Picked as worst in the NBA, Bulls are where they want to be

ByNick Friedell ESPN logo
Thursday, August 17, 2017

Editor's note: This piece has been updated to more precisely reflect the Dwyane Wade situation.

The Chicago Bulls have been picked dead last in ESPN Forecast's projected standings for the 2017-18 season. Just 26 projected wins for a team that has gone to the playoffs in eight of the past nine seasons. That's a hard fall from grace for a proud organization that rode Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen to six NBA championships and worldwide prominence.

But as the Bulls get set for a major rebuilding season, the reality is that the bottom of a bad Eastern Conference is right where this team wants to be. That's because it will put Chicago in the best possible position to draft either Michael Porter Jr. or Marvin Bagley III next summer.

The Bulls' rebuilding plan got a major shot in the arm Monday night when Bagley announced he would be attending Duke and would reclassify as part of this year's class. Not only did his decision give the Bulls another high-level target in the 2018 draft, it gave the front office a reminder of what its main objective should be all season: Put yourself in the most advantageous lottery position by losing as many games as possible.

In other words, tank away.

From a pure basketball perspective, it appears the Bulls are well-equipped to do just that. Dwyane Wade isn't expected to be long for the organization's future, as nobody would be surprised if he decided not to stick around for a season in the tank and instead chooses to reach a buyout agreement at some point in the next few months.

Bulls GM Gar Forman said at the Las Vegas Summer League that he hasn't had any discussions with Wade's representatives about a potential buyout, but the widespread belief within the organization is that a deal that would allow Wade to play elsewhere will eventually get worked out at some point during the season.

Robin Lopez has become the most respected player in the Bulls' locker room, but he isn't a game-changing force, averaging just 10 points a game. After that, the rest of the Bulls' roster is littered with question marks.

Kris Dunn, acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves in the deal for Jimmy Butler, showed flashes of promise in his first year, but remains in search of a consistent jump shot. Rookie Lauri Markkanen played fairly well in the Las Vegas Summer League, but has to work through all the ups and downs young players deal with in their first season. Jerian Grant had a couple of nice games last season but appears to be a fringe NBA player.

Bobby Portis played the game of his professional life in a win over the Boston Celtics in the first round of last season's playoffs, but his two pro years have been defined by inconsistency. Zach LaVine will give the Bulls an athletic boost whenever he returns to the floor, but the Bulls will be very cautious with his rehab as he makes his way back from an ACL tear suffered last season. Paul Zipser will be given more of a chance in the rotation, but the second-round pick showed plenty of flaws in his game.

Cameron Payne has struggled so badly since being dealt from the Oklahoma City Thunder that it doesn't look like he has a long future in the league.Niko Miroticwould give the Bulls another perimeter threat, but his contract status remains in limbo after he didn't get the type of offer sheet he was looking for at the beginning of free agency.

The Bulls could learn a tanking lesson from the other professional sports team that Jerry Reinsdorf owns in town, the Chicago White Sox. They've competed hard in games while continuing to rack up losses. They've spent the year dealing away proven assets for prospects with possibly huge futures.

Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg knows he's in for a challenging season, but he can rehabilitate his own image within the league if he can get this unproven group to play hard on a nightly basis even in defeat. As tough as the losses might be to stomach for players, coaches and fans, strengthening your ability to land players like Porter or Bagley is much more important than trying to earn more wins in another lost season.

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