The Chicago Bulls have started off the season an awful 29-26 relative to preceding years and this year’s expectations. It is hard not to blame the Bulls management by Gar Forman and John Paxson. Paxson took over for the Bulls at the end of the 2002-2003 season as General Manager, and when Paxson was promoted to President of Basketball Operations in 2009, it was Gar Forman who replaced Paxson at General Manager. Those two have blown so many opportunities to improve this team, but they have also made good decisions like drafting Jimmy Butler 30th overall in the 2011 NBA Draft, or choosing Derrick Rose over Michael Beasley in the 2008 NBA Draft with the number one overall pick. It has been a very up and down experience after so many great years under Jerry Krause.
2003 – 2004; the Bulls Tank, but Draft Well
One of Paxson’s first moves as general manager was trading the team’s leading scorer Jalen Rose for Antonio Davis. This move led to the Bulls finishing second worst in the league with a record of 23-59 during the 2003-2004 season. Between the 2003 and 2004 NBA Drafts, however, the Bulls drafted well. They snagged Kirk Hinrich with the 7th pick of the 2003 NBA Draft, Ben Gordon witht the 3rd pick of the 2004 NBA Draft, Luol Deng with the 9th pick of the 2004 NBA Draft, Chris Duhon with the 38th pick of the 2004 NBA Draft, and they signed Andres Nocioni as an undrafted free agent. The team also replaced Head Coach Bill Cartwright with Scott Skiles.
Those were all great decisions by the management, but there were a few bad decisions during this time. The Bulls traded a great player in Jamal Crawford for Dikembe Mutombo, Othella Harrington, Frank Williams and Cezary Trybankski. Crawford would go on to be a great scorer in the NBA to this day, whereas Mutumbo, Harrington, Williams, and Trybankski were all out of the league within a few years, and did nothing significant during their time in Chicago.
2005: An Underrated Time for Management
The 2004-2005 season was a great year for the Bulls. They finished the year 47-35 thanks to Scott Skiles coaching. They didn’t need to make any moves, they just needed to see their young talent develop. Eddy Curry, who was a big part of the team, was traded to New York with Antonio Davis for Mike Sweetney, Tim Thomas, Jermaine Jackson, a conditional first round draft pick in 2006, the right to swap draft picks in 2007, and two second round draft picks. The 2nd rounders never amounted to anything, but the first rounders they got turned out to be LaMarcus Aldridge and Joakim Noah.
That was obviously a great trade in the long run, but Curry’s absence affected the immediate outlook for Chicago. The following season was as average as a team can get with a final record of 41-41. They faced the eventual champions the Miami Heat in the first round and lost, but it was the proceeding offseason that ruined the Bulls for years to come in what will assuredly be the worst trade in Bulls history.
2006: The Worst Decisions in Bulls History are Made
The Bulls drafted LaMarcus Aldridge with the 2nd overall pick in 2006. If only they could have stopped the acquisitions then. Who knows? The Bulls might have even won a championship or two had they kept Aldridge, but no. They traded Aldridge, a current five time all-star, for the 4th overall pick Tyrus Thomas, and Viktor Khryapa. Aldridge has played unbelievably his whole career, while Thomas was traded from the Bulls in 2010, and has not played in the NBA since 2013 (save for 7 total minutes with Memphis in 2014-2015.) Khryapa has not played in the league since 2008. It is truly one of the most head scratching moves in Bulls – and NBA – history.
If that wasn’t enough. The Bulls gave away one of the best young centers in Tyson Chandler for J.R. Smith and P.J. Brown. The trade would have been fair had Bulls management not further screwed up by trading Smith to Denver for two second round picks and aging guard Howard Eisley, but the second round picks never amounted to anything, and Brown started one season at power forward for the Bulls before going to Boston. Chandler was replaced by an aging Ben Wallace, who was given 60 million dollars to come to Chicago. He only lasted about a year and a half before he was traded to Cleveland. He averaged 5.9 points in 34.0 minutes per game for Chicago.
These were horrible moves the Bulls were making. The one bright spot was trading Rodney Carney for Thabo Sefalosha. Sefalosha has become one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, and a great three point shooter too.
