Being a Chicago Bulls fan in 2016 is probably a confusing feeling.
It seems like just a season or two ago that Derrick Rose, the Prodigal Son of Chicago, was leading a gritty, defensive beast of a team straight towards a maybe mortal LeBron James. Then we all know what happened with Rose’s health, and the team understandably fell out of contention in his absence. But even as recently as May of 2015, the Bulls were seconds away from taking a 3-1 lead on LeBron’s Cavaliers in the playoffs.
Now it’s 2016; 3-1 leads can be blown, and the preseason Bulls are in basketball purgatory.
The 2016 Chicago Bulls are an enigma. Fred Hoiberg replaced Tom Thibodeau, in a move that was poised to usher in an era of competent offensive play predicated on floor spacing. It hasn’t worked so far, and Chicago fans are right to be vexed with the Bulls offseason moves. Instead of a max contract, game-changing caliber player, the Bulls welcomed the aging Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. The two guard’s style of play is a rejection of what the modern NBA has become. Rondo and Wade are horrible for floor spacing. Their presence will stunt the team’s ability to ruin a fluid offense. Against the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday, the starting lineup connected on two shots from beyond the arc.
When Thibodeau was the Head Coach of the Bulls, teams feared the we-aren’t-better-than-you-but-we’re-gonna-out-work-you Bulls. Now Hoiberg deals with this in the wake of a preseason defeat:
We’ve dug ourselves a hole, early on in the first quarters of the last several games. I’ve been the one who had to call the timeout to try to get us going, you know we talked about it after the game, in the postgame, locker room, that’s what we talked about… It would be nice to go out and play a complete 48 minute game.”
More newsworthy than the game on Monday however, was the trade the Bulls made with the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bulls traded Tony Snell for Michael Carter-Williams. Carter-Williams might be the one player in the NBA that would make dealing Tony Snell not an occasion worth celebrating. Once a Rookie of the Year, Carter-Williams couldn’t get traction in an organization built on length and athleticism: the attributes he can allegedly display. In fact, Jimmy Butler’s best memory of playing against Carter-Williams in the first round of the 2015 Playoffs is indicative of his overwhelmingly mediocre upside.
I remember he fouled me on an and-one in the play-offs. I’ll put him in a group chat. I’m gonna make fun of him as soon as I get his phone number.”
Butler himself is even a cause of consternation for Bulls fans. He carries the swagger of a man who can drop 50 in any given game, while shutting down any man he’s asked to guard. Rightfully so, because he can do that. But he also failed to keep this team in the playoff picture last year, and is often the loser of the match-up with other superstars around the league.
So on one hand, the team is clearly Jimmy Butler’s: the incumbent star in his prime. However, on the other hand, the team just brought in four NBA titles in the form of Rondo and Wade. Naturally there’s a rift in the chain of command, and the deserved prompting of an NBA fan’s most coveted discussion topic: “Who gets the last shot?”
According to young bright spot, Doug McDermott, the veterans are even causing some confusion regarding whose leading practices:
They set the tone in practice along with Jimmy [Butler.] Coach Hoiberg lets them help coach and we’ll stop practice and those guys will lead us in certain ways. It’s great to have.”
With LeBron operating at full killing capacity, and the Mega-Death-Warriors waiting for anyone from the East who happens to get past LeBron, this season is pretty much a wash. It just seems odd that the Bulls have tucked themselves into this nether-region of “Not even close to making a title run,” and “Out of the star sweepstakes.” Teams avoid this region with the precision of a politician avoiding discussing sexual assault, but somehow the Bulls find themselves bracing for dominion over the realm of average. If I was a Bulls fan, I would be confused.