Take one for the tank? Chicago Bulls ask Holiday, Lopez to sit
Before jumping back into practice after the all-star break, the Chicago Bulls did a little role-shifting.
Executive vice president John Paxson explained to reporters exactly how the team planned to give some younger guys more minutes the rest of the way.
For starters, David Nwaba and Cristiano Felicio will start Thursday against Philadelphia, replacing veterans Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez, respectively.
Then Cameron Payne, finally back from foot surgery, will take over the backup point guard role from Jerian Grant.
"We're going to start looking at blocks of games where we'll be having a few guys who haven't been playing much or at all have a significant role," Paxson said. "The whole goal in our position is to evaluate what we have on this roster."
Paxson didn't mention how many games would make up the block. One knee-jerk reaction is to suggest this is the Bulls' way of ensuring they lose plenty of games the rest of the way and move into better draft position.
But they'll continue to start Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen, the young nucleus that has played together just three times this season.
Considering Nwaba was one of the Bulls' best players early this season and Felicio played well enough last year to get a four-year, $32 million contract, it remains to be seen whether these moves do anything to push the tank down the road.
One obvious question is how would the demoted veterans handle the news.
Holiday and Lopez have started all 57 games this season, the only exception being when Holiday missed a game on Nov. 15 for the birth of his first child.
Lopez, Holiday and Grant are all under contract for next season, so it's conceivable any or all three could have roles next year when the Bulls are trying harder to win.
"Having played, I was out of the rotation several times," Paxson said. "I know what it's like to be asked to take a lesser role. Players have pride. So it's hard. I don't take that lightly at all.
"It's just the position we're in as a young team, 20-37 (record) with a lot of young guys and several who we haven't really had the chance to see play much this year. For us to make the proper evaluation in terms of who fits us moving forward, this is something we have to do."
Paxson said he wants this to be more of a learning experience for the young guys, not a tryout for next year's roster spot.
Nwaba already has done enough to assume he is part of the Bulls' future, and Felicio has three years left on a questionable contract, so he's probably not going anywhere.
Payne is the biggest mystery. Acquired from Oklahoma City last year in the Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott trade, he played sparingly at the end of last season, had an ugly couple of games at the Las Vegas summer league and has been out with foot surgery all of this season. He played three games with the Windy City Bulls before the break.
Coach Fred Hoiberg seemed to reference Payne's summer-league tendency to dribble upcourt and launch a bad shot without ever passing the ball.
"He's a natural point guard and he has to go out and play to that role, which is get the ball down the floor with pace, get into the paint and make good decisions," Hoiberg said. "Its going to take him some time. He hasn't been out there in this type of situation in a long time."
Hoiberg said Dunn and LaVine will play regular minutes. In the final game before the break, Dunn returned from 11 games off with a concussion, while LaVine has played in 14 games since returning from ACL surgery.
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