In the NBA world, there are two ideal places you want to be in when constructing a team, at the very top, or at the very bottom. It's very simple. You either want to be a championship contender (a real one, definitely not looking at you, Doc Rivers) or a sucky, sucky team, with no hope except for the draft pick that will get you back on the long road to being relevant again (how ya doing, Sam Hinkie?).
The Chicago Bulls are at a crossroads, unsure of which bracket they want to attempt to be in. They have an ageing roster, full of 30-somethings, a select few youngsters that consist of, Doug McDermott, Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis, Tony Snell and Jimmy Butler and last but not....actually, now that I think of it, last and least, Derrick Rose.
That odd grouping of players is tied together with Fred Hoiberg. A coach that hasn't truly figured it out yet, but since he is just 43 years young and is in his first year of NBA coaching, should be fine going forward. A coach that was also supposed to revitalize an offense that was stuck in the 20th century. Needless to say, Hoiberg has yet to achieve his only goal of getting the offense into shape. In fact, his team ranks 26th in offensive efficiency, a far cry from what Chicago's barely competent front office said wasn't good enough last year. That ranking, under Tom Thibodeau, a coach many see as a defensive mastermind but not much else, was 10th in the league. Yes, 10th in offensive efficiency! Hoiberg, a man that was supposed to revolutionize the Bulls' offense has let it plummet 16 spots.
As I mentioned, the argument over Hoiberg can always be brought down to his roots. He is still a coach that is fresh out of college, someone that has a lot of room for improvement in the NBA, with a little bit more experience around some of the fundamentals of NBA coaching, like rotations, subbing and timeouts, he will surely turn into an upper echelon coach eventually. All he needs is time and a team willing to give him time to grow with a squad of players that are willing to wait.
The problem is for Hoiberg, his front office doesn't know whether they want to wait and skip to the next era of Bulls basketball or try to salvage something from the Derrick Rose era that started so promisingly in 2010-11, before coming to a crushing end in game 1 of the 2012 Eastern Conference first round series vs the Philadelphia 76ers.
As I mentioned earlier, this group of players that the promising Hoiberg has to work with just doesn't make any sense. The large contingent of 30+ year olds make this team seem like it has championship aspirations. From Joakim Noah, to Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and even Aaron Brooks, this team has age and experience galore.
In complete contrast, you have this young group scattered throughout the team: Cameron Bairstow, Cristiano Felicio, Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis, Doug McDermott and Tony Snell. All of whom may or may not be good, but to be honest, we just haven't seen enough of them on the court to know. Just like Fred Hoiberg, these players need time to succeed. They need opportunities. Unfortunately for idealistic Bulls' fans, they need to make room in the squad to allow all of this young talent to come through.
If you failed to catch my hint there, 'make room' means blow the hell out of this team.
The clear divide between young and old on this squad isn't working. Half of the team is ready to compete for a championship, while the other half wants to develop and get there slowly. One of those parts needs to go. I believe it is time to build around the young core they have in place and rally around Jimmy Butler.
Many would argue that due to the immense amount of talent that this organisation that instead of blowing the old portion of the Bulls' house, they should look to offload the younger section of the squad and instead go all in for one or two final runs at the championship. From a Bulls' fan's perspective, this seems great, MORE PLAYOFF BASKETBALL IN CHICAGO!!! WOOOHOOOO!!! But unfortunately, this team isn't as close as people think at making a championship push.
Many believe that the Bulls are a piece, potentially two away from chasing the Larry O'Brien trophy, but those people are wrong. This Bulls team was constructed by a maniac. No part of their frontcourt works in the modern NBA at all, with the exception of possibly Nikola Mirotic. Sure, Pau Gasol was an All-Star this year and the season prior, but he doesn't possess a reliable three point shot to spread the floor and is too slow to defend the pick and roll effectively, switch, defend smaller players and not athletic or instinctive enough to block shots. In the modern day NBA, if you can't shoot threes or defend effectively in the frontcourt, you are practically useless these days. This is of course, unless you have a player that can do both of those things. But there is such a small selection of guys that have that specific skillset. Needless to say, none of those players in the league are on the Bulls. Joakim Noah cannot shoot, Nikola Mirotic can't mark anyone, Taj Gibson does a half-assed version of both and everyone else hasn't had a real opportunity.
Their backcourt is potentially an even larger issue.
