The Chicago Bulls seemed to be on their way towards a rebuilding (aka tanking) season, with Jimmy Butler on the trading block. But signing Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade, along with some promising signs from the NBA Summer League, suggest that someone in this front office thinks that a championship team, in time, can be built on the ruins of the old, failed attempt.
At first, this looks like an uneasy union. Three players who love the ball, who don’t spread the floor (especially Rondo and Wade) and love to spend time in the paint, players who aren’t exactly shy about their demands, or less eloquently put, have big egos. But weirder unions in the history of the NBA have worked out. All this is presided on by Fred Hoiberg, who had a rough first year on the Bulls sideline, and has an uneasy relationship with the team’s franchise player, Butler.
Butler seems to be making media tours, reassuring everyone that he’s ready to play alongside Wade and Rondo, ready to be the leader and teammate he’s expected to be. Besides the injuries hitting the team left and right last season, it seemed that relationship surrounding Butler had something to do with the Bulls missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Both Butler and Hoiberg have said they’re capable of working together. If it doesn’t work for a second time, we’re really going to see an accelerated rebuilding process.
Rondo and Wade have said that this is Butler’s team. They’re obviously expected to fill in a big role, but the Bulls are Butler’s team, for now. Butler himself has said he expects them to challenge him if they feel he’s veering off course. Maybe that’s another hint towards Hoiberg, who isn’t strong enough in the locker room, or simply doesn’t have the confrontational personality some players need.
Butler: “What I want them guys to do whenever I’m on some bulls**t, I want them to tell me. I want you to say my name, man to man.”
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) July 18, 2016
On some teams, leadership doesn’t come from coaches, but from certain players. It sometimes feels as if Butler is taking his “Franchise player” role too seriously, and forcing his opinion on the team. Remember, Derrick Rose might have been the best player on the 2011 Bulls, the franchise’s best team since the 90’s dynasty, but Joakim Noah was the leader among the players. The head coach, Tom Thibodeau, was also very different from the one on the sidelines now.
Not exactly a powder keg waiting to blow up, but it’s not difficult imagining what can go wrong here, and quickly. Maybe it’s worth the risk. If it doesn’t work out, the Bulls can still hit the rebuild button pretty quickly and head off in a new direction, maybe with a new front office too. And if it does work out? It’s not going to be a championship team right away, but it’s a pretty good foundation to build around without sacrificing too much cap flexibility beyond the 2017-2018 season.
I guess it came down to the Bulls wanting or not to go into a rebuilding project. They didn’t, and so they picked up two accomplished veterans. All-Stars. Champions, not to mention Wade being a future hall of famer (I think Rondo’s career has taken him away from that path) and from Chicago originally. The Bulls might be a fun team to watch in an old school way, with a big, physical lineup, and a young, athletic bench. They might also be fun to follow if everything explodes.