CHICAGO — Things haven’t gone as planned for the Chicago Bulls over the last few years. The franchise hasn’t made the postseason since the 2016-17 campaign, and since trading Jimmy Butler on the night of the 2017 NBA Draft, has opted to undergo a youth movement. Like any team that has put together a young core, there have been plenty of ups and downs, and while this year hasn’t quite gone the way some projected — the team is 19-36 and five games back of the No. 8 seed — there’s still plenty of talent that the Bulls can build around going forward.
Chief among these talented youngsters is Wendell Carter Jr., the second-year big man out of Duke who has shown flashes of being a building block for the franchise over the next few years. Nagging injuries that have popped up during his tenure aside, Carter has been a productive player in the Windy City, averaging 11.7 points and 9.9 rebounds in 30 minutes per game.
He’s hopeful that he’ll return from the ankle issue that has cost him the last 18 games immediately upon the team returning to action from the All-Star break on Thursday. But before that, Carter sat down with Dime from the Mitchell & Ness x GLD pop-up at All-Star weekend to talk about the Bulls, Duke, and more.
What does it mean to be part of a young core that’s trying to get the Bulls back to a championship level?
Definitely means a lot, knowing that Chicago is one of the greatest teams to be assembled in the NBA. Just to be a part of that culture means a lot, just shows that there’s high expectations here in Chicago. I’m just trying to do whatever I can to get that culture back and keep it here a long time.
Do you and the rest of the guys feed off of the energy that this city gives off when people are engaged and into basketball?
Yeah, some of the previous years when D-Rose was here and took them to the playoffs, I’ve talked to him, I’ve talked to other players that were on the team. They were telling us how much more involved the fans were when they were winning and how much love they got around the city — not saying we don’t get any love now, but who wouldn’t like their team even more if they were in the playoffs continuously, every year.
You have a really good vet in the frontcourt in Thad Young, what does a guy like that teach you as you’re getting used to life in the league?
Thad has been in the playoffs multiple years, he’s now been in the league, what, 14, 15 years, so he knows exactly what it takes. He’s been in my shoes, I just kinda pick his brain, a lot of stuff on the court, a lot of stuff off the court, financial things. Just pick his brain to try and figure out ways that I can be just as good or better, so I don’t make the same mistakes that he did.
What kind of stuff does he tell you?
The main thing, in terms of off the court, he always talks about saving money, keep stackin’, keep stackin’, but at the same time, enjoy yourself. On the court, he’s a really good defender, and that’s something I take a lot of pride in, too, he just teaches me other things on the court. He’s just showing me, trying to enlighten me on how I can better those things and become a better, more complete basketball player.
This is an interesting offseason for you because the past few years have been getting used to Duke as a freshman, the recruiting process, the draft process. This is the first offseason in a while where you could focus 100 percent on basketball. How’d you approach that without having to worry about all the other stuff?
I approached it like I’ve done all the other summers I’ve had, I’m just gonna come in and do my thing, focus on one area of my game that I know I’m gonna need to better myself, better my team, and I’m gonna try to make that a strength by the end of the summer. So, you know, one or two things, add one or two tools to the toolbox, and just keep pushing.
What are the one or two tools you really focused on?
Shooting, confidence, and consistency. Those are things I took a lot of pride in this summer, consistently hitting the three, top of the key, corner threes, things like that. And my post work, I feel I’m pretty solid, but with me missing so many games and things like that, I wanna make sure when I get back, I’m still fresh or even better.
Young guy in the league, go through ups and downs, learning about a whole lot of different things. Who are the people you lean on when you’re going through those downs that help you get through them?
Really my dad. My dad, unfortunately, wasn’t able to make it to the NBA, but he played professionally overseas at a pretty young age, so he kind of understands what I go through with me being injured and things like that. I definitely look to him for a lot of advice, and I look to my peers, the players that came in the same year that I did. We all go through our own different things. I reach out to some of my Duke boys I went to school with, ask them how they’re doing. We’re just there for one another any way we can.
That was my next question. I know Duke’s big on The Brotherhood, who are the people you keep in touch with the most and who are the guys you hit up when you need an ear?
Probably Gary Trent, he was pretty much my best friend before I even got to Duke. Marvin [Bagley] is a really, really good friend of mine, I talk to him all the time, talk to his mom and dad all the time, his little brothers. Pretty much everybody I was at school with — Justin Robinson, I think he’s in his senior year now, he was one of my good friends, showed me a lot of the ropes while I was at Duke. I definitely stay in touch with pretty much every player that was there with me.
How’ve you settled into Chicago? How’s the Windy City vibe rubbed off on you in 18 or so months of living here?
I figured out it’s very cold. Like you said, Windy City, it’s definitely windy, very cold. But other than that, I feel like it’s a really good city, lot of great eating spots, the people here are really good people. They say it’s like a clean New York, I can say that’s pretty accurate. I like it here.
We’re here at Mitchell and Ness in the GLD pop-up, how has being in the league helped you find and develop your own personal sense of style?
Now that I’m in the league, everybody in this league has money and are able to afford the things that they’ve always wanted if they’re into fashion. So just seeing other players and even coaches, their sense of style, their sense of swag, just trying to put my own little step on it and mimic whatever’s going on in the league.
Since we’re at Mitchell and Ness, they have throwbacks on throwbacks on throwbacks …
What’s the one throwback Wendell Carter has always wanted to own?
Talking about jerseys?
Yeah, doesn’t have to be basketball. Can be football, baseball, whatever.
I’d probably want a Michael Jordan jersey.