Tag Archives: Gar Forman

BULLet Points: Bulls take season finale over Sixers

The Chicago Bulls ended their season on a high-note, winning in comeback form over the historically bad Philadelphia 76ers (10-72) 115-105 at the United Center Wednesday night. The Bulls ended the season a disappointing 42-40, a record that would’ve made the playoffs in the East most other years.

  • The strangest thing happened Wednesday night: The Bulls were going through the motions and getting beat down by one of the worst teams in NBA history 60-39 in the 2nd quarter, the lead was 24 at one point, and then the crowd started to boo mercilessly.
  • Except instead of digging themselves an even bigger hole, they began to click and showed some energy, knowing down 3’s from all over the court and playing pretty stifling defense at times. The result was a demanding 32-4 run by the Bulls to put them up 71-64 and they never looked back.
  • The comeback charge was led by Nikola Mirotic and Justin Holiday. As for Mirotic, the forward shot lights out from deep, 7/11, on his way to 32 points. We knew Mirotic could knock down a few shots, but it was the rest of his game that impressed those in attendance. The Montenegro native stuffed the stat sheet with seven rebounds, four assists, five steals, and even three blocks. Mirotic making the hustle plays seemed to spark the rest of his team to do the same. The fact that he only turned the ball over only twice in 39 minutes is just an added bonus for Niko on the night.
  • The other spark plug on the night was Justin Holiday. The guard dropped a career-high 29 points in the win over the Sixers and must have impressed Fred Hoiberg with his ability to run the offense. Holiday showed great court vision and made the right decision with the ball more times than not on Wednesday. Holiday also proved to be a two-way player causing havoc on the defensive side of the ball with his length, and athleticism. The season-finale was a strong audition from a player hoping to stay in the rotation for next year.
  • It wasn’t just Mirotic and Holiday knocking down threes on the night. The Bulls as a team shot 63% (15/24) on the night as the Bulls pleased their coach by finding open jump shots early in the shot clock on a consistent basis. The key to this was the quick ball movement and unselfish basketball. Once the Bulls started their comeback there was little standing around on offense and everyone was making the extra pass on the perimeter to set up an even more open shot. The result was the Bulls putting up 99 points over the final three frames.
  • One of the bright spots for the 76ers was Robert Covington. The Bellwood, Illinois native must relish playing against his former hometown team. Covington put up 25 points the last time these two met and was just as good last night. Covington put away 27 points on 7/17 shooting, including 7/7 from the charity stripe and was the reason the Sixers had such a big lead early in the 2nd quarter.
  • Coming up: The 2015-2016 season comes to a close as the Bulls fail to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008. This is a crucial offseason for Gar Forman and John Paxson to correct the dysfunction within the organization.
  • A note from DRaT editor Jake Weiner: Thank you so much to everyone that joined us for our coverage of all 82 Bulls games this season. It’s been a depressing year for Bulls fans, but we’re so glad to have been able to share the ups and (mostly) downs with all of you. We’re looking forward to joining you all again next season!
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With Thibodeau Axed, Who Will Be The Second Domino?

After weeks of waiting for the inevitable, the Bulls have parted ways with coach Tom Thibodeau, releasing an official statement like some jackass from high school posting on Facebook about a summer internship.

In Thibodeau’s five years in Chicago, the team made the playoffs each season, often outperforming expectations as the team was constantly plagued with cruel and unusual injury luck. But success in the NBA is not defined by just making the playoffs, a feat more than half the league achieves each season. Rather, the true marker of success is rising to the challenge of the postseason and emerging with a new banner to hang, something that the Bulls under Thibs never came that close to achieving.

Thibodeau, perhaps the greatest defensive mind in the NBA, had a myriad of shortcomings that have been well documented on this fine website and others across the interwebs. I am not going to delve into some of the maddening habits and decisions of Tom Thibodeau because by now I’m sure you’re well aware of them.

