Chicago Bulls face uncertain future after Dwyane Wade injury

Shaun Powell

Shaun Powell


Mar 16, 2017 3:55 PM ET

What direction -- if they are around to call the shots -- will John Paxson (left) and Gar Forman take the Bulls next?

Hey, everything else in Chicago is fractured right now: The confidence, spirit, won-loss record and the morale inside the organization. So yeah, why not Dwyane Wade’s elbow, too?

At this point, it’s just piling on. The hits keep on coming for the bumbling Bulls, the latest being a season-ending and perhaps Bulls-ending injury to Wade. Now everyone braces for The Big Hit. That’s perhaps on tap for this summer and the only question is who gets shattered by the sledgehammer: A few players, coach Fred Hoiberg, or the management team of Gar Forman and John Paxson?

Or all of the above?

It says plenty when the Northwestern basketball team is more beloved in Chicago right now than the Bulls, and it’s really not a close contest. The public trust in a franchise that once gave us six championships and Michael Jordan is fraying because a season of hope has taken another turn for the worst. Wade’s injury, coupled with the continued sputtering by a team allegedly “fighting” for the last playoff crumb, spells trouble for the organization, both in the present and immediate future.

Months of locker room discord and disrespect for Hoiberg means there will be changes, either sweeping or significant. That said, the Bulls are only a summer removed from undergoing sweeping changes which were designed to make them a contender.

To be kind, it hasn’t worked.

They’ve been a bad mix and at times even toxic, their dissatisfaction spilling over into the public, all while dropping in the standings and running the very realistic chance of missing the playoffs. With the exception of Jimmy Butler, everyone has underachieved or downright imploded and once again the Bulls are in need of fixing.

“We’re just not playing any type of good basketball right now,” Butler said.

They’ve lost six out of seven and are fresh from getting waxed by good teams: Boston, Houston, Cleveland. And their next three games are challenging: Wizards, Jazz, Raptors. Any lengthy losing streak will spell doom for the Bulls, and without Wade, a crash can certainly happen.

This wasn’t supposed to be the scenario, of course, although when Forman and Paxson signed Wade and Rajon Rondo and traded for Robin Lopez last summer, they created a boom-or-bust situation. All three veterans came with a fair degree of risk and eight months later, the worst case has happened.

It took Rondo only two months to clash with the coaching staff, earning a suspension. Lopez is a seven-footer yanking down a paltry six rebounds a night while disappearing during stretches. Wade has had some stellar performances but didn’t make the All-Star team, breaking a 12-year streak, and he and Butler famously lashed out against teammates last month, creating locker room division.

Just as worse: None of the young, developing players on the roster managed to climb to the next level. Nikola Mirotic, Michael-Carter Williams, Jerian Grant and especially Bobby Portis have either flatlined or imploded, which made them targets for the unhappy pair of Wade and Butler. The Bulls are caught between the clashing philosophies of trying to make the playoffs mainly off the labor of veterans while at the same time developing young players, which raises a question: How can the Bulls develop players for the future when those very players might not be the right ones?

Some of the failure to develop talent is a reflection on Hoiberg, and it’s reasonable to wonder if the Bulls erred in firing the popular Tom Thibodeau, or at least replacing Thibs with a college coach who never sat in the NBA big chair before.

The other day, Wade said of Hoiberg: “A lot of people have a lot of things they can say about Fred as a coach but I will defend him on this: This is a tough situation he’s put in right now.”

More than anything, all of this is a splotch on the record of Forman and Paxson and their management style. They’ve enjoyed the support of owner Jerry Reinsdorf for years, but will that change when it’s time for offseason evaluations?

So many issues are lurking for the Bulls, too many to be wiped clean by grabbing the eight playoff spot and facing the Cavs in the first round, if they can manage that. You wonder why a proud veteran and future Hall of Famer like Wade, who has an option for 2017-18, would want to be part of this, but at age 35 and nearing the end of his career, he’s not walking out on a $23 million payday.

They could explore a trade of Butler. Problem: Butler is part of the solution, and he’s under contract for the next three years at a very reasonably team-friendly price.

Overall, it has been a train-wreck of a season, considering the expectations the Bulls raised going into the season. Clearly, Forman and Paxson have work to do, although this is assuming they’ll be around this summer to do the heavy lifting this time.

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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