The Chicago Bulls’ season will be over in two games after last night’s Pacers’ win officially eliminated them from the playoffs, but let’s not jump the gun and blow this team up just yet.
The 2015-16 campaign began with championship aspirations, however lofty that may have been, but since their 22-12 start, the season has been a relative disaster. And now it is time to move on.
This offseason will certainly feature some changes, how big no one can be sure yet, but with much speculation already swirling there are a few things that seem to be relatively certain.
Pau Gasol will opt out of the third year of his contract to become a free agent. And Fred Hoiberg will be back at the helm next year, unless their is a huge change of heart from the organization. The rest of the offseason however is up in the air. What we do know is that there will be roster turnover, with only nine players on the books for 2016-17.
Last year despite blowing the team’s best chance of beating a LeBron James-led team in the playoffs, the organization took the easiest rout in pro sports, and fired the head coach instead of making any real changes to the roster. With Hoiberg coming back, this offseason will be as interesting as any the Bulls have had in recent years.
After a season full of awful losses and countless nights where a lack of effort was apparent to even the most casual of sports fans, there are some positives going into an offseason that will feature changes in personnel.
While many have been quick to blame Hoiberg, that is far too easy to do in a league in which so much of the outcome is determined by the players themselves. Hoiberg is antithesis of Tom Thibodeau, but this season does not prove that he cannot coach, just as much as Thibodeau’s firing does not prevent him from popping up next season as an elite NBA coach.
A 15-year NBA veteran, 10 as a player and five as an executive, Hoiberg has a far greater understanding of the league than most coaches who make the jump from college to the pros.
As much as this season proved that some players on the Bulls roster are simply not a fit for the team or perhaps the NBA, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott, despite their ups and downs, proved they can be elite scorers. Although Mirotic’s pump fake gets him into trouble and his sporadic play was evident, he proved that he has the ability to be a game-changer.
McDermott, whose rookie campaign was a wash, demonstrated that he can score at a high level in the NBA. There are still glaring weaknesses in his game, as some of his all-time NBA low non-scoring statics prove. However, he showed he can score in a multitude of ways. And consistent playing time next season, coupled with an offseason of defensive work, could secure his status as starter.
Trade rumors have begun to surround both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. However, while many are quick to blow up the team’s core and would trade either, moving Rose or Butler would seem to be shortsighted (unless a Godfather offer for Rose, from a team looking to win the offseason press conference presents itself).
Rose, is set to complete his first relatively healthy season since 2011, which should be viewed as a small victory. His steady improvement since the New Year is also a great sign.
Jimmy Butler, who has evolved from a defensive stopper into an elite two-time All-Star must be retained. Every team that tanks is looking to acquire a player of his caliber. Despite his knee injury, shaky play to end the season, and rumors of locker room turmoil, the 26-year-old swingman is a current and future star in this league.
Chemistry issues and offensive stagnation were both apparent this season, with much of the blame put on Rose and Butler, and rightfully so. However, chemistry is not achieved by wishing it into existence. The backcourt tandem needs to play together and learn each others’ games, and they have had limited opportunities to do so over the past few seasons.
Despite those shooting down their 7-1 record against the Cavaliers and the Raptors as meaningless, in lieu of their awful record against the rest of the Eastern Conference playoff teams, no other Eastern conference team competed at that clip against those elite teams. This drastic contrast highlights the bi-polar nature of this season and this team, but effort is something that can be coaxed and changed – despite it not occurring this season – while the talent to beat elite teams on a consistent basis cannot.
It is clear that there will be roster turnover and there is a huge need to bring in more more athleticism at the wings, but blowing it all up would be ill-advised. The core of this Bulls team, as well as the coach, deserve to run it back.