This season was one of the most disappointing in Chicago Bulls history considering the high hopes for the team that made it to the Conference Finals once, the 2nd round three times, and the playoffs every season under former Head Coach Tom Thibodeau. To miss the playoffs and finish the season 20-28 after starting off 22-12 was a shock, even without Joakim Noah for 53 games, Mike Dunleavy for 51, Nikola Mirotic and Derrick Rose for 16, and Jimmy Butler for 15.
This makes the next step for the Bulls unclear, as it seems like there are some noticeable conflicts of interest on the Bulls. Derrick Rose has been public about making sure he stays healthy for as long as he can, saying this during the 2014-2015 season:
“I’m thinking about long term. I’m thinking about after I’m done with basketball. Having graduations to go to, having meetings to go to, I don’t want to be in my meetings all sore or be at my son’s graduation all sore just because of something I did in the past. [I’m] just learning and being smart.”
He has since followed up on his word, missing games due to things like “general soreness” and “rest.” No one has attacked Rose directly on the matter, but the resentment can be seen on the court, where the Bulls seem not to care as much like they did in the Thibodeau era.
Reports have also come out about Jimmy Butler getting preferential treatment, whether or not the reports are founded and/or true, Jimmy Butler seems to have a particularly long leash on the court, getting away with trying to be the Bulls offense himself. In the Bulls’ April 2nd game against Detroit, Butler and Pau Gasol combined to take 46 shots. The rest of the Bulls team took a combined 42. This might not have been such a problem if the Bulls either won the game, or if Butler and Gasol shot better than the horrible 37% they did.
Butler hasn’t been this bad about ball-hogging since then, and his defense is still among the best in the league, but he has taken the Bulls out of their offense to do his own isolation play.
Then there was the drama over Gasol. First it was that he was already planning on leaving Chicago in free agency, then it was that he was going to get traded at the trade deadline, and his effort has come in to question all season. Pau did an excellent job at rim protecting with 2.0 blocks per game, but quick big men who drew Gasol out of the paint gave him a lot of problems, and his defensive communication was very shaky.
The rest of the Bulls team often times lacked effort. They thought they were better than other teams, and that they could take nights off because of their talent. The Bulls went 7-1 against the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, 2-0 against the 55-27 Oklahoma City Thunder, and even 1-1 against the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers. The talent was there to beat all of these other teams, but there is no excuse for losing to the Brooklyn Nets, Phoenix Suns, and going 0-2 against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Then there were the Eastern Conference teams that had no business winning a matchup series against a team like the Bulls that did. The Bulls went 1-2 against Washington and Orlando, and 1-3 against New York and Detroit.
The Bulls have some decisions to make this offseason about who will stay and who will be gotten rid of, because this roster of players has shown that it can’t play on Fred Hoiberg‘s team night in and night out.
Cameron Bairstow – Get Rid Of
Cameron Bairstow’s value to the Bulls is limited. The only positive thing that he has done in the past two seasons is get fans at the United Center excited when he comes in the game. Bairstow has appeared in 18 games in each of the past two seasons, and he started one game last season and two this season. In the games he started, he’s averaged 4.7 points and 2.7 rebounds, and he’s averaged 1.2 points and 1.0 rebounds per game in his career.
Bairstow hasn’t shown the ability to play efficiently in the minutes he has gotten. In his two years with the Bulls, he has only shot 29.6% from the field. He has an offensive rating of 83 which is horrible, and the Bulls are 9.0 points per 100 possessions worse with Bairstow on the court. Bairstow hasn’t played enough for it to be much of a problem, but keeping Bairstow would be wasting a roster spot going forward.
Cristiano Felicio – Keep
Cristiano Felicio’s situation may seem like the same as Bairstow’s on the surface, but Felicio has been extraordinary in his playing time. For one thing, Felicio moves incredibly well for a 6’10” 275 pound big man. Felicio’s performance against Cleveland, a 16 point and 5 rebound on 7/7 shooting display of excellence, is reason enough to keep him alone, but Felicio has played well all season when given the opportunity.
