Can Bulls do a rebuild the right way this time?

Here's some advice for Bulls management as the team embarks on yet another roster makeover.

Don't make losing the priority. If it happens organically, fine. But trying to be bad usually turns a team into a bunch of losers.

This is an issue because the Bulls owe their 2025 first-round pick to San Antonio as part of the DeMar DeRozan sign-and-trade in 2021. The pick is top-10 protected, so if it lands in the top 10 after the lottery, the Bulls get to make the selection (and send the '26 first-rounder to the Spurs).

There could be conflicting goals, though. While they want to keep that first-round pick in the top 10, the Bulls will also likely need Zach LaVine to play well and rehab his trade value. They'll try to move center Nikola Vucevic, while trying not to get enough talent in return to push that draft pick to No. 11.

The Bulls are too close to the luxury-tax level to have a realistic chance of helping DeRozan find a new home in a sign-and-trade. He's probably on his own in free-agency and certainly not expected back with the Bulls. It's tough to predict what might happen with Lonzo Ball, who is planning to return from a knee injury.

There are plenty of 2017 vibes floating around the Advocate Center right now. That was when the former management team of John Paxson and Gar Foreman started feeling some heat from fans, so they launched a rebuild by trading Jimmy Butler to Minnesota.

GarPax essentially told fans, “We're rolling up our sleeves and getting in the lab. Don't even bother knocking on the door for three or four years, we'll be busy constructing a new roster.”

Quick sidebar: We all know what happened after that. The Bulls have won one playoff game in the ensuing seven years, while Butler led Miami to the NBA Finals twice. It was a disastrous decision.

Here we are again. The new management team of Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley saw their 2021 roster retool turn to dust. Now they're trying to buy some time by taking a step backward.

The first move was trading Alex Caruso to Oklahoma City for Josh Giddey, which was a perfectly reasonable trade, despite whatever social media outrage you may have read.

Then on Monday, the Bulls agreed to terms with 6-10 free-agent Jalen Smith on a reported three-year, $27 million deal. Smith was the No. 10 overall draft pick in 2020, but hasn't gotten consistent playing time in Phoenix or Indiana.

Smith has shown promising signs. He shot 42.4% from 3-point range last season and averaged 11.6 rebounds per 36 minutes. But he's also been in the league four years and is still considered a project, so who knows how this will turn out?

The Bulls are building a decent nucleus of players age 24 and younger, including Smith, Giddey, Coby White, Patrick Williams, Ayo Dosunmu, Dalen Terry, Julian Phillips and first-round pick Matas Buzelis.

Veteran leadership is essential in the NBA to help younger players grow. DeRozan's presence certainly taught White and Dosunmu some good habits.

Karnisovas might be trying to copy the Thunder's rebuilding plan. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who went to the playoffs as a rookie with the Clippers, was essentially the team's veteran leader. Maybe Giddey can take what he learned from SGA; White what he learned from DeRozan and turn the Bulls into a playoff team.

If this group starts to gel this season, let it happen. Sitting guys out so they don't win too many games could have unintended consequences, just check that 2017 rebuild.

Trading LaVine will be a challenge, whether the Bulls are shopping him this summer, during next season or in 2025. LaVine couldn't have had a more net-negative performance last year. The Bulls looked miserable and played terrible early last season, then started winning from the first day LaVine left with an injury. Then he had foot surgery, ending his season early.

Add to that his bad contract and no history of leading a good team, and it's no wonder teams aren't showing interest in LaVine. This situation is the Bulls' own fault, though. They should have known better than to give LaVine a maximum contract in 2022, and now they're suffering the consequences.

But that's life with the Bulls. One dumb mistakes leads to another and another and another. Maybe this time they'll break the cycle.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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