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2016-17 Season Preview: Chicago Bulls

Steve Aschburner

Steve Aschburner NBA.com

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Oct 12, 2016 12:59 PM ET

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An NBA team's season can be interesting, even watchable, without necessarily being good. That's the sense of many Bulls observers, who appeared to be headed down in the standings until management salvaged the offseason with a pair of veteran free-agent signings: Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. That generated a buzz, if not a surge in optimism that Chicago will close the gap on Cleveland ---or several other ambitious squads in the East.  

ICYMI

End of an era: Chicago native son Derrick Rose was traded to New York on June 22 in a package deal that delivered center Robin Lopez and guard Jerian Grant to the Bulls. Both the 2011 MVP and his former team talked of seeking a fresh start. … With the No. 14 pick in the draft, the Bulls selected Michigan State G/F Denzel Valentine in the draft June 23. They added German shooter Paul Zipser in the second round. …  Lopez's arrival in the Rose trade made it clear where Chicago stood on C Joakim Noah's free agency. The high-energy big man signed as a free agent with New York. … As expected, veteran big man Pau Gasol exited Chicago too, opting to join San Antonio. … After two seasons below the radar with Dallas and Sacramento, point guard Rajon Rondo signed with the Bulls. He led the NBA in assists (11.7) for the third time last season. … It looked to some like an emotional by-product of hardball negotiations between the player and the Miami team when the face of the Heat franchise, Dwyane Wade, bolted to his hometown Bulls. … Mike Dunleavy left Chicago after three seasons when the team cleared salary space for Wade. … Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September.

THREE POINTS

  1.  If the Bulls are going to get real production on the court from Dwyane Wade, rather than just buzz and ticket sales, the veteran shooting guard will need to approach the 74 appearances he made last season, his most since 2010-11. That will take luck and restraint (Miami limited him to 30.5 minutes per game) but it paid off in 22.5 points per 36 minutes.
     
  2. Honeymoon's aren't what they used to be, at least in Fred Hoiberg's case. The heat was on the Bulls' front office – VP of basketball John Paxson and GM Gar Forman – after last season's fall from the playoffs, though players were the ones who paid the price in the roster makeover. This time Hoiberg could be the fall guy, despite a group that appears ill-suited to his preferred pace-and-space style of play.
     
  3. The Bulls made forcing turnovers a priority in the preseason, after finishing as one of only two teams (with the Knicks) to not reach 1,000 in that category in 2015-16. It's true the backcourt in particular didn't attack ball handlers the way they should have and Rajon Rondo's arrival could help there. But know, too, that Golden State ranked 15th in forcing turnovers and Cleveland was 24th, lest anyone think that stat is a ticket to the Finals.  

MAN ON THE SPOT

Jimmy Butler has climbed the ladder of individual success since reaching the NBA as an unheralded No. 30 pick in 2011, from bench rider to starter to All-Star, Hollywood denizen and Team USA gold medalist. But it hasn't translated into great team success, with a head coach fired in his first All-Star season and a lottery finish in his second. Butler grabbed at the leadership reins of the Bulls last season with dubious results. Now both Wade and Rondo are on record that this is "Butler's team," so the ultra-confident, two-way swingman will need to make sure, if he leads, teammates will follow.

STARTING FIVE

Rajon Rondo | 11.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 11.7 apg 
Led league in assists, shot career-best 36.5 percent on threes.

Dwyane Wade | 19.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.6 apg 
Bulls need his scoring, his presence and his veteran influence on mostly young roster. 

Robin Lopez | 10.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.4 apg 
Fifth team in six seasons is counting on him for rim protection, bonus offense. 

Nikola Mirotic | 11.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.5 apg
Lineup needs his shooting range but Bulls need to see consistency to start him. 

Jimmy Butler | 20.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.8 apg 
An All-Star whose 3-point and overall shooting dropped, as his defensive rating (106) rose.

KEY RESERVES

Taj Gibson | 8.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.5 apg 
Has sacrificed on better Bulls teams but eager to earn, at 32, a FA deal next summer.

Doug McDermott | 9.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 0.7 apg
Has made 41 percent of his 3 FGAs (123 of 300) in two NBA seasons.

Denzel Valentine | 19.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 7.8 apg (MSU)
Might see minutes as a backup point guard, after handling the ball in college.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The days of trying to get past LeBron James seem so long ago as Chicago focuses now on a return to the postseason. The Bulls should be right on the bubble for a low seed, finishing somewhere between 38 (out) and 44 (in) victories. 

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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