May 10, 2015. It was Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Chicago Bulls were up in the series two games to one on the Cleveland Cavaliers, seemingly poised to pounce on a 3-1 lead and finally break past the “brick wall” of the East that is LeBron James. LeBron, arguably the primary obstacle, but not the only reason, for the Bulls’ absence in the Finals since the Jordan era. The Cavs had possession, having to in-bound the ball from the baseline with 1.5 seconds remaining in the game and the score tied at 84. Play begins, the ball is in-bounded to LeBron, and he takes a long, fading 22-foot jump-shot. The shot goes in, the buzzer sounds, the Cavs leave victorious, evening the series 2-2. LeBron and his Cavaliers go on to win the next two games, therefore ending the Bulls’ hopes of halting the Eastern Conference juggernaut.
Coincidentally enough, it halted the relevance of NBA basketball in Chicago with the Bulls’ front office crashing the ship onto Planet Mediocrity.
How, in the span of a year and a half, can a team go from having one of the best coaches in the league, a former MVP, a rising star, a future Hall of Famer, and a possession away from crippling the Cavs in the playoffs, to irrelevance? As much as fans want the players and/or coach Hoiberg to wear the dreaded jacket of accountability, it needs to be worn by those who’ve repeatedly chosen to coward in the shadows when crap hits the fan; the front office. Let’s retrace their steps within the last three years, shall we?
Two weeks after losing the aforementioned series to the Cavaliers, the Bulls’ dynamic duo in the front office (Gar Forman and John Paxon) decide to part ways with their decorated head coach Tom Thibodeau, stating that they needed a “change in approach”. Though the firing didn’t surprise anyone who closely followed the team, it left any casual Bulls/NBA fan in a dazed and confused state. What upgraded the confused state to complete head spinning, was the hiring of Fred Hoiberg only five days later.
Hmm. So let us get this straight.
You fire a coach who’s taken you to the postseason five straight years (two of which were without Derrick Rose due to injury), completely dodge the fact that you fired him because your pride is too big that if you swallowed it you’d choke, and not five days later hire a replacement who has as much experience as myself (0) in coaching/leading NBA players? Got it. Moving on.
During the 2016 All-Star break, the Bulls were barely floating above .500 (27-25) and, per reports, were active in trade discussions involving Pau Gasol and Sacramento’s Ben McLemore. A trade needed to happen, as it was glaringly clear that Gasol was not going to return to the team at the end of the year and would grant the Bulls the gift of not letting him walk in free agency for nothing in return. Instead, Gar-Pax decide to hold on to Gasol, thus leaving them vulnerable for him to leave at season’s end and stuck waving goodbye to Pau rather than welcoming a younger, more athletic talent. This, a move that may have set the Bulls back a year, could possibly haunt Forman and Paxon if/when they are sent packing.
Once the 2015-16 season came to a close, the Bulls were left on the outside looking in, missing the playoffs for the first time in eight years and seemingly left without direction to steer towards. With their former superstar now turned average point guard Derrick Rose entering the final year of his contract, the young talent not showing much promise, and their only rising star in Jimmy Butler putting his stamp as the team leader (some would say) over-aggressively, a roster overhaul during the offseason was inevitable. And what an overhaul it was.
Chicago let their two men in the middle, Gasol and Joakim Noah, walk via free agency. Later pulling off a multitude of trades, with the most glaring being a swap of Derrick Rose and Justin Holiday to New York for Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant, and Jose Calderon. The Bulls then traded Calderon and two of their second round picks to the Lakers for the rights to their second round pick in 2011, Ater Majok (who?), and just before the start of the 2016 season, exchanged their former first round pick Tony Snell to Milwaukee for former Rookie of the Year, Michael Carter-Williams III. Oh, and let’s not forget the signings that were meant to fill seats at the United Center, ahem, I mean, to make the Bulls a better team; Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. An eventful, and yet still unsatisfying, offseason to say the least.
How has it played out so far?
At the All-Star break, my beloved Bulls have been the mantra of inconsistency with a 28-29 record. They’ve been good enough on nights to beat teams like the Cavaliers, Celtics, and Raptors, but have been bad enough to lose to teams like the Mavericks, Lakers, and Nuggets. And because they reside in the all-too-generous Eastern Conference, they may be gifted a playoff birth in April, currently sitting as the seventh seed (only a game back from the sixth).
Even with the Bulls currently sitting on the bus ride to the post-season, trade talks have again emerged as the talk of the town. The most notable rumor to hit the twitter feeds has been the Boston Celtics’ interest in Bulls’ star Jimmy Butler. Though they are only rumors, it is said that in order for the C’s to snag Jimmy from Chicago, they would need to include one (or both) of their first round picks they own from the Brooklyn Nets in the next two years, both projected to be top-3 picks. And quite frankly, the Bulls would be foolish to push this trade aside as they did with Pau Gasol. Trade Jimmy Butler now while you have the chance. Here’s why:
The Chicago Bulls are stuck in what I like to call (cue the creepy, horror voice over) “basketball-hell.”
They’re a team with only one star in Butler, and even then a lot of people still question whether or not he could be the center piece of a championship team, and a head coach who seems to be a deer-in-headlights with three years still left on his contract. They’re a team that is good enough to make the playoffs, but not good enough to get past the King of the East, LeBron James, and into the Finals. And if they make it to the playoffs, it will grant them only mid-late first round draft picks that almost always end up as role-pieces to come off the bench. They’re a team that has tried to bring in young talent (or talent in their prime) via free agency but have only landed players in the tail-end of their careers wanting big money. They’re a leaderless team without direction. There isn’t a more perfect time for the Bulls to blow the whole thing apart and rebuild.
One of the many blessings the NBA has to offer is that rebuilding a team doesn’t have to be an elongated process. Sure, the Lakers and Sixers are examples of rebuilds that have lasted longer than the fans would like. And though they it may not show in the win column, they both are teams that have young, athletic pieces to build around. It’d be hard to find any in a Bulls uniform not named Jimmy Butler. The Bulls need a franchise changer. A dynamic force. The only way to achieve such a player is top-3 pick. And the only way to a top-3 pick, is if Jerry Reinsdorf tosses the idea that mediocrity is okay out the window, and forces this underwhelming Bulls front-office to make a gigantic splash before the deadline. Before it’s too late.
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