Paul Flannery and Tom Ziller are previewing all 30 teams via conversation. Next up: the Chicago Bulls. Find all of the Flanns and Zillz previews here.
ZILLER: The Bulls are a strange franchise, and now the roster is as weird as the front office. A defense-heavy, shooting-poor team went out into free agency and signed Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade, two of the worst shooters at the guard positions in the entire league. This puts the Bulls' obvious best player, Jimmy Butler, out of natural position and takes the ball out of his hands.
It gives second-year head coach Fred Hoiberg some bonus heartburn, as he'll need to defer some to Wade (a legend) and will need to connect with Rondo (something few coaches have accomplished).
Is there any way this works out?
FLANNERY: The cynical side of me says no way. You've got three guards, all of whom are headstrong in their way and have achieved spectacular things in their careers. Butler's the one that concerns me. For all his accolades, I still think he's underrated on a national level and he's in the prime of his career. This should be his time to shine and now he's being moved to a more arduous defensive position and may even be asked to defer at times offensively. That's a bad mix, man, especially with a coach who struggled in his first season at the pro level.
But then, look, the Bulls have talent. They have good defensive bigs. They've drafted well. There's upside with Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis. That's why the Wade and Rondo additions are so puzzling. After dealing Derrick Rose and cutting ties with Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, I thought it would be a natural progression to turn things over to Butler and rebuild accordingly.
So, I don't think it's going to be a total disaster; certainly they can win enough to keep the wolves at bay. But I don't think it's going to be successful and I'm not sure what the endgame is here.
ZILLER: This is why the Bulls are so weird: they blush at adding veteran salary when they are in position to contend, but spend on pricey veterans when they are in position to rebuild organically. I imagine Tom Thibodeau would have loved to get extra mid-tier point guard help in 2011 and 2012.
You're right about Butler, and his odd history with Wade as fellow Marquette products is interesting to say the least. It's worth watching.
The frontcourt has a weird sort of promise. Bobby Portis is an NBA Twitter favorite and Cristiano Felicio is a Hipster Bulls Fan favorite (shout out to our bud Ricky O-D). Mirotic has been a pretty mediocre shooter in the NBA. Robin Lopez and Taj Gibson are good defenders who don't add much offense (including three-point shooting). Lopez figures to be the starting center, and let me tell you from observing the Rondo Defensive Experience last season, RoLo is going to get put in a lot of precarious positions.
FLANNERY: I'm curious to see how Niko does this season. I thought he showed a lot of promise as a rookie and then stagnated a bit last season. He's got a chance to establish himself without the glut of big men. I wonder if they'll look to move Gibson at some point. He's got some value as a rotation big and will be hitting free agency next summer.
You're right about the perimeter defense, particularly Rondo. I can't remember a player who's defensive performance slipped so far, so fast. What can we reasonably expect from him at this point? His numbers indicated a bit of a bounceback last season, but the numbers have never really painted his full picture.
Blog a Bull season preview
Blog a Bull season preview
ZILLER: Rondo will move the ball better than any point guard the Bulls have had since ... ever? He's still an elite passer, one of the five best in the league. But of course his shooting woes and reluctance to draw fouls limits just how open his teammates get since defenses just sag off. So even if he puts the ball in the right spot and dekes out the rim protection, defenses don't respect his scoring ability and should stay home most often. Mix that with the Bulls' shooting woes — not entirely unlike the Kings' shooting woes last year — and we can see the problems ahead offensively.
And you're right: his defense has fallen off a cliff since the ACL tear. Perhaps a more solid team defensive plan will help. George Karl had exactly zero control over the Kings last year.
What's Wade have left? I'm excited to see him in a new environment, as weird as it will be, and I'm glad it's his hometown, where he can be active in the community and make an impact. I see him needing to do a bit more in Chicago, but hopefully he can work out a balance with Butler in terms of scoring and taking critical shots. I'm not confident it'll be smooth.
FLANNERY: I'm not all that confident in the fit either, but I long ago learned to never underestimate D-Wade's resourcefulness, to say nothing of his talent and professionalism. He'll try like hell to make it work, both on and off the court.
So after all that, I'm still torn on my assessment. I veer more toward the optimistic side than the many pessimists, but the ceiling here seems to be potentially dangerous first-round playoff opponent and no more. Free Jimmy Butler!