestricted in 2019 if they don’t opt-out of their contracts next offseason. Other big names that could also be available include Klay Thompson and Paul George.
Of course, this is all easier said than done. It helps that Chicago is a popular free agent destination but when it comes to drafting, there are too many variables in play to consider anyone or anything a guarantee. Philadelphia’s tank officially ended this offseason, but there is still so much work to be done. Some of the Bulls’ issues are deeply rooted in a poor front office, so it’s hard to know whether “tanking” is even a possibility to them. However, with all their resources and some great timing, it’s not hard to imagine Chicago finding their way back to the top in the near future.