Despite being 20 games under .500, the Bulls are on pace to lead the league in attendance for the ninth straight season.
They don’t lead the NBA in stadium capacity (The Dallas Mavericks do at 102.9%) but the Bulls are still filling up 98.9% of the United Center on a nightly basis. Having the most fans per game is pretty awesome, but what does it really mean?
With this organization’s history, it’s a bit of a good news-bad news situation.
The good news is, through thick and thin, the city is going to support the Bulls. The organization has gone through so much over the last nine seasons, but the fans are still showing up better than any other fanbase.
Those attendance numbers do three great things for the organization.
- Puts money in the owner’s pockets, money that he can (and should) pour back into the on-court product
- Shows the players that the fans have their back no matter what. Couple that fan support with the perks of living in Chicago? Easy to convince players to stay
- A large, loyal fanbase is a great selling point for free agents
How could leading the league in attendance for nearly a decade straight be a bad thing?
What’s the incentive for the Bulls to try to build a championship contender?
Is that a bit hypocritical to ask about a team that just blew up a bad situation by trading their best player for three legitimate under-25 assets, then following that trade up by tanking in an attempt to land a franchise-changing talent in the draft? Maybe.
But this management group has had the chance to rebuild this roster four times now, and the first two rebuild attempts plateaued once a certain level of complacency was reached. It was only after their third rebuild, a one-year disaster experiment that featured Jimmy Butler and four other starters that couldn’t shoot outside of 15 feet, that management decided to completely bottom out in order to build a title contender from the bottom out.
Are John Paxson and Gar Forman sights really set on a championship, though?
They have acquired three players that could realistically lead a push for the playoffs as early as next season. They’ll have a top 10 pick this season, let’s say they draft a center that develops into a respectable starter. Add a true #1 guy to that group like Kawhi Leonard, or a #2 like Klay Thompson if Lauri Markkanen reaches his highest ceiling, then we’re talking contention.
But we know Jerry Reinsdorf has been loyal to a fault, his management team GarPax has seemed to pick up that habit from him when it comes to their draft picks. What’s stopping them from giving Bobby Portis upwards of $12M a year? Or Denzel Valentine $10M a year? If this front office values Cristiano Felicio at $32M over 4 years, what do they think Paul Zipser or Jerian Grant is worth?
If the Bulls throw that kind of money around at replaceable bench players than they’ll end up being stuck with a good-but-not-good-enough player like Harrison Barnes to compliment the young core.
When that happens, and the Bulls become the new Toronto Raptors of the East, Reinsdorf will be more than happy cashing his checks while GarPax spin us tales of playoff streaks as if that matters when the teams’ ceiling is an Eastern Conference Finals trip once every 3 years.