On the day of the trade deadline, the Chicago Bulls traded big man Taj Gibson, sharpshooter Doug McDermott and a 2018 second-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a package headlined by point guard Cameron Payne. It was widely for a player of Gibson’s caliber, but the acquisition of Payne was supposed to signify a shift toward getting younger and faster.
“When Cam came out in the draft, we were very, very high on him,” Bulls vice president John Paxson said the day of the trade, via the Chicago Tribune. “We had some real good discussion about even trying to get him in that draft. We see him as a young guy who will develop and get better.”
Less than a month later, Payne is not only out of Chicago’s rotation, but in the D-League. The Windy City Bulls announced Monday that Payne was assigned to the team.
To be clear: Going to the D-League shouldn’t be seen as a punishment, and it’s certainly not unusual for a second-year player. The issue here is that the Bulls’ decision-making process once again seems incoherent. Their guard rotation has been in flux all season, and Payne’s arrival hasn’t cleared anything up.
At first, Payne was backing up Jerian Grant, and he shared the court with fellow reserve Rajon Rondo, too. Michael Carter-Williams was in and out of the lineup, but mostly playing on the wing. Lately, both Grant and Payne -- the two young point guards who are supposed to have a future with the team -- have been getting DNP-CDs, with Rondo and Carter-Williams splitting all 48 minutes.
Point guard is not the only place where Chicago has been confusing. Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic, who have also received DNP-CDs this season, have had starts at power forward recently. Coach Fred Hoiberg appears to be trying whatever he can to find lineups that make sense as the Bulls desperately chase a playoff berth. They are in 10th place right now, a game behind the eighth-place Detroit Pistons in the standings.
Before Dwyane Wade was sidelined for the remainder of the season, about the constant changes and the dual goals of developing young players and trying to win as many games as possible late in the season. I guess if there’s a positive to all of this, it’s that it now appears that player development is not the priority -- if Chicago cared about empowering its young players, there’s no way Payne would be going down to the D-League.