By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Save for Bobby Portis’ fist breaking teammate Nikola Mirotic’s face two days before the regular-season opener, the start of the Bulls’ rebuilding process has gone mostly as hoped.
There have been many losses contributing to ping-pong ball accumulation, with the Bulls sitting at 2-7 entering a contest against the Pacers on Friday night. The offense is hoisting 3-pointers at a rapid rate, bringing to fruition the playing style that coach Fred Hoiberg has envisioned. Rookie big man Lauri Markkanen has proved he’s a player with a bright future, opening eyes across the league in averaging 15.8 points and 8.2 rebounds.
And most notably in the mind of team president and chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf, the Bulls are setting the foundation for a the desired culture by competing hard. Reinsdorf made that point Friday afternoon during a rare media session while on hand at the United Center for the NBA’s announcement that Chicago will host the 2020 All-Star Game.
“We’re only a few weeks in,” Reinsdorf said of the Bulls’ rebuild. “Lauri’s playing really well. So far we’re happy. When Zach (LaVine) comes back, that’s going to be a big indication. Kris (Dunn) just came back from an injury. We have to see, but right now, we’re happy. The team is playing really hard. Fred’s got them playing really hard. It’s not going unnoticed.”
Reinsdorf prefers to leave basketball analysis others, but his voice carries great weight as his influence has grown in recent years with his father and team chairman, Jerry, staying out of the spotlight and day-to-day matters. Reinsdorf acknowledged he has kept his ear attuned to how the Bulls’ rebuilding project has been received.
“There’s certain sports writers in this city that have written actually positive articles about the way the team is playing right now,” Reinsdorf said. “I can look to the Chicago Tribune and the Sun-Times, hopefully the fans will start to take notice. Because we know this isn’t necessarily about wins and losses this year, but we do want to make sure the team and the players are trying their hardest to win games and giving their best effort. Because that’s kind of the mentality the city of Chicago has and the fans – work hard and let’s see what happens. As far as the rebuild, the Cubs did a great job with their rebuild, the White Sox are in the midst of their rebuild, and I think the fans understand that’s kind of the nature of sports.”
One catch that changes the dynamic of the Bulls’ rebuild surfaced in late September, when the NBA approved lottery reform that disincentivizes tanking by reducing the odds of the three worst teams of receiving the No. 1 pick, evening them out at 14 percent apiece between those three while increasing the odds of clubs below that.
The Bulls were one of the 28 teams that approved of the lottery reform, which starts with the 2019 draft. Asked for his thoughts about the reform as the Bulls project to be among the league’s worst for several seasons and aim to add stars through the draft, Reinsdorf initially responded “next question.” He then added that the issue was important to commissioner Adam Silver, so it was important to the Bulls as well.
The Bulls viewed it through the prism of “what’s good for the league,” Reinsdorf said. So too did Silver.
“Draft lottery reform was important to me because I think our teams were going down a path where even if they didn’t think that a perpetual rebuild was ultimately the right strategy for winning a championship, there seemed to be enormous pressure on them from their fans and other people in the basketball community as if that were the only way to build a team,” Silver said. “It felt to us, at least with the existing odds for the first, second and third pick, that it was almost too tempting to exclusively seek a rebuilding strategy as a way to build a championship team. So we changed the odds.
“It’s not the first time we’ve tinkered with the draft lottery. We’ve changed the odds before. We realized when you change odds, those odds have to go somewhere else. It’s kind of a zero sum game. I don’t think it’s the perfect system yet. But drafts by definition aren’t. What I learned at the University of Chicago is we’ve put incentives on their head by rewarding the worst performing teams with the top performing picks. But that’s just the very nature of drafts. I’m pleased that we’re going to be changing the odds for next year. It’s a compromise of sorts. But I think it will appropriately focus teams on winning, which is first and foremost what they should be doing.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.