In the Wake of the News
11:13 PM CDT, June 28, 2012
Luol Deng indeed found himself on the move during the NBA draft. But where Deng was headed, I suspect the Bulls forward focused more on the exchange rate than trade rumors.
Deng spent Thursday night flying to London to prepare for the Olympics, and jolly good for Chicago that he was. On Deng's Twitter account, he complained about the size of airplane bathrooms and the mood of the passenger next to him during the long flight.
But everything's relative. Imagine how much Deng would have griped if the Bulls decided his destination Thursday was Sacramento or Toronto as NBA scuttlebutt suggested.
In a decision that was best for the Bulls now and the future, they didn't. In a victory for stability, the Bulls drafted Kentucky point guard Marquis Teague with the 29th pick and kept Deng along with the promise of being a playoff team. They gave the Bulls their best chance to maintain a level of consistency and competitiveness during a most difficult time. They made a judgment as conservative as a gray suit that fit their organizational philosophy.
They made the draft as monotonous as possible.
Sure, it might have been fun to show up at the Berto Center and be surprised by more than the high quality of the catered meal. It might have been exhilarating to hear Bulls vice president John Paxson or general manager Gar Forman explain how they packaged Deng and Joakim Noah with a first-round draft pick for Magic center Dwight Howard. Or try to beat deadline breaking down a blockbuster deal for Pau Gasol.
But, remember, this is the Jerry Reinsdorf team not known for its bold transactions. This is the Bulls, who again wisely and predictably chose prudence in the first draft of the second phase of Derrick Rose's career. The safe path is well worn in the Bulls front office.
"Were we actively shopping our players? Absolutely not,'' Forman said. "Are there conversations? All 30 teams have conversations. But we like the core of this team and it's our job to continue to put pieces around Derrick. Continue to trend up.''
Picking Teague won't change NBA standings. He will provide backcourt depth in light of Rose's knee injury and C.J. Watson's likely exodus. That's something. For this draft, that's enough.
"He gives us another guy who can break defenses down,'' Forman said. "He has a very, very high ceiling.''
Anybody ever remember being warned of low ceilings on draft night?
You know an NBA team isn't where it wants to be when a draft matters as much as this one did to the Bulls. A year ago when the Bulls landed Real Madrid forward Nikola Mirotic, Chicagoans knew we had until probably 2013 to learn how to pronounce his name. When the Bulls took Marquette wing player Jimmy Butler later in the first round, coach Tom Thibodeau gave Butler a handshake and a redshirt. A year later, the draft generated genuine anticipation because the Bulls had a real need Teague helps fill immediately.
In holding onto the pick — and Deng, Noah or any other trade bait — the Bulls resisted the temptation to blow up their $63 million nucleus. When you examine the Eastern Conference, you understand why.
After Teague's former college teammates Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist went in the first two picks, I wondered how many teams in the East could have beaten Kentucky. The conference was that bad.
If Rose comes back next March and Deng returns to form in January from wrist surgery, which playoff team can't the Bulls beat? How many non-playoff teams appear on the cusp of something special?
The Bulls still have more inside depth than any team in the East and an established defensive identity. They likely will lose key Bench Mob members Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and Watson but return veteran starters who know how to play together better than all but one team in the East.
The 2014-15 season realistically represents the next shot the Bulls have to make enough changes to unseat the Heat but, until then, the Bulls still can put a team on the floor capable of going deep in the playoffs.
Yes, the goal remains winning a championship. But maintaining a level of competitiveness that permits the Bulls to win playoff series keeps them closer to that goal than tanking the next two seasons. The organization with six NBA titles possesses too much tradition and pride to sacrifice winning intentionally for the sake of the lottery.
The Bulls endorsed that idea during this draft by their actions — but mostly by their inaction.
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