The Windy City, as Chicago is famously referred as, is blowing an unsteady breeze up the spine of the United Center. As the Chicago Bulls collapsed on themselves in the final weeks of the season, draining out April with a mediocre 42-40 record, it seemed a fitting result for all the uncertainties that have surrounded the locker room the last few years.
What is to come with Derrick Rose? Will the organization fully commit to rebuilding around Jimmy Butler? Is it mutually beneficial for both sides if Joakim Noah left? Because good NBA coaches are unfairly let go in today’s market (see David Blatt and Frank Vogel), we will not discuss whether Fred Hoiberg is the long-term answer for the Bulls; rather, let’s look at how much was against him throughout this season.
Health is an unpredictable yet critical factor is a team’s regular season success, and it’s alarming to know only three Bulls saw the court at least 70 of the possible 82 times. To put things into context, the eight seed in the East, the Detroit Pistons, had seven players who played at least 70 games; more than twice as many as the Bulls. The Indiana Pacers and the Charlotte Hornets, the seventh and sixth seeds, both had six players who played at least 70 games; still twice as many as the Bulls had.
According to basketballreference.com, the Bulls ranked 23rd in offensive rating and 15th in defensive rating. To put it simply, the Bulls are a team with a few good pawns who are not yet good enough to legitimately compete in the East. The only reliable wing defender on the perimeter is Jimmy Butler, who also shoulders most of the offensive lead (will his body be able to handle the burden Chicago will ask of him?)
Derrick Rose will likely live out his contract, but it seems as though having him around is an agonizing reminder of what could have been. Nikola Mirotic is a joy to watch on offense, and he can become a good NBA player, but his defense still needs work. The ever so reliable Taj Gibson has been able to make a name for himself through his defense, but he has always surrendered his offensive faults; and in today’s NBA where stretch fours are sought after and drooled over, Gibson has literally made one three pointer in his entire seven year NBA career. ONE THREE POINTER EVER.
Dwight Howard, Nicolas Batum, Kent Bazemore, Harrison Barnes, and Courtney Lee are players who would strengthen the Bulls front line; Howard and Barnes more so if they are willing to take pay cuts. The Bulls need perimeter defenders and shooters to space the floor and generate a more open and fluid offensive tempo, and each of these players offer exceptional skill on both ends of the floor. Barnes and Batum are particularly intriguing on the wing next to Butler as both players have shown to be crafty passers with good open court vision, a big plus for Chicago’s all too familiar offensive drought. Bazemore would give the Bulls a great perimeter defender and a solid shooter from the 3-point line. You know the coined term: a 3-and-D guy. That’s Baze.
For all the hatred Howard has endured over the years, only truly blinded haters will tell you he has no impact on the defensive end. Howard is still one of the league’s elite big men and a disturbing presence around the paint for opponents looking to attack the rim. Can you imagine a Butler/Howard pick and roll? Or even a Rose/Howard pick and roll? Oh god, my 2011 NBA 2k fantasy lineups may finally come true!
The NBA is in a transitional period where players are no longer stuck to one position; instead, they are encouraged to be versatile enough to play up to three positions. These are the athlete’s Chicago needs to be looking for in free agency and in the NBA draft; versatile, lengthy, strong athletes. Wait a second think Scottie Pippen is still available?