Bad news Bulls

In what’s been a well-documented flurry of moves this offseason, the Bulls have gone from faux Championship contenders that couldn’t even make the playoffs to a group of old, run down has-beens. What Gar Forman and John Paxson tried to sell as a move for the future (excuse me, what?) is really just a sorry attempt at trying to put butts in the seats with names like Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, and Robin Lopez in the starting squad alongside Chicago crowd favorites Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson. GarPax could arguably get a pass for last year’s disaster, since it seemed like the plan in hiring Fred Holberg was to get younger. Instead, they traded in parts for a used car – one that might get you halfway there before stalling out and breaking down.

The Bulls will not only fail to make the playoffs once again, but will fail to beat the Vegas over/under of 38.5 wins. You might be scratching your head saying “Hold up, hold up, D Wade just finally came home to Chicago, had a great year last year, we got Rondo who’s one of the best passers in the league, both have won championships, and we got RoLo, who’s an underrated defender, and we got new young talent like Denzel Valentine, Spencer Dinwiddie, Isaiah Canaan. Plus, we got Bobby Portis, Cristiano Felicio, and Tony Snell coming back. Finally, we have a couple shooters in Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic. How can you say the Bulls won’t make the playoffs much less win 39 games?” I’m glad you asked! Let me break it down for you…

Hoiberg’s Offense

If Bulls’ head coach Fred Hoiberg couldn’t get last year’s Bulls with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Pau Gasol to run an effective offense, he certainly won’t have any luck with this crew, who is hobbling on just as many bad knees. Hoiberg’s scheme works best with quick outlets and fast breaks, three-and-D shooters, and early screens to open up the floor. It requires agility and athleticism combined with sharp shooters. If what I just described doesn’t sound like the new version of the Bulls, it’s because it isn’t. Last year, the Bulls’ offensive efficiency was abysmal, ranking 25th in the league, and I have a hard time seeing it get much better this year with a slew of inexperience combined with guys in wheelchairs. McDermott will continue to shoot well, but Nikola still struggles with the pace of an NBA game and hits the three ball less than 40% of the time – not what you want to see from one of your supposed sharp shooters. The Bulls have reportedly encouraged Wade to shoot more threes, so let’s just put it this way: when one of your three-point threats is Dwyane Wade, you’ve got other issues you’re trying to hide.

Bulls Defense

The Bulls were unremarkably average last year. Their defensive efficiency ranked 15th in the league. It might make sense that the Bulls would get slightly better this year now that Pau Gasol is off the floor, replaced by Robin Lopez. However, opponents’ ORtg against the Knicks went up by 1.9 with Lopez *on* the floor, compared to Gasol, who made opponents 1.3 points *worse* when he was on the floor – a three point swing. Add to it Rondo and Wade, who allow 1.7 and an astounding 6.1 additional points for their opponents, respectively, compared to Derrick Rose’s poor, but not D Wade-poor, 4.1. The Bulls defense is in trouble. Expect their defensive efficiency to be in the bottom third of the league this year.

VORP (Value Over Replacement Player)

If the Bulls’ offense could overcome their imminent defensive struggles, then the team might fare okay and be about a break-even squad. VORP might be the one area you could argue that they’ll win some extra games, if you break down each star player that was dished compared to the one brought in: Pau Gasol ranked 17th in the league with a VORP of 3.5, as much as he was picked on last year, Derrick Rose: -0.7 (yeah, yikes), Joakim Noah: 0.6 – for a sum total of 3.4; whereas, Rajon Rondo: 1.9, Robin Lopez: 1.9, and Dwyane Wade: 1.6 for a total of 5.4. Multiply the difference in VORP (2.0) by 2.7 to achieve Wins Above Replacement and you might come to figure that the Bulls will win an extra 5.4 games this year, putting them at what would be 47 wins compared to last year’s 42, and enough for the playoffs. But that assumes no decline among Rondo and Wade who are both over the hump, and it also assumes one more massive and glaring problem that the Bulls have:

The (Not) Bench Mob

What bench does this team have? The Bulls have a rotation of about eight guys that they can sort of count on for 25-30 minutes. Butler, Rondo, Wade, Lopez, Gibson, McDermott, Mirotic (one, two, three…. seven) – make that seven guys that they can sort of count on. They *might* be alright for 30 minutes per game, but they’re going to get crushed for the other 18, and like Tom Thibodeau used to suggest: You have to play all 48 minutes if you want to win. Valentine, Walkup, Portis, Grant, MCW – they’ll have their moments, but they’re all going to need some time to grow and it won’t come together before the Bulls are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. If this team sees an injury to any of their main rotation players, which isn’t that unlikely considering their ages, then you might as well write this season off completely.

