It’s getting harder and harder to imagine the Chicago Bulls making the postseason. With eight games remaining during the regular season, Chicago is two games behind Indiana for the eight seed in the Eastern Conference. So barring something kind of unexpected, the Bulls will miss the postseason for the first time since 2007-08.
In a way, it would be a fitting ending to what has been a strange year in Chicago. Aside from the issues that the team has had on the court as Fred Hoiberg has come in and tried to implement a new, offense-friendly system, there have been a number of locker-room issues with the team. These problems were laid out by Chris Mannix of The Vertical:
Remember last June, when the Bulls’ brass introduced Fred Hoiberg, declared him the perfect fit and smiled as Hoiberg gushed over a roster he openly declared had championship potential? That was before Jimmy Butler publicly criticized him, before Joakim Noah became annoyed with him, before a promised free-flowing offense eroded to a far less efficient version than the one former coach Tom Thibodeau ran last season. Better days indeed.
The days of Thibodeau overextending Noah in a meaningless regular-season game seem like a distant utopia. Chemistry issues continue to plague the Bulls’ locker room, league sources told The Vertical. Grumblings range from Hoiberg’s inability to hold players accountable – a complaint registered publicly by Butler last December and one that lingers in the locker room today, a source said – to Butler’s shoddy shot selection to the disconnect within the team offensively. Take Tuesday, for instance. Chicago will take the win, but the Bulls scored five points in the final nine minutes, a stretch highlighted by possessions with few passes and forced, contested shots.
Mannix also mentioned that the Bulls, in an effort to move on from the Thibodeau era, “have reaped what they have sown” and are probably headed toward a big rebuild this offseason. This includes possibly moving Jimmy Butler – who the team got some calls for at the trade deadline – and letting guys like Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol walk during free agency. There is even some talk of letting Derrick Rose leave once his contract is up next offseason.
While these moves do seem big, they may be best for the system that Hoiberg probably wants to run. While he was at Iowa State, the Cyclones essentially eliminated mid-range jumpers, and it turned into a team that shot a bunch of threes and shots near the rim. In each of Hoiberg’s five years at the helm in Ames, Iowa State attempted at least 700 three pointers, including an NCAA-leading 878 in 2012-13.
Not only did the Cyclones shoot a lot from downtown, but the team always made a bunch of them – Iowa State went 1,415-for-3,857 (36.7 percent) from three during Hoiberg’s tenure. The Bulls are slightly ahead of that percentage (36.9 percent), but they’re not shooting all that much, as their 21.1 attempts from downtown per game are 24th in the league.
So it’s really not crazy to think that Hoiberg may want to rebuild the roster into one that fits his preferred system a little better. Neither Butler nor Rose are especially good from downtown percentage wise, plus neither are really catch-and-shoot guys from three. Noah isn’t an offensive-minded player in any way, and Gasol is turning 36 over the summer. Basically, Hoiberg inherited a roster with a bunch of players – save for maybe Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott – who aren’t especially good fits for a team that looks to spread opposing defenses out and fire a bunch of threes.
As Mannix said, no one on Chicago’s roster is untouchable. Whether the team makes the postseason or not, the Bulls will almost definitely be the most entertaining team to watch during the offseason.