The Bulls were 7.9 points per 100 possessions better with Felicio on the court. Felicio was also 2nd on the team in win shares per 48 minutes with .175, behind only Jimmy Butler. Felicio was also 1st on the team in offensive rating with 123, 3rd in defensive rating at 104, and 3rd in PER at 17.6. Felicio only played 321 minutes this season (10.4 per game,) but Felicio couldn’t have been better in those minutes. Look for Felicio to not only be back next season, but to have an expanded role.
Aaron Brooks – Get Rid Of
Getting rid of Aaron Brooks will be a tough decision for Chicago, but one that needs to made. While the Bulls were Aaron Brooks 1.5 points per 100 possessions better with Brooks, he limits the Bulls potential going forward. Brooks, by nature of his tiny (6’0” 161 pound) frame, is not a good defensive player. For a team that lost its defensive identity this season, Brooks’ presence doesn’t help the effort to find it again.
Brooks was 4th worst on the team in defensive rating at 109, and 5th worst at offensive rating at 99. Brooks’ offense was what kept him in the league, but it appears as though the days of Brooks’ offensive ability being good may be numbered. Brooks is 31 years old, and he relies on speed to help him create offense. This was the first season in Brooks’ career that he finished with a negative offensive box plus/minus. It was also the first that his offensive rating was under 100. The wise thing to do would be to cut Brooks before he hurts the team more.
Bobby Portis – Keep
Bobby Portis was the Bulls’ rookie last season. 22nd overall picks aren’t expected to do too much in their rookie seasons, but Portis showed flashes of the great potential that made many people think he would be a lottery pick. Portis appeared in 62 games, and he played 17.8 minutes per game in those games. The 7.0 points and 5.4 rebounds per game marks were very promising even though the Bulls were 8.7 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the court.
Portis’ on/off can be excused. Portis is only 20 years old, and he went from sitting on the bench to playing a sizable role with Joakim Noah and Nikola Mirotic’s injuries. Portis had a 20 point and 11 rebound game against the New York Knicks in only 23 minutes. He also had a 17 point and 7 rebound game against the Lakers, a 16 point and 10 rebound game against New York, and Portis had 16 points and 8 rebounds against the Golden State Warriors. Portis showed a lot as a rookie, and he is a long ways away from being a finished product.
Justin Holiday – Keep
Justin Holiday was considered a throw-in to the Kirk Hinrich trade with Atlanta, but since joining the Bulls, Holiday has been the best player acquired by either team. While the Bulls lost their defensive edge over the course of the season, Holiday was a scrappy player. He took Tony Snell‘s role on the team away from him, and amassed win shares at a rate 4.5 times better than Snell. He had some great games this season too, including a 29 point, 5 assist, 3 rebound, 2 steal, and 1 block show of brilliance against the 76ers, a game in which he also shot 60% from the field and 5/7 from three.
Holiday also brings championship experience to the Bulls. He is the only player on the current roster to have won a championship besides free agent Pau Gasol. Holiday’s 43.3% mark from behind the three point line in his games with the Bulls are excellent. Holiday provides all these services at a contract just above 1 million dollars for the 2016-2017 season, so there is no reason for the Bulls to get rid of him.
Tony Snell – Get Rid Of
To say Tony Snell has been bad for the Bulls is an understatement. Snell has time and time again shown a lacking of effort, preparedness, and general basketball instinct. Snell took a massive step backwards from 2015 to 2016 despite the step forward that Doug McDermott took. Snell only averaged 5.3 points in 20.3 minutes per game. His 9.4 points, 1.7 assists, and 0.4 steals per 36 minutes are horrible for a supposedly athletic wing player, not to mention that he shot 37.2% from the field.
Snell is at this point a waste of the Bulls’ time. There is no point in developing his talent with Holiday, Felicio, McDermott, Etwaun Moore, Bobby Portis, and Nikola Mirotic all young and with brighter futures than him. The best thing to do would be to waive him, or send him down to the Windy City Bulls (Chicago’s new D-League affiliate).
