It’s the third round of the NBA postseason and the Bulls have found themselves, once again, watching from home. This year was a little different than last, due to sneaking into the 8th seed, resulting in a first-round loss against the top seeded Boston Celtics. This was an interesting year for the storied franchise, to say the least. This roller coaster of a year started with two free agent acquisitions that made everyone raise at least one eyebrow: Future first ballot Hall of Famer and Chicago native Dwyane Wade, along with former all-star point guard Rajon Rondo.
When Bulls management decided to trade Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks, General Manager Gar Forman preached to the fans about the “new direction” of the organization. He spoke of creating a younger team that could grow together around their star Jimmy Butler. As it turns out, this was not the case whatsoever. Why was this not the case? Well, because they signed Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo! This is not getting younger. This is not a new direction. Wade was 34 years old when they signed him to a two year $47 million contract. Rondo was 30 when he signed his two year $28 million contract. What do these two players have in common? They are both older than Derrick Rose. Yes, Rose has had a terrible injury history, so the argument can be made that he plays older than his age. With that being said, Rose turns 29 in October. Signing two guys in their 30s after telling the city of Chicago the organization is going “younger” is insulting the intelligence of this great fan base.
There’s also another glaring problem with these acquisitions. The Bulls shot 33.7% from the three-point line in 2015-16, which was good for 26th in the league. Wade and Rondo are notoriously known as poor three point shooters. They are good players and have their strengths, but this is a new league. This is now a three-point shooting league. You either adapt or die in professional sports, and the Bulls are closer to dying than adapting. There are going to be people that think this is an overreaction, but is it? My definition of NBA purgatory is having a winning percentage of around .500 year after year. This means you’re scrapping for a 7th or 8th seed to get into the playoffs, but never have a legitimate shot of winning a title. Along with never having any title aspirations, a .500 record isn’t going to give you a top pick in the draft, and that is where you find generational talent. For whatever reason, the Bulls have never been able to attract top free agents. LeBron James isn’t walking through the door any time soon. It is imperative that you find a superstar through the draft, and never having a top pick all but guarantees that you will not find that player. Of course, there are outliers like Draymond Green, Isaiah Thomas, and even Jimmy Butler, but the odds you find guys like that in the second half of the first round or the 2nd round are incredibly poor. How did the Bulls have that great two to three year run where they won the Eastern Conference regular season title multiple times? They found their superstar when they drafted Derrick Rose first overall.
So, what do they do? I would be thinking about positioning myself in the draft. Yes, that means the dreaded word that no one likes to hear: “Rebuild.” That doesn’t even necessarily mean trade Jimmy Butler, but you have to trade whoever else you can to get the most value possible. Build around Butler with picks you would get in trades for players like Nikola Mirotic (if they decide to resign him) and Rajon Rondo. Wade’s contract is likely too expensive for any team to seriously ponder trading for him, considering he just had the worst year of his career at age 35. Even if you don’t get great value for any of these players, it opens up minutes for young guys that need to play in order to develop into valuable pieces. You have to see what you have in guys like Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis, Paul Zipser and Jerian Grant. If the Bulls went this route, they would lose more games due to the unloading of talent, thus improving their draft position. While the losing occurs, you see which young guys are worth keeping to play alongside Butler. Once you feel comfortable about where you are in terms of talent that can actually compete with the better teams in the east, you do whatever you can to convince a superstar to come to Chicago via free agency. Hopefully by then, you have also drafted some elite talent to help your cause as well. You’re going to need that elite talent if you can’t convince a Kevin Durant or a Paul George to come to Chicago. Star power wins in this league. Just ask LeBron James, who is inevitably going to make it to his 8th straight NBA Finals.
Even if Bulls management doesn’t want to rebuild, fans would settle for any sort of direction. If Gar Forman actually believes he has a roster that is close to competing with LeBron James, then go for it. Spend some money and add some pieces to this group. Don’t make minor trades that keep the team stagnant like trading for Cam Payne, Anthony Morrow and Joffrey Lavergne. What did that accomplish? Make some bold moves and try to position yourself to play consistent basketball, which is the exact opposite of the 2016-17 season. Forman uses the word “retooling” when talking about roster moves they have made. That is a terrific word for what they have done, if your new tools in your toolbox do the exact same job as the old ones. Wade and Rondo’s contracts expire at the end of the 2017-18 season, so there will be plenty of money to buy some new tools. Time will tell if these new tools will be new and improved models or shinier versions of the old.
The Bulls have a frustrated fan base on their hands and there might not be reason for optimism. The Bulls just lost a tough playoff series where they won the first two games in Boston. After a Rajon Rondo wrist injury, they lost four straight, losing the series in six games. Management has said they liked how the team played in the Boston series and it’s starting to sound like the roster is going to look very similar again next year. Basically, what they’re telling the fans is they’re content with possibly winning one playoff series. There’s no way they believe they would beaten the Wizards in round two, LeBron in round three and the Warriors in the Finals. The United Center still sells out every game and maybe the Bulls organization is content with that. On behalf of many, many Bulls fans: We are not content.