Bulls management could learn from Raptors' example
If the Bulls are looking for a blueprint on how to once again become a successful NBA franchise -- on-the-court team success, that is -- a good place to start would be the Toronto Raptors.
While beating the Bulls 129-102 on Sunday afternoon, the Raptors received 68 of their points from undrafted players. That list included 31 points from rookie guard Terrence Davis, 15 from third-year big man Chris Boucher and 12 from veteran guard Fred VanVleet, a key player on last year's championship squad.
Draft luck is more important than anything when it comes to NBA success, and the Bulls certainly had their share with Michael Jordan and Derrick Rose. But teams can also create their own luck by developing players and finding overlooked gems.
So what are the Raptors doing the Bulls aren't? That's tough to say, because it could depend on the decision-making process, such as how many people are involved in making key decisions and how much the top executive listens to differing opinions.
On paper, the two front offices are similar in the way the basketball operations department is built. The Raptors' president is Masai Ujiri, a Nigeria native who briefly played Division II basketball. The Bulls have John Paxson in that role.
Toronto has a general manager, a player personnel specialist, someone in charge of the analytics department. The Bulls have all that. The Raptors have longtime NBA executive Wayne Embry in a consulting role, while the Bulls have Doug Collins.
One thing that does stand out about the Raptors' basketball operations is it has women in some key roles, such as vice president of basketball operations and player development Teresa Resch and manager of Africa scouting Sarah Chan.
"They were not hired because we wanted to hire women, they were hired because they're the best at what they do," Ujiri said.
Here are some other things the Raptors' front office has done to stay near the top. Despite losing Kawhi Leonard as a free agent and enduring injuries to most of their key players, they're 36-14 and the No. 2 seed in the East.
Focus on players with room to grow: This is apparent anytime the Raptors play at the United Center. Teams typically have players stretch and warm up in the hallway outside the locker room before games and Toronto usually has two or three long and lanky guys you've never heard of walking around.
The Bulls spent some time focused on finished-product college seniors like Doug McDermott and Denzel Valentine, which hasn't paid off. To be fair, they had success with that formula when they drafted Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson.
And it's not like the Raptors found these guys on the other side of the world or anything. Pascal Siakam, the No. 27 pick in the 2017 draft, played at New Mexico State, a school where Gar Forman used to coach. Boucher played at Oregon, Davis at Mississippi. VanVleet played in the Final Four with Wichita State.
Use G-League to develop talent: The Raptors were one of the first teams to place a G-League team in the suburbs, a move the Bulls have copied. Toronto did a good job of using its G-League team to develop guys like VanVleet, Siakam and Boucher.
A look at the list of G-League champions leads to an obvious conclusion: The good NBA teams also do well in the G-League. The Houston Rockets' affiliate has had the most G-League success in the last decade, but Raptors 905 has been to the finals in two of the last three years.
This has been a weak spot for the Bulls. The Windy City Bulls are in their fourth season, made the playoffs once and the only two-way player who has helped the NBA team is Ryan Arcidiacono. Of course, a couple of original Windy City Bulls -- Spencer Dinwiddie and Alfonzo McKinnie -- have done well for other NBA teams.
Is this a sign the Bulls' scouting department is understaffed, making poor decisions or not as aggressive as it should be when signing G-League players? That's difficult to judge from the outside.
Stick with winning culture: Not long ago, the Raptors were ridiculed for being unable to win in the playoffs. Ujiri kept working, stayed loyal to coach Dwane Casey for a long time, and moved from a playoff loser to championship team by adding Leonard in 2018.
Even though it was a one-year rental, trading for Leonard was a bold move that paid off. And with Leonard gone, the Raptors still have a roster of players who know how to win. The Bulls found out the hard way that when you spend two seasons trying to lose, reestablishing a winning culture is really difficult.
The trade deadline is Thursday. There might be interest in Thaddeus Young or Kris Dunn, and the Bulls should find a new home for Valentine if possible. But it's hard to imagine a trade the Bulls could make that would improve the team immediately.
• Zach LaVine will participate in the 3-point contest during All-Star Weekend, according to multiple reports. The complete field has yet to be announced, but defending champ Joe Harris from Brooklyn is reportedly on board as well.
With the All-Star Game returning to Chicago this year, LaVine figured to do one of the contests on All-Star Saturday night. He's been talking for weeks about a preference to do the 3-point contest instead of the dunk contest, which he's already won twice.
The dunk-contest field reportedly will feature LaVine's old dunk-contest rival Aaron Gordon from Orlando, Lakers center Dwight Howard, Miami's Derrick Jones Jr. and Milwaukee's Pat Connaughton.
LaVine is shooting 37.6 percent from 3-point range this season, while averaging a career-best 24.9 points. He ranks seventh in the NBA in total 3-pointers made with 154.
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