The Chicago Bulls had quite a Wednesday night, agreeing to sign Dwyane Wade to a two-year, $47.5 million deal while trading Mike Dunleavy and Jose Calderon. They acquired one of the best players in league history for a reasonable price and on a short-term contract, which is a good thing on its own.
Unfortunately, the signing makes no sense whatsoever in conjunction with the other moves Chicago made this offseason, most notably adding Rajon Rondo to replace Derrick Rose. The on-court fit with the players already on the roster is a disaster. Wade's game doesn't fit within the system coach Fred Hoiberg wants to install.
Despite adding a future Hall of Famer, the Bulls could realistically be worse next season.
Hoiberg has been set up to fail
The Bulls hired Hoiberg in an attempt to modernize their offense after years of Tom Thibodeau's system being too rigid. Hoiberg was supposed to install a pace-and-space system with lots of running, ball movement and three-point shooting, ideally from four positions.
He really couldn't play that way last year, in large part because Derrick Rose wouldn't consistently push the pace and Pau Gasol wanted post touches. This was an obvious case of a roster being poorly suited to execute a coach's vision.
The Bulls had a chance to fix that this offseason. Instead, they signed Goran Dragic in Miami., someone who plays at a deliberate pace, and traded for Wade, who didn't consistently run with
Also, neither of them can space the floor effectively.
It's possible to have a good offense while playing at a slow pace and not shooting a lot of three-pointers, as the San Antonio Spurs proved last season when they finished third in offensive efficiency and 26th in three-point attempts and pace. However, that's not the type of attack Hoiberg was brought in to implement last season. He will have to completely revamp his offense to fit the personnel on the roster or bear the blame for the experiment failing.
The locker room chemistry will be an issue, too. Hoiberg was too laid back to assert his will last year, which Jimmy Butler called out early last season. Rondo is notoriously mercurial and clashed with Doc Rivers and Rick Carlisle. Butler doesn't seem to be Hoiberg's biggest fan, though Hoiberg believes their relationship is strong. Wade is a three-time NBA champion who is used to doing things his way. We are four months away from the first game of the season and Hoiberg's seat is already warm.
Too many ball handlers, not enough shooters
The potential problems on offense are not just system-based. If they were, Chicago could simply fire Hoiberg now and be fine. The reality is that any coach will have trouble getting those three perimeter players to play cohesively.
In Wade, the Bulls added a player who finished fifth in the league in usage percentage, which measures the percentage of possessions a player ends while he's on the floor via a shot, turnover or drawn foul. Butler ranked in the top 50 in that same category last year. Rondo, meanwhile, ranked in the top 10 in the league in number of touches and average time of possession; he only has a relatively low usage because he rarely shoots. There are three ball-dominant players. How can any coach find enough touches for all three?
In theory, there is a way it could work. Rondo is coming of a season in which he shot 36 percent from beyond the arc, which is right at the league average. Butler shot just 31 percent last year, but the year before, he connected on 38 percent of his three-pointers. Wade is a cunning cutter. If Nikola Mirotic starts at power forward, the Bulls can build an offense in which Rondo and Wade take turns as the primary ball handlers, with Mirotic and Butler spacing the floor and Robin Lopez either diving on pick-and-rolls or roaming the baseline.
There are several problems with that extremely optimistic scenario, though. Rondo's 36 percent from outside is when being left wide open. It also seems like an outlier for someone who is a career 29 percent shooter, so defenses will leave him alone to pack the paint on Wade drives. Mirotic is streaky, so he doesn't really command the attention of the defense the way a knockdown shooter does. Lopez lacks consistency on the baseline jumper that bails out possessions when his man shuts down the paint. You see examples of teams taking a step off all three to muck up the play elsewhere in this series of clips.
Yet the biggest issue is that Butler would have to be willing to take a backseat on offense after proclaiming that he thinks of himself as a point guard and the leader of the team. The Rose trade was supposed to establish Butler as the Bulls' first option, yet they now need him to fade into the background just because he's the least poor perimeter shooter of the Bulls' trio of primary ball handlers.
That won't be an easy sell for someone who is clearly the best player on the roster. If things go poorly enough, it could even result in Butler asking to leave Chicago. That would mean a rekindling of trade rumors that bubbled to the surface during the 2016 NBA Draft.
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Once we look past the flashy names the Bulls' front office added, the horrible basketball fit becomes obvious. There was no cohesive plan here. After trading Rose, general manager Gar Forman said the Bulls' goal was to get "younger and more athletic." Instead, they signed a 30-year-old declining point guard and a 34-year-old former legend that's barely staving off Father Time.
In the process, the Bulls made Hoiberg's life even more difficult. They have put together a team big on name recognition, but woefully short on shooting and massively slanted toward high-usage ball handlers. The best way to balance the team seems to be to trade its best player to make way for the new additions, which is completely backwards.
The Bulls certainly have the talent to make the playoffs and even push for a top seed if things break right, which is more than they could do last season. Unlike last year's uninspiring team, however, the potential for disaster is much higher this time around. Wade's return home is exciting on the surface, but that excitement could fade fast unless Hoiberg somehow pulls a cohesive offensive game plan out of his hat.
And if he can't, that will reveal the franchise's shortsighted long-term plan.
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