Bulls off to a good start in race for NBA’s worst record

This is what Chicago Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson meant when he said at the start of training camp the wins and losses will take care of themselves.

The past week for the Bulls featured a couple of close losses where they couldn’t get it done down the stretch, a night when the visiting Indiana Pacers were determined not to mess up a winnable game, then a tough back-to-back at San Antonio that ended in a thorough 39-point defeat.

This is what rebuilding looks like and what Bulls management expected to happen when they traded all-star Jimmy Butler to Minnesota.

As everyone knows, landing a top-five pick in what is expected to be a loaded 2018 draft is basically the Bulls’ top goal right now.

So far, so good, with a 2-9 record and a trip to Oklahoma City looming Wednesday. The Bulls are clearly on the short list of the NBA’s worst teams, but what happens when trade centerpiece Zach LaVine returns from ACL surgery? If things continue to go well, LaVine could make his Bulls debut next month.

It’s still early, but here’s a scouting report on how some of the other bad teams compare, with records through Saturday:

Atlanta (2-11)

When the Hawks visited the United Center on Oct. 26 (and lost), coach Mike Budenholzer wouldn’t admit his team was rebuilding, but just look at the roster.

Atlanta has bid farewell to Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, Dwight Howard and Tim Hardaway Jr. in the past 16 months. Their best player, point guard Dennis Schroder, has played in 11 of the 13 games. So this is clearly a team determined to lose. The threat is real.

Dallas (2-11)

This is a strange case because the Mavericks were trying to carry 39-year-old Dirk Nowitzki to the playoffs when they signed Wesley Matthews and Harrison Barnes the past couple of years. Instead, Dallas has been terrible and promising rookie Dennis Smith Jr. (14.8 ppg) hasn’t been able to help win games.

Mavs owner Mark Cuban didn’t become an internet billionaire by being stupid. He knows this is a lost cause, so as much as Cuban says he hates the idea, a full-fledged tank seems likely.

Sacramento (3-9)

The Kings sold this season as a rebirth centered around young players such as De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield — basically a bad team to get excited about.

This group will be overwhelmed often against Western Conference competition, but Sacramento did grab a couple of veterans this summer in Zach Randolph and George Hill. Right now, they appear better than the Bulls, but that could change.

Phoenix (5-9)

No team started worse, with a pair of 40-point losses in the first three. But since firing coach Earl Watson, things have picked up in Phoenix. The Suns beat Minnesota late Saturday night.

Barring an injury to Devin Booker, Phoenix figures to finish ahead of the Bulls.

Brooklyn (5-9)

Nothing much to get excited about here, but the Nets have no incentive to tank since next year’s first-round pick has been passed from Boston to Cleveland. The good news is former Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell is playing well (20.9 ppg), so Brooklyn seems comfortably better than the Bulls.

Lakers (5-8)

People will pick apart Lonzo Ball’s .314 field-goal percentage like it’s the worst thing the league has ever seen. But the Lakers are not in the Bulls’ category, since they have useful veterans such as Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to supplement the young guys.

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