E’Twaun Moore – Keep
E’Twaun Moore showed a chip on his shoulder this season. He played hard when others took plays off, and he is a very consistent worker. His consistency is what made him crucial when the Bulls counted on him in big moments (game winning three against Oklahoma City in 2015,) and why they play him at the end of games. In 22 games as a starter, Moore averaged 12 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists in 31.1 minutes per game, but his efficiency was outstanding, Moore shot 48.1% from the field and 45.2% from three on the year, and 48.5% from the field and 46.2% from three as a starter. Those numbers are incredible for a player on a team that finished 23rd in offensive efficiency on the year.
Moore can play either guard position at 6’4″, and has experience at both. He played well with both Jimmy Butler (duo outscored opponents by 3.2 points per 100 possessions,) and Nikola Mirotic (6.3). He is a good piece to have on the team going forward.
Joakim Noah – Depends on Market Value
Joakim Noah’s situation is hard to predict. On the one hand, he is the heart and soul of the Bulls both on and off the court. That is visible to the fans, and every player on the team will say the same thing. The Bulls were also better with him on the court, and they were in position to get a playoff seed, a high one at that, only when Noah was healthy. On the other hand, Noah is now a 31 year old big man with a considerably large history of leg injuries that some team is primed to overvalue. If and/or when this overvalueing happens, the Bulls need to let Noah go.
Noah took two huge steps backwards from his dominant 2013-2014 season to his mediocre 2014-2015 season and then to his insignificant 2015-2016 season. Noah, a big man, shot 38.3% from the field. That was before the latest season ending injury, can that percentage really go back up again? If another team in dire need of a big man offers Noah a multi-year deal at over 7 million dollars per year, it is in the Bulls best interest to let him sign that offer. If not, keep Joakim at a feasable price.
Mike Dunleavy – Get Rid Of
Mike Dunleavy has held a roster spot in Chicago as long as he has because of two things: three point shooting and veteran savvyness. While the three point shot was there in the games he appeared in, his savvy is beginning to fade like his long departed athleticism. Dunleavy is 35, and he will be 36 by next season’s start. His effictiveness is already on a downhill slope that might get even steeper after a surgery that saw a pro-longed recovery period for Dunleavy. Last was the first season that Dunleavy had a negative net rating (105 offensive and 109 defensive) and below average win share production (.063 per 48 minutes) since the 2009-2010 season, when Dunleavy played for a very forgettable Indiana Pacers team.
Dunleavy was a favorite of head coach Tom Thibodeau, but with Thibs’ departure, Dunleavy simply hasn’t been the same. There is no reason for Chicago to keep Dunleavy with Doug McDermott’s emergance and similar styles of play. There is definitely a market for Dunleavy, and the Bulls should get as much as they can for him.
Doug McDermott – Keep
Doug McDermott hasn’t lived up to the lottery selection or the trade that saw the Bulls send away both Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic for McDermott, but he improved considerably from his first season to his second. College Basketball’s 5th all-time leading scorer put up a solid 9.4 points per game for Chicago this past season, and he shot 42.5% from three, a great mark for the Creighton product.
McDermott should have even more confidence next season after a great personal second season. If he gets stronger, then there is no reason to get rid of a dangerous scorer like McDermott while he’s on his rookie contract.
Nikola Mirotic – Keep
Nikola Mirotic regressed in his second season on a per minute basis, but Mirotic also grew in many ways. His three point shot, save for the many 30 foot bombs that made Fred Hoiberg shake his head in discontempt, improved tremendously. A 31.6% three point shooter as a rookie, Mirotic shot 39.0% from three in 2015-2016, and Mirotic also improved from 32.6% to 44.3% on corner threes.
Mirotic is immensely talented on the offensive end of the court, and despite his individual weaknesses against bigger and stronger power forwards, Mirotic played good enough team defense to have a defensive rating of 104: the 5th best mark on the Bulls. The former Euro-League MVP has just too much potential for the Bulls to look to get rid of him.
