The Bulls Saturday signed Milwaukee Bucks and onetime Simeon Career Academy star Jabari Parker to a reported two-year contract.
It doesn’t mean the Bulls rebuilding plan is or will be a success. But it does complete an extraordinary 13-month period in which the Bulls in an unusually short time now have in place five former draft lottery selections all under 25 years old.
It’s also not necessarily considered the conclusion of the Bulls personnel efforts.
But in a relatively short period of time, the Bulls will be able to feature a starting lineup that includes talented and celebrated players who were regarded among the best in the nation coming into the NBA, a lineup that fits with the modern NBA with tall and long armed players who are versatile and can play multiple positions.
Though all the starting positions are not yet finalized three months before the start of the 2018-19 season, the Bulls could soon present a lineup of:
Point Guard: Kris Dunn, 24, 6-4, 210. No. 5 in 2016.
Shooting Guard: Zach LaVine, 23, 6-5, 185. No. 13 in 2014.
Small Forward: Jabari Parker, 23, 6-8, 245. No. 2 in 2014.
Power Forward: Lauri Markkanen, 21, 7-0, 230, No. 7 in 2017.
Center: Wendell Carter Jr., 19, 6-10, 255, No. 7 in 2018.
Plus, the Bulls have in reserve young lottery selections like Denzel Valentine and Cameron Payne and first round picks Bobby Portis and Chandler Hutchison. The Bulls also bring back this season veterans Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday on the final years of their contracts. Thus the team presumably will have spending room under the salary cap to pursue free agents again next summer. Parker’s contract has been reported to be for about $40 million for two years with a second season team option.
It’s the kind of deal that gives the Bulls some insurance considering the initial fit may not be ideal with Parker often projecting as more a power forward. Though more so because of Parker’s major injuries, which have been two surgeries to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. It’s unprecedented for a young player.
Though Parker, whom Sports Illustrated featured on its cover while he was in high school as the best high school player since LeBron James, is unprecedented in his own right, a true scholar-athlete despite being a so called one and done player. Parker is a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) and vocal community activist who has spoken at anti-racism and anti-violence rallies and weighed in on the vital national social and political issues.
The Bulls, however, hired Parker for his basketball contributions, and both sides are hoping—and confident—they can be useful for this season and beyond.
Parker returned from the second ACL surgery to his left knee last February 2. He was limited to about 20 minutes per game and averaged 10.8 points. He averaged about 11 points per game in March with slightly more playing time. Then in April he seemed to break out with 35 points and 10 rebounds in 39 minutes against Denver and the closing the season against the 76ers with 25 points in 24 minutes.
Parker has been likened to Carmelo Anthony with his thick build, but Parker has played more in transition and less in the post as a power forward. Others said he played more like former Buck Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson. The Bucks attempted to have him become more of a post player alongside the lengthy Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Parker also seemed to be at odds with the Bucks at times since his second injury in February 2017. Parker talked about teammates questioning him when he spoke up at a team meeting after a loss when he wasn’t playing much, and there were questions about how he worked with former coach Jason Kidd. Parker supposedly was eager to return to Chicago and the Bulls.
Despite the strong finish to the season, Parker was benched to start the playoffs against the Celtics, scoring a total of two points in 25 combined minutes the first two games when Boston won. The Bucks then went to Parker and he responded averaging 17 points in about 30 minutes as the Bucks won two of the next three. He then scored nine points in each of the last two games as the Bucks lost in six games.
The Bucks had talked about a contract extension a year ago and there were rumors about a three-year deal averaging about $18 million. It seemed then the Bucks went in that proverbial different direction with the acquisitions of Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova. That placed the Bucks in a technical position under the labor agreement known as a hard cap. It severely limits future flexibility if the Bucks would match an offer. Plus, they would have had to release other players to do so. Thus, the Bucks in cooperation with Parker and agent Mark Bartelstein agreed to drop the qualifying offer that made him a restricted free agent and Parker become unrestricted. That meant he was free to accept the Bulls offer of estimated $20 million, which topped the Bucks highest annal offer.