2007-2008: Good and Bad
There was some good in 2007 from management. The team had just come off their best season since 1998 with a 49-33 record. Ben Gordon and Luol Deng were terrific players, and the Bulls made it to the 2nd round by beating the defending champion Miami Heat in a first round rematch from the previous season. Joe Smith was a good value signing for the Bulls, and Joakim Noah was a great draft pick at 9th overall. His career’s longevity is beginning to come into question, but the Joakim Noah seen under Tom Thibodeau was a top five NBA center at his best.
The Bulls, though, suffered their first losing season since 2003-2004 with a 33-49 record in 2007-2008. Scott Skiles was fired, and the team had the 4th worst offense in the league. They traded Ben Wallace, Joe Smith, and a 2nd round pick to Cleveland for Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes, Shannon Brown and Cedric Simmons. Gooden and Hughes played decently but were gone before the beginning of the Thibodeau era. Brown didn’t become the great 6th man he was until joing the Los Angeles Lakers, and Simmons didn’t do anything of note. The Bulls overachieving without a star player caught up to them, and they needed answers; they needed Derrick Rose.
2008-2009: Some Good Trades are Made, but James Johnson Happened
Vinny Del Negro was hired as head coach of the Bulls, and he was mediocre with his cumulative Bulls record of 82-82. Derrick Rose captured the hearts of Bulls fans in a rookie season that saw him win rookie of the year over O.J. Mayo, and tie the record for points in a rookie’s first playoff game when Rose tied Wilt Chamberlain’s 36 points in game one against the Celtics.
Two big trades happened in this season; Andres Nocioni, Drew Gooden, Cedric Simmons, and Michael Ruffin were traded for John Salmons and Brad Miller, and the Bulls traded Larry Hughes to New York for Tim Thomas, Jerome James and Anthony Roberson.
Salmons played excellently with 18.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game. Miller contributed 11.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game from the center position, and he was a great mentor to Noah. Tim Thomas shot 44.2% from the three point line in limited minutes, and he was a good shooter. The other acquisitions didn’t do much, but Salmons, Miller, and Thomas made the trades worth it.
Then in the 2009 offseason, the Bulls made a great move by trading Thabo Sefalosha for the pick that became Taj Gibson. Sefalosha became a good player with the Thunder, but Gibson became the anchor of the Bulls bench and holds that role to this day.
10 selections earlier, however, the Bulls also selected James Johnson. Johnson played a few years for Chicago before being traded to Toronto. He was selected 16th overall, which was ahead of Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teaue, Darren Collison, DeMarre Carroll, Jonas Jerebko, Jodie Meeks, Patrick Beverly, Danny Green, and Patty Mills.
The Bulls also let Ben Gordon walk in free agency during the 2009 0ffseason to Detroit. Gordon ended up not being worth the five year 55 million dollar deal from Detroit, but his great abilities from the two guard were missed as the Bulls went with Keith Bogans at the shooting guard position during the year they won the East in the regular season, but could not beat the LeBron James led Miami Heat.
2010 (Pre-Thibodeau): Preparing for the Summer
The Bulls got rid of John Salmons, another player who could have helped the Bulls under Thibodeau, and Tyrus Thomas. The Bulls got Hakim Warrick and Joe Alexander for Salmons and two second round picks, while they got Ronald Murray, Acie Law and a future first round draft pick (Jusuf Nurkic) for Thomas. None of these players ever saw the court under Thibodeau’s coaching, and they didn’t play much before Thibodeau either. Murray averaged 10.1 points per game on an inefficient 39.7% shooting for the Bulls, and Warrick averaged 8.7 points and 3.6 rebounds in 19.0 minutes per game, but that was it in terms of contributions from these acquisitions. The only reason the Bulls traded for them was because their contracts expired in time for the infamous 2010 Free Agency class featuring LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitzki, Amare Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, and others. The Bulls ended up getting one of these players with the new cap space, and the Bulls constructed quite a team.
Unfortunately, the push for cap space led the Bulls to trade Kirk Hinrich, the rights to 2010 draft pick Kevin Seraphin, and cash for the cap space and the rights to international prospect Vladimir Veremeenko. Hinrich, like Gordon, could have been that answer at two guard for the Bulls during the 2011 season, but the push for cap space was too important.
