The Chicago Bulls are going to look very different compared to recent years, as they head into the 2016-2017 NBA season with a weirdly put together team, led by Jimmy Butler on the court and Fred Hoiberg on the sidelines, while Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo arrive, still unclear if to help or to provide unwanted distractions.
If one could find a line to describe this season from a preseason perspective, “delaying the rebuild” might be a good way to label it. After missing the playoffs with injuries and failures on the court and off of it with Hoiberg, Butler, Rose and others, the Bulls had a chance to start something new completely, around Butler or without him. They chose somewhere in between. Rose and his bad contract were shipped to the New York Knicks, Dwyane Wade made his hometown return and Rondo will try to further establish himself as a good presence in the locker room, and a point guard that’s not just interesting in padding his assist numbers. Interesting additions, but also the kind that can cause problems.
Clearing house wouldn’t have been just a roster thing: Gar Forman and John Paxson would have been gone too. And they wanted to roll the dice with a retool, which unless something very surprising happens, will lead to the same spot in about two years. Wade isn’t on a long term deal, and doesn’t have much time left in the NBA. Rondo right now seems like a soldier of fortune more than anything else. You could do a lot worse, but he’s no one ideas of a franchise point guard at this point.
But the changes don’t just include this new big three, stubborn about Butler being the leader of this team. Noah, who was the leader of this team for a long while, is gone to join Rose on the Knicks. He and Hoiberg didn’t get along from the moment Hoiberg decided he’ll be coming off the bench, and in any case, he missed most of last season with an injury. His defense and presence will be missed, but he did become almost unusable offensively, so maybe it’s for the best. Gasol left for the Spurs, hoping to win a championship there. Dunleavy, who didn’t come back too well from his injury, will try to add some experience and shooting to the Cavaliers.
Lopez isn’t the scorer Gasol is, or the defender Noah is when healthy, but he’s a solid player to have at center on both ends of the floor. Jerian Grant was terrific in college and didn’t get enough opportunities with the Knicks. He should be able to show a little bit more with the Bulls. And Valentine, the AP Player of the year in 2016, coming in after four seasons at Michigan State, can be a terrific addition, but he seems like a player who will need more than a season to truly fit in, just like Bobby Portis.
Acquisitions: Denzel Valentine and Paul Zipser in the draft; Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade & Isaiah Canaan in free agency; Spencer Dinwiddie, Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant and draft rights via trades.
Departures: Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, E’Twaun Moore, Aaron Brooks in free agency; Derrick Rose, Justin Holiday, Mike Dunleavy Jr. in trades.
Best Case Scenario
Despite the easily spotted problems in this roster, everything clicks. Rondo doesn’t cause any problems, Butler thrives as team leader, Wade replaces Rose as the hometown legend in Bulls uniform, and Hoiberg finally gets to see an offense that’s more to his liking, while getting more respect from players. Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott become consistent all of a sudden. Portis turns into a meaningful piece of the puzzle, Taj Gibson overcomes losing Noah as his partner, and Tony Snell can move easily between the 2 and 3, while we’ll finally see a lot more small ball from the Bulls, who can put on some very big lineups, especially in the 1-2-3 positions, which might be difficult to deal with. Playoffs? Expectations are always high in Chicago, no matter who is playing. But I assume making the conference semifinals, and obviously going further, will be a success, at least from a short term perspective.
Worst Case Scenario
There can be a number of bad scenarios for the Bulls, and not making the playoffs could be the least of their worries, although a blessing in disguise with the draft picks it brings. However, the Butler-Wade-Rondo-Hoiberg connection is volatile, and if it ignites, the Bulls will suffer. Forget about not making the playoffs. A bad year in the locker room could simply mean scrapping the whole thing and starting from nothing. Remember who long it took for the Bulls to get from Michael Jordan’s final season in 1998 to being a contender in 2011? That’s the worst case scenario. Rebuilds don’t always work.