Wednesday 13 December 2017 / 10:21 PM

OFF-SEASON PREVIEW: BULLS

Following the trade of cornerstone Jimmy Butler, the Chicago Bulls’ off-season landscape has drastically changed.

The Big Picture

The Bulls have been fleeced.

Unfortunately, the Jimmy Butler deal was only the latest instalment in a strange series of moves that their management have made ranging as far back as the firing of Tom Thibodeau, with a clear goal as hard to decipher as who might make up their starting lineup next season.

A trade involving Butler comes as no surprise, even if the very idea of this taking place would sound insane if it was discussed a year ago. Such is the very nature of the NBA – everything is reactive. Chicago accept they are in no position to compete, and acted accordingly.

And it isn’t the fact the Butler was moved on, rather the return they were willing to accept, including foolishly throwing in a first-round pick for a reason still yet to be identified. Which is scary, because it draws a parallel to their last trade – sending hardy veteran Taj Gibson and emerging sharpshooter Doug McDermott to OKC for the unproven Cam Payne and spare parts – which was equally as confusing, again throwing in the best players in the deal and adding an extra pick.

Butler’s exit represents the last hanging thread of the Thibs era, a squad which has now been completely disassembled. That had to happen – they ran into some awful injury luck that hamstrung their success, but we are at least three years removed from that team being genuinely competitive, whilst the organisation has suffered through two more iterations that were nothing more than weak attempts to recapture the magic.

The Direction

Simple: find a direction and build a foundation. Chicago are notorious for their refusal to blow it up. But now that Butler is out of town, the only way up is down.

Maybe the strangest move so far was bringing in coach Fred Hoiberg, in an attempt to play a spaced out up-tempo style, and proceeding to surround him with a team of non-shooters. It’s left them two years into his tenure without truly gauging whether he is the man for the job. Figuring that out over the next season should be top priority.

That aside, the trajectory of this team could be aided by the pending future of Dwyane Wade, who will opt into his final year, but is expected to be bought out sometime into the season. This will allow even more of the time to be invested into developing younger talent, deciding on who is worth keeping around and forging a new identity, which should undoubtedly be the focus moving forward.

Free Agents

Nikola Mitotic (restricted) – The most frustrating player on the Bulls roster. At this stage, simply letting him walk may be bad asset management, but it’s hard to build a case justifying why he is worth keeping around. That said, it’s likely he’s cost himself plenty of coin with his poor play over the past season, and if the Bulls would rather re-sign him on the cheap and hope keeping him boosts his value, that makes plenty sense. But they should test the market first, and not match any big offers.

Rajon Rondo Only showed up for the 15 or so nationally televised games during the season, in which the Bulls actively tried to trade him whilst burying him in the rotation, then helped the Bulls stun the Celtics twice before succumbing to injury and somehow convincing everyone that maybe he is worth keeping around. He isn’t. The Butler trade should help make this decision — no use for a difficult veteran who can’t shoot and mailed in for the majority of the season.

Cristiano Felicio (restricted) – His numbers won’t blow you away, but anyone who has watched him is aware of his capabilities. With more time, he will begin to contribute, and brought great energy and defence even in limited minutes. Needs an improved role, but worth keeping around.

Isaiah Canaan Partially guaranteed for next season. Surplus to requirements, but at such a low number (just over $1.5 million) keeping him around won’t impact their plans. Works fine as a fifth guard covering backcourt minutes.

Joeffery Lauvergne (restricted) – OK, but unspectacular in his time since being traded, and at 25 could develop into a solid backup. His demand should be fairly low, and in that situation he would be worth investing in, but only at a cheap price. No need to overpay.

Anthony Morrow A shooter. Whilst yes, that is an in-demand skill of the moment, there is a reason that through 9 years in the league a career 40% shooter can’t get on the court. His non-existent defence makes him a liability, and his age makes him unnecessary. Will help someone out, but no use for him in Chicago.

Michael Carter-Williams (restricted) – Once rookie of the year, MCW is now on his third team in four years in the league. His inability to find consistency or a role to apply his game is alarming and his career stats have declined each year. Somewhere, deep down in his soul, there is the all-round floor general that Jason Kidd and the Bucks envisioned when they traded for him. With Kris Dunn now on the team, the Bulls aren’t going to find that player anytime soon. His market may be so depleted that his price tag is minimal, but even then, what’s the point?

Potential Targets

Realistically, the Bulls are way out of the running for any of the big names. Their interests should lie around a few ideas — taking flyers on young players that they could give time to (possibly in the restricted market), filling out the depth with contributors and maybe adding some veterans that could help develop and mentor the youth and potentially be flipped for assets down the track.

Dunn and LaVine can be pencilled in as the starting backcourt, Portis at the four and either Lopez or Felicio at center. This roster needs depth at every position, and is especially short on forwards. That could see them use their new-found cap space to extend large offers to young restricted free agents, such as Otto Porter or Andre Robinson, both which make a nice fit, or veterans such as CJ Miles or PJ Tucker.

It would be expected that these options might be looking to join a contender, but the Bulls can dwarf any of the offers and promise a far superior role. This should be used to their advantage, allowing the vets to act as placeholders until the younger talent is ready for minutes.

If they were to allow Mirotic to walk, there is no shortage of replacement options, with Erysan Ilyosova, Jonas Jerebko, Kris Humphries Mike Muscala and Anthony Tolliver, all of whom would make great fits and at a potentially lower cost.

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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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