The Chicago Bulls young core–the ones John Paxson and Gar Forman sold us on as the organization’s future–are floundering with no signs of bounce back. The inconsistent team performances tie directly back to the lack of contributors beyond Jimmy Butler, Dwayne Wade and a couple of other veterans. TheDaily Herald’sMike McGraw sheds some light on a couple flailing Bulls.
The two obvious choices are McDermott and Nikola Mirotic. McDermott continues to show some good signs. In Tuesday’s game, LaVine tried a few times to take McDermott one-on-one and wasn’t always successful.
McDermott has been back for just three games after missing 11 with a concussion, but he should be making more of his impressive offensive skills. McDermott’s 9.9 scoring average and 31-percent shooting from 3-point range might be the most obvious spot where the Bulls could receive some rapid improvement.
Mirotic’s peaks and valleys are difficult to accept. In the last nine games, he’s averaged 6.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, shot 34.4 percent overall and 20.6 percent from 3-point range. There’s no way to put a positive spin on that stat line.
Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott will never emerge as the next crop of Bulls stars. Without a dramatic turnaround the pair of twenty-five year olds are headed down a similar path–inconsistent role players that toil away on the middle of a good team’s bench. What that means for the Bulls is nothing good. Fans will look to GarPax to draft, sign and trade for stars to compliment Jimmy Butler, the team’s next great hope.
The 2016-17 Chicago Bulls are not what they seem to be. The first twenty-plus games of the season suggest we’re watching a playoff bound team that rises to the level of its competition. With recent wins against the Cavaliers and Spurs, optimism around the team’s potential is on the rise. Jimmy Butler has taken his game to the next level–top five in Win Shares and top ten in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and Box Plus/Minus1 along with other advanced stats help tell that story. Dwayne Wade has been wildly successful in his debut season with his hometown team. The aged veteran prone to injury is playing the second most minutes per game on the team while averaging nearly 20 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.5 steals per game2. Butler and Wade are the dynamic duo that John Paxson and Gar Forman hoped they’d be. The versatile backcourt mates play off each other well on-court while quickly forming a strong bond away from it. It’s the superstar tandem we’ve been waiting for since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen ran the United Center floor together. But don’t get excited, Wade is a couple years away from retirement so this run will be short lived. Anyway, Butler and Wade’s combined talent has kept the Bulls contending in games they would have otherwise lost handily. And that’s why the mirage of a successful Bulls’ season is destined to evaporate before our very eyes.
The Bulls are a true house of cards with each victory adding hearts, aces, spades and diamonds to an abode built on the flimsiest of foundations. It’s true, Jimmy Butler has defied all odds to become a likely perennial All-NBA’er and D-Wade has played the second star role better than we could have expected. The rest of the roster is filled with mediocre, underachieving veterans and not-ready-for-primetime youngsters. The cast of characters Bulls’ brass chose to surround Butler and Wade don’t fit the mold of a win-now foundation. No third option, no bench mob, no chance.
When your third highest scorer is Taj Gibson your roster is no damn good. Gibson has spent the better part of seven NBA seasons trying unsuccessfully to establish himself as a starting caliber power forward. While Taj remains an all-around excellent reserve he is, by no means, a starting front court player on a winning team. And then there’s Rajon Rondo, the former Celtic-Maverick-King point guard just looking for a fresh start. Ahem, excuse me… another fresh start. His latest turn of the page, a two-year $27M deal, has brought with it a career low field goal percentage along with lower-than-expected assist and point totals. Rondo was meant to be the third member of the new Bulls’ stud troika. He has instead become the third wheel of a two-man show. The talents of sharp shooters Nikola Mirotic–once compared to the likes of Toni Kukoc and Dirk Nowitzki3–and Doug McDermott have failed to blossom under Fred Hoiberg’s shooter friendly offense. The list of disappointing performers goes on and on; Bobby Portis and Jerian Grant are sophomore slumping, Robin Lopez is the average center we expected him to be while Michael Carter-Williams can’t find his way onto the court. This Bulls’ roster is flawed in ways that won’t overcome injuries and inconsistencies while its lack of depth demands major minutes from the talented few. That kind of mix doesn’t… mix.
