I may be more optimistic than most regarding the transactions the Chicago Bulls have made so far this offseason. They have made themselves a better team. While many criticize the “retooling” by John Paxson and Gar Forman thus far, especially in light of Forman’s statement about getting younger and more athletic, much of this criticism appears to be unwarranted. A quick rundown of the significant additions and subtractions from last season so far reveals that the Bulls should be an improved team next year if things go right.
Some of the most significant moves the Bulls have made this offseason are letting go of players who are old (Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah), injury-prone (Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose), or who simply don’t fit the “pace and space” system favored by Coach Fred Hoiberg (Derrick Rose). In so doing the Bulls effectively engaged in addition by subtraction. Furthermore, the Bulls were able to save significant money by not resigning Gasol and Noah and by trading Rose. Following the recent contractual agreement between the Bulls and Dwayne Wade it has been reported that to save additional salary cap space the Bulls have agreed to trade Mike Dunleavy to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Jose Calderon to the Los Angeles Lakers. While Dunleavy may be considered a bit of a loss as a contributing veteran off the bench and one of the few who actually seemed to fit Hoiberg’s system, he was only supplied about 1 win for the Bulls last year.
So let’s take a look at what the Bulls have done with that salary cap space. The first real meaningful move made by the Bulls was trading Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks in exchange for Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant and Jose Calderon. As mentioned, Calderon is reportedly on his way to the Lakers. In Jerian Grant the Bulls acquired a 2015 NBA first round pick who had an uneven rookie year but still demonstrates potential to develop into at least a valuable rotational combo guard. Most important in this trade was the acquisition of Lopez. Perhaps the best way to view Lopez is as a poor man’s version of Noah at a similar age. Lopez is not quite the rebounder, defender or passer as Noah was, but Lopez is still considered above average in these categories and is a starting-caliber NBA center. Additionally, he is younger, healthier and cheaper than Noah. Therefore, the Rose trade did satisfy the younger and more athletic goal.
The next step of the retool was the signing of Rajon Rondo to take over for Rose as the starting point guard. Rondo has long been one of the NBA’s best passers, averaging 8.7 assists per game for his career and 11.7 last year. He is also a good defender when he cares to try. Although he has never been much of a scorer this should not be necessary playing alongside Butler and Wade. In fact, the need of Rose to get his shots was a major source of conflict between he and Butler last season. Of course this conflict is really more about ball possession than scoring per se. In that regard Rondo is still is ball-dominant player with a high usage rate (player possessions per 40 minutes) who needs the ball to be successful. This success is kind of relative with Rondo, too. He may put up good individual numbers but his teams seem to underperform. Also, calling Rondo not much of a scorer is generous; without his passing ability Rondo is a disaster on offense. He was also injured last season, is 30 years old and has a continuing attitude problem.
Perhaps most significant is the aforementioned signing of Dwayne Wade. Last season Wade demonstrated that he can still be a good starter on a playoff team. He finished 4th, just below Jimmy Butler, in Play Efficiency Ratings (per-minute statistical production) amongst NBA shooting guards. His signing should allow Butler to move back to small forward where he is probably more suited. He is also almost universally-lauded for his competiveness and drive. He is also 34 years old and last season played over 70 games for the first time in 5 years. It must also be questioned exactly how well he will fit with Butler and Rondo in that the only NBA shooting guard with a higher usage rate last season was James Harden. But who is a historically bad shooter. So the Bulls have acquired a quality NBA shooting guard who cannot stay healthy and cannot shoot but demands a lot of the ball.
But the Bulls will be better. Wade should be an upgrade for the Bulls backcourt so long as he can stay healthy. He may also get a bit of a bump in performance and motivation now that that he is returning home. Butler could also better coexist with Wade than with Rose given Wade’s past accomplishments and reputation even though Wade will take away possessions from Butler. As will Rondo, but this is for the purposes of passing not shooting so that may mitigate issues between Butler and Wade. And Rondo may have had issues in the past with coaches but Hoiberg came into the NBA with a reputation as a player’s coach, so maybe he can get the best out of Rondo.
The Bulls will be better. They don’t really have a starting caliber power forward, but Nikola Mirotic may take a step forward in his development in his second year under Hoiberg’s tutelage. Mirotic along with Doug McDermott may be able to provide the outside shooting necessary to provide space for the drives of Wade and Rondo. Wade and Rondo may be able to play alongside Butler given Wade’s standing and Rondo’s penchant for passing rather than shooting. Even though there may not be enough balls to go around to satisfy all. Until Wade and Rondo break down, or Rondo gets suspended. Then Denzel Valentine, the Bull’s first round pick of 2016, can step in for Wade. Another player who needs the ball to be effective. And has injury concerns. And is a rookie. And the Bulls have no other point guards who inspire any confidence. But they do have Robin Lopez to play two-man games with Butler.
The Bulls will be better?…
I might have changed my mind…