Time To Pick A Lane

Time To Pick A Lane

Basketball isn't too far away. Thank the Gods for that. The NBA's preseason will begin in less than a month, with the Bulls getting things underway on October 6, facing last season's playoff foes, the Milwaukee Bucks.

A lot of hype has built up for the Bucks, and for good reason. The mission statement of the franchise has been clear; Get young, quick and versatile, and smother people defensively with length. When you think about 'position-less basketball' in the modern game, Milwaukee, amongst others, are breaking down the existing norms.

They've gone out and signed free agent center, Greg Monroe, a nice, young big who passed on the bigger markets to join the Bucks. Jabari Parker is set to resume his career after a torn ACL derailed his rookie campaign, and we can expect natural progression from the rest of the roster, particularly Giannis Antetokounmpo. Good times are ahead. For fans of an organisation that has faced constant rumors of relocation, that has to be exciting.

For the Bulls, there hasnt been any 'hype' coming into this season. It was too quiet for anything of merit to draw a frenzy. Virtually no changes have been made to the roster outside of Bobby Portis, the rookie, replacing Nazr Mohammed. Instead of player movement, management will be banking on the transition from Thibodeau to Hoiberg to progress the team past the second round, but is this change enough, or are there more inherent issues at play with the roster that need to be resolved at some point this season?

Analyzing the Bulls roster, whilst it has virtually remained unchanged, the dynamics seem...well, weird.

For simplicity's sake, let's assume that an average NBA player's best years are in his mid-to-late 20s - say 25-28-years of age. On face value, with the average age of a Chicago player next season being a little over 27-years old, one could argue the age profile of this team is right in its 'sweet spot' of performance. Is it really, though?

As it stands, the Bulls have six players who are 30 years of age or greater, six players who are 24-years old or younger, with only three currently in their prime (25-28). Now, this fact isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially if those three players are destined to give you their best years, something Oklahoma City looks poised to do with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook & Serge Ibaka.

Unfortunately, this isn't the case for Chicago.

E'Twaun Moore, Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler are the three players set to enter their 'prime' for Chicago. That doesn't really compare with the Thunder core, does it?

Moore is no star. He is barely a rotational piece. The best years of Rose should be now. Instead, sadly, they may be behind him. That only leaves Jimmy Butler. No wonder he is working on his point guard skills, the Bulls may need it!

Further review of the roster suggests the team is lacking in players within the age of 26-28, meaning the transition from the veterans to the less experienced won't be as seamless as it should be. It's a troublesome thought that the influx of younger players to the roster will begin to reach the apex of their careers when the veterans of the team will no longer be here. The roster construction would be perfect if we could somehow turn back the speedometer, taking the best part of a decade off the aging Bulls. We won't get to see the peaks of Joakim Noah and Nikola Mirotic in parallel, despite the obvious fit. A true shame.

As time goes on, it's becoming increasingly clear that Pau Gasol, Mike Dunleavy and Kirk Hinrich won't be here for the next Chicago championship, nor will journeyman Brooks. After a very poor 2015 season, with free agency looming in the background, can we say with any confidence that Joakim Noah will remain a Bull past 2016?

Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson - both of whom combine for $30.25 million in expiring contracts - will be free agents at the conclusion of 2016-17, coincidentally at the same time that a potentially large extension to Nikola Mirotic will be due. Following soon after, both Doug McDermott and Tony Snell, assuming they've proved they can consistently remain in an NBA rotation, will also be in line for their first non-rookie scale contract.

This begs the question - what direction is Gar Forman taking this franchise?

Is the plan to consolidate young talent and future assets for ready-made players via trade, or are we moving on from the elders of the collective, by dealing them for future (or younger) assets to accompany the next wave? With seemingly no change to the roster, the answer is clear - neither.

I almost can't blame him for his inaction. It's the elephant in the room that everyone is tired of discussing, but it can't be ignored. Derrick Rose and the 'will he/won't he' scenarios that plague his return to stardom, still haunt us all. No other team has had to deal with this level of insecurity for consecutive seasons. An already risk-averse franchise, you can begin to understand why this situation has caused even greater levels of conservatism.

One must also factor in the constraints the General Manager has in terms of financial flexibility. Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah are set to bank $33.49 million combined in 2015-16 - an amount equating to 48% of the salary cap. Filling out the roster with depth and quality is an extremely difficult task when your two best and highest paid players are under-performing. Is anyone really going to want to trade for the contracts of Rose and Noah, especially if they show no signs of rediscovering their former selves?

Perhaps Rose can return to an All-Star level? It's not an impossible notion. He did show flashes of utter brilliance.

These moments, again, continue to have us all lingering onto hope.

