Sam Smith's 2016 Year in Review

We don’t so much in the NBA celebrate the end of the calendar year because it’s just now heading toward mid season in the league’s annual hyphenated dating, this being 2016-17. In many respects for the Bulls, few will be sorry to call a flagrant 2 on 2016 and send it on its way after the team missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Many in the country probably feel much the same way about the past year with the divisive presidential election. Great Britain had its own shock with the Brexit vote to leave the European Union. Many such extreme actions marked elections in other countries. There were the ever present terrors, in Berlin, Nice, Brussels and Orlando. Protests over police shootings and police being shot, namely in Dallas. There were deaths, Muhammad Ali, Pat Summit, Gordie Howe and Arnold Palmer in sports, Johnny Bach, Craig Sager, Sean Rooks and Nate Thurmond from the NBA, Prince, Greg Lake, David Bowie and George Michael in music, Fidel Castro and John Glenn beyond that.

It was the hottest year on record, and the hot Chicago Cubs finally winning the World Series. And the Cleveland Cavaliers the NBA championship, both freeing cities from long time misery. So did some English soccer team, but nobody has any idea where. Villanova shocked the college game, the Golden State Warriors dominated the NBA with 73 wins until they couldn’t in Game 7 of the Finals and Rio De Janeiro survived the Summer Olympics, though U.S. swimmers didn’t look so good. Peyton Manning won another Super Bowl and left, and in the NBA so did Kobe and Tim Duncan.

It’s time to see what’s ahead in 2017.

But first, here’s a look back at the Bulls’ 2016:

1.  Derrick Rose traded, June 22.

It was both a shock and expected, the only Bulls league Most Valuable Player other than Michael Jordan. But in sort of an inevitability with four years of injuries and returns. Rose’s contract with a year to go and community fatigue over the will he or won’t and when. The Bulls acquired Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant and Jose Calderon, the latter traded to the Lakers in a salary dump. The Bulls also sent Justin Holiday to the Knicks. It was somewhat unofficially the end of the run for that Bulls team with Joakim Noah and Luol Deng that went to the 2011 Eastern Conference finals and appeared headed to at least a repeat until Rose’s torn ACL in the first game of the 2012 playoffs.

2.  Dwyane Wade signed, July 16.

Kevin Durant’s free agent signing with the Golden State Warriors was the story of the 2016 NBA summer and free agency. But the biggest surprise was the signing of Dwyane Wade by the Bulls. The 12-time All-Star, three-time NBA champion and everyone figured lifetime Miami Heat player and more signed a two-year contract to return home to Chicago, where he grew up. Though Wade is 34 and on the downside of his career, he’s still a potential 20-point per game scorer for the season and the biggest free agent signing for the Bulls in franchise history. Wade’s presence could attract other free agents, and in the least signal Chicago as a welcoming place for great players.

3.  Jimmy Butler scores franchise record 40 second half points in Toronto, Jan. 3.

It seemed like the start of something big for the Bulls, who recovered from some early season hiccups to go eight games over .500 with Butler’s magical scoring second half to continue in what would be a season sweep of eventual conference finalist Toronto. Butler was thus on his way to his second consecutive NBA All-Star game with teammates Pau Gasol and entry into the world of NBA elite players.

4.  Joakim Noah injures shoulder and will need surgery and be out for the season, Jan. 15.

It was the start of the unraveling for the Bulls’ season and the effective farewell of one of the best and most popular players in Bulls franchise history. The quirky former Defensive Player of the Year and multiple All-Star would not play another game for the Bulls. The Bulls still were eight games over .500 going into the game when Noah got tangled with JaVale McGee. Not long after Noah went out, Nikola Mirotic and Butler went out for a month each with injury to Butler and illness for Mirotic. The last dance chance season was effectively over and the breakup of the team was inevitable.