2010: The Return of Elite Basketball to Chicago
The Bulls only kept five players from the Vinny Del Negro era: Rose, Deng, Johnson, Gibson, and Noah. The Bulls big free agent acquisition was Carlos Boozer, who had a very up and down experience in Chicago himself. The Bulls constructed a back up unit by picking and choosing in free agency.
They signed Golden State’s C.J. Watson to back up Rose at point guard. Watson would play excellently in two years with the team as a back-up, and he really stepped up when Derrick Rose’s injury problems began. Watson started at point guard many games in 2011-2012, and the Bulls still finished with a league-best 50-16 record in the lockout shortened year.
At the wing positions, Chicago took more of Boozer’s teammates in Utah. The high flying and defensively sound Ronnie Brewer was signed. Brewer also played two years with the team, and more similarly stepped up when the player starting over him, Richard Hamilton, got injured. The Bulls also got shooting expert Kyle Korver. Korver played so great that the Bulls couldn’t afford to keep Korver when Atlanta offered a big offer for him.
Taj Gibson backed up Carlos boozer so excellently that fans began to request he start over Boozer. At back-up center was Omer Asik. Asik was another player whose play with the Bulls brought him a big contract with another team (Houston.) Asik protected the rim very well, and was a big presence inside.
The Bulls rounded off their bench with John Lucas III, Rasual Butler, Brian Scalabrine, James Johnson, and Kurt Thomas.
These back-ups, and the starting line-up of Rose, Keith Bogans, Deng, Boozer, and Noah dominated the NBA. In their first two years with this group under the coaching of Tom Thibodeau, they had a combined record of 112-30. That record also included significant injuries to many players in the line-up and on the bench.
Unfortunately, they just could not get past the Miami Heat in the playoffs. After winning game one by 21 points, the Bulls lost four in a row to the Heat, as Derrick Rose, it appeared, was the only Bull who could play offense.
2011-2012: Jimmy Butler Drafted, Rip Hamilton Signed; the Imagined Roles They Would Play Reversed
This was the most exciting fan to be a Bulls fan since the Jordan era. The team had just finished with the league’s best record in 62-20, and the team looked even better going forward. The Bulls retained almost every major contributor to the 62-20 mark, and they added two first round picks in Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic. Mirotic would wait until the 2014-2015 season to come play for the Bulls, but Butler started off as a Bull in the 2011-2012 season. Butler started off as a bench warmer, but has worked his way into becoming one of the league’s best players. Richard “Rip” Hamilton was signed from Detroit. Hamilton was supposed to be the guy who pushed the Bulls past LeBron, but that never happened.
Hamilton missed 38 of 66 games in that 2011-2012 season, and 32 of 50 games in 2012-2013. His age of 33 and 34 in those two seasons simply prevented him from having better longevity in his time at Chicago. Hamilton did contribute 10.5 points per game on 43.8% shooting in just 22.9 minutes per game over the two seasons, but it definitely did not push the Bulls over LeBron, as Chicago lost in the first round against Philadelphia in 2012, and in the second round to Miami in 2013; a series in which Hamilton played two games, and lost by an average of 13.2 points per game for the whole series.
2012-2013: Marquis Teague and the Bench Mob 2.0
The Bulls had to respond to Derrick Rose’s injury in 2012. They had two options: get one in free agency or through the draft. C.J. Watson was not the long term option at point guard, and he left in free agency anyways. The Bulls opted to draft a point guard with the 29th overall pick they owned. They selected Marquis Teague, making one of the biggest mistakes in their franchise’s history (not quite as big as trading Aldridge though.)
This selection is the beginning of the tension between Bulls management and head coach Tom Thibodeau. Teague was selected over Festus Ezeli, Jae Crowder, Khris Middleton, Will Barton, Kyle O’Quinn, and, most importantly, Draymond Green; who Thibodeau suggested the Bulls draft. Oops.
