In the aftermath of the Bulls drafting Coby White seventh overall and adding Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky in free agency, there were no new developments on that front. Executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson expressed enthusiasm in limited public comments but was careful to not make any playoff proclamations.
Which is what made the comments from Bulls brass at their season-opening media day at the Advocate Center on Monday significant and music to the ears of many fans.
“Our goals for the season are to make the playoffs and every day to prepare like we’re a playoff team,” coach Jim Boylen said.
The establishment of this standard – however mundane a bar it may be in a league in which 53.3 percent of teams advance to the postseason – was notable. Because after two years of jostling for better draft positioning and stressing player development, the Bulls have acknowledged it’s time to judge them on an objective front: the scoreboard.
“We want to compete at a high, high level,” Paxson said. “We think we can compete. And when you compete at a high level, you have an ability to be a playoff-caliber team. And we set that as a goal. Jim talks about it, he’s not afraid of it, and our guys through their work have shown us that they want to make that commitment, so we feel good about that.”
Boylen was a driving force behind the playoff discussion. Publicly, he struck the right tone and displayed the disposition that ownership wanted to see after taking over as head coach last December, which is why he was awarded with a multi-year extension. Privately, Boylen was more impatient.
The front office and Boylen were on the same page in their desire to add veterans in free agency. Young was a player whom Boylen had long admired, and Satoransky has the versatility and basketball smarts that Boylen sought.
The Bulls’ acquisitions of players whom their head coach sought was a change of course from previous seasons. Former coach Fred Hoiberg had long desired players who could fit his pace-and-space system and better stretch the floor. He was given Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo in summer 2016, then saddled with Jabari Parker in summer 2018 in an experiment that failed.
“It’s not a shift,” Paxson said in explaining the difference in giving Boylen what he wanted but not Hoiberg. “In the past, we took a couple of gambles -- is the way I’d call it -- based on short-term contracts. That’s really what it was. This year, we had a little more room to look at longer-term. That’s all it is. Philosophies, we’ve always respected team-oriented, tough-minded guys. I don’t see that as a change. We took our circumstance and rolled the dice a little bit.”
Reaching the playoffs would mark a massive step forward for the Bulls. The eighth seed in the East has won 41, 43, 41 and 44 games in the past four seasons, so Chicago would need to nearly double its win total to earn a playoff berth.
To do so, the Bulls will need cornerstones Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen to shine and have better health team-wide. In that regard, availability has been a point hammered home by Boylen, with LaVine and Markkanen both declaring it their goal to play all 82 regular-season games.
“A lot has changed,” forward Otto Porter Jr. said. “I think the mentality of this organization changed. Since I’ve come here, just what we want to do here has changed. With that being said, I think everybody is on the right page. I think with all the talent that we have, we’ve come early to put in that extra work to get to know everybody, every new piece that is here, even in the front office. Because we want to do something special here, and I think it starts by coming together.”
Porter then shared a line that could be a mantra of sorts for the Bulls.
“New team, new mindset,” Porter said. “I think the playoffs is definitely an achievement that we want to accomplish, and with that you got to have goals. That’s one of our team goals. We know it’s not going to be easy.”