And so we wait. We wait and we watch. We wait, we watch and we hope. We hope that Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade can withstand their high minutes usages knowing full well that Wade will not. We hope some combination of McDermott, Mirotic, Portis, Grant and Carter-Williams shows the sparks of talent that will ready the Bulls for some future success. And we hope Fred Hoiberg becomes a respected, progressive head coach. This Bulls team is teetering on the edge of plight and a single misstep will bring down the fragile structure. And when the house of cards finally topples, John Paxson and Gar Forman won’t have anywhere else to hide.
These Chicago Bulls are not terrible and, frankly, I’m surprised. Sure it’s early but maybe this season won’t be the disaster many of us expected. Much of the team’s strong start is credited to Dwayne Wade’s offseason defection from the Heat. Nick Friedell, ofESPN Chicago, sheds some light on the new realities of NBA free agency.
The league is different today,” Wade said. “The league is all about relationships, player relationships. Obviously presidents and GMs have their job to do to put teams together, but when it comes to free agency, that’s player relationships more than anything. It’s where an individual wants to go, so you have to feel comfortable with where you’re going and who you’re going with. And it starts in that process. Maybe you have a relationship with a guy, maybe you don’t, but it starts in that process when guys are able to reach out to you and you see.
As much as old school fans and long-retired NBA players disagree, Wade’s assessment on the state of today’s free agency makes a whole lot of sense. While teams of yesteryear were shaped by general managers selling their roster’s potential, teams across today’s National Basketball Association are often designed by players that want to play together. That fact reminds us why the previous Bulls crew could never bring a second true superstar to play alongside Derrick Rose who, famously, never felt the need to recruit.
Earlier this summer–July 3oth to be exact–Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago talked about Jimmy Butler’s willingness to recruit big name stars to play alongside him with the new-look, old-aged Chicago Bulls:
Free agent acquisitions Wade and Rajon Rondo have openly said Butler is the first name on the basketball masthead, but Butler has termed them “the three Alphas”. Regardless of what Butler has said before publicly about not being concerned with his standing in the locker room of the Chicago Bulls, he’s feeling more and more comfortable with the position of leadership—perhaps emboldened by the validation of the two.
The composition of this Bulls’ roster–particularly “the three Alphas” troika–feels like a recipe for disaster. Despite Jimmy’s insistence that he doesn’t need to be “the guy” in the Bulls’ locker room, his past actions and words suggest otherwise. And know this, Dwayne Wade has demurred on-court to exactly two teammates in his career–Shaq and LeBron–making it unlikely for him to take a backseat in his return to Chicago. I’m not as worried about Rondo who should be the best version of himself while playing on a short contract. While pot stirring may not be in Rajon’s near future, the point guard certainly won’t go out of his way to help Butler assume the mantle as Chicago’s face of the franchise.
Even if you put all that aside, this feels like a team built to keep GarPax employed rather than one designed to be a foundational step forward for a championship run. The mix of Butler, Wade and Rondo is a dream combo for the media but may well be a true basketball fan’s nightmare.
The 2015-16 Bulls are in the throes of mediocrity. Lackluster performances from stars and role players alike has defined a season that can’t end fast enough. The biggest difference from last season to this one? Former head coach Tom Thibodeau consistently found ways to get more with less while Fred Hoiberg continuously finds ways to get less with more. Can Hoiberg, still in the midst of his inaugural season as an NBA head coach, become a first-rate leader? Perhaps that’s in the cards but early returns validate the feelings of many fans: Tom Thibodeau is missed badly around Chicago.
Tom Thibodeau spent five seasons in Chicago accumulating a stellar .647 regular season winning percentage–sixth best all time1 for coaches with five or more seasons on the bench–with a roster that outperformed its talent. Derrick Rose was a ghost for most of Thibodeau’s Chicago reign while Jimmy Butler blossomed after Bulls’ management had already tired of the gruff coach’s act. There was plenty of talent on the team these past few seasons–Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Kyle Korver, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and uh… Carlos Boozer–but the superstar centerpiece from Chicago’s South Side spent too much time on the sidelines. Thibodeau’s ability to get the most out of people like D.J. Augustin, Ronnie Brewer, Omer Asik and Nate Robinson speaks volumes about the coach’s coaching prowess. But that tough leadership led to zero championship rings, no NBA Finals’ appearances and just one Conference Finals’ showing. Why? Circumstance. The Bulls ran into LeBron James in three of those five playoff runs and played the other two–opposing the Sixers and Wizards–without the services of their MVP point guard. Tom Thibodeau never offered up excuses but, nevertheless, wasn’t well-equipped to break through the Eastern Conference brackets.