If he can, it would look highly stupid to trade a piece like Joakim Noah or Pau Gasol now and risk losing them for a future asset if the Bulls former star were to reascend to his peak under the new coach and his system. So, again, the rationale of being content with the what is on the books for now is understandable, but this can only be a temporary solution.

Unless the Bulls can work against the odds and win a title in 2016, we should expect this to be the last season with this group. Changes will be required next season, and frankly, may be needed. A succession plan for the older brigade will need to be implemented, most notably in the front-court. Recommitting to a lengthy extension to Joakim Noah at age 31, could also prove to be a terrible contract of Ben Wallace-esque proportions. If Rose continues to battle injury and mediocre play, the time to move on from the fallen superstar will present itself.

Sitting on your hands and doing minimal during this off-season can be defended. There was no cap space, no full mid-level exception, and the obvious trade piece (Gibson), was injured. These excuses will not be afforded next season, nor should they be accepted.

I'm giving you ten months to work out the correct path, Gar. It's time to pick a lane.

Comments

Leave a comment
  • "This begs the question - what direction is Gar Forman taking this franchise?"

    A very white one. My goodness, how do get a half white roster in todays NBA? ... unless you're trying to.

  • fb_avatar

    Good insiteful piece

  • Garpax should not have a chance to pick a lane after this season if the Bulls are not challenging for a championship. It was their decision to remove Thibs, go with the Mayor, and essentially keep the team the same except for adding Portis for Mohammed.

    If the Bulls fall back and are not competing for a championship while Atlanta, Washington, and Miami and even Milwaukee are the teams on the upward trend challenging Cleveland and the west for superiority, then Garpax need to go like Emery for the Bears and get some new leadership headed in a rebuild to remove the Bulls from perennial bridesmaid positions. I hope it is not true and all the question marks (Noah's physical improvement, Rose's return to MVP level, growth of Niko, Snell, and McDermott off the bench, and improved offensive efficiency under the Mayor while still having a defensive presence, and continued growth of Butler without any diminished play from an aging Gasol) get positive answers. But if things start to go bad, it is all on Garpax.

  • "But if things start to go bad, it is all on Garpax."

    Things have been going bad for at least 4 years not. But it is not entirely on Gar/Pax for 3 reasons:
    1) JR was the guy who wanted Thibs, not Gar/Pax. As we have documented, Thibs had some major deficiencies as a HC, leading to even some of the players tuning him out this past season.
    2) Can't blame Gar/Pax for Rose's injuries.

    Plus Gar/Pax did get Taj, Butler, Mirotic, and Gasol. And they traded Deng. Besides, the jury is still out on Snell and McDermott. Portis looks like a steal, too, altho he fell into their laps.

    However, they never got the wing player the team has needed for what seems like a decade! And they blew some picks and FA signings.

    If they need the wing to become solid contenders this season, and the FO does not get the guy, maybe that should be it!

  • In reply to rustyw:

    "And they traded Deng."

    For nothing. If we just pay the tax and not salary dump Lu, we still have Dunleavy on the bench. We are a better team and probably get past the Cavs last year.

  • In reply to direwolf:

    Haha, Deng was going to get us past the Cavs? Nothing makes Chicago fans like a player more than him leaving your team.

    Deng was a FA, they could have re-signed him, so trading him didn't prevent him from being back on the team. When he was here, everyone ragged on him, now he's the key to winning the East? I don't think so.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    They said they weren't going to salary dump him and then that is exactly what they did. They would up paying the tax anyway because they couldn't dump Rip on anybody.

    I think having Deng does get us past the Cavs.. One of the biggest problems was that Jimmy had to guard Lebron the whole time and it was a big reason the Cavs guards and wings destroyed the Bulls.

    It was a matter of paying a small amount of tax or not, which they did anyway.. the whole problem I have with it is that Dunleavy was brought in to back up Deng and they got rid of Deng without a real replacement and then just started Dunleavy, leaving us weak on the bench there

  • In reply to direwolf:

    Dumping Korver and letting Asik walk were the real losses. Those started the domino effect that led to Ron Adams getting canned and the Thibs vs Gar power struggle.

    Gar is a douche so best of luck to the Mayor but there is a 95% chance he ends up in a bad relationship with Gar and Pax.

    That said if the Bulls collapse it will be on Management. This roster is weirdly built on offense and old guys so theirs a decent chance that this thing goes south in a hurry. I wouldn't be surprised if we are in the bottom third of the league defensively. So the hoiball offense will need to be humming to keep us a top team.

    If we do start off losing the cracks in the team like the Rose Butler friction could widen and everything would go to hell.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    Also, trading Deng "for nothing" created the salary cap space that allowed us to sign both Gasol and Mirotic into cap space which increased our cap flexibility even if we didn't take advantage of that flexibility.

