With only three teams remaining in the NBA Playoffs, it means a few “contenders” have already been eliminated from title contention. The offseason is the time for these teams to retool to prepare for deeper runs next season. The Chicago Bulls had a season that defied almost everyone’s expectations — everyone outside of the Bulls organization that is. The Bulls were dealt a crushing blow in last year’s playoffs after losing star point guard Derrick Rose in the first game of the first round.
Nobody knew for sure when Rose would return to action, but early reports deemed he could possibly return as early as the All-Star break. The festivities in Houston came and went and there was still no sight of D-Rose in a Chitown uniform. Finally, Rose was cleared to play on March 9, yet he elected to remain on his suit and tie game for the rest of the season.
Without him, the Bulls finished fifth in the Eastern Conference behind stellar defense and the play of Luol Deng and Joakim Noah. Head coach Tom Thibodeau got everything he could out of his roster and it lead to great success in the Windy City. Unheralded players like Jimmy Butler, Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli stepped up when called upon throughout the season.
For the remainder of the post, I will assume the role of Bulls GM Gar Forman. I will give my suggestions and analysis on who the Bulls should keep, who they should lose, and players to target in free agency and the draft.
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KEEP: Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli
With Rose sidelined, it gave more minutes and more opportunity to spark plug Nate Robinson. Robinson has bounced around quite a bit in his seven years in the NBA, playing for a total of five teams. But he definitely made the most of this chance. After a relatively average regular season in which Robinson averaged 13.1 points per game in 25.4 minutes, the lil’ man took his game to a whole other level when the postseason came.
In their first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets, Robinson ignited a comeback, erasing a 14-point deficit almost single-handedly during Game 4, which he then capped off by making the go-ahead shot in the first overtime. Nate’s heroics continued into the second round where the Bulls faced the Miami Heat. In Game 1, Robinson made a jumper to give Chicago a one-point lead and then followed that up with a layup to seal the victory. Though the Heat would go on to win the next four games, Robinson had already made an impression on the postseason. The Bulls have Kirk Hinrich under contract for another year and with the return of Derrick Rose, the minutes at point guard will be limited at best. But Robinson has showed that he is capable of igniting an offense at any given moment and could take some of the pressure off of D-Rose to carry all of the offensive burden.
Marco Belinelli’s season mirrored that of Nate Robinson’s almost perfectly. The main difference was that Robinson was in the rotation all year, whereas Belinelli’s minutes fluctuated up and down most of the year. When Luol Deng was healthy, Belinelli often found himself stuck to the bench and even when Deng was sidelined, most of the minutes at guard went to Butler and Rip Hamilton for a period of time.
Belinelli’s emergence came during the postseason. The Bulls were not a great three-point shooting team this season, however, Belinelli proved to be their best and most consistent threat from deep. In their two playoff series, he consistently knocked down big shot after big shot from behind the arc. Outside shooting is going to be an even bigger need with Rose’s return. His ability to penetrate and break down defenses will set up open shots for others, shots that Belinelli will be able to hit.
LOSE: Carlos Boozer, Vladimir Radmanovic, Daequan Cook and Nazr Mohammed
Carlos Boozer doesn’t fit in Chicago. Boozer is an offensive talent. He is one of the better low post scorers in the NBA today and even though he is shorter than the average power forward, his unorthodox release on his shot and his ability to use his body can make him tough to stop. Yet, the Bulls are a defense-first team. Thibodeau hangs his hat on the way his team plays defense and since his arrival in Chicago, they have been one of the best defensive teams in the league. This is where Boozer doesn’t fit in.