Paxson pleased with young talent, knows it guarantees nothing

Bulls VP John Paxson and GM Gar Forman are in the second season of their rebuild project.

CHICAGO — The Bulls had a record of 27-55 in 2017-18, the first season of the team’s rebuild project after they traded star forward Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Everyone in the organization knew the Bulls were going to be putrid after moving Butler. The franchise acquired Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and the draft rights to Lauri Markkanen in the Butler trade and all three players appear to have promising careers ahead of them.

The Bulls’ vile 2017-18 season netted them the seventh overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft. They drafted Duke big man Wendell Carter Jr., who had a solid summer league and will be an immediate contributor in his rookie season.

Carter Jr. finished summer league with averages of 14.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.6 blocks, shooting 55.1 percent from the field. He showed great patience and footwork while operating in the post and will add rim protection to the Bulls’ defense.

Now that LeBron James is out of the Eastern Conference, many teams in the East believe this is the time to take risks and make a run, and it appears that’s what the Bulls are doing.

The Bulls signed Chicago native Jabari Parker to a two-year, $40 million deal. Parker has suffered two ACL tears, which is why the second year of Parker’s deal is a team-option.

Essentially, Parker is getting a one-year tryout with his hometown Bulls and the hope is that he can stay healthy and be productive for Chicago at the small forward position. In 31 games in 2017-18 with the Milwaukee Bucks, Parker averaged 12.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists while shooting 48.2 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three.

Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson is pleased with how things have turned out since the Butler trade, but knows the young talent the team has on its roster doesn’t guarantee future success.

“We’re really pleased, but it guarantees nothing and we’re not saying it does,” Paxson said. “It’s hard to win at a high level with young players. But the point I keep going back to is when we made the deal for Jimmy, we said we wanted to get a jump-start on the rebuild. We did that in the deal and we’ve quickly added three other pieces to that. It’s exciting.

“This year, a lot of our success will be determined by how big of a jump Zach, Kris and Lauri make. We knew that going into this offseason. Now you add Jabari, Wendell and Chandler [Hutchison] and you feel like you’re making some progress.”

LaVine played in 24 games this past season after missing majority of the year recovering from left ACL surgery and averaged 16.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists, shooting 38.3 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from 3-point range. The high-flyer signed a four-year, $78 million offer sheet with the Sacramento Kings, but the Bulls matched it hours later.

Dunn, the Bulls’ starting point guard, averaged 13.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 6.0 assists, shooting 42.9 percent from the field and 32.1 percent from three. He has been at the Bulls’ practice facility all summer working on his game.

Markkanen is the player every Bulls fan is excited about seeing in year two of the rebuild. During his rookie season, the stretch forward exceeded expectations and made the All-Rookie first-team by averaging 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds.

The Bulls can throw out a starting lineup of Dunn, LaVine, Parker, Markkanen and veteran center Robin Lopez. The top teams in the East this season will be the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers. After that, it’s a wide open race.

With such a talented, but young team, it will be fun to watch the Bulls play and see if they can sneak into the playoffs.