5.  Jimmy Butler scores 53 points to lead the Bulls from a 24-point deficit to beat the Philadelphia 76ers, Jan. 14.

It was the fourth ever game of 50 points or more in franchise history and third of at least 53 points, joining Michael Jordan and Chet Walker. The Bulls still were eight games above .500, but needing that much from Butler to defeat the lowly 76ers was not a good sign. The Bulls would lose 11 of their next 16 with Butler hurting his knee in that stretch and unable to play in the All-Star game. Butler had sat out that morning’s shootaround practice with a sore ankle, but he also had 10 rebounds, made 21 of 25 free throws and played the last 29 minutes straight.

6.  Doug McDermott scores 30 points, 12 above his career high to defeat Toronto, Feb. 19.

It proved the Bulls last gasp of the season. Taj Gibson said the bandwagon was empty and it was just the players now. The Bulls did win the next two, including Kobe Bryant’s appreciative final appearance in Chicago. They still were four games over .500, but lost six of the next eight and never really recovered. Cristiano Felicio and Bobby Portis played big roles in that game with all the injuries. Derrick Rose had 26 points in his last big run, averaging 24 points in five games in the stretch. McDermott had 14 fourth quarter points. McDermott was 13 for 17 with four threes.

7.  Kirk Hinrich traded to Atlanta Hawks, Feb. 19.

This era’s Mr. Bull went back to the Atlanta Hawks, where he previously was after being traded to Washington in 2010, in another early sign of the end of an era. Hinrich was the first player to start the Bulls recovery from the post-Michael Jordan era and ended his Bulls career third alltime in games played and seasons, fourth in minutes played, third in steals and assists and top 10 in field goals. He played in more than 50 playoff games for the Bulls.

8.  Dwyane Wade leads Bulls to victory over San Antonio Spurs, Dec. 8.

Wade showed in flashes that he still has a lot of game left, 35 points against the Knicks, 28 against the Clippers, 34 against Portland. It was along with the victory over the Cavaliers, the signature win for the Bulls in 2016-17, also the 16th straight home win on national TNT. Rondo missed a triple double by an assist. Two Jimmy Butler 2016-17 games, however, were more individually striking, his 40 points Nov. 20 against the Lakers in Los Angeles with Wade out for rest on the back to back and his 40 points Dec. 28 against the Nets with 27 in the second half and his first career game winner at the buzzer for the victory.

9.  Joakim Noah signs four year contract with hometown New York Knicks, July 1.

Everyone knew it was coming, especially after the Bulls acquired center Robin Lopez in the Rose trade and Noah’s knee problems and coming off the bench before he was hurt. But it was with great sentimentality Bulls fans felt the loss of the player who perhaps merged with the fans better than any player in franchise history, even if he didn’t look like many with his wild pony tail and collection of stocking hats he wore inside. He was the ultimate iconoclast, but made two All-Stars team, set franchise and NBA records for passing by a center and even was top five in league MVP voting one season. His Game 7 first round domination of the Nets in 2013 despite foot injuries was one of the most prized games in franchise history. He articulated the hopes and wishes of the fans better than perhaps any player after Luol Deng was traded. His 2010 steal and fast break dunk to wrap up the triple overtime sixth game against Boston in 2009 also was one of the fans’ favorite plays. Two weeks later, Pau Gasol ended two All-Star seasons with the Bulls by opting out of his contract and signing with the San Antonio Spurs.

10.The Bulls continued to be the early surprise of the 2016-17 season with a 111-106 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dec. 2.

That victory was with Rajon Rondo getting his first triple double as a Bulls player, Taj Gibson with 23 points and 11 rebounds, the Bulls with 78 inside points and Butler and Wade outplaying LeBron James after James had to pay off a World Series wager and come to the game in a Cubs uniform. The victory sent the Bulls at 10-6. Much seemed possible. But the Bulls then went on to lose nine of their next 12 games and head into the 2017 New Year trying to regain that excellence they showed the first month of the season.