Bulls vs. Knicks: Who's winning the rebuild race?
With a two-game series against the New York Knicks in the books, this is a good time to check the progress of the two big-city rebuilding projects.
Are the Bulls any better off than the Knicks right now? And how can they avoid the same fate as Orlando, this weekend's opponent, which leveled off quickly after a two-year playoff run.
The Bulls and Knicks looked pretty even on the court while splitting two games at the United Center. The Bulls have an edge on the perimeter and shot their way to victory in Game 1 on Monday, while the Knicks have clear advantages in defense and inside strength.
Bulls rookie forward Patrick Williams commented on the physicality of New York's 107-103 victory on Thursday.
"That's pretty much as physical as it gets," he said after Friday's practice. "Whether it's high school or college, we definitely had some physical games, but this is a totally different level. These are grown men out here."
As of Friday morning, the Knicks had a 10-13 record, while the Bulls were 8-12. But the future is what matters. Let's break it down:
Coaches: This seems like a wash. Billy Donovan and Tom Thibodeau are both accomplished first-year coaches who went 5-for-5 in making the playoffs in the first stint as NBA head coaches -- Thibodeau with the Bulls, of course.
Is it possible Donovan's offensive-minded system that blends well to player's individual strengths will be more appealing to potential free agents? Thibodeau's grind-it-out defensive style has been proven to win games, but scoring stats earn the big paydays in the NBA. So the Bulls might have a slight advantage.
Star players: This one is also pretty even. Each team has a budding first-time all-star. The difference is Bulls' guard Zach LaVine is a perimeter player and the Knicks' Julius Randle is a power forward.
Perimeter players who can handle the ball and create shots win close games in the NBA. Whether LaVine can ever be that guy on a championship-level team remains to be seen. He probably needs an accomplished veteran beside him to get to the next level.
Randle does seem like a good player to build around, though. Under Thibodeau this season, he's averaging career-highs with 22.6 points, 10.9 rebounds and 6.0 assists. Whether R.J. Barrett is the ideal complement is unknown, although 17.8 ppg for a 20-year-old in his second professional season isn't bad.
Trade assets: This is where the Bulls seem to have their best advantage. Between LaVine and the last four draft picks -- Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Coby White and Williams -- they have five guys with some trade value. Eventually, Arturas Karnisovas is going to have to make a bold move and swap young guys for more experienced or accomplished players.
The Knicks have had some misses in the draft. Top-10 picks Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina haven't worked out, and rookie Obi Toppin isn't playing much. New York does have some future first-round picks on the way from the Kristaps Porzingis trade.
Cap space: The Bulls will have $20-30 million this summer when the contracts of Otto Porter and Cristiano Felicio finally retire. Thad Young has a partial guarantee for next season, but he needs to stay.
The Knicks could have around $70 million in cap room if they let go of Randle, who has a partial guarantee for next season. But there's not much chance New York can put together a free-agent super team, so they should keep Randle and try to make a splash with $50 million of space.
Helpful veterans: The Bulls are doing well here, although it's possible their improvement this season has been more about Young and Garrett Temple than the younger players. The Knicks don't have any veterans worth keeping.
Long-term ceiling: Well, both the Bulls and Knicks need bold moves to climb the ladder. The Knicks have more cap space and future first-rounders, while the Bulls have some trade assets to work with.
The Magic is a team that illustrates the danger ahead. Orlando hit with a few draft picks (Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac), picked up some helpful veterans (Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier) and made the playoffs twice. But the Magic may have already hit a ceiling.
The big splash move was taking a chance on former No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, but he's out for the year with a torn ACL. Now Orlando might be stuck in the middle with no high draft picks ahead, and a lot of big contracts on the books, which isn't a great spot.