NBA: Under-Fire Chicago Bulls In Spotlight

Lauri MarkkanenA once-proud Chicago Bulls franchise has, unfortunately, taken a big turn for the worse in the past few years. Following nine straight years without a single losing season, the Bulls have won fewer than 34 percent of their games in each of the last three seasons. The team’s management and coaching staff have made questionable decision after questionable decision.

The good news for Bulls’ fans is that some change is on the horizon. The franchise fired general manager Gar Forman, replacing him with Marc Eversley, and they also replaced vice president of basketball operations John Paxson with former Denver Nuggets executive Arturas Karnisovas. Much-maligned head coach Jim Boylen, however, is still with the team.

Chicago essentially has nowhere to go but up in the Eastern Conference following a 22-43 regular season record, including an astounding 0-21 mark against the top eight teams in the East.

What has to happen this offseason for the Bulls? What players will step up? USAbetting discusses four key questions related to these topics.

Will Jim Boylen Finally Get Fired This Offseason?

Boylen is probably the most criticized current head coach in the NBA. He is known as an old-school coach who has antiquated views on how to treat his players and who doesn’t have enough strategic knowledge to get the best out of his players. Various members of the Bulls roster have made critical comments about Boylen’s coaching and it is clear most of the team doesn’t respect him.

So why haven’t the Bulls fired him yet this offseason, after nearly two full seasons of poor performance? Some pundits have speculated it is because Chicago has already guaranteed money to Boylen for next year and the front office doesn’t want to pay him as well as the person who replaces him next year. However, I am skeptical of that, since Boylen is one of the lowest-paid head coaches in the NBA.

If the Bulls are going to make a big upward move in the Eastern Conference, I highly doubt it’s going to happen with Boylen at the helm. The franchise needs a coaching change right now.

Is Lauri Markkanen Still a Future All-Star?

The Bulls’ future actually looked somewhat bright heading into the 2019-20 season and a big reason for that was Lauri Markkanen. The sweet-shooting 7-footer averaged 18.7 points and 9 rebounds per game in his second season and looked on the verge of stardom.

Unfortunately, Markkanen slumped early on and never fully recovered. He averaged career lows in scoring, rebounding, field-goal percentage, three-point percentage and free-throw percentage. A hip injury in late January then sidelined him for six weeks, disrupting the momentum he was building.

What does the future hold for Markkanen? He is definitely a skilled player. Are his issues completely due to poor coaching, is his confidence shaken or is he just not quite as good as we thought? Markkanen’s ability to bounce back (or not) will play a big role in how the Bulls look in the long term.

Can Bulls Find Trade Partners for Their Bad Contracts?

Chicago will be eager to return to the playoffs after several disappointing seasons, including the three non-playoff campaigns. A coaching change would help, but a better roster is probably also necessary to avoid earning a spot in the lottery for the fourth straight year.

Unlike some bad teams in the NBA these days, the Bulls are a somewhat popular free agent destination. Many of the league’s players have ties to the Chicago area and the team’s rich championship history from the 1990s still carries some weight. This offseason, though, the Bulls will have no meaningful cap space, assuming Otto Porter opts into his $28.5 million deal for 2020-21.

The Bulls would be wise to shop some of their bigger contracts around this offseason. They have a few veterans making questionable salaries for 2020-21, including Porter ($28.5 million), Thaddeus Young ($13.5 million), Tomas Satoransky ($10 million) and Cristiano Felicio ($7.5).

While none of those players is likely to fetch anything of great worth on the trade market, freeing up cap space could prove to be important in signing a helpful free agent or bringing in a quality player from a different swap.

What Type of Player Should the Bulls Draft?

Based on what the Bulls look like today, the biggest positional need is at the small forward position. Otto Porter hasn’t been able to stay healthy and the options behind him are not great.

With three below-average defenders in Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Coby White as the current building blocks, defense also looks like a priority as the team thinks ahead to the draft.

However, no one on the Bulls should be untouchable in trade conversations. No one on the team looks like a perfect fit for his role and the team shouldn’t be afraid to take some risks. Chicago’s roster may change significantly in the next year or so.

Because of this, I think the Bulls should merely pick their top-ranked player who is still available, regardless of position, skill set or whether the player is a safe or more of a boom-or-bust pick. Even though it’s a weaker draft class, there will be plenty of valuable players around the seventh pick, which is where Chicago’s lottery odds slot them currently.

The Bulls can then decide to make trades or free agent signings based on the player they snatched in the first round of the draft.