What I am curious about is, with Thibs now out the door, what other moves will the Bulls make this summer to improve upon a roster that  will able to compete for the Eastern Conference crown immediately. This is not a situation that calls for complete detonation and a multi-year rebuild. But at the same time, swapping out the coach and bringing the whole gang back together is not the answer either. A second domino is going to fall, and is likely going to fall soon.

Jimmy Butler, the man who wisely scoffed at the extension offer he received last summer, is unlikely to leave town. The Bulls, hopefully, will learn from their mistake during the Omer Asik RFA fiasco and aggressively look to sign Butler before he has a chance to sign an offer sheet that could put the Bulls in an uncomfortable cap situation. Butler, who took massive strides on the offensive end this season after struggling to find any rhythm in 2014, is worth every bit of a maximum contract extension and not even the penny pinching Bulls will be dumb enough to question it.

Mike Dunleavy, the other starter set to hit the market, is an interesting wild card. He reportedly took a smaller contract to come play for a winner in Chicago after spending his entire career on teams that failed to crack .500. I wouldn’t be surprised if Dunleavy, a Midwest native, looks to come back to a situation where he clearly feels comfortable.

So what exactly is the next domino to fall in this summer of change? In my opinion, it will be a member of the extremely talented and slightly overcrowded frontcourt who will leave town before the season begins.

That frontcourt, comprised of Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Pau Gasol, and Nikola Mirotic, should have been a matchup nightmare for the other 29 teams in the NBA. The ability to always pair players who can cover each others weaknesses should have been a resource no other NBA team could match. And Mirotic, who I was cautiously optimistic about coming into the 2015 campaign, blew away everyone’s expectations on his way to a second place finish in the Rookie of the Year race.

But Tom Thibodeau was never able to fully harness the power that he had at his fingertips. His determination to make a two center lineup work the entire season was maddening, and relegated Gibson and Mirotic to roles that were both too small and improper.

Gar Forman and John Paxson will now need to decide whether the shortcomings of the Bulls big men was due to poor decision-making from the coach, or if there simply is not enough court time to go around to get the best out of these four players. Like all difficult questions, the answer falls somewhere in the middle, which is why I believe a trade will be made in addition to the release of Thibs.

Lets quickly throw aside the possibility of Mirotic getting traded. Niko signed a three year deal before the start of last season that averages $5 million a year. In the industry, they call this a bargain.

I would also like to place Gasol in the “very unlikely to be moved” category. Pau, who had a renaissance last year that caught the attention of the ghost of Michelangelo, is the post-oriented big man the Bulls have desperately been after since the Jordan years. While it’s unlikely Gasol will repeat the success he had this season going forward, he too is on a very team-friendly contract over the next two seasons and Forman and Paxson are probably still high-fiving each other over the move.

thibs and gar

That leaves Noah and Gibson as second domino candidates heading into NBA hot stove season. Both defense first players, Taj and Jo have enough overlap in skill set that the front office, looking to bring in an offensive minded head coach, will likely feel comfortable making a trade.

Noah, the 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year, had a pretty miserable 2014-15. After undergoing a mysterious knee operation last offseason, Noah never seemed to find his form on offense. He posted career lows in field goal percentage and free throw percentage. His scoring dipped to its lowest since the Vinny Del Negro era, and his defense was nowhere near as good as the previous year. Noah has one more year left on his contract and is owed about $13 million.

Gibson dealt with an onslaught of injuries throughout the season that robbed him of his incredible above the rim athleticism. His back to the basket game became a black hole of turnovers and missed passing opportunities. In Zach Lowe’s excellent piece on the state of the post game, he touched on certain guys who defenses attack in the post because they know they won’t make the right pass. Taj Gibson is the poster child of this type of player.  Taj has two more years on his deal, averaging about $8.5 million a season.

taj and jo

Of the two, Taj is certainly more likely to fetch a larger return on the trade market. Coming off the bench his entire career, Gibson has largely been spared the grueling workload of  guys like Noah, Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler. Teams across the league have for many years wondered what type of impact Gibson could have in a starting lineup where he could see more minutes alongside more talented players. And with the salary cap set to explode and Gibson under contract for an additional season, his current price tag is extremely team friendly, no matter which team you look at.