A good management-coach working relationship is important in professional sports. The balancing act between building for the future and winning in the now only works when there is mutual respect. Without a doubt, that esteem flew out the window in Tom Thibodeau’s last few seasons in Chicago. In short, GarPax didn’t fully control the team because they hired a talented coach that wasn’t interested in the politics of basketball or long-term strategy.
Bulls’ brass had been eyeing Fred Hoiberg for years. John Paxson and Gar Forman know him well; Hoiberg spent four seasons sharpshooting for the Bulls in the early 2000s. He fit their latest vision for the club’s top coaching job. Thibodeau made decisions to win the next game while GarPax needed someone who would coach with the big picture in mind. Think about the playoffs not the regular season. Focus on the future not the now. Hoiberg, a friendly face and former NBA front office staffer, would make their lives easier–the exact wrong reason to change coaches.
I have mixed feelings about John Paxson’s time in the Bulls’ front office. He knows how to draft. Derrick Rose over Michael Beasley in 2008 wasn’t a slam dunk selection and, despite Rose’s rash of injuries, it remains the right choice. Through the years Paxson has drafted other talented ball players like Kirk Hinrich, Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Ben Gordon. His track record isn’t perfect–Paxson once sent now All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge to Portland for Tyrus Thomas–but it’s pretty damn good. Without a doubt, Bulls’ scouting and drafting successes are to be lauded.
Paxson and Forman have fared less well in free agency striking out, summer-after-summer, on major free agents like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade. Troubles connecting with coaches (don’t forget about the Vinny Del Negro saga2) and challenges luring top free agents lead back to the same problem. Paxson’s ego is too big to let someone else be the most important person in the room. That self-importance is maddening for Bulls’ fans that care only about watching a team compete for a championship.
Fred Hoiberg is the Bulls’ present and near-term future. His coaching style and willingness to collaborate with his bosses mesh well with how John Paxson wants to build an organization. The team may eventually thrive under The Mayor’s leadership but, for now, Hoiberg’s on-court product looks messy and inconsistent. One thing is certain: Hoiberg is not a better coach than Tom Thibodeau. Almost certainly, the 2015-16 Bulls’ team would be better than a mediocre 26-20 with Thibs stomping down the United Center sidelines. That’s what matters to me and that’s what should count to the suits running the franchise.
Rick Morrissey, with the Chicago Sun-Times, claims the Bulls are better off with Derrick Rose on the bench. On January 15, 2016 the long-time sports columnist wrote off Rose and his impact the team.
The Bulls aren’t better when Rose is playing. There can’t be any sense of continuity for anyone on the team when he plays well one game, struggles for a couple more, plays well for two games and then hurts his (body part here)…
But, again, just because you’re stuck with Rose doesn’t mean you have to stick him in the starting lineup. At this point, I’d prefer Aaron Brooks to the constant uncertainty of which Rose will show up (or whether none of them will.)
My first question: how does Rick Morrissey, a mostly uninspiring scribe, hang on to his sports column at a major urban newspaper? His latest piece on Derrick Rose and the muted Bulls executive duo is another example of simplistic arguments that lack thought-provoking ideas or sound judgements. I don’t get it. Moving on…
Benching Derrick Rose in favor of off-the-bench spark plug Aaron Brooks is a ridiculous scheme. Is Rose flailing this season? Sure. Up-and-down performances coupled with nagging injuries have him playing on his heels instead of his toes. But Rose is lost, not bad. He’s floundering under Fred Hoiberg’s system, a reality that’s even more visible by Jimmy Butler’s emergence as the number one Bulls. Talent remains within the former MVP and the Bulls have no chance at winning a championship this season without an inspired Derrick Rose. Benching him solves nothing.
Bulls’ fans have witnessed flashes of D-Rose brilliance throughout this off-kilter season–hyperspeed drives to the rim and high-arching floaters still catch our eyes. The head coach must work harder to integrate Rose into the offense and, more importantly, build up his confidence. GarPax should charge Hoiberg with exciting a more aggressive, fearless Derrick Rose. They wanted a coach that could inspire offensive excellence as well as pace the team to win games when it counted most. This Bulls team won’t succeed against the Cavaliers–the only Eastern Conference competition that matters–with a lackluster, passive version of Derrick. A deep playoff run demands the best out of both Butler and Rose. The rest of the roster–Gasol, Portis, Mirotic, McDermott, Gibson–can support these stars but cannot replicate the ways each of them can impact a game.
