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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Joe Cowley

Pelicans top Bulls in a tale of two rebuilds going in different directions

It’s almost a dirty word in New Orleans.

Rebuild? What’s that?

‘‘We’ve never talked about rebuild,’’ Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said Thursday. ‘‘The only thing we’ve talked about is taking our team and trying to have them play at the highest level that they could possibly play. The more they play together, the more comfortable they’ll get with each other.’’

On the other hand, talking rebuild is almost a way of life for the Bulls.

There was the first rebuild, which involved adding Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo and parting ways with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. The organization, however, doesn’t acknowledge that one as a rebuild.

Then there is the second rebuild, the one vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman embarked on after they traded Jimmy Butler in 2017.

Either way, two organizations that opted to trade an elite talent — the Pelicans dealt Anthony Davis to the Lakers last offseason — and start on the road back squared off Thursday at the United Center, hours after the NBA trade deadline came and went.

The teams are handling their current situations very differently, with one obviously doing a better job than the other.

Thanks to 21 points from rookie phenom Zion Williamson, the Pelicans manhandled the Bulls for most of the game in a 125-119 victory. The result dropped the Bulls to 19-34 and left more questions on a day Paxson defended standing pat at the deadline.

‘‘I said it earlier this year that we haven’t played as well as we all hoped we would,’’ Paxson said. ‘‘And that was when, outside of Otto [Porter Jr.], we still had a fairly healthy roster. Now the injuries have really hit us. We need to get those guys back and playing. Relevancy will depend on the growth of those guys, in particular Lauri [Markkanen], Wendell [Carter], Coby [White], Chandler [Hutchison]. We’re still in that position.’’

The Pelicans, meanwhile, are learning about life with the 19-year-old Williamson, who only seems be growing in legend.

‘‘It’s just a different vibe altogether with him,’’ Gentry said now that Williamson has returned from a knee injury. ‘‘The excitement that he plays with, the plays that he makes, I think people just like seeing it. I can’t explain it; I really can’t. It really is a phenomenon. … We get to a city at 3 in the morning, and there’s 25 or 50 people out there.’’

It’s a different vibe, to say the least, than the Bulls are experiencing, especially considering this is the first year of the Pelicans’ rebuild and the third year of the Bulls’.

‘‘We just look at it as we’re a great team, so we need to carry ourselves as such,’’ said Williamson, who also refused to call the Pelicans’ situation a rebuild. ‘‘We need to eliminate those small things we do in a game that kind of cost us because great teams don’t do that.’’

What do bad teams do? Sell hope over substance. The latest hope for Paxson is a healthy roster by the end of February, with the focus on making sure Markkanen is happy and used differently when he returns from a pelvis injury.

‘‘It’s our responsibility to help [Markkanen] become the type of player we believe he can be,’’ Paxson said. ‘‘We’ve never been told Lauri doesn’t want to be here.

‘‘It’s obvious he’s not had the type of year in terms of shot attempts that he’s had in the past. We communicate that. [Coach] Jim [Boylen] and I talk about it. Our staff talks about it . . . and we’ve addressed it with Lauri and his rep.

‘‘We believe in Lauri Markkanen. We’d never waver from that.’’

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