But if it were up to me, it would be Noah who I send packing this summer. While Noah’s value on the trade market is potentially at an all-time low, there are definitely still teams who will be willing to take a one year flyer on a guy who was forced to play out of position the entire season. Noah’s ability to be the eyes and ears of an entire defense is wasted when he’s being asked to chase stretch forwards along the perimeter, which is exactly what happened this past season with Gasol at center. A smarter team that does not have an entrenched starting center could and should be able to understand that Noah’s ability to change the game on defense did not suddenly disappear over the course of a year.

Another reason to trade Noah is that I find it very unlikely that the Bulls sign him to his next contract. Much like they did with Luol Deng, the Bulls know exactly what the state of Noah’s body is and are probably smart enough to know that he will not hold up well into his mid-thirties. Better to get something for him now, even if it’s not much, than let him walk away for nothing next summer.

Finally, this is a team that is looking to shake up the culture. It doesn’t take a college English professor to read between the lines of Jerry Reinsdorf’s statement on the firing of Tom Thibodeau. Noah has always been a staunch supporter of Thibs, buying in 100% to his message and his philosophy. Forman and Paxson may not want to roll the dice with an unhappy Joakim next season and could look to ditch him before he makes any stink about a new coach.

The Eastern Conference today is in complete disarray. The Cavaliers are going to the Finals despite losing their third best player to injury and having their second best player limping through the playoffs. The Bulls are flush with talent, and with the right tweaks this offseason, this team should be able to compete for a championship in 2016.

The Case Against Tom Thibodeau

Let me start this out by making it clear that I’m a Tom Thibodeau fan. If I ran the Bulls, Thibs wouldn’t be halfway out the door right now. However, given the loud and clear signals that only a Finals appearance would save (read: not sever) this relationship, it’s time for Bulls fans to wrap their heads around a divorce.

As great as Thibodeau has coached the Bulls, he undoubtedly has shown major flaws within his coaching philosophy. The area where Thibs is criticized the most loudly is ironically the one where I would argue he’s improved the most: minutes management.

Thibs is still woefully behind the times, routinely making Pau Gasol play entire quarters and running Jimmy Butler up for 40 minutes a night whenever he has the chance. Still, he’s shown a better willingness to manage the playing time of injured players. Much has been made about Joakim Noah’s minutes restriction, but I haven’t had a huge problem with Thibodeau’s handling of it. First of all, 32 minutes is a kind of arbitrary number. While it’s clear Noah can’t handle a 36+ minutes per night workload, establishing a baseline of around 32 seems perfectly reasonable for a stubborn coach like Thibodeau. Noah’s played 30.8 minutes per game on the season and about the same in March. The limit has again become a talking point because the front office is more likely than not just running a smear campaign on the embattled coach.

joakim-noah-chicago-bulls
Not my fault!

Thibs did an admirable job with Rose’s minutes as well. Derrick averaged under 33 minutes in every month of the season besides January, when he felt great and scored over 20 points per game in 16 matchups. For the season, he sits at 31 minutes per game. Given the Bulls other options at point guard, it’s understandable why Rose wouldn’t be averaging 25 minutes a night, especially because everyone thought he had successfully rehabbed his meniscus injury.

Again, Thibs is not good at managing his players’ minutes. Luol Deng’s body was wrecked by Thibodeau and he’s traveling down the same path with Jimmy Butler if he doesn’t reduce his minutes. But to argue that Thibs should be fired now because of this is playing into exactly what the Bulls’ immature front office desires. This is the same organization that routinely pushed its players to return too quickly from injury until it became a national embarrassment. Twice in Luol Deng’s career, he received medical treatment that was shockingly below standards.

