Progress or more punishment? Upcoming Chicago Bulls season could have variety of outcomes

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine, the most important player on the roster, needs to become a winner. Problem is, LaVine has never had a winning role model in the NBA. (Jan. 13, 2018, AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

    Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine, the most important player on the roster, needs to become a winner. Problem is, LaVine has never had a winning role model in the NBA. (Jan. 13, 2018, AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

 
 
Updated 9/25/2019 6:03 AM

The Chicago Bulls will enter Year 3 of the rebuild as an NBA afterthought.

They're scheduled for just one national TV appearance, have a low projected win total and generally seem to have no shot at the playoffs.

 

Or do they? There are a wide variety of potential outcomes for the Bulls this season. With training camp approaching on Oct. 1, let's take a look at the ways this campaign could go right or wrong:

Turn for the better

Another leap for LaVine: Not really breaking news here, but Zach LaVine is the most important player on the roster. If you erase his partial season of 2017-18 while recovering from ACL surgery, LaVine has increased his scoring average by at least 4 points every year he's been in the league.

His numbers last year already were close to all-star level, so he may have the potential to be a top-5 scorer in the league this season. But what the Bulls really need is for him to become a winner -- whether that means hitting the big shots, making better decisions, playing smarter defense or leading an overall surge in mental toughness.

The problem is LaVine has never had a winning role model in the NBA. He clearly works hard to improve his game, but learning how to win is a challenge without veteran help, which leads to the next point.

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Newcomers pay off: This wasn't an exciting summer for the Bulls, but they actually did very well with a limited free-agent budget. They landed a starter from a playoff team in former Indiana forward Thaddeus Young and perhaps a potential rising star in ex-Wizards guard Tomas Satoransky.

Satoransky, 27, was impressive at the FIBA World Cup this month, averaging 15.5 points and 8.5 assists while leading the Czech Republic to a sixth-place finish -- one spot better than Team USA. Expect Satoransky to take most of the point-guard minutes, which would allow the Bulls to let rookie Coby White develop at his own pace.

Young has never been part of a long playoff run, but he rarely misses games, was an important piece on those overachieving Pacers teams the past two years and might be able to teach his younger teammates what it takes to win regularly.

East is least: Let's face it, 40 wins should be enough to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. This side of the NBA probably got even weaker with the departure of Kawhi Leonard from Toronto, the breakup of the Celtics and an expected year to recover for new Brooklyn Net Kevin Durant.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The bar is hanging relatively low, so if the Bulls can manage to stay healthier, get significant steps forward from LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., some consistency from Otto Porter Jr. and help from the news guys, playoff contention isn't all that far-fetched.

Turn for the worse

Banged-up job: The easiest path for this season to turn into disaster is a repeat of last year's injury epidemic. Most of the regulars barely made it through half a season.

In each of the past two seasons, the Bulls shut guys down early with minor injuries, so hopefully those days are over. The newcomers will give the roster some veteran depth, which should help.

But last year's lack of participation was ridiculous. Only three guys played in as many as 70 games -- Ryan Arcidiacono (81), Robin Lopez (74) and Shaq Harrison (73). Lopez is now in Milwaukee, so one ironman is out the door.

The remedy is anyone's guess. Better luck, better preparation? But the fact is, the good teams tend to have fewer injuries. It's time for the Bulls to join in.

Coaching confidence: Management has committed to Jim Boylen as head coach, but it's still a risky move. After more than 20 years as an NBA assistant, Boylen remains unproven as an NBA head coach, which can lead players to have their doubts.

After a rough start, Boylen seemed to win over the locker room last season. So everything should be fine heading into his first training camp. The real test arrives if the Bulls begin to struggle or hit a rough patch.

Can Boylen hold it all together? We'll probably get a chance to find out, although the Bulls certainly don't want to change coaches again.

Switching to an up-tempo, multiple ballhandler offense seemed to be a popular move last season. Boylen needs to find a way to keep that momentum, while convincing the players to stay focused on defense.

Progress is paramount: Slow starts can be overcome. Bulls fans won't forget Scott Skiles taking the team from an 0-9 start to homecourt advantage in the playoffs during the 2004-05 season. But the Bulls badly need to show some progress this season.

Another win total in the 20s will signal that the rebuild isn't working. It will be time to shuffle pieces, and there will be nothing to entice free agents. Hoping for lottery luck during the new anti-tanking era is a dismal future the Bulls should avoid.

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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