The Chicago Bulls have been stagnant since arriving on the elite level. Head Coach Tom Thibodeau is a defensive guru that will have his team prepared and hustling, but the front office is conservative without direction. Chicago offered Thibodeau his first head coaching opportunity after being an assistant for years, however the former Coach of the Year could be on his way out of the Windy City. As a Bulls fan I can tell you that the coach hasn’t mastered substitutions, he really does play his starters heavy minutes to a fault. Before the season began though, Assistant Coach Ron Adams was let go, a close colleague to Thibodeau. So far this season, rumors circulated that Thibodeau was following front office orders about minute distribution.
For the third year in a row, Thibodeau is presented with the challenge of playing without former MVP, Point Guard Derrick Rose. As you might have heard, Rose injured his knee two postseasons ago, missing the remainder of the first round series and all of last year. Then last month Rose dropped to the hardwood again, injuring his other knee which could keep him out this season too. From the outside perspective it looks like the front office believes in Thibodeau and his east-coast formula, defense, rebounding, and doing all the little things. Over the past few seasons like most good teams, they lost some key players to free agency and have replaced them with valuable alternatives. This time around, as predicted, losing guards Nate Robinson and Marco Bellinelli is exposing the lack of playmakers on the roster. That, combined with the conservative nature of V.P John Paxson and G.M. Gar Forman, is exactly why Chicago fell out of championship contention heading into this year.
You see trades around the league involving players like Rudy Gay, Andre Iguodala, and Kevin Martin. The rival Indiana Pacers went out and acquired stretch power forward, Luis Scola. After the 2011-2012 season, they had to replace sharpshooter Kyle Korver (breaking 3-point records), defender Ronnie Brewer, point guard C.J. Watson, paint protector Omer Asik (Noah is a natural power forward), and spark off the bench John Lucas III. That was the famous bench mob that moved on to other places, insert the energetic Nate Robinson (broke Chicago playoff records), the rhythmic Marco Bellinelli (flourishing with San Antonio), veteran shooter Richard Hamilton, the scrappy Kirk Hinrich, and veteran presence Nazr Mohammed. As for this season, they brought wingman Mike Dunleavy to replace the scoring vacated by guys like Korver, Robinson, and Bellinelli. Young poing guard Marquis Teague has not translated into a reliable rotation player, same could be said for stretch big man Erik Murphy. When Jimmy Butler comes back from injury, that’s a player they hit on in the draft with value and potential.
Despite winning over 60 games in twice in the past three years, both times the Bulls were knocked out of the playoffs by the champion Miami Heat. Last year without Rose, Deng was sidelined, Joakim Noah banged up, and Taj Gibson hobbled, Chicago defeated a disappointing Brooklyn Nets squad before Miami got the best of them again. Sure, they have the Charlotte Hornets’ first round pick in their back pocket, a selection that gets closer to the top of the draft as time elapses. Sure, they have the best European player waiting in the wings, Nikola Mirotic, a versatile 6’10 two-way player. The thing is, you can only sit back and remain patient for so long, it takes some risks to be and stay relevant in the NBA. Coming into the year I saw the worst Bulls unit on paper, since Coach Thibodeau came to town.
You would think the franchise learned, at least the decision makers at the top, and if you are judging the results you can see that they have yet to do so. Rose, the face of the franchise and important figure to the league, did not have much offensive help before the injury and when he returned. The best supporting cast was assembled in the season Rose watched from the sidelines. The Bulls team and fans coincide with Thibodeau, however the front office is letting the high hopes dwindlewhether Rose is healthy or not. So in a way, Thibodeau is too good for them and should consider New York when the time comes. The former Coach of the Year, who was also runner-up the following season, coached as an assistant with the New York Knicks when they went to the finals in 1999. He was also on the staff under Doc Rivers with the Boston Celtics when they lost in the finals, as well as when they won the championship. Under Rivers he was the defensive coordinator, the Celtics were playing at an elite level similar to what the Bulls have been playing at in recent years.
All Star Luol Deng is attractive to many teams, especially with his contract expiring after this year. He and All Star workhorse Joakim Noah are the most valuable assets, the big man could plug and play on almost any team in the league. Carlos Boozer is set to come off the books after the following year, since there doesn’t appear to be any takers for the former all star. Figuring the puzzle starts with those three pieces, one if not all should be on the way out in the upcoming year or two. Chicago would be wise to hang onto Jimmy Butler who is on the rise, looking like a starter on the wing for years to come. Taj Gibson could be a starter right now, but you do have to keep an open mind because he might be the trade chip that gets a deal done. Sometimes you have to tale a step back to take two steps forward, unfortunately the front office finds cheaper replacements each offseason and that’s about it.
For years I have been calling for the Bulls to acquire a natural point guard, thus sliding Rose over to shooting guard, if you need that position clarity. Moving Rose to the wing to start games and throughout the season, would keep him fresh and defer attention towards whoever has the basketball, rather than having all eyes on him every second. That would allow him to play in the flow of the game, instead of creating nearly the entire offense all season and postseason every year.
An obvious target would be to reunite Thibodeau with point guard Rajon Rondo, the injured all star has mastered the art of defense and passing. The Bulls as they are don’t have enough to contend, so breaking up the core with contracts looming is only a matter of time. Some other options are Toronto’s Kyle Lowry (ability to notch triple-doubles), or Atlanta’s Jeff Teague (Marquis’ brother). The traditional view of keeping Rose at the point and adding playmakers on the wings has its benefits as well, there are players like New Orlean’s Eric Gordon, Toronto’s DeMar Derozen, and Utah’s Gordon Hayward that might be possible targets for the right price.