It’s finally over. The 2018-19 Chicago Bulls season comes full circle with a loss at the Philadelphia 76ers. Opening night saw them fall 127-108 on national television. Wednesday’s 125-109 defeat put a bow on a tumultuous 22-60 campaign. That record is the franchise’s worst since going 21-61 in 2001-02. It’s also five games worse than last year’s result.
A few major storylines determined Chicago’s fate. Injuries played a big role this season. Man-Games Lost indicates that Bulls players missed a combined 291 games due to injury. That number ties them with the Memphis Grizzlies for second-most in the league. In fact, the team was saddled with seven inactive players for the final seven games of the year.
The Bulls also made a few deals over the course of the season to bolster their lineup for the future. Otto Porter Jr. was the biggest acquisition. He was brought in via trade on Feb. 6 in exchange for Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis. They also dealt away Justin Holiday while waiving Omer Asik and Cameron Payne. Those moves made room for Wayne Selden Jr. (via the Holiday trade) and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.
Lastly, of course, there was a coaching change. The Bulls parted ways with Fred Hoiberg on Dec. 3, promoting Jim Boylen as his replacement. Chicago stumbled to a 5-19 start under Hoiberg, missing the services of Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis, and Lauri Markkanen for most of that span. Boylen stepped on the scene with a style of coaching that rubbed a majority of his players the wrong way. Still, he figured out how to lead them to a 5-7 record through his first 12 games.
Then, the honeymoon ended. The Bulls followed up that 12-game start by going 2-16. This stretch includes an 0-5 West Coast road trip. The Porter trade injected a little more life, as the team went 6-3 in his first nine games on the team.
However, the wheels would fall off again as injuries would eventually consume the entire starting lineup over the remainder of the season. Chicago closed the year on a 4-15 skid. By season’s end, the team was unrecognizable from the one that started the year. Only three Bulls that played in Game 82 had played in Game 1.
All told, the Bulls finished the season with a 104.5 offensive rating (29th), 112.8 defensive rating (25th), and -8.3 net rating (27th). Their 54.1 true shooting percentage ranked 28th in the NBA, while their 99.34 pace ranked 20th.
In terms of player impact, Markkanen led the team with 3.37 wins added on the season, according to BBall Index. LaVine — Chicago’s lone 1,000-point scorer — followed up with 2.75 wins added. Ryan Arcidiacono, in a team-high 81 games — provided 1.89.
Otto Porter came out as the team’s leader in Player Impact Plus-Minus (+1.92) and Offensive Player Impact Plus Minus (+1.86) in just 15 games in red and black. Rookie Wendell Carter was the Bulls’ Defensive Player Impact Plus-Minus leader (+1.59).
So with another rough season in the books, what is on the horizon for the Bulls? For one, all seven players that ended the season inactive (LaVine, Markkanen, Kris Dunn, Carter, Chandler Hutchison, Porter, and Denzel Valentine) are all slated to return next year. Hopefully, these seven will have a chance to finally play together and develop on-court chemistry.
Jim Boylen will also be back to roam the sidelines next year. President of Basketball Operations John Paxson spoke highly of Boylen’s work and has confirmed he will return. In fact, the front office is reportedly working out an extension to keep him in Chicago through 2022.
While the coach and most of the rotation is set, the Chicago Bulls sorely need some depth to assist that core. The point guard and frontcourt positions are in most dire need of a bench boost. Paxson indicated in his end-of-season press conference that the team will be looking in the draft and free agency for that help. There are plenty of players down both avenues that the Bulls should pursue.
In free agency, there are frontcourt options such as Anthony Tolliver, the Morris Twins, Ekpe Udoh, and Dewayne Dedmon. Meanwhile, at the point guard spot, Patrick Beverley, Darren Collison, and Ish Smith are worth a look. A 2011 Bulls reunion could also be doable. Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, and Joakim Noah are all free agents this summer. B.J. Armstrong, former Bull and Rose’s agent, says his client is open to the possibility.
Chicago also holds a pick in each round of June 20th’s draft. Where they pick has yet to be determined. May 14th’s draft lottery will decide the placement of their first round pick. A coin flip will determine their second rounder. The Grizzlies owned that pick, and their 33-49 record ties them with the New Orleans Pelicans and Dallas Mavericks. The coin flip truly decides their first round order. However, the inverse of the result will play out in the second round.
For now, the Bulls’ picks have the best odds of being 4th and 37th. According to Tankathon, this puts them in range to select the likes of Ja Morant, Coby White, Admiral Schofield, and Shamorie Ponds.
The 2018-19 Chicago Bulls season was a major step back in the rebuilding process. The injuries and instability proved to be too much. Moving forward, the team is looking to hunker down with the pieces they have. Seven of the top eight players and the head coach will be returning. All they are looking for this summer are a couple of new prospects and some veteran pieces to aid the team’s growth. After such a bad year, we’ll find out in time if the franchise is heading back in the right direction.