    It is possible, even likely that they would still have been able to bring Niko over using the full MLE, since his present contract is right at the level of an MLE contract.

    Plus we still have this season and next to hope that Sacto can find a way to have no worse than the 11th worst record in the league and we get a first round pick from that trade.

    Deng's play since the trade has been pedestrian at best, diminished from the already non impact level as a Bull. If there ever was one, the Deng era was done, thank God that he was insulted by the Bulls $30 million take it or leave it offer. Otherwise, he would still be on the books at $10 million per this season and next.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    We'd never hear the end of complaining if Deng was still on the books for $10MM per year. But now we hear complaining that he isn't on the books. One thing that's consistent is the complaining.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    You nailed it, BigWay. A bright spot for the FO, trading Deng. And the team still may get a decent pick out of it. Deng was not and is not worth $10 million per.

    However, what now? See what magic Hoiberg can spin and trade for a solid wing unless Snell or McDermott blossom.

  • These past 4 years have essentially been the "Rose is injured" era. GarPax has kind of been off the hook for this sole reason -- Do you think it's reasonable to compete for a championship with your best and highest-paid player on the bench, or performing as he did this past year? I personally find it extremely difficult to evaluate GarPax in this context.

    This year begins a new era, where Rose's health is no longer an excuse for GarPax or the team. They got their guy in Hoiberg. Time for real evaluation to begin.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    I think you are right. Hard to blame management when their key piece to the puzzle is out. I think they did try to hit a reset of sorts after the injury by letting go of the bench mob. They probably didn't expect Thibs to keep them as relevant as he did, which actually put management in a limbo of what to do with the roster. I've said multiple times that this is the make or break season for this team. If they are no closer to winning, then big changes can be made. They could let Noah go, or (if he stays healthy but doesn't look like an mvp) Rose could become a viable trade option. They also could have a late lottery pick coming from the Kings, which paired with Butler and Mirotic could be a foundation to build a new contender with. My point is, their are to many question marks that need to be answered before deciding on a path for the future.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    I agree, they didn't have all that many options once Rose was injured. Mostly, they could have spent more of Jerry's money by keeping guys like Korver and Asik, which wouldn't have gotten us over any hump without Rose.

    Once they signed the bozohole, they were essentially capped out for the duration of that contract. They created cap space a year early by amnestitizing the hole and trading Deng for an expiring contract.

    Once they used that cap space last summer, they were committed for 2 more years. Between the exploding cap and expiring contracts (Noah, Gasol and Hangdog), they will have a lot of flexibility to make changes next summer and in the summer of 2017(Rose and Gibson). However, since nearly every team in the league will have a ton of cap space, the competition will be fierce and the temptation will be great to make another bozohole type mistake.

  • To me, they are re-shuffling the deck, with the same cards. Add a new coach with a completely new system. See which cards add to the hand and which can/must be discarded, and go from there.

    I just hope for all our sakes that we have a decent year, health-wise.

  • For what it is worth, our 2 best players are in their age 26 and age 27 seasons, so that should provide a bridge to the future if Rose can stay healthy and regain his all star form, and GarPax can fill the pipeline with talent.

    Here's hoping for good health, and at least one pleasant surprise on the player development front.

  • Well, at least the Bulls are first in one preseason ranking
    Zach Lowe's logo rankings
    http://grantland.com/the-triangle/the-definitive-nba-logo-rankings/

    1. CHICAGO BULLS

    This was never going to end anywhere else. This thing is perfect, right down to the red on the tips of the horns, which suggests that this mean motherfucker just gored some poor sap. Look at that glare, and those flaring nostrils! The most enjoyable forms of entertainment tiptoe to the border of kitsch without crossing over, and that’s right where this logo stops. Add another color, and that blaring red might lose 5 percent of its power. Depict a full head-to-toe bull, and you’ll end up with a children’s cartoon character.

    This is a cartoon, but it’s not quite cartoonish. It’s simple and clear, and it depicts exactly what the team wants to be: a tough group about to shove the ball down your throat. Thank god the franchise didn’t pollute it with the awful balloon letter font that tars the court design.

    The Bulls know what they have. Chicago is the only team that has never changed its primary mark, and the only partial or secondary logo it has used is this exact bull head without the wording above it.

    Maybe the best part of this project was listening to graphics experts nitpick this. They’d start on about all the minor things “wrong” with it from a design perspective, cut themselves off, and slip into giddy whispers about how much they love it.

    There could be some residual Jordan-era nostalgia at work, just as the marks for the Celtics and Lakers carry more heft than they should based on artistry alone. That is how our brains work. But this red menace would hold up without the six titles, snorting animations, and pregame JumboTron montages showing a bull trampling through cityscapes. This guy deserves the top spot.

Leave a comment