30 Teams in 30 Days: Bulls remodel with veteran flavor
Chicago moves on from Rose era by adding Wade, Rondo to help rising star Butler challenge in East
Since the Cavaliers won their first NBA title back on June 19, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason. NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2015-16 to the team with the best regular-season record — during the month of September as we look at 30 Teams in 30 Days. | Complete schedule
Today’s team: Chicago Bulls
2015-16 record: 42-40
Who’s gone: F-C Cameron Bairstow, G Aaron Brooks, G Jose Calderon, G-FMike Dunleavy, F-C Pau Gasol, G Justin Holiday, G E’Twaun Moore, C Joakim Noah, G Derrick Rose
Who’s new: SG Denzel Valentine, SF Paul Zipser (via Draft); G Isaiah Canaan, G Rajon Rondo, G Dwyane Wade (via free agency); G Spencer Dinwiddie, GJerian Grant, C Robin Lopez (via trades)
The lowdown: The Bulls were among the top five or six teams in the East until last season when things went awry and they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08.
After taking the time to absorb what the Bulls just did this summer, do you get the feeling this will either be a home run or a complete wash?
The Derrick Rose era, unfulfilled as it was, is over and now the Bulls are moving towards … exactly what, nobody’s quite sure. But 2016-17 will be quite interesting to behold, one way or another. They added Wade and Rondo to joinJimmy Butler, which is sort of a Big Three. The success of this trio and the Bulls depends on so many factors that there’s a real chance it’ll flop, or maybe the Bulls will at least reach the East finals (which was as far as the pre-injury Rose ever took them).
Getting Wade was the stunner. On the first day of free agency, he wasn’t even in the Bulls’ thinking as Wade returning to Miami was considered a guarantee. But then, players with a fraction of his accomplishments began getting enormous dollars in free agency, and Wade wanted his share. You know what happened next: Miami played hardball with the greatest pro athlete in South Florida history, who was never the highest-paid player on his team, and Wade’s feelings were hurt. Heat president Pat Riley and the team were simply looking out for their own interests, refusing to give an aging and oft-injured player more than two years of guaranteed money.
So Wade began looking around. While the Bulls’ offer was only about $2 million more than Miami’s offer, once you factor in the absence of payroll tax in Florida, Wade wasn’t leaving a dime on the table this time. It was a pure ego play, nothing more, although there are potential benefits. Wade is a Chicago kid coming back home, and he’s joining a team that could be the biggest threat in the East to his pal, LeBron James.
Speaking of ego, the season will be shaped or broken because of it. Wade, Butler and Rondo all have All-Star pasts, yet are all at different stages of their careers. Wade and Rondo are on the other side of the hill, while Butler is sitting on top. Are they willing to sacrifice and do whatever it takes to win the East, or will confusion over roles and the ball cause tension? Potentially compounding matters is the coach.
Fred Hoiberg lacks the resume to get instant locker room cred, and besides, he and Butler weren’t always on the same page last season. Also keep in mind that Rondo has made a career of questioning his coaches and that’s not going to change. So that’s three head-strong players and a coach who’s light on NBA experience or dealing with stars.
From a statistical standpoint, Rondo had a solid season with the Sacramento Kings, but the team went nowhere and either couldn’t prevent or didn’t bother to prevent a locker room uprising. When free agency arrived, he received mild interest, which had to be a wakeup call.
Rondo remains only effective with the ball, is a poor shooter and therefore can’t play off the ball. Whenever he’s on the floor, Butler and Wade will strictly be finishers. This will take an adjustment by all three, and will reveal how committed they are to see this work.
The Bulls lost Noah, who wasn’t the same player the last few seasons, and Robin Lopez might be a functional replacement. He played well for the Knicks in the second half of last season, with games of 19 and 20 rebounds along with 24 and 23 points, a high number for someone who doesn’t have many plays called for him.
The Bulls weren’t planning to re-sign Gasol at his age, especially with Bobby Portis (who was solid in Las Vegas Summer League) ready to share minutes withTaj Gibson at power forward. In the Draft the Bulls took Valentine, a swingman with a smooth feel for the game.
If nothing else, the Bulls managed to trade Rose and make enough moves to remain in the hunt, rather than fall back and begin a rebuilding process. It’ll be a short shelf life with this crew, given the advanced stages of Wade and Rondo. The adjustment for all involved needs to happen now, or it never will.
Coming Next: Portland Trail Blazers
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Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him onTwitter.
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