Despite the decision for the number one pick being the worst kept secret in the NBA, college sensation Zion Williamson was still overwhelmed when the New Orleans Pelicans opted to take him first at the 2019 draft.
If the Bulls could accelerate as quickly as their most dynamic addition, the past would be quickly forgotten.
Zach LaVine in semi-transition is a sight. He dribbles at pace, somewhat under control, somewhat out of control, head smiling and bobbling like a diet soda invigorated 17-year-old playing ‘Call of Duty’ at midnight, about to take down some bodies.
He’s ominous and then he’s everything. ‘Quick’ becomes ‘wait, what the…’ and LaVine has turned the corner, found the gap, and now he’s rising. As soon as he has his lane and his path that need not be so clear, he ascends, full of fury and grace.
LaVine in flight, and mainly LaVine the moment just before flight, is electricity – something the Bulls haven’t had since another rim-attacking all-world athlete scoring guard fell down on one of those drives.
Since that pivotal day against Philadelphia in the playoffs – a day that irrevocably altered the future of one of league’s marquee franchises and marquee superstars – the Bulls have been living in a bleak house.
Chicago spent four years Waiting On Derrick – waiting for him to come back and then waiting for him to be the same again. Their teams were constructed to be given a final, fateful push forward by a saviour, but the saviour had a bum knee and wasn’t walking through the door with a cape on – he could only stumble through with a grimace and a brace.
From the perspective of a Sacramento, Orlando or Phoenix – teams that haven’t sniffed the playoffs for a while – Chicago’s plight might not have seemed so bad. They were still making the playoffs, after all. But the Bulls malaise was, somehow, so much worse than the one that still afflicts those teams.
It’s one thing to be irrelevant all the time – it’s another to have relevance cruelly snatched away from you; to be told to hang onto the railing for dear life because help is coming, only to realise that it isn’t, and then be forced to let go.
The emergence of Jimmy Butler provided some respite, but as magnificent as Butler is, providing some respite might be his truest ceiling. After two seasons of holding onto that railing – the railing known as ‘A Rajon Rondo injury crippled our playoff chances’ – the Bulls finally let go over the offseason.
And they were laughed at on the way down. They traded Butler, a borderline top-ten player in the game, for a one-way scorer with a torn ACL, a 23-year-old development prospect, and someone from Finland. That it was the Bulls throwing in another first-round pick into the trade instead of the Wolves seemed like a typing error.
Minnesota has no regrets about the trade today but neither should the Bulls. That 23-year-old, Kris Dunn, looks capable of being a starting point guard in the league. Lauri Markkanen, despite looking like a kid who should be ripping tickets at some quiet cinema in Helsinki, has a stroke as pure as anyone’s, a liquid release that has proven a lot more versatile than anyone expected.
LaVine, though, has been the headliner of late, even if he’s the most one-dimensional of the three. He doesn’t understand defence, he makes horrible decisions, and he settles for atrocious shots. But still, he is special.
His athleticism is transcendent – the burst extra-terrestrial, the rise similarly inhuman. The elevation is multi-faceted, just as captivating going for a dunk as it is getting an absurd, almost impossible amount of lift on his jump-shot. Why won’t he be better than Andrew Wiggins?
That LaVine’s greatest show yet coincided with Jimmy Butler’s return to Chicago was too perfect. It was billed as a revenge game, but really it was a catharsis.
The Bulls aren’t back – not even close – but the slate is clear, clearer than it’s been in years and years, and now, with a slew of young bodies ignorant of the past, they can start charging forward again.