Don't forget Bulls fans, Lakers took their time with rebuild
The mildly improving Bulls will get a taste of championship basketball on Friday against the Lakers in Los Angeles.
It might feel like the Lakers went from bad to bubble champions pretty quickly. Step 1: Sign LeBron James, Step 2: Trade for Anthony Davis, Step 3: Light the cigars.
Now that they are champs, it's easy to forget the Lakers spent a significant amount of time as a bad team. Since 2014, they had four top-five draft picks, including the No. 2 three years in a row, along with a No. 7.
Compare that to the Bulls' rebuild, which so far has consisted of three No. 7 draft picks and a No. 4 this season when they took Patrick Williams.
None of those Lakers draft picks are still with the team. A couple left to clear cap room for LeBron and the rest were traded to New Orleans for Davis.
But they did make some very good choices: Two guys are now the best player on other teams (New Orleans' Brandon Ingram and New York's Julius Randle); D'Angelo Russell led Brooklyn to the playoffs and is now trying to figure things out in Minnesota. Lonzo Ball was the only miss, insofar as Jayson Tatum would have been a better option.
When it comes to trying to build through the draft, high picks don't matter in one sense, since guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard and Donovan Mitchell weren't top-10 picks.
On the other hand, it can pay to draft near the top. Boston got Tatum and Jaylen Brown with the top-three picks it got from Brooklyn. During "The Process," Philadelphia landed two No. 1 picks, two No. 3s, a six and two No. 10s; eventually landing the nucleus of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, along with a few mistakes.
The Bulls tried to rebuild without bottoming out, which is why they've had just one top-five pick. Maybe they'll be able to make some significant move next summer, but obviously it's been a struggle so far. Like the Lakers, they will need to move some of their young players to become a title contender.
It's too bad back in 2017, when the Bulls had an all-star in Jimmy Butler, a proven recruiter in Dwyane Wade and cap room on the way, they didn't get together and come up with a plan to land Davis, who was bound to ask out of New Orleans at some point.
Leonard and Paul George asked to go home to Los Angeles when they switched teams. Davis had no interest in joining the mess in his hometown.
White on track:
The Bulls' hope for the future, obviously, is a high-scoring backcourt of Zach LaVine and Coby White. So even though they lost in Sacramento on Wednesday, it was nice to see White rise to the occasion with an efficient 36 points, a career-high, along with 7 assists and no turnovers.
Probably the biggest question heading into this season was whether White could return to his pre-pandemic hot streak. Over the last three games, he's averaged 26.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists, while shooting 54 percent overall and 40 percent from 3.
So it's still early, but at least there are positive signs. It might have taken White a few games to adjust to being the primary point guard, but he's making good decisions and setting up teammates. Against the Kings, he really had the skills on display. He's gotten better at finishing around the rim and his handle seems to have gotten a little tighter. He was making drives and changing direction at full speed, then knocking down 3-pointers when they were open.
"(I'm) just trying to have little techniques around the rim, instead of just trying to go straight through the big," White said after Wednesday's game. "Staying focused on the rim, put my eyes on it early. I think last year I kind of went in there and was more so trying to get a foul call."
As usual, White wasn't impressed with his career-high in scoring.
"It's cool, but we didn't get the win so it doesn't really matter to me," he said.
One play worth questioning Wednesday was with a minute left, the Bulls got possession trailing by a point, and White was red hot. But LaVine took a quick 3-pointer that missed and on the next trip Buddy Hield was fouled behind the arc by Garrett Temple and completed a 4-point play. Bulls coach Billy Donovan had no complaints after the game.
"When he can get off a clean look, it's always a good shot," Donovan said of LaVine. "I feel good when he gets a clean look like that."
LaVine dribbled past a Wendell Carter Jr. screen on the left wing, then pump-faked Richaun Holmes before letting it go.
In each of the past two games, Denzel Valentine has led the Bulls in plus-minus. ... Through Wednesday, the Bulls ranked 29th in points allowed (120.6) and 25th in defensive rating (114.3).