Jimmy Butler is the future of this franchise. While Kawhi Leonard and Paul George steal all of the headlines for being the prototypical, stud two way phenom, Jimmy Butler is an incredibly close third for this type of player. He has been averaging 22.8 points on 45% shooting this season, while still remaining one of the best wing defenders in the NBA. That last point is what some people forget about. Remember, just a couple of seasons ago, before Butler broke out as a go to option on offense, he was the LeBron stopper. Remember the 2013 playoffs? The time when Jimmy Butler when toe-to-toe with LeBron James, the series where Thibs played him for essentially every minute of the series? I do.
With such a great shooting guard in place with Jimmy Butler, building a backcourt should be easy for Chicago. Unfortunately, Butler's backcourt mate is Derrick Rose. A former league MVP, that has now become a hindrance for the Bulls. Derrick Rose has become a liability for the Bulls on offense. Butler's emergence has allowed him to become the focal point of the offense, but his driving game has become far less effective than it should be due to defenses helping off Derrick Rose and his 28% three ball. Rose has become incredibly detrimental to the Bulls' offense when he plays off-ball. Defenses have been able to double post threats and clog the lane with Rose's man, forcing the Bulls to turn into a far less efficient offensive team than they should be.
When he's on the ball, he isn't much better either. On pull-up jump shots, for players that I consider eligible (minimum 3 pull-ups per game, minimum 15 minutes per game, minimum 35 games played), of which there are 78 of them, Derrick Rose ranks 61st in percentage on these shots, his effective field goal percentage being an awful 38% on these shots, which used to be a staple of his game. To be fair, he is among the league leaders in effectiveness on drives per game, but it still doesn't take away from the fact that whenever he isn't doing that, he is completely redundant.
Rose's on/off numbers prove this too. His net rating is a -5.2. Yep, NEGATIVE 5.2! This is a former MVP! If you're wondering what Butler's numbers are by the way, he has a much more respectable +4.3 net rating. In fact, when the pair play together, they make the team 1.9 points worse per 100 possessions.
If every one of those juicy stats doesn't want to make you split this backcourt up immediately, try this: the pair don't even like one another! Jimmy Butler has come out on the record, saying both he doesn't like Derrick Rose's work ethic and he thinks he is a point guard, which for those of you playing at home, is Derrick Rose's position.
So, now that we've established that the frontcourt can't play together and the backcourt needs to be focused on Jimmy Butler, not Derrick Rose, I think it's safe to assume that the Bulls are more than a 'couple of pieces' away from winning a championship. To add to this, here's another in depth statistic: they are ranked 9th in the East. Yep, they aren't even a playoff team. With a rough run of the Heat, Raptors and Wizards in their next three games, there is increasing doubt in my mind that this team is going to be playing anymore than 82 games.
If the Bulls keep at what they are doing, bringing back the same team every year, except adding a new backup point guard, or adding a different wing sniper, this team is going to continue to stay in or around that 9th place position. Jimmy Butler has probably reached his ceiling, the old core is going to deteriorate, Derrick Rose isn't going to improve and the youngsters aren't going to get any better with no game time. For the moment, they are stuck in no man's land. The one place in the NBA where you don't want to be. As said earlier, you either want to be at the top, or at the very bottom. Anywhere between is bad. Anywhere from about the 7th seed, to the 10th seed, is even worse still. Those teams either get knocked out in round one of the playoffs or get the lowest picks in the lottery, not high enough to compete, nor low enough to draft a game-changer.
Luckily for Gar Forman, general manager of the Chicago Bulls, there are pathways out of NBA purgatory.
In fact, he kinda started the rebuilding process at the trade deadline, hinting at an overhaul by dumping veteran guard Kirk Hinrich. Not a flashy move by any means, but something to at least get the ball rolling.
Forman also explored trading Joakim Noah until he was ruled out for the season and Pau Gasol. Both of these guys are out of contract at the end of the season and the Bulls would be stupid to bring either one back. Their frontcourt is crowded enough as is and they need to free Bobby Portis, Nikola Mirotic and others to build for the next generation of Bulls' basketball. Not to mention, both will be hunting for one last massive payday, especially since the cap is going up. If the Bulls decide to bring one or both back, they would be locking themselves in no man's land, with barely anyway out.
They have also explored dumping Derrick Rose. It should've been made clear to you by now that Derrick Rose is not a good basketball player anymore by now, so getting rid of him and making this team, officially, Jimmy Butler's team should be a focus going forward. Who knows, they might be able to get Brooklyn to bite or the Knicks to roll the dice on his soon to be expiring contract, in exchange for a little bit more young talent.
Although I have definitely slanted more to the idea of blowing things up in Chicago, it doesn't really matter which direction they go in, whether it be up to contender status or down to the lottery. They just need to get out of no man's land. It's a bad, bad place to be in, unless of course, you want to throw away another decade or so of Bulls' basketball.