Going into the 2016-2017 season, the Chicago Bulls had high expectations. They lost their injury-prone once franchise player Derrick Rose, along with veterans Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol. In return, the Bulls brought Dwyane Wade back to his hometown and and snagged point guard Rajon Rondo from his unhappy home in Sacramento. It seemed like the fresh start Chicago needed.
The Bulls began the season strong, winning eight of their first twelve games. By the end of week four, the Bulls ranked fifth in ESPN’s power rankings. Since then, it has been a frustrating struggle to play as a team and win basketball games. Today, the Bulls sit at seventh in the Eastern Conference with their record hovering around .500. The downfall for the Chicago Bulls has been filled with drama.
It all began with Rajon Rondo. There had been some problems between Rondo and the administration, with reports surfacing that he and coach Fred Hoiberg didn’t see eye to eye. This resulted in benching Rondo for five games at the end of December. Claiming that he, “didn’t know why he was benched,” the Rondo drama was an unnecessary distraction to the team.
Earlier last week, Wade called out the team for lack of effort. On Wednesday, after the Bulls blew a ten point lead to the Atlanta Hawks, Jimmy Butler angrily proclaimed, “I want to play with guys who care, guys who play hard, who want to do well for this organization, who want to do whatever it takes to win.” Wade and Butler clearly have been frustrated with the lack of support from the rest of the roster.
The bickering and blaming continued over Instagram. Rajon Rondo posted an image of him when he was on the Celtics with Kevin Garnett and Paul Piece. The caption attacked Wade and Butler’s leadership with regard to developing young players.
What does all of this drama mean? There are three ways that the Bulls can respond. The Bulls can do nothing and continue to struggle. They can figure out the root of these problems and build a franchise around Jimmy Butler. Or, finally, there is always the option to trade Butler when his stock is highest.
So far, it seems the Bulls have chosen the first option. In the game after Wade and Butler called the team out and Rondo posted on Instagram, the Bulls organization retaliated by simply benching Wade and Butler – for the first 6 minutes. Clearly, this is a show of weak authority. Fred Hoiberg made a lame attempt at disciplining the stars of his team. That night, the Bulls lost to a surging Miami Heat 100-85, and other than a team meeting earlier in the day, nothing seemed to change. The Bulls won’t be any better than a borderline playoff contender if they continue to juggle lineups with their two stars and a mediocre supporting cast.
Amid the troubles on and off the court, there is indeed a solution that gets to the root of the team’s problems and builds a stronger future for the Bulls.
Step one is to fire Fred Hoilberg. The former Iowa State head basketball coach has no place in the NBA. He is too soft and lets the players run right over him. He has yet to find a consistent lineup and seems to always have a, “what should I do next?” face on his face during games. Ever since the Bulls got rid of Tom Thibodeau, the team has gone from a top five defensive team to bottom five. This is no coincidence. Hoiberg doesn’t emphasize defense and it shows on the court. A new, more defensive-minded coach would give direction to an already lost and struggling team.
The Bulls signed Hoiberg to a five year, $25 million contract a year ago. For this reason, the Bulls may be reluctant to remove Hoiberg in his second contract year. However, the administration needs to take a stand on whether they want to be a mediocre franchise until Hoiberg’s contract is up, or make changes now.
Step two to is trade Rajon Rondo. At this point in his career, Rondo doesn’t have the skills he once had during his days in Boston. Despite his regression, he could be a good addition to a playoff contending team in need of a point guard or veteran backup. The trouble will lie in finding a team that would willingly deal with all the baggage that comes with Rondo. If the Bulls are lucky, they find a team that would give up a 2nd round pick or prospect for Rondo. If the Bulls can’t get anything for Rondo, then they should drop him, save the cap space and get the cancer out of the locker room.
With Hoiberg’s weak coaching style and Rondo’s negativity eradicated, the Bulls are a new team. It is unlikely the Bulls do any better than a middle seed in the Eastern Conference this year. However, with the King’s 2017 first round draft pick in their back pocket along with any possible returns for a Rondo deal, plus the Bulls’ first and second round picks, there is reason for hope. This year’s draft class is loaded with talent. With some luck, the Bulls may be able to find the pieces needed to get back to the top of the Eastern Conference.
The third and final option the Bulls have is to trade Jimmy Butler. Right now, Butler’s stock is as high as ever. Many NBA teams would be willing to give up a lot to add a two-way star player in Butler. In today’s superstar oriented league, teams need to do whatever it takes to contend with the Warriors and Cavaliers. The Bulls could get multiple first round draft picks along with talented young players in return for Butler. Teams that may show interest in Butler include the Celtics, Clippers and Hawks.
Although option three utilizes a complete reset, it may be a bad idea for a variety of reasons. First, it is unknown if Jimmy Butler has already peaked. Every year in the NBA, Butler has gotten better, what is to say he won’t continue this trend next year? Second, Jimmy Butler is the type of player to build an organization around. He is humble, hard working, plays great defense and wants to win. Those are the traits successful NBA organizations are built around. Third, Butler is proven. If the Bulls were to trade him for a group of young players and draft picks, there is great risk for failure. Those players have the potential to bust, resulting in the Bulls being left without both a superstar and young talent.
Only time will tell what the Chicago Bulls will do at the trade deadline and beyond. However, if one thing is clear, the Bulls shouldn’t continue to sit around and do nothing.