Who's New?: F Bobby Portis (draft)
Who's Gone?: C Nazr Mohammed (free agent)
Off-Season Grade: B-. Just because they re-signed Butler without managing to screw that up. Also, their pick of Portis in the draft was well-received.
2015-16 Slogan: "It was all Thibs' fault."
What Else Is New?: You mean besides the whole "we fired the coach who defined our whole identity" thing? Well, Pau Gasol completely dominated Eurobasket 2015, including a 40-point Paugasm against France despite Spain not having Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka or Ricky Rubio on their roster. Also, a lawsuit was filed against Derrick Rose with unspeakably awful allegations, though objectively speaking, it seems pretty flimsy compared to, say, another famous athlete who works in the United Center.
Your Likely Starting Lineup:
C Joakim Noah
PF Pau Gasol
SF Mike Dunleavy
SG Jimmy Butler
PG Derrick Rose
Noah has long been one of my favorite players but I fear he may be broken. He fell off a cliff last year with all kinds of injuries after finishing fourth in MVP balloting in 2013-14. He was never the most athletic guy to begin with and certainly never all that skilled except for his passing, so he needed to give maximum effort to succeed. Once his body wasn't up to it, it was over. We shouldn't blame Thom Thibodeau for wearing him down, however. That aforementioned MVP campaign was the only year Noah ever played obscene minutes. Remember, in Rose's heyday Thibs would often bench Noah and Carlos Boozer in favor of Taj Gibson and Omer Asik in fourth quarters to protect leads, as bizarre as that sounds now. Maybe he'll rebound to form, but I'm skeptical. For one thing, Noah has to show that he can in fact play with Gasol, when that pairing never clicked last season.
Gasol is as devastating offensively as ever and still one of the league's best rebounders, but at this point he's basically Boozer defensively, albeit with better shot blocking. There is no ideal solution to make him a dominant player with the Bulls. On defense he needs Noah, but on offense he needs the floor spacing Nikola Mirotic provides. As well as he played individually last season, it just didn't translate into results.
Dunleavy re-signing was a bit of an upset, especially because he was coming off a fine year and would've had some suitors for the Mid-level Exception. I guess he got tired of moving. I think the Bulls would love it if Mirotic or Doug McDermott or Tony Snell or anyone could justify eating into his minutes, because he's a stopgap here.
Butler broke out into stardom last season and he must be more thrilled that Thibs is gone than anyone outside of Chicago's front office. Dude played over 2,500 minutes last regular season despite missing 17 games, which is insane. Butler does almost everything well, but has alternated bad shooting seasons with good ones so far in his career, so we'll have to see if the pattern continues or if he's the real deal now.
There's no other way to say it -- well that's a lie, there are plenty of other ways, but they're all negative -- Rose was simply atrocious last season. He ranked 23rd among point guards in WAR and 25th, right between Patty Mills and Cory Joseph, in Real-Adjust Plus-Minus. (You don't even want to know about Tony Parker, trust me.) By now expecting him to be a superduperstar again is long past. It's fair to question if he can even be an asset anymore. Butler and Gasol need to have the ball as much as possible, but Rose isn't really a catch-and-shoot guy and certainly not a pass-first point. As with the Spurs, how their point guard navigates his decline will go a long way toward determining the Bulls fate.
Your Likely Bench:
F Taj Gibson
F Nikola Mirotic
G Aaron Brooks
G Tony Snell
G Kirk Hinrich
F Doug McDermott
F Bobby Portis
G E'Twuan Moore
A solid eight-man rotation and then -- look out below. Noah and Rose were hurt and/or bad all year that most of us didn't notice that Gibson was also hurt and/or bad. Okay, that was too harsh, but definitely worse than the year before, especially defensively. You'd think that playing with Gasol or Mirotic would make his numbers slip but actually the most disastrous pairing was with Noah, per NBA.com. I was certain with Mirotic aboard and established that the Bulls would move Gibson to round out the rest of the roster but , nope.
Mirotic had a weird rookie season that reminded me of Marco Belinelli. At times he seemed like their MVP. Other times he was miserable in his own end and shot them out of games. He suffered an injury early in the playoffs and was barely in the rotation by the end. He fancies himself a stretch four, but he shot just 31.6 percent from outside, and the Bulls even tried him at the three at times, which didn't work. I'm eager to see what his sophomore season will be like.
Brooks seems like the first Rose understudy that's been re-signed for an encore. He's kind of like Patty Mills, but a better passer. Like most backup points, he's a sieve in his own end and can't really finish at the rim, but hey, so's the starter. It's remarkable that Hinrich is still around. Even his agent must be wondering at this point what the Bulls still see in him. He can't guard people anymore, he can't score, he's never been a shot-creator. I thought he was a Thibs guy who'd be shown the door, but management apparently loves them some Kirk.
Snell showed flashes last season but still looks like a marginal player. He'll get plenty of minutes early on as the team will look to give Butler more rest, but I'm not sure if he'll see a second contract in the league. Meanwhile, if McDermott has another year like his rookie season, he'll be Adam Morrison-ed out of the NBA. His overall shooting percentage was okay in Summer League, but he still can't seem to make threes at this level for whatever reason. Las Vegas was much kinder to Portis, a 6-11 kid out of Arkansas, and he seems to have a job locked down as the fifth big.
Your Coach: Fred Hoiberg
In the worst-kept secret in the NBA, the Bulls immediately hired Hoiberg, formerly the skipper of Iowa State, to replace Thibodeau. As a fair-haired guard in the league turned coach who promises to invigorate and modernize the offense of his dour, defensive-minded predecessor, the comparisons to Steve Kerr were inevitable. The difference, however, is that Kerr had a bunch of young pups while most of the Bulls are on a steep decline, everyone on the Warriors can shoot threes with deadly accuracy while precious few on Chicago can, and most of all, the Warriors have Stephen Curry and the Bulls don't. Hoiberg was regarded as an offensive whiz with the Cyclones, but his teams never made it out of the Sweet-16 in his four years there and he crashed out in the first round as three-seed. You'll forgive me if I don't engrave the Coach of the Year trophy for him just yet.
Bottom Line: If they stay healthy, they'll finish 57-25 and will remain the stiffest challenger to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference. Another way of saying this is that Cleveland will be unchallenged in the Eastern Conference.
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