It was a crazy offseason and the Chicago Bulls were no exception. While the NBA’s main summer drama surrounded Kevin Durant, there were major alterations out in the Windy City. But in what state do the Bulls’ transactions leave them as the 2016-17 season draws closer?
Revamped Bulls Face Tough Season
The day before the draft, Chicago made the brave move to trade away hometown hero Derrick Rose. It signalled a new era for the team, as Rose was no longer the star in his final Bulls season. That mantle had been passed to Jimmy Butler.
Next, in a deal that shocked the league, Miami Heat icon Dwyane Wade signed for the Bulls in free agency. He took advantage of the increased salary cap to secure the money that the Heat had been unwilling to pay.
To round off the drama, Chicago signed the divisive point guard Rajon Rondo in free agency. He had resurrected his career at the Sacramento Kings, leading the league in assists for the third time in his career.
And so, in a matter of days, the Bulls had acquired two high profile backcourt players in Wade and Rondo to join their star shooting guard Butler. While the trio have tremendous talent, the Bulls are liable to a spectacular collapse for the following reasons.
When Rondo signed, he was quick to declare Chicago “Jimmy’s team”. As was Dwyane Wade. While it’s encouraging to see these two natural leaders be so diplomatic upon arrival, the reality may be very different.
Rondo also said that that the Bulls have “three alphas”. His honesty is admirable, but offers a confusing paradox: how can this be Jimmy’s team if there’s three alphas? Although he has been at the Bulls longer, it’s difficult to imagine him leading the team with Wade and Rondo taking a background role.
Coach Fred Hoiberg is vital for solving this impasse. He needs to become a stronger presence in the locker room to manage these his star trio. The problem is that’s not his style. Last year, Jimmy Butler publicly questioned Hoiberg’s approach, saying he needed to be more critical of his players. Moreover, Holberg’s lack of experience coaching in the NBA undermines his authority.
However, the Bulls’ coach will be heartened by Brad Stevens‘ tenure at the Boston Celtics. Stevens has a similarly calm style to Hoiberg, but has improved the Celtics results significantly over his three seasons in charge. His propensity for positive reinforcement rather than heavy criticism is exactly the quality that Butler questioned Hoiberg for.
But Stevens favours team-oriented players. He even traded Rondo in 2014 to acquire Jae Crowder amongst others. The Celtics rounded off their team approach by signing Al Horford – one of league’s most unselfish players – this summer. Hoiberg doesn’t have that luxury. His friendly style means that he will struggle to control a team dominated by three alphas. And how will he utilise his stars together?
The obvious problem with combining Rondo, Wade and Butler on the court is the lack of perimeter shooting. Rondo lacks a reliable jump shot; his scoring game has always been based on driving to the basket.
Butler is a developing outside shooter but he has only averaged one make-per-game in the last three seasons. But he favours driving too, and his three point percentage dropped off notably at the end of last season.
Finally, Wade has always struggling from the perimeter, shooting a career 28.4% from three. Wade isn’t as aggressive at the rim these days, but he is far from an outside threat, instead favouring floaters and mid-range shots to score.
All this means that the Bulls will shift heavy responsibility onto Nikola Mitotic and Doug McDermott to space the floor. While both are good shooters, playing them together will soften the Bulls defense.
Clearly, Fred Holberg has a lot of work to do to accommodate his new arrivals, both on and off the court. Right now, it seems unlikely that everything will magically fall into place for the Bulls; they face too many big problems. If they can’t overcome these, Chicago will be facing another season outside the playoffs.