Chicago Bulls fans trying to figure out what management can’t

Chicago Bulls Fans! How do you save the Bulls? Sports talk radio presents a bleak picture but it can be done.

One of the most popular Sports Talk radio shows in Chicago is “Kap and Company” on ESPN 1000 at 9:00 am every weekday. Yesterday morning the question of the day was how can the Chicago Bulls be saved before they become irrelevant?

It all started due to a tweet from Darnell Mayberry of “The Athletic” posting a picture of a half empty United Center at tip-off on twitter. In truth, it didn’t bother me much since anyone who has been to a Bulls game knows that the stands don’t completely fill up until midway through the first quarter, especially on a bad weather night.

The host of the morning show, David Kaplan, assured us on this same show only a couple of weeks ago that he’s been told by a trusted friend with close ties to the team that massive changes are coming soon. He says fans in sports bars are not even interested in watching the telecasts. Yesterday he was asking fans what they think those changes should be.

I was not at liberty to call in to the show due to my day job so I will now offer my opinion. As a caveat, let me state that in the world of sports, luck perhaps plays the biggest part. General managers as well as players can only be  held accountable for what they can control. Let’s begin by looking at what the Bulls need and what they have to offer others.

Like any team in today’s NBA, the Bulls need at least two All- Star caliber players to be considered relevant as a playoff team. Today, whether he makes the All-Star game or not, Zach LaVine qualifies as a legitimate star. Those who watch him on a nightly basis know this. His defense improved and he has become the go to man in crunch time. If he was getting half the calls that other stars get in this league, he would be considered unstoppable.

The perfect compliment to a player like Zach would be a stretch four. The hope was that Lauri Markkanen would become that player but for whatever reason he hasn’t. The jury seems out on him. Some fans blame head coach Jim Boylen‘s rigid coaching. Others accuse Markkanen as being soft and inconsistent.

If the Bulls want to be saved, they must accept what is. Lauri Markkanen has not shown us the “next level” growth we have seen from LaVine.

To acquire a second star the Bulls have assets that other teams will want, either by the February 6th trade deadline or during the offseason. Those assets include young players with specific skill sets (Lauri and Kris Dunn), veterans that can step right in to most lineups (Thad Young and Tomas Satoransky), a potential top 10 draft pick, and money.

Certainly it appears Zach, Wendell Carter, Daniel Gafford and Coby White still provide a solid young core. I believe Carter also can become a power forward once his outside shot improves, which is just a matter of time. Together with Gafford, they could be a defensive nightmare.

Otto Porter and Chandler Hutchison though, both with injury histories, along with Lauri are the weak links. We also have to find a long-term solution at point guard.

Satoransky has improved lately but the Bulls need someone who can take control of the pace. That is especially important when Zach starts to feel he has to carry the team on his back. Sato has not been able to command that respect and the result is often an uneven distribution of the basketball.

So the needs are clear.

  1. Overhaul management, and fire Boylen as soon as possible. Lauri has no chance to grow under Boylen who has not found a successful way to maximize his talents. Carter, Gafford and White probably could be utilized better too.
  2. Make a decision on Lauri because he still has great trade value. Mostly everyone will write off his poor 3rd year performance as due to a bad coach. The Bulls though know Lauri best and must decide if he truly can become that second All-Star. The safe move from a new GM may be to move him for pieces of his choosing.
  3. Use your assets to become stronger at the three positions of need, point guard, small forward, and in the paint. That can be done through trades, draft, and free agency. The Bulls are in position to do all three.

The other assets the Bulls have are 6 Championship trophies, a global product, the best NBA fans in the “Mecca of the NBA”, and a large local market.

While others on sports talk radio are scared that the cup is almost empty, I look at the picture as an empty canvas awaiting the artistry of a professional business manager.

Michael Reinsdorf needs to start searching for a professional team basketball executive who has a proven track record of successful change management (it’s not the 1970s anymore). The team, now part of a powerful global sport, will need strategic planning, revamped branding and intelligent risk taking. The players will need a credible vision they can believe in.

The Bulls have seen how one player can change a team (Michael Jordan, Derrick Rose). They still have more to offer than most teams that won’t qualify for the playoffs this year. A management and subsequent culture change, together with Lady Luck, may refill the seats at the United Center faster than we can imagine.