Bernstein: Bulls' Trajectory Worse Than Ever?

In their third rebuilding year, the Bulls still have no star or clear path to acquire one.

Dan Bernstein
January 08, 2020 - 1:29 pm

(670 The Score) It all felt reasonably good to start the season -- or at least better. The Bulls had put together a roster that made sense, with some clever additions to their core of potential difference-makers.

If one was able to look past any ongoing doubts about an obviously and painfully overmatched head coach, a back-end playoff team was visible for the first time in years. Ownership and upper management even said as much, turning up the burners of expectations.

And here we are almost at the halfway point of the season, and the Bulls are 13-24, thinking once more about the lottery instead of much else and again lacking a real shot at a high pick. They'd be looking at drafting seventh, as they usually do, in what most experts consider to be a down year for talent.

The Bulls still don't have a genuine star player either, and little is happening to make us think one is developing. Zach LaVine is the closest they have at the moment, but he appears to be mostly empty calories: He can knock down some shots and attack the basket, but an alarming lack of basketball instincts still drags on his overall performance. He wants to be an All-Star, but that's tough to achieve when you can't crack the league's top 20 in win shares, Player Efficiency Rating or Value Over Replacement Player.

Lauri Markkanen was inexplicably awful to start the year, then worked his way back to being at least the same player he was. We're still waiting for the next step that his previous performance suggested was possible. Otto Porter Jr. is out indefinitely with a perplexing foot injury, Wendell Carter Jr. has been reduced to a role player and Coby White now appears to be less of a possible point guard prospect and more of an undersized volume shooter.

The bright spots have been the play of rookie Daniel Gafford as a second-unit dunker and rim protector and Kris Dunn as a physical defensive specialist. Pretty much everything else -- including once-interesting free-agent acquisitions Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky -- has ended up being less productive than we thought.

Much of this is due to the heat loss caused by still having coach Jim Boylen trying to direct it, with his desultory substitution patterns, inability to properly use timeouts and general lack of in-game awareness that's made more clear with every incomprehensible postgame explanation. He's a problem for sure, a huge drag on all of it, but even with a replacement-level coach there can be legitimate questions about how this group can be expected to operate in a way that provides the best opportunity for that star to grow and emerge.

Because without one, it's all still just a grinding of gears, a seemingly endless cycle of meaningless activity leading to drooping attendance at the United Center and fewer eyes on televisions.

That small spasm of optimism has been evaporated by what we've seen so far. The guy doesn't appear to be here, and he's not coming in free agency to play for this coach, nor from the next draft.

What is it exactly that we're doing here?

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in midday. You can follow him on Twitter @Dan_Bernstein.