Chicago Bulls' post-break plan has accomplished nothing
As the losses pile up for the Bulls, their place in the lower-tier standings hasn't improved.
Since Jan. 20, the Bulls have gone 4-14 and in the process have moved from the league's ninth-worst record to the eighth-worst. The biggest reason the Bulls moved down a spot is the Lakers started winning.
In the two weeks since the Bulls announced plans to bench veterans and change lineups after the all-star break, they've lost ground on the teams beneath them, thanks to home wins over Dallas and Memphis.
So what's the point of the Bulls' post-break plan? Consider these outcomes:
• The Bulls are not going all out to lose. In close games against the Mavericks and Grizzlies, they sent the starters back on the floor in the fourth quarter and pulled away late.
• They're not compiling much useful information on their younger players. Bobby Portis and David Nwaba are still good. No confirmation was needed to know the Bulls overpaid for Cristiano Felicio when he signed a contract extension last summer. Getting a better look at Cameron Payne, back from foot surgery, and newcomer Noah Vonleh are legitimate goals, but becoming a decent role player appears to be the ceiling for both guys.
• The NBA nixed the Bulls' plan of sitting Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez indefinitely. Holiday returned to the starting lineup Wednesday against Memphis and promptly went 4-for-4 from 3-point range. Lopez is expected to start Friday in Detroit.
So why not just go back to the usual starting lineup and stop worrying about the results? It's a plan the Bulls should consider.
The downside is they could win too much and get a worse pick in the 2018 draft. Through Wednesday's action, the Bulls were just 1½ games behind New York. Beyond that, there's a 5½-game gap between the Bulls and Charlotte, so dropping more than one slot in the draft is unlikely.
It's been stated here several times before -- the best player from the 2017 draft right now is Utah's Donovan Mitchell, chosen 13th. Whether they pick eighth, ninth or wherever, the Bulls will get a chance to draft a good player and will have a chance to screw it up, too.
A few days ago, coach Fred Hoiberg said one goal of the lineup changes was to turn Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen into better leaders.
Maybe that will help, but consider when Holiday returned Wednesday, Dunn, LaVine and Markkanen scored 20 points each for the first time. On the other hand, did that accomplishment mean anything since the Bulls were playing the Grizzlies, owners of a 15-game losing streak?
If the Bulls played their best lineups against the good teams, it would give a better indication of the young players' progress. Then if losing is so important, sit the starters in the fourth quarter. Memphis didn't use Marc Gasol down the stretch on Wednesday.
"We've got to find a way to build that chemistry and it starts now.," Dunn said after beating Memphis. "Don't try to wait too long. Try to get it going now and let it resonate through the summer and come back and try to get better."
Most every player on the Bulls roster is under contract for next year, including Holiday and Lopez. If the Bulls went into next season with a projected starting lineup of Dunn, LaVine, Markkanen, Holiday and Lopez, with Nwaba, Portis, Denzel Valentine and the top draft pick as the top nine, they could probably have some success, with room to maneuver through trades or free-agency.
Yeah, I know plenty of fans have bought into the tank and get upset when the Bulls win. But look, they're not moving down in the standings, so the Bulls might as well try to get better. The current plan is accomplishing nothing.