Bulls: Preseason Opener Begins Piecing Together Of Team On The Rise

By Drew Stevens (@lookwhatdrewdid)

It’s as simple as this, Aaron Rodgers.

If you no longer want any part of an organization whose general manager has begun to dig your grave even as you continue to withstand the rigors of professional quarterbacking with flying colors, then you should most certainly look for a change of scenery. You see how well things are working out for Tom Brady after he ended his longterm relationship with New England, right?

He found greener — and far warmer — pastures in Tampa Bay. Now while it may be tempting to move across country where friendlier climates and your childhood favorite 49ers play, remember, that team blew its chance with you years ago. Besides, the coldest dish of revenge you could serve that bay green and cheese gold-colored front office would be aligning yourself with its sworn enemy, the Chicago Bears.

That’s how you retaliate against Brian Gutekunst, who had the audacity to trade up to select Jordan Love in last year’s NFL Draft, and head coach Matt LaFleur, who was a little too eager to co-sign that move and chose Mason Crosby’s leg, not your invaluable arm, when it mattered most. After all, when you have a chance to really stick it to your ex you don’t date a stranger. You round the bases with the best friend.

Think about it.

Not only would you move from the hallowed ground at Lambeau Field to that at Soldier Field, but you’d also go from being one of the city’s most hated visitors to one of its most beloved residents a la Dennis Rodman.

Plus, you love it here. Or at least that’s what I took from how you talked about the chills you feel before game time listening to both Jim Cornelison belt out the national anthem and Bears fans equally resounding reaction. “Those tingles over the years have made that place a really special environment,” you said in December. “And I do have a lot of respect for the organization, the fan base, their team.”

And we for you, albeit begrudgingly.

But you can’t really blame us for that though, can you? I mean, you did author a 35-16 beat down with your 240 yards and four touchdowns just a few days after speaking so highly of practically all things Chicago. Not to mention that was the 10th victory of your career in the Windy City in the 13 times you’ve played here. Hard feelings are even harder to shake when they’re mixed with the envy of watching your arch-rival swap one hall-of-fame signal caller for another while our carousel of mediocrity at that position continues to turn nonstop.

You can change that. You can rip that ride from its lousy rails. It’ll take some convincing, maybe even a little acting on your part. You’re pretty believable in those State Farm commercials. How good are you at faking or threatening retirement?

As far as compensation goes, tell Gutekunst we can offer the 20th overall pick in this year’s draft and future first-round picks in each of the next two as well. There figures to be a nice crop of blue chip offensive lineman this summer. Something for him to keep in mind given his franchise left tackle, David Bakhtiari, will be playing the rest of his career on a surgically-repaired knee. Also, considering how Kevin King had two touchdowns scored on him and drew a crippling defensive pass interference penalty that essentially robbed you of the chance to play in your second Super Bowl, it seems an upgrade at cornerback is in order. We’ve got a promising one in Jaylon Johnson he might be interested in, too.

If that package doesn’t move him, perhaps we can throw in the tag-and-trade of Allen Robinson. We’d much rather have the two of you here, but if we must sacrifice our most lethal offensive threat then so be it. You’re that special to us. Even today, just a handful of months from beginning your 17th year in the NFL.

Look. Breaking up is hard. There’s no two ways about it. But once you finish sopping up the best comfort food our city has to offer, you’ll adjust. You’ll see that while the sum of the Bears’ current weapons don’t yet compare to that of Davante Adams, Aaron Jones and Robert Tonyan, you’ve had far less to work with in your career than David Montgomery, Cole Kmet and Darnell Mooney.

None of this is to say you’d find the type of immediate success that Brady’s found with the Buccaneers. What it does mean is your arrival would, quite frankly, send an already rabid fanbase over the moon; push our mockery of a front office into credible standing; and our overworked defense into more favorable situations.

If nothing else, how satisfying would it be to flip the league’s oldest rivalry on its head, to force Gutekunst and LaFleur to forever rue the day they chose Love?

In Green Bay you had to escape the shadow of Brett Farve — who, against conventional wisdom, was cast out to the Jets of all teams after reaching near-deity status as a Cheeshead, his association with the Packers being the only one that can rival yours post-Bart Starr. Here, in Chicago, you’d cast a shadow as far as our franchise’s list of starting quarterbacks is long before you even threw your first pass in dark navy and orange.

The offseason is long. Our patience for a player your caliber has been woefully longer.

Just give it some thought.

Ok?

As Chicago sports fans know all too well, change either occurs painstakingly slow with this city’s teams or it doesn’t occur at all.

That Arturas Karnisovas, Marc Eversley and Billy Donovan are now the principal decision makers for the Chicago Bulls proves the former option is more likely than the latter.

