Here at DRosesAndThorns, we are obviously immensely enjoying the conference finals and looking forward to what will certainly be an entertaining finals match up, with the Spurs being a guarantee to showcase their System against whichever challenger emerges from the east (I’m quietly rooting for the Heat, only so that I can root against them in the finals). But for us Bulls faithful, the season has effectively come to a close. While there is still great basketball yet to be played, it is hard not to begin focusing on the season that is to come.
Before I dive in, let me give you a bit of background about myself. I spent 10 summers at an overnight camp in Wisconsin, seven as a camper and three more as a counselor. We used to do this nightly ritual, not unique to my camp at all, called Roses and Thorns. The exercise consisted of every kid in the cabin going around and talking about a low point of the day (thorn) and a high point from the day (rose). It was a great way to put the day in perspective, as the highs were always much higher than even the lowest of the lows, mostly because we were kids at summer camp, and how bad could a day really be? (by the way, I always thought it was kind of messed up to make kids talk about something that upset them right before they went to sleep. Just not sound logic). We here at DRosesAndThorns have decided to steal that format for our first two blog posts. I will be kicking things off with a more solemn outlook at what the future holds for the Bulls. Later, our very own Jake Weiner will weigh in with a more rosy outlook on the future.
I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to call this 2012-13 NBA season a “lost year.” The Bulls played the entire year without their best player in Derrick Rose, really the only player on the roster capable of creating offense off the dribble, unless you want to count Nate, who really is not a player to be counted on night in and night out. And even though Coach Thibideau managed to squeeze a top five defense out of a group that included a past his prime Kirk Hinrich, a tiny Nate Robinson, and Italian Stallion Marco Belinelli, no one who watched this team on a regular basis had any realistic hopes for a deep playoff run.
The real shame of this season is a waste of what was really a breakout year for Bulls center Joakim Noah. Jo averaged 11.9 points per game as well as 11.1 boards per game, both career highs. But that was not the most impressive career high that Noah managed this season. That distinction goes to the 4 assists he averaged a game this season, nearly doubling his assist average from last season. To get that type of play making ability from your center is a luxury rarely seen in the NBA. While Joakim’s statistical outburst can largely be attributed to Rose’s absence, it was certainly a treat to see him step up.
Unfortunately, Joakim also averaged nearly 37 minutes a game, a total that is completely unsustainable for a 7 footer, even a freak athlete like Joakim. Noah missed 16 games this season, due mostly to nagging foot injuries that plagued him throughout their brief, yet courageous playoff run. I can’t imagine that all those extra minutes weren’t somehow a factor in the numerous foot ailments that slowed down the wild haired animal.
And why was it that Joakim was playing so many minutes? This is a question that allows us to look into the off-season and the future. Noah was on the floor so much this year simply because the Bulls were unable to find a suitable backup for him this past summer. After letting Omer Asik walk in free agency to the Houston Rockets, the Bulls decided to fill his void with a prehistoric dinosaur named Nazr Mohammed. I can’t blame Nazr for knowing whether the chicken or the egg came first, but I can blame the Bulls front office and ownership for believing this was a suitable solution to the question of who should back up Noah.
This off-season promises to see a lot of roster turnover on the roster yet again, after losing key pieces in Asik, Ronnie Brewer and CJ Watson last season. Belinelli, Robinson, Mohammed, and the rarely seen Daequan Cook and Vladimir Radmanovic are all set to hit unrestricted free agency. There is also great speculation that the team plans to buy Richard Hamilton out of the last year of his contract after he was essentially and kind of inexplicably banished to the end of the bench in the postseason (ok not totally inexplicably he was playing pretty horribly. But holy shit they couldn’t have used him just a little bit?). All of these guys, except Hamilton, were playing on minimum one year deals, essentially rentals. The front office probably justified their bargain shopping assuming that Rose would miss the whole season, and therefore were unwilling to venture deep into the luxury tax with a roster that never really had a chance to challenge Miami without a healthy DRose. But how will they approach this new crop of free agents?
The obvious needs for this team are:
1. Outside shooting. The Bulls severely lacked a spot up threat this season after literally giving away Kyle Korver so that Reinsdorf could spend more money on the miserable baseball team that plays on the south side.
2. Backup point guard. Yes I know Hinrich is under contract for next season, but he clearly has lost a step, and didn’t exactly have a lot of steps and his peak. He struggled to bring the ball up against aggressive defenses, and is totally unable to turn the corner on a pick and roll. Obviously backup PG is not a HUGE need with Rose’s return, but its an important part of any good team. Also Marquis Teague clearly isn’t ready. Maybe he makes a step next year, but I’m not counting on it.
3. Backup center. The Bulls NEED to find a capable big to fill in for Noah should injuries flair up again, or just to provide replacement level play when the six shooters hit the bench.
Guys who I believe could reasonably fill in for problem #1 who could be signed to reasonable contracts:
Roger Mason, Jr.
If you read this list and vomited all over your computer screen, you are not alone. Now, it would not be unreasonable to think that Jimmy Butler makes a leap as a shooter next season, as he did show immense improvement in that area this season, shooting 38% this season after only managing to hit on 18% of his long range attempts in his rookie campaign. But one man is not enough to stretch a defense, and hopefully the Bulls find a creative way to bring in another guy who can knock down the three.
Guys who I think could fit in as backup PGs on reasonable deals:
Jose Calderon (ok he would have to accept a HUGE pay cut, but let me dream here please just for a minute)
There are a couple of names here who I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing the Bulls make a run at. Prigioni, rumored to be heading back to Spain, would fit in really well with this team. He’s someone who I believe can execute a system and make guys around him look like Gar Forman didn’t pick them up off the street. And Shaun Livingston showed signs of life this year in his opportunities to play with the absence of Kyrie Irving.
Guys who could potentially fill in as backup centers:
Dwight Howard (lol jk)
Again, no one is jumping off this list at you and saying “WOW WHAT A PERFECT FIT!” A guy like Kaman could provide some scoring in a limited role, but his inability to guard anyone will keep the Bulls away from the ex-patriot. A guy like Jason Collins could be a nice fit as a defensive specialist who would certainly bring the level of toughness Thibideau loves to have on the floor, but with him on the court it forces the team to go 4 on 5 on the offensive end. Not ideal. And I expect Miami retains the Birdman, so don’t get your hopes up guys.
Looking ahead to next year it is hard to get over excited. Yes, bringing back Rose will be a huge upgrade from the Nate-Kirk PG duo that slogged its way through this past season. But again there just will likely not be enough fire power to get past the Heat, and likely not enough to beat the Pacers 4 times out of 7. The Bulls have capped themselves out of bringing in any real impact free agents, deciding to extend Taj Gibson until he’s 32 years old, and refusing to use the amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer, king of the 12 foot fade.
Speaking of Taj, is this dude ever going to figure out how to shoot the ball? In a season where Gibson received a pretty lucrative extension despite exclusively coming off the bench, Gibson managed to only shoot 21% from 3-9 feet from the basket, and 39% from 10-15 feet, per the numbers at Hoopdata.com. Yes, he brings elite defense and rebounding to the floor every night, but he’s being paid like a two way player now, and it is just something that he is not. Really poor salary management on the part of Chicago, who deemed Gibson to be worth the extension that Asik was not given.
Sorry to be such a downer, but, as the good folks at Poison once said, every rose has its thorns.