The Chicago Bulls are at a crossroads in this, their 50th year as an NBA franchise.
Due to a recent losing streak and an inconsistent season thus far, the Bulls are in the midst of a make or break season. It appears that new coach Fred Hoiberg’s style does not match up with the talent on the current roster.
Think Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ platform. Like Sanders, Hoiberg has some good ideas that may not come to fruition due to the status quo. Former first round pick Tony Snell hasn’t panned out thus far, Joakim Noah is one his last leg, literally, along with Pau Gasol not meshing with what Hoiberg wants to do offensively. Also, the team’s backcourt has its own set of early season complications.
The team’s long-time franchise player, Derrick Rose still suffers from double vision after taking an elbow to the face before the season. Their best player, Jimmy Butler, has taken on the leadership role and it’s evident that Butler, along with Hoiberg, is experiencing some growing pains.
He told ESPN Chicago this after a recent loss:
"I told Fred not to take me out at the beginning of the fourth," Butler said. "I wanted to play because that's when we give up those leads, at the beginning of the fourth. Nothing against my teammates, but I think if I'm out there and I get their energy going the right way, now take me out and let me rest. But the energy's going, the energy flowing. I think I got to start playing at the beginning of the fourth quarter." [...]
"[He said] I need a rest," Butler said. "I'm like, 'Man, I can handle an extra 45 seconds to a minute. Just let me get the energy going, get a stop here or there, and get us going in the right direction to start the fourth.'" [...]
"They got off to a 12-2 start on us," Hoiberg said of the fourth quarter, before Butler's comments. "You got to come out with greater urgency. I thought our effort was really good most of the night. [We] had too many turnovers in that first half. They scored 25 points on our 18 turnovers. But they came out and threw the first punch in the fourth quarter and got us on our heels a little bit and then got back into it. But that was it -- the start of the fourth." [...]
"That's what I was back there talking to him about," Butler said. "It's a learning curve for him just like it is for me. I understand what he's trying to do, I'm not mad at him for that, but we got to win games if we want to find ourselves in the postseason." [...]
"I don't give a damn about a career high," Butler said. "I want a win."
After last night's four overtime, 144-147 loss to the Pistons, the team is struggling to find their identity. Calls are emerging for the Bulls to trade their former League MVP, Derrick Rose, while many are screaming to just give Jimmy Butler the keys to the kingdom. After dropping 43 points last night, many more might be supporting that notion; but to his credit, Butler is still all about the team.
Butler on his career-high 43 points: "I don't care."— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) December 19, 2015
So are the Bulls a fractured team? Maybe. Or is a rising star trying to simply shoot straight with his teammates and coach? Or maybe the Bulls are starting to realize, in terms of a coaching change, that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
The organization fired their previous coach Tom Thibodeau despite making the playoffs in every season that he coached with the team. Along the way, Thibodeau, for all of his faults and grinding style which rubbed some players the wrong way, made All-Star players out of Noah, Luol Deng, and Butler. The Bulls played exceptional defense under his watch. Even ESPN pundit Stephen A. Smith once said, “The Bulls play defense in their sleep.”
These tweets from close observers of the team indicate that the current Bulls are missing the edge they once had:
Been saying it all year -- the Bulls just don't look like they enjoy playing with one another at the moment.— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) December 10, 2015
Bulls trying to avoid first 4-game losing streak since Dec. 14-19, 2013. Thibs had two 4-game losing streaks that year.— Vincent Goodwill (@vgoodwill) December 10, 2015
Sounds simplistic, but I do think a part of Bulls' offensive struggles is solved if Jimmy Butler shoots more and Derrick Rose shoots less.— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) December 10, 2015
Thibodeau, who may end up coaching next season, had a method to his madness that has had strong effect on not only the Bulls, but the Golden State Warriors.
Before the 2012 NBA draft, the coaching staff wanted the Bulls to draft Michigan State forward Draymond Green. They drafted current D-League player Marquis Teague instead.
Ron Adams, one of Thibodeau’s top assistants, now coaching in Golden State, said this in a Grantland article about how Green has panned out:
“As a coaching staff, we were very disappointed we didn’t get him,” Adams says. “He is definitely a Chicago kind of guy. This is no reflection on Kevin Love, but every team wants a Draymond Green. He has internalized the parts of the game that are the winning parts: the hustle, the grit, the defense, making the right play at the right time. I love that guy. I’m glad he’s on our team.”
Seeing the blistering start the Warriors have gotten off to, along with multiple injuries to key players over the past several seasons, Bulls fans, along with the current core, are left thinking what could been.
Maybe the Bulls would have won the chip? After all, the Eastern Conference was for the taking in some of those seasons.
At any rate, the Bulls may not have the grit they had in the past to influence the future.