The Bulls previously dropped their qualifying offer to David Nwaba to create more salary cap room for Parker and also had to remove Noah Vonleh, Paul Zipser and Julyan Stone from the recent Jerian Grant trade. Sean Kilpatrick also was recently waived. Plus, Omer Asik likely will not play until traded or released.
The short term length of the Parker contract suggests a preview for both the Bulls and Parker.
Parker is considered a more natural power forward, which is a position committed to Markkanen. Carter also could play the position with Portis considered a backup at both power forward and center.
But Parker also has shown versatility with ball handling and passing and with his size and strength still able to match up with and often dominate the thinner wing players.
Parker’s career averages are 15.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and two assists on 35 percent shooting. In his return last season, he averaged 12.6 points and 4.9 rebounds and shot 38 percent on threes. He’s not regarded as a high level individual defender, though most NBA teams now, including the Bulls, employ multiple switching defenses like disguised zones that can enable a lesser defender to compete.
Parker was second in the NBA draft that featured Andrew Wiggins first and Joel Embiid third. He was not regarded as a high level athletic player, but when he returned from his first ACL injury that occurred in his rookie season, Parker showed increased athletic ability in transition and much improved shooting. In his third season in 2016-17, he averaged 20.1 points and 6.2 rebounds and appeared with Antetokoumpo a forward twosome for the era. In a discouraging Bulls back to back set of losses to the Bucks in December 2016, Parker was dominant against the Bulls in frequently outracing them for baskets in a 28-point scoring game for him. The Bucks won the pair by an average of about 20 points per game as Parker and Antetokounmpo dominated Jimmy Butler and Dwayne Wade.
Parker was becoming one of the best young players in the NBA that month, averaging 22.4 points on 40 percent three-point shooting with athletic grace that many doubted for him. He averaged about 19 points over the next month with the Bucks drawing their most attention in years before Parker’s discouraging second ACL injury Feb. 8. It would be a year before he could be back on the court, and as teams have discovered not until the next season is a player more fully recovered.
Parker and the Bulls are counting on that being this season.
Parker has a strong faith from his Mormon commitment through his mother, Lola, who was from Tonga. His father, Sonny Parker, was an NBA player from Farragut Career Academy and first round draft pick for the Golden State Warriors in the 1970s and 1980s. He has been active in his South Shore Chicago youth foundation. Jabari recently has been understandably reserved with the media and public in going through a pair of difficult rehabilitations, but he has remained confident and optimistic.
“The thing that I’m going through is creating some type of greatness,” he told Sports Illustrated. “What better way to learn things than for them to be hard? This type of rehab, this type of journey that I’m living through right now, is necessary for my development. It’s trying to teach me that it can all be taken in an instant.”
He was considered coming out of the Chicago prep scene one of the more remarkable players of his era. He attended Simeon, where they won four consecutive state titles with him. Coach Robert Smith called Parker the best player he ever coached just a few years after Derrick Rose graduated.
“Jabari Parker is a once-in-a-generation player,” Five-Star Basketball talent evaluator Daniel Poneman told The Ringer about Parker as he was entering Duke. “His basketball IQ right now might be better than LeBron James’s [at 17]. He’s figured out how to dominate a game without scoring. He doesn’t care if he scores two points or 50 as long as his team wins. I’ve never seen anyone who wants to win as bad as this kid.”
Parker had been offered Division 1 scholarships by the time he was in fifth grade, but also never wavered from his commitment to the church and the community and being an animal rights activist as well. Simeon changed its Sunday practice schedule so Parker could always attend Sunday services. Parker scored 22 points in his Duke debut in one of the school’s best ever starts for a freshman and was the first freshman ever to lead the team in scoring and rebounding.
But then in quick succession came the injuries, the feared ACL tear and then another. It’s enough to end many careers. Parker showed flashes of excellence again in his return last season. He clearly wanted to come back to Chicago and believes he can return to a superior level of play. If he can, the Bulls may have a lineup image that is impressively coming into focus.