After the Chicago Bulls chose to bring back Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy in this summer’s Free Agency period, it looks as if next year’s roster will be relatively the same as this past year’s. But with the firing of head coach Tom Thibodeau and the hiring of Fred Hoiberg of Iowa State, don’t expect that to continue. In fact, this roster will most likely go under a rapid change very soon. Butler was essentially given the keys to the Chicago Bulls’ future with the max contract he was offered. But, besides Butler and Derrick Rose (if he stays healthy), I wouldn’t expect many of the other faces of the franchise over the past years to stick around very long. Given the fact that the Bulls have fallen short in virtually every single playoff run with that roster, maybe that’s not a bad thing.
This upcoming roster change will transpire because Thibodeau and Hoiberg coach a polar opposite style of play. Thibodeau preaches a grind-it-out type of basketball where you walk it up the floor. This offense relies heavily on offensive sets in order to create open shots, rather than athletes making plays in the open floor. Thibodeau was a defensive-minded coach and loaded his roster up with big, lanky players who could defend the rim. He did not necessarily care how effective they were on the offensive side of the ball. This is problematic because the NBA is moving away from this type of basketball. The Golden State Warriors won a championship last month showcasing five perimeter players pushing the ball up the floor at every possibly chance. This is why Chicago’s hiring of Hoiberg makes sense. Hoiberg coaches the style of play extremely similar to the Warriors. His Iowa State teams always featured a Run N’ Gun, up-tempo pace. He loaded his rosters up with guards that could make plays in the open floor, while possessing the ability to shoot from the perimeter. In Hoiberg’s system, you have to be able to run the floor. More importantly, you have to be able to put the ball on the floor and consistently make plays toward the rim to get teammates open. With the exception of Butler and Rose, the Bulls do not have any players with the ability to do that.
Butler was offered a max contract because he can do all of what Hoiberg wants while consistently guarding the best player on the opposing team. The Bulls have made it obvious they will build their future around him. But, it is likely players like Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson will not be a part of those future rosters. Although they were perfect under Thibodeau’s system, they cannot make plays in the open floor. Both of them can barely dribble. Joakim Noah has one year left on his contract, and Taj Gibson has two. Although it would be in the Bulls’ best interest to trade either one or both of these players before the season, that will likely not be the case. Noah dealt with a bad back and a bum knee all year. Taj Gibson just had surgery on his left ankle and is out for the next three to four months. The market value for these players is at an all-time low because of their injuries, and the Bulls would probably not receive any intriguing offers. Pau Gasol has two more years on his contract. He doesn’t necessarily fit perfectly in Hoiberg’s system, but at least he has the ability to score. Noah and Gibson cannot score unless they are wide open under the basket and nobody is within 5 feet of them. Expect Pau Gasol to stay with the Bulls until his contract expires, but nothing can be certain for Gibson and Noah. The Bulls’ front office is probably searching for any way possible to get rid of them at the moment while still receiving at least a decent amount of value in return.
Bobby Portis, the Bulls’ 2015 NBA Draft pick, is a perfect example of what Hoiberg wants the future of the Bulls’ frontline to look like. He is an excellent athlete who runs the floor as well as any big in the league. Most importantly, he can catch the ball on the perimeter and at least make two or three dribbles toward the rim and create separation from his defender. Also, he is the type of guy that has the foot speed to stay in front of guards on the perimeter. This means the Bulls can switch off of virtually any pick and roll without having their big getting blown by off of the dribble. This is the type of defense the Warriors ran this past year, and it was a part of the reason why they were statistically the most efficient defense in the league. The front court of the Bulls will move from big, bulky post defenders to versatile, athletic guys who can step out and shoot a perimeter jumper while running the floor like a deer. This change will be a completely different type of style than what Bulls fans were accustomed to seeing under Thibodeau.
Although Bulls fans want Hoiberg to immediately be successful, particularly in the playoffs, this will most likely not be the case. The hope is that young players like Nikola Mirotic, Tony Snell and Doug McDermott flourish under Hoiberg. This could definitely be possible since they all have the potential to spread the floor and shoot threes at a successful rate. The problem is that none of these three players have proven to be consistent shooters in the pros. Also, none of them are good ball handlers who can make plays for their teammates. If they don’t prove to be an asset in Hoiberg’s new style of play, this first year under Hoiberg will not be as successful as people hope. Next year’s Free Agency should be when the Bulls start to make serious changes to reflect an up-tempo style. Expect the front office to recruit players that resemble speed and athleticism rather than strength and toughness. This makes for an exciting future. But, besides Rose and Butler, the outlook for the Chicago Bulls is as uncertain as ever.
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