By Lamar Battle
Two teams two examples of confusion. One team ( The Oklahoma City Thunder) were projected to be at this point one of the NBA’s elite teams. The other, ( The Chicago Bulls ) were projected to be one of the league’s worst and as fate would have it the Thunder are extremely unpredictable and disappointing and the Bulls are seemingly screwing up their chance at a top lottery pick.
The Thunder brought in All Star Paul George and All Star Carmelo Anthony to join 2016-17 NBA MVP Russell Westbrook.
At this point the Thunder is in 8th place in the NBA’s Western conference.. Experts and fans are all debating on what’s ailing the team. Could it be bad chemistry, Westbrook’s inability to share, Carmelo’s defense ?
The prevailing thought pattern now is that given his free agent status Paul George may bolt this summer so General Manager Sam Presti has his work cut out for him. Does he keep Paul George throughout the season and risk losing him to free agency or does he trade him at mid season.
If I were in his shoes I would find a 3 and D forward / guard to replace Andre Roberson in the starting line up, bolster the bench and risk the big three hitting their stride just prior to the playoffs.
At the start of the season it was generally understood that 1. The Bulls would be the worst team in the League and 2. The Bulls would have a legitimate shot at landing a top five lottery pick in what is stacking up as one of the best NBA drafts in years.
All that was before the fight i.e. knock-out.
A well publicized practice brawl between Nikola Mirotic’ and Bobby Portis cost the team valuable games for both. Portis served an eight game suspension for his role in the fracas and Mirotic’ was out for an extended period with a concussion and facial fractures.
With both players out rookie power forward Lauri Markannen was forced to start. The team discovered that Markannen is a true player and building block for the future. But did Markannen’s starting prevent the team from losing ten games in a row?
No, it did not.
But, on the way to the draft lottery something weird took place. Mirotic’ returned and led the team on a 5 game (now 7) game wining streak and to top that off Bobby Portis started playing some of the best basketball of his career. The Bulls made NBA history by becoming the first team to win 5 games in a row after losing 10 in a row.
So what now ?
In a rare post game interview 2nd year guard/forward Denzel Valentine declared the Bulls as one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Well, Denzel’s zealousness not withstanding. Bulls brass may have shown their hand when they Put Markannen back in the starting line up replacing Mirotic who had been playing lights out.
That move may signify a commitment to rebuilding and a chance at what announcer Stacey King referred to and I’m paraphrasing the race for the Baggs. ( A not so subtle reference to Duke University super freshman Marvin Bagley III ).