Given the team’s injury issues, you would hope that Gar Forman and John Paxson are ready to turn over a new leaf with minutes management. Additionally, there are other areas where Thibodeau has failed to meet expectations. The most glaring this season has been his rotations.

Kirk Hinrich is probably the least productive rotation player in the entire NBA. He’s dropped to career lows of 36.9% overall and 34% from deep. He’s only averaging 3.4 assists per 36 minutes. Yet Thibodeau insists that the team plays better when Kirk is in and that Hinrich excels at “running the offense”. This is just not true. And while Hinrich can occasionally succeed defensively, considering him a plus player on that end is questionable. Yet Thibodeau has played Hinrich for more than 25 minutes per game this season. Aaron Brooks is at 21.8, Tony Snell 19.8, and E’Twaun Moore just 9.3 minutes a game. Hinrich has only played 39% of his minutes at point guard, destroying any semblance of floor-spacing. This is entirely indefensible.

kirk
I don’t get it either, Jo

As the greater NBA community is coming to realize, Nikola Mirotic is a future All-Star. In fact, he’s been the Bulls’ best player this season by net rating. Per NBA.com/stats, the Bulls are +2.6 points per 100 possessions overall. When Niko plays, they’re +5.4, highest on the team. When he sits, they’re +0.7, lowest on the team. Even though Joakim Noah is on the highly publicized minutes limit, Pau Gasol is playing his highest minutes in a half decade, and Taj Gibson has been injured all year, Thibodeau waited until Gibson’s fourth ankle sprain to unleash Mirotic.

Niko is a dynamic power forward and Joakim Noah is an equally unique center. Together they’ve been ridiculously good, yet Thibodeau doesn’t prioritize this combination. He remains staunchly committed to Pau Gasol playing center, even though it’s Thibodeau’s famous defense that Gasol’s inability to force turnovers is derailing. Pau’s net rating is +1.8 and when he’s off the floor the Bulls jump to +4.1. Niko is the only Bull with a defensive rating under 100, at 99.6 points per 100 possessions.

While I’ve never been high on Doug McDermott, most would agree Thibodeau just hasn’t given him a chance. What’s odder than that is Thibodeau’s general aversion to playing Mike Dunleavy in the fourth quarter. Thibs routinely prioritizes having two ball-handlers in the game, whether it’s Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich or Aaron Brooks and E’Twaun Moore. It just doesn’t make a sense for a team with one quality point guard that can’t even stay on the floor. Even last night against Detroit, Hinrich stayed in for most of the fourth quarter alongside Aaron Brooks (Dunleavy did get some minutes though).

Tom Thibodeau is an undoubtedly great NBA coach, but his relationship with a hard-to-work-with front office is beyond repair. Furthermore, Thibodeau’s shortcomings can’t be ignored much longer and the Bulls might be best served to part ways with his hard-driving attitude and bizarre rotations.

When this basketball marriage (lord knows Thibs doesn’t have a traditional one) does come to an end, you can expect the Bulls to go hard after Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State’s coach. Marc Stein reports:

It is widely — and I mean widely — believed throughout the league that Fred Hoiberg, whose Iowa State Cyclones were bounced in the first round of the tournament Thursday by UAB, is the top choice of the Chicago Bulls to replace Tom Thibodeau in the event that the Bulls and Thibs indeed part company at season’s end.

Hoiberg’s first interview didn’t go so well when his touted Iowa State team was shocked in the first round of the tournament, ruining many brackets. Let’s hope he finds more success when he inevitably winds up in the Windy City.

Airing of Grievances

seinfeld-festivusjpg

“I GOT A LOT OF PROBLEMS WITH YOU PEOPLE! NOW, YOU’RE GONNA HEAR ABOUT IT!”