Marked turnarounds are anomalous if not altogether exclusive to teams that either draft, trade for or sign transcendent talent.

Think of the pairing of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen with Paul Pierce, which in 2008 more than doubled Boston’s win total from the season before and produced championship dividends; or the introduction of Tim Duncan to the world by way of San Antonio that catapulted the Spurs from the worst record in franchise history to the Western Conference Semifinals; or LeBron James’ return to Cleveland in 2014, which netted a trip to the Finals for a Cavaliers team that never even flirted with a playoff appearance in his absence.

For this reason, attached to the Bulls’ 2020-2021 digital program should be a simple prologue that’s likely to cause widespread displeasure:

Patience.

A call for the dampening of expectations isn’t owed to a shortage of upside.

Patrick Williams fits the part of today’s ideal protean basketball player — vouched for via video snippets leaked into the social sphere — and is worthy of the expense of a lottery pick.

The team’s best player and most valuable asset, Zach LaVine, set career highs in steals, blocks, rebounds, and points en route to racking up the highest scoring average for a Bull since Michael Jordan last season.

His backcourt mate, Coby White, boosted his three-point shooting from 33.8 percent to 40.7% and increased his scoring average two-fold while boasting a similar spike in assists in the 10 games between the All-Star break and the abrupt end to his rookie campaign.

What’s more, the injury bug that’s pestered Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen and feasted upon Otto Porter Jr. has since flown elsewhere. 

But…

This roster, which premiers anew tonight against the Houston Rockets in a home preseason opener, is a near-composite of the one that was winless against the Eastern Conference playoff field bridging 2019 and ’20.

Successfully manipulating an inherited set of pieces in ways other than what has led to underwhelming results of late will be a challenge, a likely greater one than what Donovan conquered in leading Oklahoma City to a tie for the fourth-best record in the pitiless Western Conference.

In OKC, Donovan could trust Chris Paul — and to varying degrees Dennis Schroder and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander  — to dissect defenses off the dribble and expertly navigate pick-and-rolls, especially late in games.

With only one bonafide playmaker in Chicago, Donovan won’t have that luxury for the time being. Nor can he allow LaVine to continue to be so heavily relied upon to deliver this team from its offensive evils. In that spirit, an upswing in White’s executive functions and capacity to facilitate would be a godsend now that Donovan has all but proclaimed him the starting point guard.

It’s a role White is eager to assume but will still need time to grow into. For all it’s splendor, White’s late season breakout also saw him turn the ball over nearly twice as much as he did in his first 55 games as a pro.

Taking care of the basketball isn’t as much of a bugaboo for Markkanen as is executing deliberate moves once its in his hands. As confounding as he is intriguing, Markkanen moonwalked into career-low marks in scoring, rebounding and shooting accuracy last year. If that was simply a result of his misuse in Jim Boylen’s rigid read-and-react offense is one of many questions the fourth-year forward must confront in the homestretch of his rookie contract.

That Markkanen’s career has been a hodgepodge of both promise and plight typifies this idling team as a whole.

Markkanen, Carter Jr. and Porter Jr. have spent more time on the mend than on the court together. Well-intentioned schemes meant to force turnovers on one end and an uptick in efficiency on the other proved unsustainable in their absence. Though Boylen, against good common (coaching) sense, continued to jam square pegs into round holes.

A player-friendly coach who molds his system to fit his personnel, Donovan won’t make those mistakes. But he has only just begun his courtship of this roster.

Meanwhile, seating at the table of Eastern Conference playoff contenders looks scarce  — even with the additional accommodations possible from a play-in tournament.

Returning playoff squads Miami, Boston, Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Milwaukee are shoo-ins. Indiana and Toronto should remain in the fray, too. Atlanta, who the Bulls will see to start the regular season, participated in a near flood of off-season wheeling and dealing with a mind on ending that franchise’s three-year post-season drought.

That likely leaves the Bulls to contend with Charlotte, Orlando and Washington for the two remaining play-in spots.

The Magic nabbed the eighth seed last season but lost D.J. Augustin in free agency and will be without the defensive stylings of Jonathan Isaac. The Wizards re-signed sharp shooting Davis Bertans and traded John Wall for Russell Westbrook who, if not a better fit than Wall, is at least a healthier complement to Bradley Beal. The Hornets handed their checking and savings accounts to Gordon Hayward, and drafted LaMelo Ball to steer them into the future.

The Bulls…

Now benefit from clean bills of health and proven guidance, two of their most meaningful acquisitions from the extended layoff, the Bulls are equipped with potential building blocks that could lead to this roster yielding much different results than its on-paper lookalike from a season ago.

But, give it time.

Change doesn’t punch a clock.

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