Inside the Paint: Bulls Future

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Chicago Bulls

Feb 21, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler (21), center Joakim Noah (13), and guard Derrick Rose (1) during the second half against the Phoenix Suns at the United Center. The Bulls won 112-107. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Everybody knows the main story lines this offseason for the underachieving Chicago Bulls. The bigs, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, are high-prized free agents. Fred Hoiberg had a tough act to follow in Tom Thibodeau, and he did so by missing the postseason, entirely. The biggest question of them all, will Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler be the future backcourt?

Bulls Bigs

Every indication points to Gasol leaving after a pair of All-Star seasons in Chicago. The first of which, he led the league in double-doubles. The 35-year-old still has game left in the tank, and there’s no reason to believe otherwise. Everyone knows who they’re getting when Gasol comes to town: a versatile 7-footer that can pass and flourish as a top-3 scoring option. Usually top-2, but that wouldn’t necessarily be the case if he joins an established championship contender this summer. The Bulls should try to keep him but I would bet on his departure.

If I had to give you three possible destinations, they would be San Antonio (possible Tim Duncan replacement), Oklahoma City (contender that met with him last time in free agency with 2 stars if Durant stays), and Miami (possible contender and possible Hassan Whiteside replacement).

The other big name in the front court is Noah, who really, has been dealing with injuries since Gasol’s arrival. In their first season together under Thibs, it was a challenge to get both of them to produce side by side. This past season, Hoiberg elected to bring Noah off the bench before he was put on the shelf.

At age 31, the high energy big man may have to adapt his style moving forward. His intangibles are still desirable: he’s a good passing big man, a known interior defender with the ability to switch on screens, makes 70% of his free throws, and he’s a vocal leader that does the dirty work on the court. Even if his energy levels get toned down some, we’re still talking about a former Defensive Player of the Year and an All-Defensive Team player. I think the ongoing front office issues will finally push Noah out the door, even if they are adamant on keeping him.

My thoughts on who the top suitors would be are Oklahoma City (former coach Billy Donovan with 2 stars if Durant stays), Miami (possible Hassan Whiteside replacement), and New York (native, front court with Melo/Porzingis).

Bulls Backcourt

Derrick Rose, well he rose from Rookie of the Year, to All-Star, to league MVP, and has now come back from severe knee injuries. Not all perspectives are Rose-pedaled, but I am in the camp that understands his eye issue to begin last season. Along with the resiliency it takes to bounce back from those knees to play at the NBA level again for one, and two, for your hometown team that saw a teammate improve his game into an All-Star. Rose was the man for years before Jimmy Butler developed onto the radar. He has a great story as Chicago’s own to restore hope for the first time since the 90’s.

I did see Butler’s emergence coming as a rookie that barely played off the bench. His offense was what you would think, erratic and inefficient on the surface. Not to compare levels here, but I enjoyed watching Kobe Bryant shooting air balls in the playoffs back in the day. The eventual Black Mamba was young, flashed the skills, and his potential garnered a lot of attention in Los Angeles. Butler showed me what he’s been showing you for the past two seasons: a smart and aggressive defender, someone that can cut without the ball, and a guy that can score by using jab steps and fade aways.

Sure, Chicago is huge, but it’s a blue-collar town where Butler did his thing on the down low for a lunch-pale coach that relied on veterans. I watched Butler struggle to earn 10 minutes in a game, throwing up a few air balls and some bricks, contesting shots a half second late against the top wings in the East like LeBron, Melo, and PG13. Not only does Butler have a great story, he’s become a good two-way player while Rose was sidelined.

Personality wise, it appears that Rose is in his own world doing his own thing without a care about the outsiders. Rose was a college star that played on center stage, the top pick of the draft, successful before getting banged up. Butler’s demeanor is a little more Holloywood-ish, with a chip on his shoulder for “coming out of nowhere” as the last pick in the first round. From his rookie season of 8 minutes per game to becoming an All-Star and winning the Most Improved Player Award, Butler’s rise to the alpha dog was during Rose’s absence.

Since Rose returned, Rose remembers life on the court one way while Butler has developed it into a different offense. Hoiberg has only had one season with the team, but pressure’s on because he is supposed to bring offense to the Windy City and he just missed the playoffs with 3 guys on the roster that have been All-Stars.

Front Office Woes

The front office’s relationship with Thibs, new coach for the up and coming Timberwolves, turned into something unhealthy and that trumped his accomplishments on the basketball court. Hoiberg was long rumored to replace him, but when he speaks to the media, the two parties don’t sound as attached as we were made to believe. Nonetheless, I am someone that believes the GM duo of Gar Foreman and John Paxson should have been relieved of their duties a few years ago. They are conservative, can’t land a free agent in his prime, don’t make blockbuster trades, made the obvious mistake of letting Thibs go, and if Hoiberg doesn’t work out in the end, they should finally be let go.

Rose may only have one season left on his contract, but I’m not so sure they should move on from him. Do you realize how good he was before the injuries? Polished, no, all-around, no, but he played at a very high level. Give the guy his first offseason to work with a different player in Butler than he was used to before, and vice versa. Give them an offseason to be around each other, learn how to mesh, actually develop a relationship away from the everyday spotlight and expectations.

I don’t think pulling the trigger on trading Butler is a good solution to a possibly dominant back court. Let’s really see what’s there, while holding the front office accountable for the supporting cast, and the coach for the scheme and rotation.