Robin Lopez is having a bad time. The Bulls are awful, and are presently mired in a seven-game losing streak, with two games left on their current Western Conference road trip. To add insult to injury, this week head coach Jim Boylen told Lopez he’d be seeing fewer minutes of court time as the team tries different front-court pairings; to double-up on the insult, some of those pairings will include Jabari Parker.
“I’m going to play some different people. We’ve gone Bobby [Portis]-Lauri [Markkanen], we’ve gone Jabari-Lauri, we’ll go Jabari-Bobby at some point, so those lineups don’t include him.”
Lopez is in the final year of a deal he signed with the Knicks back in 2015, before he was shipped to the Bulls in the Derrick Rose trade*. The Bulls were competitive and relevant back then, before the Jimmy Butler trade, but those days are long over, and Lopez is now closing in on his 31st birthday. He is not a factor in Chicago’s future plans, and so the right thing for the Bulls to do is to cut him loose so that he can catch on with a playoff team before he hits free agency this summer. And, lo and behold, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, there’s a certain Finals shoo-in over in Oakland that has their heart-shaped eyes on Lopez. Steve Kerr and Bob Myers are reportedly eager for Lopez to hit the buyout market, so they can scoop him up and slot him in behind DeMarcus Cousins down the stretch. That, my friends, is about as sweet a landing spot as there is in professional sports.
But there’s a problem. The Bulls are still in the crappy asset-collection phase of rebuilding, and since they also have no real incentive to shed salary, they’re happy to leak that they adamantly refuse to negotiate a buyout with Lopez, and bury Lopez on the bench, where the indignity of ceding minutes to Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker will surely corrode his brain. The official reason is that Bulls decision-makers “value his veteran leadership,” but the real reason is the hope that they can pry loose “at least a second-round pick” in a trade.
That Warriors opportunity isn’t going to last forever. The Warriors are reportedly “unlikely” to acquire Lopez in a trade, which means the longer the Bulls hold out for a decent trade return, the more likely the Warriors are to snatch up another eventual bought-out veteran. Lopez is trying to keep his cool about that situation—he acknowledged that the Warriors represent “an appealing situation for just about anybody in the league,” but until anything happens he’s trying “to stay focused on what’s going on in the present.” But Lopez had to briefly leave a chippy Bulls practice Monday to cool down after he had “a run in” with point guard Kris Dunn, and Boylen admitted Lopez’s anger might’ve had something to do with the bad news about his minutes:
Lopez politely declined to speak with reporters on Monday, but Boylen said Lopez told him his discontent stems from not playing as many minutes as he had in previous seasons.
“I’m going to play some different people,” Boylen said. “He has got pride and he wants to play, but he’s all for the team and he understands. You don’t always expect guys to be happy with their situation or their minutes or whatever.”
Lopez has a chance to play rotation minutes for a Warriors dynasty seeking a third consecutive championship, and instead he’s having his minutes chopped in a contract year on a going-nowhere, 10–33 Bulls team, so his Great Santini-ass head coach can throw more run at Jabari friggin’ Parker. I get the shakes even imagining that level of frustration. If Lopez finishes this season on the Bulls and doesn’t murder someone, he’ll deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.