2016-17 Bulls Season Review
The Bulls season was one big roller coaster from start to finish. It began with the offseason acquisitions of Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade to form the "Three Alphas" along with Jimmy Butler. Despite getting criticized for those moves, the Bulls started out surprisingly well. Eventually, though, they regressed into the mediocre team with deficient spacing that they were destined to be after bringing in non-shooters Rondo and Wade to play alongside Butler.
Friction and dysfunction started to emerge within the team, as Butler and Wade clashed with Rondo and some of the younger players. Butler, who had another very good season overall, was also involved in some trade speculation as the trade deadline neared.
After clinging on to one of the lower playoff spots for the longest time, the Bulls were on the verge of dropping out of the race in mid-March. But then, Rondo suddenly emerged as the team’s catalyst and led them to a late-season run to clinch the No. 8 seed with a 41-41 record.
Rondo carried that form over to the playoffs, as the Bulls shockingly took the first two games off the top-seeded Celtics. Unfortunately, he broke his wrist, and the Bulls’ hopes of an upset went down with him.
All things considered, the Bulls basically performed as inconsistently as expected from their poorly-built roster. But the big question for the Bulls heading into the offseason is whether that promising end-of-season run is justification enough to keep this team - specifically, the Three Alphas - together for another season or if they should finally shake things up.
Quick Offseason Breakdown
Potential Free Agents: Nikola Mirotic (Restricted), Joffrey Lauvergne (Restricted), Michael Carter-Williams (Restricted), Cristiano Felicio (Restricted), Dwyane Wade (Player Option)
Partial/Non-Guaranteed Contracts: Rajon Rondo, Isaiah Canaan
2017 Draft Picks (2): #16, #38
Projected Cap Space: ~$5 million
There’s a scenario where the Bulls can open up a ton of cap space this offseason. They have $30 million tied to cap holds of free agents. Meanwhile, Wade has a $24 million player option, while Rondo’s $13 million deal for next season is guaranteed for only $3 million. They can have some $50 million in space if they renounce all their free agents, Wade opts out, and they cut Rondo before June 30.
Unfortunately, though, all indications are that Wade will in fact opt in, and that Bulls management is leaning toward keeping Rondo. They can still free up close to $20 million in space if they renounce their free agent holds, but that number will be significantly lessened if they try to keep Mirotic and Felicio.
Biggest Offseason Priorities
1. Make mind up about Jimmy Butler’s future
If the Bulls have any plans to trade Jimmy Butler, this offseason is probably going to be the best time to do it. He’ll be 27, with two years left on a relative bargain of a contract for a superstar in his prime. The Bulls said no to the advances of the Celtics back in February, but with Boston winning the lottery, Chicago may be more inclined to talk this time around if that No. 1 pick is part of the deal.
That is, of course, assuming Gar Forman and Jim Paxson actually want to rebuild. They opted to bring Rondo and Wade in last offseason to stave off that rebuild, and could do the same again. Getting a ton of assets from Boston for Butler would be the smart play for the long term, but there’s every chance 'GarPax' just decide to keep Butler and remain semi-competitive until their hand is forced by the player himself.
Either way, the Bulls’ decision whether to keep or move Butler will have a major impact on the rest of their offseason moves.
2. Figure out the point guard situation
It seemed like it was going to be another bad regular season for Rondo, and one of his worst in terms of sheer on-court production. But with his strong end-of-season play, especially in those two games in Boston, he seemingly erased all the other poor performances from everyone’s memory. His injury in the Celtics series probably helped him out, as it showed just how much better he is than the other point guards the Bulls currently have on the roster.
Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams flopped so badly that Fred Hoiberg gave big minutes to Isaiah Canaan, who hadn’t played over 20 minutes since February. It was also an indictment on Cameron Payne, who was traded for Doug McDermott and Taj Gibson, that even he couldn’t get on the floor ahead of those guards. MCW has an $8 million cap hold as a restricted free agent, and is likely gone this summer. Canaan also has a partially-guaranteed deal and could be gone.
If the Bulls do decide to take the nuclear route and trade Butler, it won’t make much sense guaranteeing Rondo’s $13.4 million contract for next season. They'd be better served finding out what they have in Grant and Payne. But if they do keep Butler, then it should follow that Rondo will stay, given that he’s pretty easily their best in-house option at point guard.
3. Add more shooting
This really should’ve been a big priority last offseason since Hoiberg needs as much shooting as possible to run his preferred pace-and-space system. Instead, GarPax gave him two ball-dominant non-shooters in Wade and Rondo. They then traded away one of the best three-point shooters on the team in Doug McDermott in midseason, and brought in another guard with a shaky jumper in Payne.
The Bulls, unsurprisingly, were dead last in the league in both three-pointers made and three-point percentage during the regular season. But they showed late in the year how good they could be if they had even a little bit more spacing. When Mirotic was at the 4 and rookie Paul Zipser got more playing time while Wade was out injured, Butler and Rondo were finally able to have more space to get into the lane.
The Bulls need to make a decision on Mirotic, who is a restricted free agent and will have an $11 million cap hold. He remains remarkably inconsistent, but he’s arguably the best shooter they have on the roster at the moment.
Chicago doesn’t figure to have a lot of cap room to work with if Wade opts in, and they keep both Rondo and Mirotic. They will have the No. 16 pick, though, which they could use to draft a capable shooter like Duke’s Luke Kennard.