The Chicago Bulls didn’t play on Sunday, but their fate on a couple of levels was determined by results. From a present day angle, they lost all hope of making the NBA playoffs due to the Indiana Pacers winning their game. On a historic, franchise level kind of angle, they no longer hold sole possession of the NBA record for most wins in a regular season, now sharing it with the Golden State Warriors.
With a 72-9 record through 81 games, the Warriors look like they’ll be the first team to win 73 games in a season. Yes, the Grizzlies made it difficult for them in the last encounter. Yes, the referees helped the Warriors escape with a win. But that’s all background noises to them. Road, home, rest, back to back. It doesn’t matter. The Warriors did what they had to against the Spurs with a 92-86 win in San Antonio, the first for the franchise after 33 consecutive losses there.
And the Bulls? All that’s left now is for the players from that 1995-1996 team which went on to win a first of three consecutive championships to congratulate the Warriors on their regular season achievement and possibly talk some trash, mentioning that if the two teams were to play together, it would have been a Bulls win. Hypothetical arguments might be the best ones, because there’s no answer, but some people like to do their discussions about things that can be determined.
And while the Warriors are looking like they’re headed towards a second championship in a row which will put this team in the very hypothetical discussion of best team ever, the Bulls of the moment are in a different kind of discussion. One that’s done when expectations aren’t met, as they miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Despite the max contract to Jimmy Butler. Despite the first healthy season for Derrick Rose since 2010-2011. Despite the new head coach, Fred Hoiberg. Despite the preseason hope of challenging the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Eastern crown.
So what are the questions leading into the offseason?
- Joakim Noah, Aaron Brooks, E’Twaun Moore and probably Pau Gasol are free agents. Who to sign and who to release?
- Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose. Can they co-exist? And if the answer is now, who gets traded?
- Fred Hoiberg failed during his first season. What’s his fate?
- What can turn this team into a championship contender with one offseason of work?
You never know who you land in the lottery, but working out draft picks and draft potential only comes a bit later, when you’re a bit more aware of when are you picking. Other things have a bit more basis in reality to them.
Like the Rose and Butler duo, who didn’t have that many games and minutes next to each other as one would want. Some think the two still need to tune their relationship. Last offseason the rumors raged about them hating each other, but that’s not the case or the issue here. The big need is for Hoiberg, or whoever replaces him if he’s shockingly fired, to find a way to make them play well off each other. Ball handling duties. Shot selection which is awful for both of them.
Gasol wants more money than the $7.7 million he’s due to make next season. The Bulls shouldn’t opt in to give him that. He’s a solid player and brings some good numbers, but he seriously limits a team on defense while his offense becomes more and more inconsistent. In today’s NBA a big man giving you points isn’t as important as someone who plays excellent defense, which is more up Joakim Noah’s alley, although the attempts to trade him might not sit too well with the center.
The Bulls, without Gasol, will have around $23 million in cap space if the number is actually going to be $90 million. That’s a whole of a lot to work with. Besides making the right choices, which should be taking care of the backcourt depth, a power forward and another 3 & D type player, the Bulls can’t go into next season that simply keeping everyone together + a draft pick addition will be the right way to go. They aren’t who they thought they were.