Bulls Bench Robin Lopez, Justin Holiday in Tank Job

robin-lopez-justin-holidayThe Chicago Bulls will bench starters Justin Holiday, Jerian Grant, and Robin Lopez for the immediate future. Meanwhile, Cristiano Felicio, David Nwaba and Cameron Payne will be playing serious minutes.

They’ll join Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen as rotation players who are ushering in the Bulls’ youth movement.

Executive vice president John Paxson announced that the team wants to get a better look at some of its younger players over the last 25 games.

“You can’t play 12 guys in our game. Nine or 10 is the most. And it’s just the position we’re in as a young team, with a lot of young guys and several who we haven’t really had the chance to see play much this year,” Paxson told the Chicago Tribune.

“For us to make the proper evaluation in terms of who fits us moving forward, this is something we have to do.”

Felicio and Nwaba will be in the starting lineup alongside Dunn, LaVine, and Markkanen. And Paxson said that these players will see “sufficient time” in the future.

Payne will also play more minutes, backing up Dunn at point guard. Meanwhile, Grant, Lopez, and Holiday are going to see their playing time reduced moving forward.

“Having played, I was out of the rotation several times. I know what it’s like to be asked to take a lesser role,” Paxson explained. “Players have pride. So it’s hard. I don’t take that lightly at all.

The VP added, “But we have to look at the big picture. And that’s what we’re doing. It’s not easy as players. But one thing I’ve been impressed by with this group all year is they’ve bonded together, they like one another and they support one another. I don’t see that changing.”

Paxson Points to Portis and Valentine as Perfect Examples

Paxson is using Bulls rotation players Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine as examples of what can happen when giving young players more minutes. Both have become important cogs in this year’s squad.

Felicio and Payne could really use the chance to show what they can do. They’ve fared poorly in limited playing time so far.

“What you hope for from a player standpoint is they gain some confidence in who they are, get comfortable on the floor and play well. I still think we have a lot of really good young talent,” said Paxson.

david-nwaba-bulls“I think the exciting thing for us is for the first time we’re going to have a healthy Zach, Lauri and Kris. They’re obviously the core.”

LaVine is still working himself back into the same player he was with the Minnesota Timbersolves. The young combo guard tore his ACL last season, but has looked good so far in restricted minutes.

Paxson is talking to the team’s medical staff about LaVine playing more. He’ll no longer be on a 20-minute limit, but head coach Fred Hoiberg will still be “smart” with his minutes.

Payne has been banged up too, undergoing surgery for a bone in his right foot back in September. Now Paxson would like to see how he handles more minutes.

“Especially when you’re running with the second unit and the way Fred wants to play, play with pace, defend your position, compete every night and stay within yourself. His role is to get us into offense quickly and efficiently and make the right play with the ball. You don’t want to be a high turnover guy.”

Paxson added, “He got some G League games in, which was helpful for his conditioning. But he hasn’t played basketball for a long time. And just as we talked about with Zach, there are going to be some ups and downs.

“Guys have to play through mistakes. But Cam has to run our team. We saw once Kris Dunn got his confidence and swagger back, he did a great job of running our team. That’s what Cam has to do in a backup role.”

Bulls are Tanking at This Point

Chicago exceeded expectations prior to the All-Star break. The team traded starting shooting guard Jimmy Butler in the offseason, bought out veteran Dwyane Wade, and let Rajon Rondo walk.

They made it clear that the team wasn’t planning a serious playoff run. But the Bulls played well when Nikola Mirotic (since traded) returned from a face injury.

At 20-39, the team is no longer competing for anything substantial. So it only makes sense to tank for a better draft pick and see what other players can do.

Hoiberg has done a good job of embracing the rebuilding effort this season. But he’s also had to take instructions from upper brass about whom to play.

“I understand where we are right now as an organization. From my standpoint, it doesn’t change our approach,” explained Hoiberg.

“And that’s the important message to our players. We have to have great practices and great competition and play extremely hard once we step on the floor. We’re going to try to put a game plan together to give our team an opportunity to compete to win. That doesn’t change.”

Chicago will hope to turn their tanking into something productive in this summer’s draft lottery. Last year, they got an excellent pick in Markkanen, a 7-footer who’s adept when shooting both inside and outside.

Chicago Bulls Odds

If you’re interested in betting on Chicago, you can find Bulls odds here. But just keep in mind that they’re an unpredictable bet right now, thanks to the young players they’ll be starting.