For the past 15 years, the Eastern Conference had the luxury of simply treading water in their sub-par playoff runs, waiting for LeBron James’ tenure in Cleveland to end. While many Eastern Conference teams made the playoffs including the Bulls, these teams would have been on the outside looking in if they played in the Western Conference. That reality announced itself over the last 8 years, with James going to every NBA Finals in that span, with the Western Conference Finals being better theater each year than the Finals themselves.
I can't believe it. After 15 amazing years playing in the Eastern Conference, LeBron James is going to the NBA.
— Mookie Alexander (@mookiealexander) July 2, 2018
Well Eastern Conference GM’s, the day is finally here. LeBron has left and taken his talents to LA where he will join a Lakers team that will try to make a run at the Warriors, Rockets, Jazz and more. So since he’s gone are you ready to compete for a title?
This question is one the Bulls need to answer, and need to answer right now. As much as fans never give the Bulls’ front office the benefit of the doubt, they had to see this coming right? Finally, LeBron James is gone, so with that logic, the Bulls should be ready to compete in 2018 correct?
Unfortunately, they are not.
As we look at the state of the Bulls, while their future has some promise with the trio of Markkanen, Dunn and now a handsomely paid LaVine, this rebuild should not be in year two but in fact should already be in year 4, where they would be the talk of the league, alongside Boston and Philadelphia as a young and exciting contender.
So excited to continue my career with the Bulls! Can’t wait to get back on the court with my brothers in front of the greatest fans in the world!! I’m grateful to be able to call Chicago home. Now let’s get this going! #BullsNation
— Zach LaVine (@ZachLaVine) July 8, 2018
Just as the Bulls were 5 years too late in signing Dwyane Wade, so too are they behind the eight ball in being ready for a post-LeBron Eastern Conference.
While Bulls fans can play the ‘coulda woulda shoulda’ game daily, there is merit to the idea that when the Bulls hired Fred Hoiberg, they should have cleaned house and started to rebuild, knowing that at 29 years old, LeBron would not be at his peak for much longer post 2018, let alone would he be staying in Cleveland for the remainder of his career, by understanding the outlook of the Cavaliers for 2018-2019 and beyond.
Knowing this, the Bulls had the ability to rid themselves of Pau Gasol, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and more, and if they deemed necessary to rebuild, trade away Jimmy Butler, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic, which they inevitably did. And if the Bulls wanted to keep Butler, they could have realized the career arc of LeBron, and built a young core to be ready to compete now, when LeBron would be out of their way.
— Forbes (@Forbes) July 5, 2018
Now that the Bulls have officially committed to the rebuild the pressure begins now. But, even without LeBron, the Bulls made their path towards the top of the Eastern Conference harder because of their lack of preparation. Philadelphia and Boston began their rebuilds on the correct timeline, and now are the premier contenders to square off against the best of the West in the Finals. They both developed their own, and ‘star-hunted’ as the Sixers like to say when acquiring elite talent.
Because of these teams, the Bulls suddenly cannot just ascend to the top as they continue to grow; they now have to somehow take down the Celtics and 76ers just to reach the Finals. John, Gar, was this in your plans?
Lakers aren’t the winners of the signing. Celtics and 76ers are. LBJ finally out of the East.
— Tye Richardson (@TyeSportsRadio) July 2, 2018
The Bulls seemed to be so out of touch with the rest of the league that by the time they deemed it necessary to rebuild for post-LeBron, two teams already beat them to it, and could be contenders for the next decade. Do you want to be the Indiana Pacers who from 1994-2004, reached the Eastern Conference Finals six out of ten seasons but could only get over the hump once (lost to Lakers in 2000 Finals) thanks to the Bulls, Knicks, Magic, Sixers, Nets and Pistons getting in their way?
Those Pacer teams were constantly chasing, and that’s what the Bulls appear to be doing right now. Could they strike gold with their young core and build towards a championship, of course they could. But history is not on the Bulls’ side.
Because the Bulls are playing catch up, they HAVE to get this rebuild right. As the Bulls enter the 2018-2019 season with eyes on the future, they must also realize they that they need to be leaders in building to contend for championships, instead of staying the status quo by simply competing in a watered-down East. They’ve done that for the last 2 decades, telling themselves playoff appearances, not championships are good enough.
The Bulls can’t just keep waiting for the best players of the Eastern Conference to jump to the West; they have to go on the offensive. And with the Bulls already missing their first portion of their contending window, they have their work cut out for them in the post-LeBron era.