GarPax: If you’re going to break it up, tear it down. Instead, the Bulls broke it up and replaced it with crappier parts in an effort to limp into the playoffs for a first round exit.

The curious case of Rajon Rondo

When the Bulls’ season came to a conclusion last year, it was apparent that the days atop the East were numbered, at least with the players on hand. After the necessary departure of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, fans feared that Jimmy Butler was left to keep this inexperienced core from sinking until the front office could begin to rebuild. With the acquisition of Dwayne Wade, the Bulls secured short-term assurance that they wouldn’t simply be a struggling franchise. Perhaps the most crucial signing though, had happened a few days before Wade’s. At age 30, a 4x All Star, 3x NBA assists leader and 2x NBA All-defensive first team, Rajon Rondo is just another piece to the puzzle…for now.

Like he did alongside the NBA’s first modern “Big Three,” Rajon Rondo has shown that having the pieces isn’t always enough without someone to glue them all together. After averaging a career high 11.7 assists, 6 rebounds, and a double/double each game with the Sacramento Kings last season, Rajon Rondo has the opportunity to be the invaluable factor that binds the Chicago Bulls together.

Similar to Chicago’s last point guard though, the numbers are a façade to the struggles that have occurred throughout Rondo’s veteran career. There was the stop in Dallas, and it was nothing more, where Rondo’s back injuries became a synonymous term to describe his disagreements with head coach Rick Carlisle. Before that, there was an ACL tear that sidelined Rondo for nearly a year. It all equated to a quiet three seasons where one of the NBA’s once-elite point-guards’ resume didn’t change. The question has now become, did Gar Forman simply replace one decaying floor general with another?

While Rondo may be three seasons removed from an all-star appearance, he is also nearly four years removed from his ACL tear. More importantly, the pass-first leader is coming off a season where he matched his career-high in assists with a lineup that would be no step up from the one he’ll be a part of this year.

While Fred Hoiberg can do a few different things with this Bulls rotation, Rondo will have two all-star caliber players alongside him and some improving scorers in the mix as well. The question though, is whether or not it even matters. In Dallas, with Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis on-hand, Rondo seemingly had a passer’s delight. Yet coach Rick Carlisle, who lead the Mavericks to a title with Jason Kidd at the helm, decided that Rondo’s potential wasn’t enough reason to work through the negatives.

This Bulls team isn’t the Boston Celtics team that Rondo fit seamlessly into. With Dwyane Wade accompanying Rondo at the other guard spot, Rondo may not have the freedom and control he had with the Kings either. What will be afforded to Rondo is an offensive-minded coach who will have a flexible approach to try and fit his pieces together. That starts up top with the guards. While Rondo is one question mark in the lineup, his playmaking ability could help answer some of the other question marks that lie in Chicago’s big men and young players.

Ex-Bulls PG Derrick Rose said the Knicks were a “super-team,” while others contest that they may not even be a playoff team. In an era where the league is more saturated with talent than ever before, someone who can create opportunities is as valuable as ever. Similar to the Knicks, the Bulls are nothing more than an intriguing team until they can actually win games. Rajon Rondo can be the guy who elevates them from a promising team on paper to a winning team on the court. Until then, Rondo himself is only an intriguing player for this upcoming season.

With a team that struggled defensively and relied on rebounding in 2015-16, Rondo’s rebounding and defense can ensure the Bulls get their money’s worth. Rondo may still have star potential, but he’ll need to be a valuable asset in this lineup before he can have a shot to be anything more.

Stuck in a rut

The Chicago Bulls sit in one of the NBA’s most feared places; “Basketball Purgatory.”

The NBA is a weird sport in that we already know who is likely to make the NBA Finals, and know it now, even before a single team has played a regular season game. The Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers sit atop each conference and as a Bulls fan you ask yourself, where do I fit in?

The Bulls will finish in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference, sporting a team that would have been great in 2010, but one that cannot even scratch the surface of NBA glory in 2016. They will have their moments, and have a playoff run that mirrors the Ben Gordon Bulls run in 2009 against the Celtics or the Nate Robinson Highlight Reel in 2013 against the Nets, but will inevitably end with an early exit, giving way to the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Cavaliers once again.

This early pessimism is not how anyone wants to start the season, but the way in which Gar Forman and John Paxson have structured this team leaves little hope, and an uncertain future. The team has names in Wade, Rondo, Lopez and Butler, but besides Butler, all they are, are names.

Wade’s Chicago ties will fill the seats, Rondo will be electric at times, and Butler will always be your primary scoring option. But what happens after this year?

