Bulls have pieces in place, but chemistry will be a puzzle
The "Young Pieces" lineup is essentially in place for the Bulls.
Everyone has a position, but it's a strange fit in more ways than one. The Bulls aren't trying to lose anymore, which should be good news for players and fans, but team chemistry figures to be long-term work in progress.
For starters, the Bulls have two players making close to $20 million this season -- new addition Jabari Parker and shooting guard Zach LaVine. Both guys are coming off ACL tears in February 2017. They should be at full strength when training camp begins in late September, but there's no reason to assume they will be the Bulls' top two scorers, or even the best players.
When the Bulls went on their surprising 14-7 run early last season, point guard Kris Dunn was the catalyst and showed an impressive knack for late-game scoring. Dunn and the Bulls never returned to that level after he missed five weeks with a concussion, and the Bulls weren't trying very hard by that point in the season anyway.
Lauri Markkanen has been identified by many as a star of the future. His second season could tell the tale of his career trajectory, so needless to say, Markkanen will be a focal point.
Does is matter which of these four players turns out to be the leading scorer? Is having all four guys average between 15 and 18 points a winning formula? Coach Fred Hoiberg talked about these issues at Parker's introductory news conference.
"We'll figure out how exactly that will play out as we head into the season," Hoiberg said Wednesday. "Obviously it probably won't be the exact roles on the first day as it will the middle or end of the season.
"The roles, they find a way of playing themselves out as far as who you're going to give the last shot, who you're going to draw up the last play for, you know exactly what your system will be, who's going to get the crunchtime minutes. That's going to be a big part of what we're looking for heading into training camp."
It seems likely veteran Robin Lopez will remain the starting center. Bulls management has been playing up Lopez's leadership skills since last season and may be setting the stage for the 7-footer sticking around when his contract is up after this season.
Rookie Wendell Carter Jr. looked remarkably polished during summer league, so he'll get plenty of playing time. Carter's arrival will likely push another highly paid Bulls center, Cristiano Felicio, out of the rotation.
The second group seems fairly defined with Cameron Payne, Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis. Justin Holiday is likely to stay in the rotation while rookie Chandler Hutchison dips his toes into NBA action.
Hoiberg talked about wanting to play fast. His system generally favors pushing the pace, moving the ball and launching the first open shot. He shared the message, if everyone plays the right way, wins will follow and everyone gets a good seat at the table.
"We've got really good guys," Hoiberg said. "We've got a really good group of players. They're great people and I think they're going to gel, they're going to bond. That's an important part of this.
"Guys have to understand in this league, there's certain nights when somebody's got it going and you're going to ride the hot hand. We have a lot of guys capable of going off to big nights. Any time you have a successful team with a lot of talent, you do have to sacrifice. That's going to be a big message for us."