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.
Boozer is not, has not and will never be a great defender. In any Bulls game, there are multiple times where Boozer fails to make the correct rotation, or Boozer’s man easily scores or gets an offensive rebound. With Taj Gibson on the roster, a better defender and an efficient scorer in his own right, Boozer is expendable. Boozer is slated to make $15.3 million next season, but the Bulls need to amnesty him. Boozer has yet to show the ability to change a game or that he is the player Chicago thought they would be getting from the Utah Jazz. Chicago needs to take advantage of the amnesty provision and rid themselves of Carlos Boozer for good.
Cook and Mohammed saw spot minutes during the postseason due to a depleted Bulls roster, yet besides Mohammed’s ejection in Game 3 against the Heat, neither player had much of an impact. Cook has never been able to latch on with a team following an impressive freshman season at Ohio State. Mohammed has been a serviceable backup during his NBA career, but he is not a player that Chicago needs to keep. Radmanovic is at the twilight of his career and serves no more of a role than being another body that can be used during practices.
FREE AGENT TARGETS: Wayne Ellington, Mike Dunleavy and DeMarre Carroll
As I stated above, the Bulls need to add more three-point shooters in the worst way. One of the better shooters hitting the open market this offseason is Wayne Ellington. Ellington has shot 38.2 percent from three for his career, and 39.2 percent this past season. He’s proved with both the Memphis Grizzlies and Cleveland Cavaliers that he is capable of having an effect on a game from behind the arc. Bringing in Ellington will not only help with their outside shooting, it will help sure up their bench and add depth.
Mike Dunleavy is starting to enter the tail end of his career and as a veteran, what better way to keep the competitive juices flowing than by playing for a contender? With a healthy Derrick Rose, the Bulls are 1B to Miami’s 1A in the East. Dunleavy isn’t as quick and athletic as some of the other wings available via free agency this year, but as the son of a former NBA coach, his basketball IQ is through the roof. If there is anyone capable of picking up Thibodeau’s defensive schemes and principles, it’s him. Dunleavy also brings another shooter into the fold and the more shooters to surround D-Rose with the better.
Carroll has been a very solid role player for the Utah Jazz in his three seasons and was part of the Jazz’s second unit that, at full strength, caused mayhem and havoc for teams around the league. While Carroll posted modest offensive numbers this year — 6.0 points per game, 46 percent shooting and sub-29 percent from deep — it was his defense that has stood out during his short career in the league. In 16.8 minutes per game, Carroll averaged 0.9 steals and even 0.4 blocks. Thibodeau can bring Carroll along very similar to the way he did Jimmy Butler. Carroll also brings in more wing depth and insurance in case Luol Deng suffers another injury next season.
DRAFT TARGETS: Jackie Carmichael, Jeff Withey and Gorgui Dieng
Jackie Carmichael is not a name that many NBA fans know off of the top of their head, and one that they might not hear even if they were to do some research. Carmichael played four years at Illinois State. At 6-9 and 240 pounds, Carmichael might not have the usual size to play power forward in the NBA, but he has all of the intangibles to make an impact for a team right away. Last season at Illinois State, Carmichael averaged 17.4 points and 9.3 boards a night, and if there’s one thing that has proven to transfer from college to the NBA it is the ability to rebound. Carmichael is one of the sleepers in this draft and with the No. 20 pick in the first round could be a Taj Gibson-like value selection for Chicago.
Jeff Withey probably wasn’t the best defensive center in the NCAA last season — that title belongs to Nerlens Noel — but Withey definitely made his presence felt in the paint during his time as a Kansas Jayhawk. As a senior, he averaged 13.7 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game. Joakim Noah has been great defensively at center for the Bulls, but they lost Omer Asik during free agency last year and were unable to find a reliable replacement for him. Withey isn’t as strong as Asik is, but he has the ability to hold his own down low and be a defensive presence when Noah is getting rest.
Gorgui Dieng is another option in the draft that could serve as the replacement for the departed Asik. Dieng missed seven games last season with Louisville after suffering an injury to his wrist. Without Dieng on the court, Louisville’s defense did not look the same at all. However, once Dieng returned and the Cardinals rediscovered their chemistry, they exhibited a defense that was capable of shutting down and turning over any team it faced. Dieng’s ability to block and alter shots in the paint was a huge part of that. At 6-11 and with a 7-4 wingspan, Dieng has the size to do much of the same in the league.
What should the Bulls do this summer?
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