In the last 4 years, the Bulls have finished 5th, 4th, 3rd, and 9th in the Eastern Conference; in other words, “basketball purgatory”. While last year was nothing short than an embarrassing season, the three previous playoff teams could not get over the hump, stuck in the middle of the Eastern Conference. 

Because of these “bad” teams making the playoffs, the team has not been able to stockpile high draft picks and rebuild. They have continued to piece-meal the team together, and sell fans on the idea that Jimmy Butler and a supporting cast of Rondo, Lopez and of course Wade, will bring the team to the top. But everyone knows that is almost impossible to believe.

So the question becomes, are the Bulls committed to winning an NBA title? Or is the unsustainable piece-meal model, consistent revenue-generating approach acceptable to Bulls management, and therefore supposed to be acceptable to the fan base? The Bulls need to tear down and rebuild, but Bulls management would never cave to that reality. Instead, they have chosen to sell you on an aging roster, that again has the right names, but they don’t go hand and hand with the players they truly are.

In my eyes, the tear down would have begun by trading Jimmy Butler at the trade deadline or this past offseason. Butler has proven to be one of the biggest surprises (including being an All-Star) in the recent history of the Bulls drafts and because of that, he would have given you the most return as a trade piece.  By holding onto Butler, this team has not gotten any closer to competing for a title. While I am a fan of loyalty in sports in regards to players staying longer with the teams that drafted them, the Bulls have to be realistic and know that if and when they do become NBA contenders again, it will probably be after Butler has already moved on from Chicago. As long as he is there, they cannot move forward with both his large salary and his skill-set making the team just good enough to keep them out of the Top 10 in the draft. This team has to get younger and more athletic, which the front office has preached, yet they are now older and slower with the additions they made. Along with a departure of Butler, I am also still not sold yet on Doug McDermott nor Nikola Mirotic, and they too could have been prospect pieces sent away to stockpile draft picks, and take flyers on young developing players in return that could have been included in the deal.

I understand that unlike baseball and football, stockpiling draft picks is difficult in basketball. Just ask the 76ers. There are only two rounds to play with every year, and it is always a huge gamble. But as the Bulls front office, what do you have to lose? Use your biggest trade piece to build for a sustained successful future. The Bulls too often look at the current make-up of their team, when a well-organized organization would invest more into the future then a make-shift quick-fix solution for the now, with no guarantees.

The 1996 Spurs knew that an aging roster (and an injured David Robinson) would not allow them to be any better three years down the road, so what did they do? They tanked and drafted Tim Duncan and won the 1999 NBA Title and 4 more after that. The 1996 season (20-62) was the worst in its 50 year franchise history, but they have made the playoffs for the last 19 years ever since. So was that one awful season worth it? The Spurs and I would argue a resounding yes.

If the Bulls continue to follow their current model and don’t look at stories like the Spurs, they will have a very hard time scratching the surface to compete for a title in the near future. While the flashes may be there this year in a short playoff-run that management will enjoy due to ticket revenue, there is no development of young exciting players to make Bulls fans confident moving forward.

Rookie Denzel Valentine may turn out to be a nice compliment player, but with probable 5th place finishes this year and next, Rondo and Wade will be gone, and what do you have to show for it in 2018? It will be time again to sign another “Big Name” of yesteryear to sell tickets on a promise that only would have been valid 3 or 4 years ago when their new roster of Paul, Harden and Griffin is sold to the fan base.

The Bulls need a complete rebuild to sustain success moving forward but Bulls management seems too scared to do it in fear of losing money on ticket sales and fan interest for the current season.

Even if the rebuild takes a few years of last-place basketball to stockpile draft picks so be it. Staying in the middle of the pack will get this team no closer to competing for an NBA title.  More and more Bulls fans seem open to this idea. But, with a management team that tells its fans that 36-year old free agent-to-be Pau Gasol is part of the future of the team and will not be traded at the deadline, it leaves a lot to worry about in terms of the future of the franchise.

Hoiberg looks to get back to college roots in year 2 at the helm

Fred Hoiberg’s first campaign as a head coach was headlined by the Bulls’ mediocrity and Jimmy Butler’s sporadic behavior. This all culminated in a move that Chicagoans would never have even consider just a few years ago, the departure of Joakim Noah and more importantly Derrick Rose.

The departure of those two players really put an end to the Thibodeau era Bulls. Hoiberg was brought in to fix the Bulls’ offensive struggles, and he may now have those pieces in order.

The Bulls offense did not live up to its expectations last season. In fact, there was hardly a difference between their production in the final year with Thibodeau at the helm to the new regime of Hoi-ball. In the 2014-2015 season, the team averaged 100.8 PPG and an offensive efficiency rating of 104.7. Last year, the team averaged 101.6 PPG and digressed in terms of offensive efficiency with a rating of 102.1, which ranked 25th in the league.