– Frank Costanza

Happy Festivus everybody! If you’re unfamiliar with this lovely holiday, I’ll give you a quick rundown. Festivus is a Costanza family tradition that involves a couple of key ingredients: instead of a tree, you put up an aluminum pole. Every year you have to wrestle your dad and can’t stop until you’ve pinned him. Finally, there is the Airing of Grievances, a chance for everyone gathered around the Festivus dinner table to yell about what you don’t like about the other dinner guests.

Well seeing as today is Festivus I’ve decided that I’m going to air some of my grievances with the Bulls.

Derrick Rose

Don’t worry everyone, I’m not going to go all Dan Bernstein on you and say something crazy, but I do have some grievances to air with Derrick. After hurting his knee again, the Bulls wisely got ahead of the story and definitively said that Derrick would be out for the remainder of the season. The will-he-won’t-he game of a year ago did nothing but frustrate Bulls fans as well as the guys on the team who were battling through bumps and bruises of their own.  While I was obviously disappointed that this season would be another wasted one, I was glad that the Bulls at least were doing their part to squash a potential PR nightmare.

But in Rose’s first press conference after the injury on December 5, Rose had this to say: “I mean if I’m healthy and the situation is right, I’m going to be back playing.”

I understand that Derrick is a competitive guy and obviously wants to be on the court contributing to this team that so desperately needs him. I understand that after spending an entire season waiting to play that this second injury must seem too cruel for DRose. But leaving the door open, a door that the organization already tried to close, is one of the dumbest things he could have done. Constant speculation is the worst possible thing for Derrick and the Bulls. If anything, it simply demonstrates a lack of cohesion from the top of the organization on down. If the Bulls were a well run team, management would have made sure Derrick didn’t stick his foot in his mouth in front of hundreds of microphones and cameras.

Gar Forman

It must be pretty great being the GM of the Bulls when you basically don’t have to do anything. Seriously, when was the last time this team did ANYTHING remotely interesting in terms of personnel moves? (The answer is of course Carlos Boozer, and we all know how well that has gone)

When Derrick went down it should have immediately become apparent that the rest of this team was going nowhere. This roster, which has come together almost completely by luck*, was certainly good enough to compete with Miami and Indiana with a healthy DRose. But without him its a group of guys who at best will be slaughtered in the first round of the playoffs.

When Rose went down, Forman should have sprung into action to move Luol Deng. Deng, who is in the final year of his contract and who was unable to come to terms on an extension this offseason, definitely has value to other teams who fancy themselves contenders or who just want to make a push to get into the post season.

But no trade talks have been heard coming from Chicago, and I don’t think it’s because the team is leak free. Forman seems to be content with letting things play out. And while he’s been sitting on his hands, Deng has suffered an Achilles injury, severely depressing any value he might have.

My prediction for how the Deng situation plays out? The Bulls do nothing all season. Luol and the Bulls fail to come to terms in free agency. Deng will join another team and the Bulls will have nothing to show for it. Why do I think this? Former Bull Omer Asik was in a similar situation with the team, and the Bulls were unable to get anything in return for the valuable big man who Houston is allegedly trying to turn into a first round pick and a contributing piece.

* While a lot of contenders have come together thanks to a little luck, the Bulls are a special case. 25 teams passed on Taj Gibson in 2009. Eight teams passed on Joakim Noah, a player who might have gone #1 overall had he left Florida a year earlier. 29 teams passed on Jimmy Butler. And Derrick Rose is only on the team because David Stern rigged the lottery to get the hometown kid to a struggling franchise of the will of God.

Tom Thibodeau

JESUS CHRIST STOP PLAYING THESE GUYS SO MANY MINUTES. DJ Augustin, who may be significantly better than Marquis Teague, should never ever play 40+ minutes in an NBA game. I know Teague sucks but you can’t tell me that Augustin wouldn’t have benefited from a quick breather in the Bulls recent win against the Cavs.

