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Bulls Drafting of Patrick Williams Brings Questions, Cautious Optimism

When you have the fourth pick in the NBA draft, you dream about landing a superstar. Michael Jordan was taken third, afterall. So Chicago Bulls fans were hoping, praying this time that maybe LeMelo Ball would fall to them.

He nearly did. But instead, after Ball went third, the Bulls picked an award-winner: the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Sixth Man of the Year. That’s right, the Bulls took Patrick Williams.

He did not make the starting lineup at Florida State.

Bulls fans are going to have to decide how they feel about this because I can tell you with all certainty that the experts have no idea whether Williams will flash or fail.

I like the pick. And this is why: it was not made by former longtime Bulls’ braintrust John Paxson and Gar Forman, and Williams will not be coached by Jim Boylen.

That’s not meant as snark. It’s all a matter of faith for me, and it has to be for Chicago, too. There was no way to have any faith that the Paxson/Forman group was going to get it right.

And when the Bulls finally swept them and Boylen out and replaced them with top decision-making exec Arturas Karnisovas, GM Marc Eversley and Coach Billy Donovan, it was a ray of hope for Bulls fans.

You have to give them time to do things their own way. And that’s what Williams is. He’s a project. He’s 19 years old and by all accounts, tough, athletic and versatile.

“The more study you do on Patrick, the more you realize that this is what the NBA is today,’’ Karnisovas told reporters on a Zoom call. “We need players in our league that can play multiple positions.’’

Williams is a project. He fits into a new system, and it’s anyone’s guess how he’ll turn out. But Donovan has a history of developing players.

Karnisovas is in charge now. He came to Chicago from Denver after receiving multiple offers and revamped the entire Bulls operation — execs, coaches and scouting. It’s something the Bulls have needed ever since Jordan left, to stop hanging on the MJ days.

For years, Paxson, the former Jordan championship teammate and Chicago sports hero himself, seemed like an umbilical cord to the dynasty. He could never bring himself to bottom things out and start over.

So at one point, the Bulls decided to go young but then went on to sign old men Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. The franchise has gone through one odd coaching hire after another, too.

There have been so many new changes of directions over the years, starting with the Eddy Curry-Tyson Chandler experiment, when both were taken out of high school. They developed into decent NBA players — Chandler better than that — after the Bulls gave up on them.

The Bulls did have hope with Derrick Rose until he blew out his knee. But other than the Rose era, it never felt as if they were actually building anything. They were flailing.

For decades, they’ve needed to clean house and start all over. Now they have, and Bulls fans can look to the future with optimism. 

That’s how it looks to me. But Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf has an iffy record of hiring coaches and front-office types, whether on the Bulls or his other team, the White Sox. So what makes me so sure he got it right this time?

I’m not sure. It’s faith. And it’s that the umbilical cord has finally been cut. 

Karnisovas was an outsider who was not in position to make the final decisions in Denver. He, Eversley and Donovan could all bomb out, too, though Donovan has proven himself and is still in his coaching prime.

The NBA is changing and is now calling for players who can compete at any position. The new Bulls system thinks Williams is the fit.

Twenty two years since the Bulls dynasty ended, the post-Jordan era finally, truly begins.

Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in RollingStone.com and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for CNN.com/Bleacher Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.

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