All of those players are doing excellent things for their resective teams, and Green is an all-star. Then Bulls management made another greedy decision. The Bulls decided that Kyle Korver’s pretty reasonable four year 24 million dollar contract was too expensive, so they decided to trade him to Atlanta for squat: a trade exception and cash considerations. Korver’s departure, combined with the fact that Watson, Brewer, Kurt Thomas, and Asik were all gone, meant the Bulls had to find a whole new bench.
The Bulls brought back Kirk Hinrich, but he was not the same player as before. Hinrich was older, he now needed goggles to play, and he struggled with his shot in big minutes, but he still did a good job with the team, and he became a favorite of Thibodeau’s. The Bulls signed Marco Bellineli, who played well enough with the Bulls to get a multi-year done with the elite San Antonio Spurs organization. Chicago signed a fan favorite to be, Nazr Mohammed, who became loved after shoving LeBron James to the ground in the game which the Bulls ended the Miami Heat’s 27 game win streak. Perhaps most loved over anyone though, was Nate Robinson.
Robinson represtented something to Chicago. This was a very turbulent time for the Bulls. There were already doubts about the team’s ability to play without Derrick Rose, and Rose made some comments that didn’t bode well with both the media and the fans. It was a very unknown time for the Bulls, in which we were already defeated to the eyes of most, but here was this 5’9″ player who represented something bigger. Robinson himself had dealt with personal criticisms over his ability to play in a big league, and Robinson proved them all wrong as he averaged 13.1 points, 4.4 assists, and 2.2 rebounds in just 25.4 minutes per game on 43.3% shooting and 40.5% shooting from three. He helped the Bulls prove everyone wrong as they upseted a more talented Brooklyn Nets team that featured present and past all-stars Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, and Brook Lopez. Robinson had 34 points in game 4 against the Nets, 27 points in a game 1 win vs. the Heat, and two more 20 point games as well.
If a 5’9″ player could lead the Bulls to this success, then just imagine what Derrick Rose will do when he gets back was the thinking going on in Chicago, but unfortunately it would have to wait for another season.
2013-2014: Thibodeau’s System Overcomes Talent Desparity
People thought the Bulls had made the most of what they had in 2012-2013. In 2013-2014 the Bulls had to make the bench mob 3.0, as bench mob 2.0 had all sought, and found, non-minimum salary deals. Robinson, Hamilton, Bellineli, Daequan Cook, and Vladimir Radmonovic were all gone from the previous seasons, and a multitude of new guys replaced them.
At center, Nazr Mohammaed was still around to back up Joakim Noah, but Gibson was the main back up for both the center and power forward positions. Backing up the wings were Mike Dunleavy before the big trade, and Tony Snell after, as well as an assortment of journeymen. At point guard, Forman and Paxson brought back Mike James for another season, Kirk was on the second year of his deal, and Derrick Rose was returning from his first injury.
Sadly though, Rose was injured again and out for the season during the Bulls’ 10th game against Portland. D.J. Augustin was signed off waivers, and ended up saving the season. Augustin led the Bulls in scoring with 14.9 points per game after Rose’s injury and Luol Deng was traded.
Deng’s trade was another move out of cheapness by management. Deng was traded for Andrew Bynum, a conditional first round pick that the Bulls still have not received, the right to swap picks with Cleveland last season (was not used,) and two second round picks. Bynum was waived the day after the trade was made, and the Bulls achieved management’s goal of being under the salary cap.
Thanks to the stellar play of Augustin, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, and Jimmy Butler, the Bulls were able to make the playoffs in 2014 with a record of 48-34. They finished the season off 41-18 after a 9-16 start as well, but the team’s success was due to heavy minutes on Noah, who wouldn’t be the same after having off-season surgery.
2014-2015: Bulls Let Up, Thibodeau Blamed.
The Bulls didn’t know what to expect with Derrick Rose coming back again after only playing 10 games the previous two seasons, rookie Doug McDermott traded for on draft day, Nikola Mirotic finally brought over from Europe, and Pau Gasol signed to a three year deal. Gone were Carlos Boozer, Lou Amundson, Ronnie Brewer, and Mike James. The Bulls appeared to have serious depth at every position. While they lost D.J. Augustin in management’s decision to keep Hinrich over him, the Bulls also signed Aaron Brooks. There were legitimate championship expectations for this team, but no one expected the Bulls’ heart to vanish.
