We all remember it, the good old days of the Chicago Bulls dynasty. For almost the entire decade of the 90s, the Bulls dominated the NBA, with the GOAT Michael Jordan leading the way, and a supporting cast of stars in their own right like Pippen, Rodman, Grant, plus role players who played their roles to perfection in Harper, Kukoc, Kerr.
6 titles, one NBA record that no one thought would ever be broken (until this season), and many unforgettable NBA moments later, the Bulls of 2016 are a far and unrecognizable franchise from the one we grew up with. It’s never easy to recover from losing the best player in all of basketball history and 2 hall of famers, but it’s been 18 years since the last Bulls title and it doesn’t appear that they are any closer now then the years immediately after the end of the dynasty.
The ‘rebuilding’ started off well with Elton Brand in the 1999 draft, a perfectly solid franchise building block back then when teams were still built around skilled bigs. But what followed after that were a long series of bad luck or questionable decisions. There was Jay Williams, a great college player who seemed like a good pick at the time, but his career got cut short before it even began with a motorcycle accident. There were the couple of years when the Bulls had high picks in the worst draft pools ever when they ended up with Marcus Fizer. In the 2003 draft they were 2 picks away from Dwyane Wade, who would’ve completely rewritten the franchise’s history for the last decade. (They took Kirk Hinrich 2 picks later, who was a great servant to the team but he’s no Wade) Overall given where they picked each year, the Bulls mostly ended up with the best guy they could get, and it looked like they finally struck gold with Rose, until that fateful injury changed him as a player forever.
One decision does stick out which surprisingly doesn’t get called out enough in the ‘worst draft decisions of all time’ debate. In 2006, the Bulls lucked into the best overall player in the draft Lamarcus Aldridge with the #2 pick. Thanks to Dirk-mania the year before, Toronto talked themselves into picking a lanky seven foot European in Andrea Bargnani, and the Bulls had it right there, the new franchise building block for years to come. For whatever reason on that very draft day, they weren’t satisfied with that and messed around, made a few calls and ended up swapping Aldridge to the Blazers for Tyrus Thomas. Lamarcus went on to be a cornerstone and perennial all star of the Blazers for the next decade, and is now the second option on one of the two title contenders this season. When was the last we saw of Tyrus Thomas? That decision really set the Bulls back.
Coming back to 2016, where a promising season which began with Derrick Rose being ‘healthy’ again, and the big breakout from Jimmy Butler, has now faltered into the Bulls slipping out of a playoff spot in the East, and most likely missing it this year.
Bad luck and injuries have been a factor, for sure. All of the top guys in Rose, Butler, Noah and Gasol have missed games (old man Gasol surprisingly being the healthiest of the lot). But even when they’ve been on the floor together, play and team chemistry have been incoherent to say the least. There was a stretch when it appeared as if Butler was playing his way to the top of the food chain, and by doing so crafting a new and clearer identity for the Bulls. But injury struck and he hasn’t been the same since. Rose has fluctuated week to week whenever he’s healthy, and Noah is pretty much done in my book. So there you have it, 35 year old Pau Gasol is officially the best and most consistent player on the franchise this season. Not a very exciting prospect, skilled as he is.
Rose is one the most undesirable contacts in the league. Gasol is old and a free agent in the off-season. Noah is done like I said earlier. Jimmy Butler is a stud but isn’t close to being in the top tier of NBA players, though he could be the best ‘second best’ player on the team. From the rest of the entire roster, only Bobby Portis and McDermott look like good pieces for the future.
So where do the Bulls go from here?
Maybe try a free calls to Brooklyn and see if they can be talked into taking on Rose as their new franchise point guard (They did fall for Deron Williams after all), in return for a probable top 5 pick this year.. With a little luck the Bulls night find themselves with Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram to start afresh. At worst they get Buddy Hields who might just be better than both those guys anyway.
It’s going to be difficult but maybe try and trade Noah for serviceable point guards. If Gasol is willing to sign on the cheap for a year or two I’d definitely keep him around. If the Bulls start next season with Gasol, Portis, Mirotic, Butler, Hield, with McDermott of the bench, I could see that being an improvement over this season, out at least, a much more exciting team to watch the next couple years who could develop into a title contender.