Don’t give up on Derrick Rose just yet. Let him fall down during the season and, when the time comes, pick him up and make him lead the charge to take down LeBron and the Cavs. John Paxson, Gar Forman, Fred Hoiberg, basketball analysts and smart fans know that’s the only way this thing works.
MVP Derrick Rose has become folklore around Chicago. Injury after injury has reduced his status from next big thing down to what could have been among critics, fans and front office personnel. Yet, somehow, his Bulls’ teammates still stand in his shadow. Joakim Noah most boldly has defended his point guard time and again proclaiming Rose the lead dog despite his extensive absences from the court. Even with veterans like Pau Gasol, Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson, Noah himself and breakout sensation Jimmy Butler on the 2014-15 roster, Rose led the Bulls’ stampede.
Derrick Rose set the pace on the court while averaging the most field goal attempts and highest usage percentage per game1 on the team. Those stats alone tell you who Rose sees as the number one Bull. His former head coach Tom Thibodeau–a next man up kind of guy if there ever was one–admitted Derrick’s absence was much of why the team failed to win it all2: “When you lose a guy like a Derrick Rose and maybe you trade someone, and now all of a sudden you have to ask yourself, ‘How are we going to win with this group?’ Maybe that alters things,”. Rose’s injuries along with some irksome comments and aloofness around teammates have altered things, to say the least.
Enter Jimmy Butler. The fifth year wingman signed a five-year max contract this past July after a breakout year–first-time All-Star, Most Improved Player award, second team All-Defense, sixth in Offensive Win Shares3. He earned that $95 million dollar deal with a combination of hard work, athletic talent and a willingness to lead. Unlike the rest of Derrick Rose’s teammates, Jimmy Butler feels no need to play the deferential second fiddle. He’ll step to the front of the lay up line even though it means shaking up the heard’s status quo. That’s refreshing to see in a team that has to dethrone LeBron’s Cavaliers to reach basketball’s promised land.
Derrick Rose has star skills. His athleticism, quickness, strength and feel for the game make him rare NBA talent. But let’s face the truth. He’s not Michael Jordan. He’s not Kobe Bryant. He’s not LeBron James. When it’s all said and done he may not even be Kyrie Irving. That’s hard to admit but it’s the only reality of a player that is consistent only in his ability to miss games–an orbital fracture, seriously? It’s not all his fault. Heck, it might not be his fault at all. But fault or not, Rose should no longer be the unquestioned Bulls’ leader; Butler tends to agree.
The Chicago Bulls are desperate for an on-court boss that can help sell the message new head coach Fred Hoiberg is preaching. Jimmy Butler will be the first to proclaim he’s that voice4. “I have to do it. I think Derrick is the quiet one. Jo is the emotional one. Someone has to be that guy to be calm and lead while still producing at both ends… somebody has to do it… you need a guy who’s going hard every night and is going to back up what he’s talking about. And I definitely think it’s going to be me.” Over the past year Butler has vocalized what all of his teammates are thinking. Emotional leaders like Noah are nice but, when on-court production wanes, their hurrah speeches sound muffled. And quiet, lead-by-example guys like Rose are effective but they can’t forcefully make teammates toe the line of disciple and effort. In Butler the Bulls have their in-your-face bulldog on the court and in the locker room. He knows it. His coaches expect it. And, most importantly, his teammates and adversaries respect it.
Don’t misunderstand the premise–it’s not Jimmy Butler versus Derrick Rose. While the backcourt duo are not the best of friends, the Shaq-and-Kobe hatred simply isn’t there yet. Alpha males wearing the same colors are going to butt heads. Butler accepts that while embracing what most top athletes know–competition will bring the best out in both he and Rose5.
Yes please. Let them be fierce, (expletive) competitors. Let Derrick Rose accept his new role as co-star with an emphasis on the “co” coupled with a somewhat muted “star”. And let Jimmy Butler be the Bull that outwardly demands in his teammates what he already expects of himself.