The high-flying offense that was the Iowa State Cyclones from 2011-2015 was absolutely a product of Hoiberg’s style. Headlined by former Cyclone and current Indiana Pacer Georges Niang, the team mirrors the current Bulls roster. Obviously, the NBA is extremely different in terms of competition and talent, but that doesn’t mean that Hoiberg’s system won’t work.

The obvious comparison between the two rosters is Jimmy Butler and Georges Niang. Niang was a do it all player for ISU that Hoiberg built the team around and he found players that would complement his game well. The same can be said for Butler. He can score, pass, defend, and lead the team.

In addition to the Butler/Niang comparison, the “supporting casts” are also quite similar. Derrick Roses’ departure was no mistake. This is Jimmy Butler’s team, and Hoiberg wanted to find the Monte Morris type point guard that is in the NBA.

Rajon Rondo is arguably the best passing point guard in the league, so it only makes sense that the Bulls went after him. It all relates back to Butler and how the Bulls can bring out all of the skills he has.

We can talk about all of the comparisons to the Iowa State program and how the pieces are starting to fall into place, but there is one drawback that comes with this plan. The Bulls, unlike a lot of NBA franchises, never really like to be in the rebuild/restructure mode. This past season was the first time the Bulls did not make the playoffs since the 2007-2008.

Say what you want about Gar Forman, Jon Paxson, and company and about how they don’t connect with the players and coaches, but they do get results. I wouldn’t say that it is time to hit the panic button if the Bulls do underperform for the second straight season, but it would definitely start to raise some questions.

Again, the Bulls are not the Utah Jazz or the Minnesota Timberwolves. Success is demanded every year, and in a top market the Bulls should be demanding the best free agents on the market every off-season.

However, you can also stop and think that Hoiberg has all the leverage he needs. He is not the first coach in the league today that was hired straight out of a division one school. Brad Stevens was hired by the Celtics after coaching Butler, and we’ve all seen how they have turned out.

Stevens wasn’t the sole engine in the cog that is the Celtic’s organization, but as the head coach he clearly plays a role. It took the Celtics two seasons to get into the playoffs (2013-2014, 2014-2015). So, what does that tell us?

If Hoiberg does have a clear idea of what he’s doing, this team can make noise. The mountain to climb in the Eastern Conference is once again the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Bulls certainly will have a tough time trekking it.

This is somewhat the dawn of new era for the Bulls. They aren’t starting off with a clean slate by any means, but there are eight new players on the roster right now. That number will most likely shrink, but any past perceptions of the Bulls as tough and gritty team with the kid from Chicago is a thing of a past. I for one am excited to see how it will pan out.

The New #1 won’t do #2

It appears as if Bulls management is looking to steer into the skid.

In a move that would’ve been been met with intrigue back in 2013 when these two were first drafted, the Bulls shipped Tony Snell to the Milwaukee Bucks for Michael Carter-Williams in a 1-for-1 deal that had both fan bases thinking, “Why not?”

The Bucks are looking to replace Khris Middleton (who is expected to miss six months after hamstring surgery) with the clearance sale version of him in Snell. Meanwhile, the Bulls are continuing to show that the most backward thinking front office has not changed its ways.

I feel safe in saying that not many will feel Snell’s absence when the 2016-2017 season kicks off next week, as he was already lacking any significant playing time, but I struggle to see how this move benefits the Bulls in any way. I’m sure both clubs are thinking a change of scenery will do this duo some good, but nothing in their careers has pointed towards any evidence of this.

MCW’s biggest weakness is his three point shooting. He is a career 25% shooter from the outside and will be a nice complement to the starting point guard Rajon Rondo, a career 29% 3-point shooter.

This comes as no surprise to anyone who has followed this team in the offseason as GarPax continue to assemble the worst shooting team in NBA history while the league moves more and more in the space and pop direction.

Not only does it clog up the court when MCW inhabits it, it also clogs up the guard spot on the Bulls roster. The Bulls currently have four point guards in Rondo, MCW, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jerian Grant. While Grant will more than likely be cut, Dinwiddie showed flashes that made those who watched feel as though he could be a nice backup PG. He also has shown the potential to shoot the ball when in college at Colorado and is a big body that makes him a competent defender.

However, Bulls fans may never know what he has to offer in the regular season as he is not only stuck at PG behind Rondo and MCW but also at SG where he is behind Wade, Valentine, and more than likely Canaan. Say nothing for Snell, but at least the guy could play multiple positions.

All things considered, I don’t think this move greatly impacts the Bulls one way or the other , it’s just further evidence that GarPax are grasping at straws at this point and hoping to pull out a rose (pun sort of intended).


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