Story of Bulls' first half is roster that can't meet expecations

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) shoots over Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) during the second half Monday in Boston. The Celtics defeated the Bulls 113-101.

    Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) shoots over Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) during the second half Monday in Boston. The Celtics defeated the Bulls 113-101. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 1/14/2020 6:29 PM

The Bulls reached the halfway point of the season with a good measuring stick game in Boston.

The Celtics can put four talented scorers on the floor in Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown, then have some veterans like Marcus Smart and Enes Kanter to fill in the supporting roles.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Bulls have one high-level scorer with Zach LaVine and one experienced role player in Thaddeus Young.

So midway through the season, the Bulls are roughly one-fourth of their way to becoming a conference finals contender, in Year 3 of the rebuild.

They began the season with a goal of making the playoffs. That dream is slightly alive, but only because the seventh and eighth spots in the East are in rough shape. As of Tuesday morning, the Bulls were 5½ games behind both Orlando and Brooklyn.

Here's one way to look at the Bulls' chances, considering they have beaten just one team with a winning record: In the second half of the season, they'll face 22 teams that currently have losing records and 19 with winning records. If they go 22-19 the rest of the way, they'll finish 36-46, which is not likely to be good enough to make the playoffs.

So that means they need to play much better in the weeks ahead. That won't be easy since center Wendell Carter Jr. is expected to miss a few more weeks with a right ankle sprain and there's no telling when Otto Porter might return from his foot injury.

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Porter was still wearing a walking boot when the Bulls left for their two-game road trip. The best case scenario for his return is likely after the all-star break, but missing the rest of the season also seems plausible.

This sounds like a broken record by now, but the Bulls' roster has too many young players. The best way to approach the rebuild would be to take LaVine, Carter, Lauri Markkanen and Coby White as the core and surround them with veterans.

That will be tough to pull off, because the current roster is a mix of bad contracts and players with very little trade value. And the Bulls won't have any cap space this summer, mostly because Porter ($28.5 million) and Cristiano Felicio ($7.5 million) have another year left on their deals. Felicio, by the way, made his season debut by playing the final two minutes at Boston.

Another problem is the Bulls don't have many two-way players. Their best defenders, Dunn and Shaq Harrison, are not good shooters. Their top scorers -- LaVine, Markkanen and Satoransky -- are not great defenders. The Bulls need Dunn's defense to stay competitive, but opponents sag off and dare him to shoot 3-pointers, which makes it tougher on everyone else to score.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

So what can the Bulls do?

Not much, really. My first suggestion would be to put Harrison and Denzel Valentine back in the rotation with the second unit. Valentine hit a shooting slump and went back to the bench, but he's likely to help more than Chandler Hutchison, an often-injured, second-year player still trying to find his way in the NBA. And since the Bulls don't have many shooters to bring off the bench, Harrison might at least create some turnovers with his aggressive defense.

They could trade Dunn, but wouldn't get much back in return with his expiring contract. They might as well try to re-sign him this summer.

Many have suggested starting White, but that plan is probably better suited for later in the year after the Bulls have been eliminated from the playoffs. We found out quickly that White is much more of a shooter than distributor, and he's an inconsistent shooter at that.

White may have a chance to be a good NBA player, but right now he's the 11th-leading rookie scorer, shooting 38 percent from the field. He has a long way to go.

The Bulls won 22 games last season and are on pace to finish 28-54. Considering they've gotten basically nothing from Porter this season, I'd say the record matches the roster.

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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