2016 – 2017 Results: 41-41, 8th in the Eastern Conference, lost to Boston 4-2 in the East Quarterfinals
Key Additions: Zach LaVine (MIN), Kris Dunn (MIN), Lauri Markkanen (Draft), David Nwaba (LAL), Justin Holliday (NYK), Quincy Pondexter (NOP)
Key Departures: Jimmy Butler (MIN), Rajon Rondo (NOP), Michael Carter-Williams (CHA), Joffrey Lauvergne (SAS)
Free Agents: Nikola Mirotic
Injuries: Zach LaVine – Recovering from surgery to repair torn ACL. Out for at least two months. Cameron Payne – Recovering from surgery on a broken foot. Out for 3 – 4 months.
Projected Starters: Kris Dunn – Dwayne Wade/Zach LaVine – Paul Zipser – Lauri Markkanen/Nikola Mirotic – Robin Lopez
Bench Mob: Jerian Grant, Denzel Valentine, Justin Holliday, David Nwaba, Quincy Pondexter, Bobby Portis, Christiano Felicio
It’s been real y’all. After years of scratching and scraping to remain relevant Da Bulls seem to have given up the good fight and has finally (albeit messily) decided to retreat and regroup. If I haven’t already made it painfully obvious I’m a pretty big Bulls fan so it’s pretty bittersweet having to write their preview first (given that I’m going worst to first). I’m partially relieved that I can get them out of the way given that this (and probably the next few) season shape up to be pretty hard watches but I’m also saddened by what is clearly marking the end of an era that didn’t produce the post-MJ title we’ve all been dying to witness but did give us an MVP, a legendary defense and a reputation as one of the toughest outs in the Eastern Conference no matter their situation at the time.
We saw this coming. Summer ’16 gave us a window into what came to be the unraveling that has placed them in their current situation. It was then when it was apparent that years of mismanagement had finally infected the heart that kept the Bulls running for the past several seasons. In spite of bringing on a known locker room cancer and overpaying for an aging star whose game is the antithesis of the philosophy your head coach runs and was essentially hired for (you know, that and being buddies with the owner and GM) Chicago made the playoffs. Also, they were (ugh) arguably a healthy Rajon Rondo away from pulling off a rare 8 over 1 upset. However, this summer finished the job that years of front office f*****y brought about. They traded franchise wing Jimmy Butler to Minnesota for an injured Zach Levine, a disappointing Kris Dunn and the only top 10 pick from this summer’s draft that has bust written all over him Lauri Markkanen. This is where we are folks. Ladies and gentlemen, these are your 2017 Chicago Bulls. Now that I’m out of my feelings (almost) lets see how this beef sausage will be made.
The Good: Time, everyone has time now. The organization as a whole can step back, take a long look at themselves, assess the failures of the past and hopefully extract something from them to assist in the potential successes of the future. Head coach Fred Hoiberg essentially has a pass to help develop some young talent and fully instill his vision of offensive basketball that made him a buzzed about college coach before taking the post in Chicago.
Having Dwayne Wade for however long as they can keep him will be a plus on the court but the sooner they can facilitate the buyout the sooner they can open up minutes for their young guys in the backcourt that will probably be more indicative of the new look Bulls at least for the short term. Hell, there will be reps to go around for everyone given the attrition of all of their major minute guys save for the always solid Lopez and probably Mirotic who is likely a qualifying offer away from showing up at camp.
While many of these minutes will be occupied by new faces it’s encouraging to know that some guys that started to flourish in the black and red last year appear primed to have breakout seasons. Paul Zipser was instrumental in Chicago’s hot streak that helped them slide into the playoffs and will be given every opportunity to prove that it wasn’t a fluke. Bobby Portis has always struck me as a guy that gets better with the more floor time he sees and same goes for the newly (and smartly) extended Christiano Felicio. Although this will be a season rife with growing pains and questions that they most likely won’t have answers to I truly believe that we’ll see a few guys make noticeable leaps.
The Bad: Soooooooo y’all notice how there was very little actual BASKETBALL in the good? Yeah, not a mistake. Okay here’s the deal, this is going to be a VERY bad team. Their best case (which we’ll get to in a minute) is a disaster. Even considering their tanking strategy this is a team that appears to struggle at being bad. I mentioned the trade return up top (which frankly was bad enough) but the Bulls sent out their 16th pick in the swap. WHY? And let’s not mention the picks they sent away for Cam Payne (injured again) and Joffrey Lauvergne (not even on the team anymore). This seems to be a team that got forced into tanking and is at the moment pretty ill-equipped to make the moves needed to build a sustainable roster moving forward.
The product on the court won’t fare much better I’m afraid. So picture this as Chicago’s (once everyone is back and Wade is gone) potential death (more like suicide) lineup, Dunn – LaVine – Zipser – Markannen/Mirotic – Lopez/Felicio. So many questions here. Outside of one of the Euros who’s shooting? Sure LaVine was a 38% three point shooter last year before going down but there’s this little thing that exists in Minnesota that doesn’t in Chicago called spacing. Also there are major concerns about how Zach’s game will look post knee surgery. For a player whose complete game is linked to his athleticism the worry is real. Additionally, defense is a sore issue here. They arguably have two ready made at this moment plus defenders on the roster right now in Holliday and Lopez. I feel like I had to qualify that because there are a few guys that have the tools to be good defenders like Valentine, Zipser, Felicio and Nwaba but they haven’t shown enough to have teams worry about them on that end yet.
Dunn and Markkanen probably have the biggest target on their backs in regards of players that are pressured to produce right away. We’ve already touched on Lauri up top and if he’s thrusted into playing starter minutes right away I can see this getting ugly. Reports of him lighting the nets on fire in EuroBasket is encouraging but basketball (especially on this level) is played on both sides of the court and even on the offensive end I can see the speed of the game being hard for him to adjust to. Mirotic coming back will provide a buffer for him and will likely serve as a better bridge to the Association. Dunn, after being lauded as a homerun pick by the T’Wolves and one of the best prospects available proceeded to have a disastrous rookie season. His shot never materialized, he also struggled with the speed of the game thus his defense (which was bandied about as his calling card) fell flat. Projected to take the reigns at the 1 he’ll have more than enough opportunity to grow up and out of the stigma that has dogged him. The progression of these two will have a great effect on how this young group will grow.
The X Factor: The injured dudes. I know I’ve harped on it quite a bit but it is still worth stressing, Zach LaVine has to come back strong! If he does, it gives them a much needed and arguably only slasher as well as an additional shooter. His health and optimal performance makes everyone else’s job easier (especially Dunn’s) and will give the Bulls at least one person that can make opposing defenses uncomfortable (if not have to really think about how to guard him). The Bulls have the worst point guard situation in the league. Show me where’s the lie. Although he’s no world beater I think Cam “Prince Panda” Payne coming back as an effective player can help the Bulls sort through their issues at the position. Even if he doesn’t stay (and I really think he won’t) giving him reps when healthy can provide relief on second unit where he was pretty decent in OKC and may help push the other guards. It’s going to be a long season either way so what’s the harm in getting experimental with it. C’mon Bulls, go back to college and get weird with it. Remember, y’all have time.
H.B. says: 22-60, 15th in the Eastern Conference, 5th in the Central Division