Gar Forman: Bulls don’t regret rebuilding in weakened Eastern Conference

Since the Bulls began a full rebuild with their June 22 trade of Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves, the Eastern Conference has gotten weaker.

But general manager Gar Forman said this — and never mind the persistent whispers that LeBron James will entertain moving West next summer — hasn’t caused regrets about the organizational decision.

"We look at it as far as what we feel we need to do," Forman said, answering a question about the Eastern Conference and not the James speculation. "You never know until you’re in somebody else’s shoes what’s going on. But I do know we feel really good as far as taking a step back and the direction ahead as far as rebuilding around these young guys and continuing to add to that."

The best way to add to that is with high lottery picks. Michael Porter already is being projected as a franchise centerpiece. But the more victories, the fewer chances at lottery pingpong balls. And the East could feature several victory-challenged teams.

"It’s always hard when you have had a level of success, and then you’ve got to take a step back and go in a new direction," Forman said. "We know it’s going to be a process and there’s going to be ups and downs within that process. But we think the trade gave us a step in the right direction, where we got three young players who we really like. And we continue to keep a great level of flexibility."

Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen are the three young players acquired from the Timberwolves. Since then, the Bulls have re-signed Cristiano Felicio, and on Monday they made official Justin Holiday’s signing to a deal one source said is for two years and $9 million.

"Length, athleticism, a guy who can defend on the perimeter and make a perimeter shot," Forman said when asked what Holiday brings. "We had him (in 2016) so we love what he brings to the chemistry of a team. He’s our kind of guy. He’s still somewhat young. He fits the direction we’re headed."

Photos from the Bulls’ summer-league games in Las Vegas.

Forman said he remains optimistic the Bulls will strike a deal with restricted free agent Nikola Mirotic and that no buyout talks have occurred regarding Dwyane Wade.

Sources confirmed the Bulls pursued Kelly Olynyk before he signed with the Heat, and his addition would’ve meant duplication with Mirotic’s skills. It’s clear the Bulls are holding firm on their number for Mirotic, who may need to secure an offer sheet from another team to get his desired salary.

"We want Niko back and we think Niko wants to be in Chicago," Forman said. "Usually when you have those two things, at the end of the day there’s usually a way to get something done."

Regardless of what final shape the 2017-18 roster takes, gone are the days of Eastern Conference contention. Player development, not playoffs, is the focus.

Asked if he’s aware of some of the fan disdain for management and skepticism it can pull off a rebuild, Forman didn’t bite.

"We have great, great fans. … One of the pluses in being in Chicago is that they’re very passionate about the Bulls," Forman said. "The big thing for us now is to integrate these young guys, continue to develop the young guys we have from the previous year. Continue to keep a level of flexibility where we can add assets, whether it’s via trade because of the cap room or the flexibility that we have.

"We have a $15 million trade exception with Jimmy. And we’ve all seen where last year there was a (salary cap) spike, there was a huge bump and a very active (free agent) market. I think we’re seeing the market suppress some this summer. And I think as we go into next summer as the cap is flattening, the ability to have young players, develop those young players, have flexibility in order to add assets, and then draft picks will get us a step up in trying to go forward."

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