And it’s not just the point guards who have wonky minute distributions. Deng, who has been nursing a calf/achilles injury, played 42 minutes against ORLANDO last week and hasn’t been back on the court since.

Thibs is without a doubt brilliant. His defensive scheme has been copied by countless teams across the league and his offensive play calling is spectacular. But until he learns how to effectively juggle an NBA rotation serious questions about his ability to lead a team will be asked.

Jerry Reinsdorf 

Jerry Reinsdorf is one of the most infuriating owners in the league. People say that he is no longer deserving of the “cheep” label as the current roster is above the tax threshold. The Bulls had never paid the tax before last year and are on pace to do it twice.

This is complete bullshit. You know an easy way the Bulls could have avoided paying the tax this year? Amnestying Carlos Boozer. Boozer and his massive contract have been so detrimental to the Bulls. Brought on to be the complementary star to DRose, Boozer has been nothing more than a lazy defender who lights it up in the first quarter but disappears down the stretch of close games.

But Jerry refuses to amnesty Boozer, a move that would basically force the owner of the White Sox to pay Boozer to play somewhere else. The move, which is expensive for the owner, would give the Bulls cap room flexibility to try again to find another scorer to pair with Derrick.

Chicago, if you are unaware, is the third biggest market in the NBA after New York and Los Angeles, cities that field TWO NBA teams. Explain to me why the Lakers, Knicks and Nets have no problem paying for talent while the Bulls live in perpetual fear of crossing the tax threshold?

Reggie Rose

SHUT THE FUCK UP REGGIE

Quick Bulls Thought: Why Nazr?

Nazr Mohammed, best known at DRaT for being a dinosaur, will be Joakim Noah’s back-up center once again next season. And yes, the Bulls wanted this. But why? It’s a good question, considering the fact that Nazr hasn’t even played over 20 minutes per game for a full season since 2004-05. For context, I was Bar Mitzvah’d in November of the 2004-05 season. Mazel Tov. For some reason though, Chicago’s front office really likes the career 6.3 PPG and 5.0 RPG big man. So much so, that it was reported today that not only does Nazr have a no-trade clause on his new deal, but the contract also holds a 15% trade kicker. (Side note: Mark Deeks has a phenomenal salary cap website that any NBA junkie should explore). This means that in addition to having veto power over any proposed deal, Nazr also gets kicked back an extra 15% of his salary if he allows a trade. This isn’t really a big deal because the Bulls would probably have no reason to trade their 12th man, but it goes to show how much Gar Forman and co. value Mohammed.

I just don’t understand why. It’s not like he’s a staple of the franchise–last season was his first in Chicago and Mohammed himself has stressed the opportunity to play with Derrick Rose as his motivation for re-signing. Furthermore, Mohammed was basically useless in Oklahoma City in 2011-12 and averaged less than 3.0 PPG once again in the Windy City this season. Perhaps the Bulls value Nazr’s championship pedigree (he started on the 2005 San Antonio Spurs that won the Finals), but I think most Bulls fans would agree that bringing in Rip Hamilton for his championship experience worked out great (and Rip had significantly more left in the tank when he arrived in Chicago).

Here’s a conspiracy theory: perhaps, as some speculated, a temporarily insane Thibs sent Nazr after LeBron in the Eastern Conference semifinals in order to prove a point. Now, the Bulls are bound by honor to reward their assassin for his loyalty.

Yeah, right! Clearly, for some odd reason, Thibs and the front office irrationally love Nazr. Don’t get me wrong, I respect the guy and am 99% certain that he makes a formidable impact on the locker room. There’s no doubt that he’s a great teammate and member of the organization. However, the fact remains that Mohammed cannot contribute more than 10-15 very average minutes as a back-up center. With Joakim Noah coming off a season in which he set a career high in minutes as well as a nagging foot injury, back-up center is a vital position. Maybe I’m overreacting, but the Bulls’ endorsement of Nazr as Jo’s back-up makes me sweat a little.