I know a lot of folks are going to freak out, but the one thing I noticed in this lost Bulls season is that if you take away Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler morphs into LeBron James.
I understand that many Bulls fans still believe that Derrick Rose can return to his MVP form, but it simply isn't going to happen. Even during his supposedly great month or so he played this season, his true shooting percentage was only .526 in January, .508 in February, and .511 in March. The league average TS% was .540 last season. Even the Bulls, who struggled mightly on offense this season (26th in the league in TS%), had a team TS% of .526 for the season.
At least Rose stayed healthy-ish this season- he played in 66 games, which is more than he played in the previous three seasons combined. But the 16 games Rose missed tells us something about the rest of the roster.
The Bulls went 32-34 in the games that Rose played, and 10-6 when Rose sat. Jimmy Butler missed 5 games in which Rose didn't play, and when Jimmy Butler played while Rose didn't, he morphed into a bona fide superstar.
The Bulls went 9-2 in the 11 games that Jimmy Butler played and Rose didn't. Five of the 11 games were against playoff teams. Playing without Rose, the stats Butler posted were downright LeBronish:
0.91 blocked shots
.505 field goal percentage
.820 free throw percentage
.382 3-point percentage
9.1 free throw attempts
Jimmy also had two triple-doubles in those 11 games. He scored 25 points or more in seven of the 11 games. It was only 11 games, but there aren't any 27/7/7 players in the NBA.
If we compare those numbers with LeBron's stats for this season... well, you can see for yourself.
Butler: 27.7 pts, 7.2 reb, 7.0 ast, 2.0 to, 1.36 stl, 0.91 blk, 50.5% fg, 82.0% ft, 38.2% 3pt, 9.1 fta, 3.5/1 ast/to
LeBron: 25.3 pts, 6.8 reb, 7.4 ast, 3.3 to, 1.37 stl, 0.64 blk, 52.0% fg, 73.1% ft, 30.9% 3pt, 6.5 fta, 2.1/1 ast/to
It's only an 11 game sample, but Jimmy Butler was very impressive when he was the undisputed alpha dog on the floor. It's common knowledge that the Bulls struggled with chemistry and effort and "who is the leader", which led to the team missing the playoffs despite going 7-1 against the top-2 teams in the East (Cleveland, Toronto).
It's just human nature that the veterans who have been with the team for a few seasons- Taj, Noah, Dunleavy, and Rose- still look to Rose to lead the offense. While it's not certain, I have to believe that the only players who will be on the roster next season are the ones who played tonight (plus E'Twaun, who was out with a bad hamstring):
I think the front office sees Butler as the leader of this team going forward, and who can blame them- they all saw Jimmy Butler doing his best LeBron imitation when he was out there and Rose wasn't.
I expect Gasol and Brooks to walk, and Gibson and Dunleavy to be traded. I'm not sure what to think about Noah- he's been the vocal leader of this team for years now, but if he can't get on the Jimmy Butler train, he'll probably be allowed to walk as well.
I expect Rose to be traded, though I'm not sure the Bulls can get much in return. Hopefully, some team that needs a "superstar" will be open to giving up a first-round pick and absorbing Derrick's contract into their cap space. I'd love to see him traded for Nerlens Noel or Willie Cauley-Stein, but honestly I don't see that happening.
These moves would give the Bulls $50 million or more in cap space, and the ability to sign two max players, but that's a different discussion for a different day.