The Chicago Bulls franchise is no stranger to scrutiny. The summer of 2018 will add to a list of reasons to put the Bulls under the microscope once again.
Zach Lavine re-signed with the Bulls to the tune of $78 million over 4 seasons. In addition, hometown hero Jabari Parker signed for 2 years, $40 million. Eliminating part of the risk, the second season of Parker’s deal is a team option. Both were risky moves for the Bulls front office.
While some would applaud the Bulls for their willingness to take risk, it is worth asking whether the risks were smart for the Bulls to take, especially in the middle of a rebuild. The Bulls won just 27 games a season ago.
If things go according to plan, the Bulls will improve upon that win total this season. But will it come at the expense of long-term flexibility and development of the roster?
For Lavine, acclimating to his new team and his new role was not a smooth transition. The good news is that Lavine’s points per 36 minutes actually went up from 18.3 in his final season in Minnesota to 22.0 in his first season in a Chicago uniform. The problem? His shooting percentage decreased from about 46% to 38% during the same time frame.
Expecting Lavine to have struggles is fair, but it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reasons for those struggles. Truthfully, Lavine had a lot working against him when he made his return to the court for the Bulls–a new team, a new system, a recovery after a major injury. Whatever the reason for Lavine’s struggles, the Bulls took a significant gamble in their willingness to lock him up long term.
In the acquisition of former Simeon High School star Jabari Parker, the Bulls took another significant gamble. Parker has played only a combined 82 games over the past two seasons. Not only is health a question for Parker, but overall fit with the roster will be a major challenge, as well.
Parker has spent most of his career (roughly three-fourths of it, to be exact) at the power forward position. With the emergence of Lauri Markkanen at that position, the Bulls will ask Parker to make the switch to the small forward position.
For Parker, can it be done? Maybe.
Parker has always shown the ability to score and his 3-point percentage has risen every year he has been in the league, but the facts are as such: Parker doesn’t have the explosiveness and athleticism necessary to be a true perimeter force in the NBA, especially on the defensive end of the court.
In assessing the true risk of both Lavine and Parker, it is important to note the similarities and differences of the risk taken in each player. For both, health is a major concern. But that’s about where the similarities end.
Assessing the Risk
The risk taken in Lavine lies in his contract. When comparing shooting percentages, Lavine’s from a year ago closely resemble those of the Raptors’ CJ Miles. However, Miles makes less than half ($8.3 million) of what Lavine will make next season.
If Lavine once again becomes the slasher and scorer he was in Minnesota, the Bulls look like geniuses. If he doesn’t pan out, the Bulls will be left with an albatross of a contract. Such a contract could severely limit their quest to add free agents for the foreseeable future.
In Parker, the Bulls took what was perceived to be a low-risk, high reward gamble. However, the gamble is greater than many realize.
In order to rebuild the right way, the the Bulls need to give touches to Markkanen and recent selection, Wendell Carter. However, adding Parker on his “prove it” contract would seemingly detract from the development of those players. Was adding a high-volume scorer with an injury history and no interest in playing defense the right move for the young Bulls?
Again, if Parker turns in to a serviceable perimeter player in Chicago, the Bulls, again would be geniuses. If he doesn’t, the Bulls will once again be criticized for signing a hometown hero that doesn’t fit their basketball needs, a la Dwyane Wade.