When the Chicago Bulls made the questionable decision that Tom Thibodeau was doing more organizational harm than good, and they fired him, they needed a scapegoat other than the numerous ways they shamed Thibodeau in public. In part two of their plan, they sold the firing to the fanbase by saying it was necessary surgery, the patient was bleeding, they had to stop the damage. They leaked that the players, in their exit interviews, were on board because workaholic Thibodeau had fatigued them to the point that they needed air. That was a huge moment in franchise history, May 28th, 2015.
Eighteen years earlier, on the same exact day of May 28th, the Chicago Bulls defeated the Miami Heat to advance to the NBA Finals. In the nearly two decades since that game, the Bulls have yet to put together a team that could hold a candle to the Jordan-Pippen regime, nor have they hired a coach with the proficiency of Phil Jackson, who, it must be noted, like Thibodeau, the Bulls ran off, and that was after six titles. So none of this is new in Chicago. It all feels like karma run amok.
To be technical, the definition of karma is of previous actions determining your fate. And so it is. That one moment on a May day last year set in motion a bleak May of this year with the Bulls out of the playoffs and talking about trading Jimmy Butler, the franchise player they signed last summer.
Butler is on the trade market because he is the only asset the Bulls have that anyone wants. The two-time All-Star and two way player is a 20 point scorer who makes 45% of his shots. As far as on court impact for his position, he is ranked 2nd (Real Plus-Minus). It is estimated that he added 13.3 wins to the Bulls season this year, 3rd best at his position, trailing James Harden and DeMar DeRozan (Estimated Wins Added).
Jimmy Butler was the Bulls best player all year long but stylistically he doesn’t fit in with the type of actions Fred Hoibeg is dreaming of in his fantasy land of running and gunning and spacing the floor. Butler has all the trademarks of an iso player geared for half court offenses and the Bulls want to run and spread defenses out. He’s not a particularly skilled three point shooter but he has toughness, grit and he can drain mid-range shots as well as defend his position.
One more thing. He’s the only Bull that anyone would trade other players to get. Derrick Rose with all his injuries is not the player he used to be, meaning he’s not an All-Star. No one wants to pay him All-Star money. Rose’s leadership leads a lot to be desired. Either he has regressed or he tricked everyone into thinking he was a leader in the first place. When Derrick Rose said not being in the playoffs meant he could spend more time with his son, it was one more red flag Rose has been throwing up all season long to get the point across the Bulls aren’t the most important part of his life anymore, despite the Bulls paying him like he is.
So it’s Butler the Bulls have to use to get pieces that fit Hoiberg’s scheme. But, shouldn’t they have seen this coming?
In the summer of 2015, the Bulls did absolutely nothing but add draft picks and sign Butler to a max contract. Opening night they squeaked by the Cavs because of a Pau Gasol tip-in. They floated the story that Joakim Noah had the idea of putting himself on the bench. Once that was debunked as a lie it seemed the entire season went downhill. Noah was injured. And then the Rose inconsistency and the carousel of injuries started and no one was immune. Losses piled up.
But even before the Noah injury, in the early weeks of the season, the Bulls played like they wanted to be somewhere else. They didn’t play like a team glad to get rid of Tom Thibodeau. They played like they were in shock that Thibodeau was gone. Passion and desire were missing. They went through the motions.
A playoff team the year before was average (or worse) in just about everything. 21st in scoring. 23rd in offensive rating. 16th in points allowed. 29th in steals. 26th in free throw attempts. 29th in two point percentage. 22nd in field goal percentage.
They were a good three point shooting team and a good rebounding team. That’s not enough to get you into the playoffs and it was an embarrassing post All-Star finish: 15-15. More than half of their post All-Star break losses were by 10+ points or more. Only 5 wins were by 10+ points or more. It was a solemn and cruel way to end the season, as if the past five years with Thibodeau never happened.
Gar Forman said that no one on the Bulls roster is untouchable, meaning the Bulls have no leader and they have no star. They are starting over after a season in which they fell off a cliff. More than likely Joakim Noah is gone. Pau Gasol is gone. Perhaps Jimmy Butler brings in some pieces.This is what rebuilding looks like. Or, it is what karma looks like.
Be careful what you ask for. You may not get it.
photo via llananba