For Chicago Bulls Fans

The Shootaround: Are the playoffs a realistic goal for the Chicago Bulls in 2020?

The Chicago Bulls have made some key additions this summer, but will they lead to a playoff berth in 2020?

For devoted fans, there is usually a disconnect between hopes, dreams and reality in the NBA offseason. They cling to hope (sometimes delusion), pleading for their teams to make the big free agency splash or the blockbuster trade. For the Chicago Bulls, there is no escaping this plight. The fans demand more, yet feel the disconnect from the realistic expectations from management. After all, it’s not like there has been much on the court to cheer for lately.

Since the Bulls traded Derrick Rose, Chicago has embarked on a path of revamping and replenishing the roster. Jimmy Butler –  gone. Taj Gibson? He’ll be suiting up for this third team since he was jettisoned with Doug McDermott for Cameron Payne (couldn’t think of a worse trade if I tried). Joakim Noah floundered with the New York Knicks, flourished as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies and is now being courted by a professional team in New Zealand.

Drill sergeant, — I mean former head coach Tom Thibodeau was fired by the Bulls and then the Minnesota Timberwolves. Luol Deng was tremendous as a Bull, but never really found consistent success elsewhere but is now apparently a real estate mogul with a $125 million portfolio.

We’re all still waiting for Kirk Hinrich to emerge from the shadows to rescue the once-glorious franchise and lead it back to prominence.

That’s who they were, this is who the Chicago Bulls are now

But for now, this is who the Chicago Bulls are. Their best player, Lauri Markkanen, is a Finnish-born 7-footer who could be the next Dirk Nowitzki. Zach LaVine is seemingly much-maligned due to his defense and reputation for holding onto the ball too long. As a side, LaVine may have long touches – 70.4 percent of his touches lasted up to 6 seconds – but he was no James Harden. 62.8 percent of the Houston Rocket star’s touches were at least 6 seconds or longer.

Wendell Carter Jr. and Coby White, both hailing from the Tobacco Road rivalry, Carter from Duke and White a North Carolina Tar Heel, are the youngsters on the squad. Both joining Markkanen as seventh overall picks and looking to make an impact in 2019-20. Carter should be the anchor of a beleaguered defensive unit while White hopes to push the offensive pace.

The trade for Otto Porter Jr. that sent Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker to the Washington Wizards was mostly a success. Porter arrived in Chicago with an enormous contract. He’ll earn $27.25 million this season with a player option of $28.49 million for 2020-21. His deal likely kept the Bulls from chasing this summer’s elite free-agent class. It did give the team cover though, as no one expected any of the top free-agent stars to choose Chicago anyway. He had a nice run during his 15-game stint in Chicago last season. If he’s healthy, he gives the team an excellent outside weapon.

With the Markkanen-LaVine-Carter-Porter pairing, the Bulls have talent, but they aren’t loaded. The jury is certainly still out on how high the ceiling is for this team.

Injuries played a major role in 2018-19

At first glance, it’s difficult to assume a team rebounding from a 22-60 season could be even in consideration for a playoff chase. Considering the factors: age, inexperience, injuries, etc, there are legitimate reasons for the Bulls woeful record. Yes, the Bulls are a young team, but they also had very little depth behind their starting core. A second unit featuring Wayne Selden, Ryan Arcidiacono and Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot won’t strike fear against the Kentucky Wildcats, let alone an NBA roster. Factoring in injuries – The Bulls lost a combined 123 games to injury with just Markkanen, LaVine, Carter and Kris Dunn, add 2018 rookie first-round pick Chandler Hutchison‘s 38 missed games and number escalates.

Injuries can sometimes be a weak excuse for a bad team. For a young Chicago Bulls squad, it also cost them continuity with their young core and the opportunity to learn the nuances of the game.

For 2019-20, thinking of Chicago hosting NBA special events other than NBA All-Star Weekend in February is somewhat daunting. The challenge isn’t just in improving their wins and losses, it’s also in hoping last year’s playoff teams suffer dropoffs. It’s difficult to see where that’ll come. The eighth seed in the Eastern Conference this spring, the Detroit Pistons won 41 games and they seemingly have improved their roster (how weird will it be to see Derrick Rose in a Piston jersey?). Maybe the Brooklyn Nets, with Kyrie Irving but without Kevin Durant slide out of the postseason, but is that realistic?

Can this team make a playoff push in 2020?

The Chicago Bulls should be better in 2019-20. They should come back with a chip on their shoulders and we’ll all hold our breath during training camp. Hopefully, there won’t be any fistfights or major injuries this time around. Maybe during the season, they’ll avoid mutinies and record-breaking losses. On paper, the 2019-20 version of the Chicago Bulls is improved. They’re still stuck with Kris Dunn at this point, but they’ve added Thaddeus Young, Tomas Satoransky and Luke Kornet, all players who should provide an immediate impact.

Can they be a playoff team this season? It’s clearly possible, as we’ve learned anything in the NBA is. The Bulls will go as far as Markkanen and LaVine can carry them. They’ll be an exciting team to watch, but expecting a playoff berth might be reaching. For a team to make the type of jump necessary to make the postseason tournament, that’ll be a steep challenge.

For now, we’ll just keep the champagne corked and let’s hold off celebrating the Chicago Bulls clinching the eighth seed in a watered-down Eastern Conference.


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