Eastern Conference Mystery: Chicago Bulls

New Faces: Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, Michael Carter-Williams, Spencer Dinwiddle, Isaiah Canaan, Denzel Valentine (R), Paul Zipser (R), Jerian Grant, Robin Lopez

2015-16 Regular Season Record: 42-40

2015-16 Regular Season Achievements3rd: 3-Point Percentage, Defensive Rebounding, Total Rebounding. 7th: Free Throw Percentage, Field Goal Percentage (Defense). 8th: Blocks, 2-Point Percentage (Defense) 9th: Offensive Rebounds. 10th: 3-Point Percentage (Defense).

Leading Scorer: Jimmy Butler, 20.9

Leading Rebounder: Pau Gasol, 11.0

The last we saw of the Chicago Bulls in 2015-16 they were missing the playoffs because they were a mess. They lacked a true team leader. Derrick Rose looked like Derrick Rose until he didn’t. Fred Hoiberg was playing with TomThibodeau players, meaning they were strong defensively but the type of offense Hoiberg wanted to play was no-existent. They didn’t run the way Hoiberg wanted to run. Everything got off on the wrong foot with the coming off the bench of Joakim Noah. As a unit, the Bulls never recovered, never trusted Hoiberg enough. Jimmy Butler tried to lead but he thought that meant throwing teammates and coaches under the bus. Yes, accountability is important. But teammates have to want you to lead them.

So it was an obvious Chicago Bulls do-over, rip the roster sheet up. Joakim Noah is in New York. The Bulls traded beloved star Derrick Rose and family members of mine are still distraught over it. In return, they have the services of Robin Lopez, a good enough center, but nothing really special, in other words he is not Noah. The Bulls signed Rajon Rondo over the summer. Rondo can be a brilliant passing savant technician, doing things with the ball that are extraordinary. He is a  gifted passer who knows exactly where you need the ball to be effective. But Rondo is quirky, strong willed, stubborn, vocal about what he thinks the offense should be, genius, and most importantly a headache. The more stubborn the coach is, the more Rondo will go off the island. But the Bulls covered their ass with Rondo, only a one year deal.

Their big splash was Dwyane Wade. The local product, the future Hall of Famer, will bring his flash and drive and getting to the cup and finishing layups and falling out of bounds and clutch shot making to the Bulls. Wade is a superstar. Every time he is on the court your eyes on are on him. How are he and Jimmy Butler going to mesh?

Neither one makes threes. In fact, this is a Chicago Bulls team that belongs in the 1990’s. They are drivers to the rim but no one can drain a perimeter shot. In this three point or nothing era, how is that going to work? Doug McDermott is their only specialist.

They recently added another inept shooter to their lineup. Michael Carter-Williams has been on three teams in three years. He doesn’t do anything particularly well; his game is a bore.

On the plus side, the Bulls have strong inside play with Bobby Portis beginning his second year.  He should be a consistent rebounder and post scorer and should get to the line. Robin Lopez is active around the rim and he is a big body. The Bulls are going to miss the elegance and finesse and size of Pau Gasol, not to mention the class Gasol brings to every organization he plays for. Nikola Mirotic is not a poor man’s Gasol. He’s more comfortable on the perimeter and his defense is marginal.

But can they compete with the Cavs?

In their recent matchups, the Bulls had no heart and little leadership and no tough as nails army who wanted to kick ass and take names. It’s a fry cry from a 60 win season in 2010-11. But, alas, the NBA gives no reward for being a good team once upon a time.

Whereas Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler seemed to antagonize one another just by their mere presence, and found a way to sullenly coexist, none of those dynamics will be in play with Wade. Wade is a three time champion who Butler looked up to in his Marquette years. Butler will acquiesce to Wade but that will be a huge issue because Butler is the better player, on offense and defense. Like Rose, Wade will have to be monitored. His knees are an issue and 40 minute nights are out the question. It’s the end of games scenarios that I wonder about. Wade has made a career off of last shots in the game; will Butler slide on over and let his idol be his idol?

Last year,  Butler had a good season until he went down with an injury. The Bulls never recovered. Now the Bulls have a second scorer for Butler to rely on. More often than not, last season the Bulls looked like a bunch of individuals plucked off the street, asked to play with one another. To make matters worse, they didn’t appear to trust each other, like each other, or have invested any emotion in this season. They definitely didn’t look like they were trying to win for Fred Hoiberg.

The Chicago Bulls have not been successful in trying to overcome LeBron James. Look for Rajon Rondo to find guys in key positions for their game to thrive but he did that in Sacramento and they still didn’t make the playoffs, though Rondo had a great year.

It’s taken a long train ride for mediocrity to visit Chicago. It was the year Steph Curry was drafted, 2009. Vinny del Negro was the coach. The Bulls starters were a rookie Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah. The Bulls lost in the first round to LeBron James. But there was hope.

Suddenly the future is murky. Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo are way out of their prime. They can’t make three point shots. Jimmy Butler is the Bulls best player and should have an All-Star season if he can stay healthy. The front court is a big question mark. Can Taj Gibson compete with the explosive power forwards? What are you going to get out of Mirotic and McDermott? How will Fred Hoiberg get this cast of characters to come together as a collective unit when he failed at that same job last year?

The Bulls are the Eastern Conference’s biggest unknown. They could trend way, way up. Or fall on their face.

Prediction: 43-29

 

photo via llananba