Michael Jordan, the greatest player in Chicago Bulls history, hasn’t been involved with the franchise since his departure in 1998.
But there’s no love lost between the current Charlotte Hornets owner and his longtime NBA home of 13 seasons.
That’s why when Jordan was asked about the Eastern Conference playoff picture in an October 11 interview with USA Today, he made sure to mention Chicago:
Well, it’s hard to knock out Milwaukee. I’m a firm believer that if you’re a champion, someone is going to have to knock you off the pedal. You got Brooklyn in the East. Miami has changed. You know, my old team Chicago made some big big changes, so they may compete in the East, as well.
Arturas Karnisovas and the Bulls’ front office made a slew of roster changes, including the dual sign-and-trades for guards DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball.
Still, even with the excitement that’s stemmed from three preseason games, it’s unclear how the Chicago Bulls stack up in comparison to the rest of the East.
But if the (debatably) greatest player in the history of basketball’s opinion means anything, then perhaps they’re bound for their first playoff berth in five years.
The roster certainly resembles such a cast.
But it’s got its weaknesses.
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Hollinger: ‘Bulls Have Only One Trustworthy Big’
The nature of win-now roster reshaping is a cautiously optimistic one, given what it takes to achieve the end result.
Take the deadline trade for Nikola Vucevic for example, which cost them two former lottery picks in Otto Porter Jr. and Wendell Carter Jr., and two first-round picks to boot.
Despite his All-Star status, the big man’s only under contract for this season and the next. That puts an increased pressure on the front office to put a winning product on the hardwood.
Chicago missed the playoffs last year, largely in part to Zach LaVine missing 11 straight games within the bounds of the COVID-19 health and safety protocol.
Arturas Karnisovas and the front office took the same approach to the offseason.
And their moves for Ball and DeRozan cost them an equal amount as the trade for Vucevic, if not even more.
John Hollinger, former General Manager of the Memphis Grizzlies, touched on (via The Athletic) the cost of Chicago’s win-now offseason in his season preview for the Windy City kids:
Chicago might have been a bit too quick to move on from him; the veteran big man is one of the league’s more underrated players, and minus him and Young, the Bulls have only one trustworthy big left on the roster.
Perhaps the former NBA executive is right, and the Chicago Bulls face a glaring weakness in the frontcourt rotation.
But head coach Billy Donovan may have already solved that problem with a new preseason rotation.
Alize Johnson at Center?
One byproduct of backup Tony Bradley’s absence from the Chicago Bulls’ preseason slate has been the team turning to Alize Johnson minutes at the center slot.
Head coach Billy Donovan touched on the development (via NBC Sports) after their October 11 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers:
These three games I have not noticed we’ve really gotten hurt with his size. There may be times we do. He’s in there and battles and fights and holds his own around the basket with anybody. You saw today he’s standing in the lane with a lot of big guys and he’s in there still coming down with rebounds and incredibly active.
Johnson finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds in the Bulls’ third-straight preseason victory.
And ironically enough, it’s a famous Chicago Bulls center who’s effort he’s trying to channel with his presence.
Johnson told the media as much (via NBC Sports) when speaking to them after practice on October 12:
His energy, competitiveness and just (being) a winner. Right now I’m trying to be that. When I go out there and rebound, I have a knack for the ball. I love to do it. It’s something that goes unnoticed on the floor sometimes, but it’s one of my strengths.
If the Chicago Bulls are to live up to Michael Jordan’s praise, it might take a form of basketball they haven’t seen since he last suited up in the black and red.
Alize Johnson doesn’t have to be Dennis Rodman, but aiming to replicate the Hall of Famer’s energy is a good place to start.