As the 2015-16 NBA regular season comes to a close, the Chicago Bulls are on the verge of missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years. From what has been a chaotic year, perhaps not making a postseason appearance won’t be bad for an organization that desperately needs to restructure this summer.
In October, the Bulls felt optimistic about the upcoming tenure. Fred Hoiberg was named head coach, 2014-15 Kia Most Improved Player Jimmy Butler was signed to a five-year contract extension and Chicago selected Bobby Portis in the NBA Draft, who pundits called a steal. What could possibly go wrong, right?
Well, let’s start with chemistry.
When the campaign began, rumors indicated that Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler don’t like each other. Wasn’t that just great to hear, the two best players on the roster not getting along? Butler would deny the claim, however.
Here’s some more drama.
Two months into Hoiberg’s new gig, Butler criticized “The Mayor” for being too laid-back and said he has to coach a “lot harder”. Butler also snubbed his offensive system. Ever since that December fiasco, rumors circulated that a number of players don’t believe in the new coach either. Thanks to the All-Star swingman, Hoiberg became the scapegoat of the season.
Sure, Hoiberg deserves blame for what has occurred this season. However, vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman brought him into this mess.
Forman introduced the 43-year-old to virtually the same 2014-15 team. Even last season the Bulls had no charisma and faced frequent health issues. The former NBA Executive of the Year believed hiring a new coach would put the franchise out of its misery instead of upgrading the depth chart.
Oddly, Forman went out on a limb at the beginning of the term and said Bulls fans should look forward to a championship. This so-called championship caliber team lost its season series to the 30-46 New York Knicks, 31-43 Orlando Magic and worst of all, the 25-50 Minnesota Timberwolves. Losing to below .500 organizations was a problem Tom Thibodeau couldn’t resolve, and it still sticks with this year’s squad.
So, the trade deadline approached on February 22nd, and fans thought maybe the tide would turn for the better after a couple of trades.
At the time, Chicago had lost 18 of their last 23 games. The team anticipated a change. The Bulls were very active heading into the closing date, and things just miraculously fell apart. Forman was depended on to make a momentum-swinging deal that would save the season, and instead he arranged a money-related deal, saving $3.5 million. The Bulls exchanged a 15-year veteran in Kirk Hinrich for Justin Holiday, a man who has averaged four points per game throughout his entire four-year career. Come on, man.
Currently, the Bulls are a game out of the playoff race and the team morale has reached an all-time low, even after two key victories.
After Butler’s game-winner over the eighth seeded Indiana Pacers on Tuesday, the locker room lacked enthusiasm. Nick Friedell, the Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago.com and ESPN 1000, tweeted about the guys seeming more amped to get the season over with than make a push for the playoffs. #21 would tell the press “the guys are nicked up, hurting”. Later, it was discovered that Rose suffered a hyperextended left elbow and Taj Gibson has a fractured rib.
On Thursday in Houston, the Bulls notched a solid comeback victory with contributions from an unlikely source in Nikola Mirotic with 28 points. The Bulls were without Gibson and Rose sat out later in the game as Hoiberg discovered he could only use one arm. And combined, the starting five scored only three fourth quarter points in the 14-point comeback. Shamefully, the season has come to a point where even if the Bulls win, they still lose.
Despite two recent victories against Indiana and Houston, there is no excitement or intensity, which you normally would expect from a team trying to bring a playoff run to the city.
Whether or not they make the playoffs, this impending offseason will be an eventful occasion. Among the probable departures are Joakim Noah, whose term was cut short due to a shoulder injury, and Pau Gasol, who is ready for a change of scenery.
Noah’s health problems and dreadful shooting on the year make his absence something the Bulls can deal with and replace. Gasol, on the other hand, had two good seasons with the Bulls and made the All-Star team each year. Losing Gasol will leave Taj Gibson in charge, and the lineup will lose some imperative depth in the paint.
Hoiberg packing his bags is also a possibility after a disastrous first year. But who ever said it was his fault? He had very little to work with. The whole dilemma falls more on Forman.
And shockingly enough, reports have surfaced that the Bulls are legitimately interested in dealing Butler this summer. Now, this is something with which I disagree with to an extreme . Parting ways with a 26-year-old who recently signed a contract over $90 million would make zero sense. Butler has established a name for himself not only in Chicago but also around the league in five short seasons.
If anything, the Bulls need to get rid of an injury-ridden, hometown player in Rose. The 27-year-old is entering the final year of his contract and is receiving a large bulk of the Bulls’ money with a whopping $21.3 million. A stream of injuries has ruined the man’s career. Moreover, Rose even told the press in September that he’s looking forward to testing the open market. Frankly, it won’t be difficult to say goodbye.
In regards to management, Chicago needs to pull the plug on Paxson and Forman.
The duo had a number of years to manufacture a successful franchise and they have failed miserably. From the duo’s hiring of Hoiberg to Forman’s antics at the trade deadline, it is apparent they have lost control of the pack. Additionally, for the past couple years, the pair has struggled to assemble a team that could beat LeBron James in the playoffs. In the Eastern Conference playoffs, there simply is no path forward without beating King James and company.
Chicago must test the pending free agency class. Toronto Raptors star DeMar DeRozan will assess the free agent market come July 1, and the team would love to have a fiery guard to assist Butler and/or Rose. Also, Miami Heat big man Hassan Whiteside will be an unrestricted free agent, and he could bring the team some much-needed grit. Primarily, the Bulls ought to acquire a top free agent who will help this inconsistent team.
As well, don’t sleep on the NBA Draft in June. Yet another appealing group of college/international athletes will make the next step to the professional level. The crew can’t take this for granted.
Whatever happens in the closing games, the Bulls need to take risks. Playoff team or not, when all is said and done they need to rebuild and let go of what has held them back in previous years. For the sake of the future of the franchise, flip the switch.