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.