Under Thibodeau, the Bulls points per game rank among the NBA was 2nd, 1st, 3rd, and 1st for the first four seasons of Thibs’ coaching. That dropped to 9th in 2014-2015. When the Bulls lost Dunleavy to injury in January, they went 8-10 without him in the line-up. When Jimmy Butler dealt with an injury in October and March, they went 5-7 without him. When Rose was injured throughout the year (31 total games missed,) the Bulls were 17-14 without Rose compared to 35-16 with him. The Bulls played like those classic Thibodeau teams when healthy; the Bulls went 16-5 with their Rose, Butler, Dunleavy, Gasol, and Noah starting line-up, and 6-1 with Gibson in the line-up in place of Noah. Injuries simply plagued everyone on the Bulls besides Mirotic and Brooks, and to management, this was the fault of Thibodeau.
In the playoffs, when the Bulls lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers, this was supposedly an indication that Thibodeau had lost his team. After years of clashing between the head coach and management, Thibodeau was let go of, and replaced by a more “player friendly” Fred Hoiberg.
2015-2016: The Inevitable Mess
The Bulls began the Hoiberg era on a good note. Bobby Portis slipped to them in the draft after being projected as a late lottery pick. The Bulls drafted him 22nd overall, and he has shown the signs of being a future starter on the team. The team’s only other off-season additions were re-signing Aaron Brooks, signing Cristiano Felicio, and signing Jordan Crawford among others to training camp deals.
The Bulls, admittedly, started off the season very well. They went 22-12 in their first 34 games, and in those games beat San Antonio, Cleveland twice, Toronto twice, Oklahoma City twice, Boston, and other playoff teams. They also lost some head-scratchers like Minnesota, Phoenix, and Brooklyn. Now though, the Bulls went 5-14 from January 8th until the all-star break. Of course Hoiberg has had to deal with injuries to players himself; Noah, Dunleavy, Mirotic, Butler, Gasol, and Rose have all missed various games, but the team has lacked effort.
When there were zero trades made at the deadline despite the wide availability of great potential adds like Rudy Gay, Tobias Harris, and others, this really made management’s desire to win come into question.
It isn’t as much the results of Hoiberg’s coaching, which are already below expectations as the Bulls fight not for home-court advantage in the playoffs, but for a playoff berth at all. Instead it is the reasons Hoiberg was hired. Hoiberg was supposed to lower Jimmy Butler’s minutes, but Butler still leads the league in minutes per game, and his injury likely could have been prevented with less minutes. Hoiberg was also supposed to bring out the best in Doug McDermott, Tony Snell, and Nikola Mirotic.
McDermott, admittedly, has played better, but he has shown he is nothing more than a role player in his second year. Snell’s stats are down across the board. Despite a minutes increase, Snell’s points, steals, and percentages are all down, his efficiency is horrible, and it is almost shocking that he has not been cut yet. Mirotic showed a lot under Thibodeau, and while his numbers have marginally increased, his efficiency has taken a hit. If Thibodeau was coaching, there is no way that Mirotic would be taking so many 30 foot three pointers.
If the Bulls still had Thibodeau, LaMarcus Aldridge, Luol Deng, or they had made a good decision in the 2012 NBA Draft, then they would be on top of the East instead of towards the bottom. There is a very good chance they would have already won a championship by now. The petition to fire Gar Forman and John Paxson, while definitely extreme, is based on legitimate complaints.
It is, however, necessary to recognize Forman and Paxson for: turning the Bulls around in the post-Jordan era, hiring Skiles and Thibodeau, getting Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Chris Duhon, and Andres Nocioni in the same draft, getting the 2nd overall pick in the 2006 draft in the first place, drafting Joakim Noah, drafting Derrick Rose over Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo, drafting Taj Gibson 26th overall and Jimmy Butler 30th overall, trading for John Salmons, and simply building good teams on limited money. It is why Forman won executive of the year in 2011. The management of Forman and Paxson has simply been up and down with the down being more prevalent nowadays.