Taj Gibson – Depends on Market Value
Taj Gibson had one of the best seasons for the Bulls that both he has ever had, and that the Bulls had from someone this season. Gibson’s offensive and defensive ratings of 115 and 106 are both great marks, Gibson shot a career high 52.5% from the field, and Gibson was third on the Bulls this season with 5.3 win shares.
Gibson had a great season, and he has been great his entire career for the Bulls, but Gibson will be 31 by the start of the 2016-2017 season, and for a player who relies so much on physical play both offensively and defensively, the Bulls should look at the market for Gibson to see what they can get. If there is a team wiling to give up young talent and/or assets for Gibson, the Bulls should consider it.
Pau Gasol – Get Rid Of
Pau Gasol had a great two seasons without he Bulls. He averaged 17.6 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game with Chicago. He has been statistically elite, and he proved that his game transcends barriers set by his age (35.) He has gotten 17.5 win shares in his two seasons in Chicago. Gasol, however, holds this team back in the long term.
Putting a slow, aging big man on an otherwise youthful and quick team muddies their identity, which the Bulls so oftentimes looked without this season. The Bulls frequently lost to lesser teams with young, athletic big men. The Bulls (and Gasol) struggled to guard against Kristaps Porzingis (16.8 points, 9.0 rebounds per game, and +11.1 points per 100 possessions against Bulls,) Karl-Anthony Towns (21.5 points, 15.0 rebounds, 2.5 blocks per game, and +14.5 points per 100 possessions,) and Nikola Vucevic (19.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists per game, and +10.0 points per 100 possessions) are just a few of the young big men who have killed the Bulls this season. The Bulls have plenty of big men on their roster already, making Gasol expendable, and the free agent should not be re-signed this offseason.
Derrick Rose – Keep, Wait for Right Offer, Bring off the Bench Until Then
Derrick Rose has shown enough to prove that he will never be the same player as the former MVP version of himself. Rose was finally healthy, to an extent. Rose played in 66 games this season: the most in the last 5 seasons, but he was not the same player. On first glance, he seemed to be at fringe all-star level with 16.4 points, 4.7 assists, and 3.4 rebounds per game. Those are good box score stats, but Rose was horrible for the Chicago Bulls team. He got win shares at a rate of .009 per 48 minutes. Of guards who played at least 30 minutes per game and started over 65 games in NBA History, Rose was the 4th worst in single season win share rate behind only 2016 Emmanuel Mudiay, 1992 Mark Macon, and 1994 Jim Jackson. Rose’s offensive and defensive ratings of 96 nd 110 are both horrible as well.
Unfortunately, other teams know this too, and they also know that Rose’s services cost 21.3 million dollars next season. After next season, however, Rose’s contract expires. There is a market for expiring contracts no matter how bad the player is. There will be an opportunity to trade a talented, if damaged, player like Rose. The one clear way for this trade to become more real is for Rose to dominate over bench guards. Rose still has speed and strength to take over games, even if it came at te expense of team success in 2016. Off the bench, Rose can be the offense, but there is no reason at this point to start Rose over a better team point guard.
Jimmy Butler – Keep
If the Bulls were to keep only one player from last year’s team, it would be Jimmy Butler. He is just that valuable, that good, and that important. Butler led the Bulls in scoring (20.9,) assists (4.8,) steals (1.6,) minutes (36.9,) win shares (9.1,) win share rate (.177 per 48 minutes,) and he was both the best offensive and defensive player for the Bulls.
There are rumors around Butler possibly being traded, not getting along with teammates, and having an ego, but honestly, Butler earned the right to have an ego. He started off as the last pick of the first round, came from nothing, and has been far and about the best and most consistent player on the Bulls. He is the team’s franchise player, and he signed a long term contract with the Bulls. Without Butler, the Bulls cannot have any hopes of making the playoffs or even being releveant in the NBA for a long time.