Mark’s Mailbag: Where is this team headed?

In the first edition of the BullsHQ mailbag, I thought it would be an opportune time to gauge the pulse of the fan base now that the trade deadline has passed.

It’s still unclear if Jimmy Butler will remain a Bull into the future. Speculation linking the Bulls star to the Boston Celtics ran rife at the deadline, and will continue to do during the offseason. Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott were traded, signalling further wholesale changes await.

Naturally, with the franchise oscillating between mediocrity and a potential rebuild, team construction remains front of mind.

EchoFoxtrot @EchoFoxtrot3: Who’s a shooter that the Bulls should focus on recruiting in the upcoming offseason?

The beauty of this question is it allows me to give some insight whilst also showcasing my heavy bias.

For those unaware, I (still) call Australia home. Naturally, I follow my countrymen playing in the NBA very closely. Randomly looking through some numbers last week, I noticed that Joe Ingles and Patty Mills were both inside the top 10 in three-point percentage for the season. Both players have always had a nice looking jumpers, but it was stunning to see Ingles (43.8 percent) and Mills (42.5 percent) in third and tenth place in three-point percentage, respectively.

Patriotism aside, the Bulls could certainly use a point guard capable of shooting and spreading the floor for Jimmy Butler. They also need a smart bench wing who can play both forwards spots who can stretch out the defense. Prying either from their current team’s will be difficult.  Mills, who will command $40 million (or more) over four years, will be chased by numerous teams. Depending on the contract offered, Ingles could be had, particularly if Utah hand out sizeable deals to their own free agents, Gordon Hayward and George Hill.

Hill would be another great addition for the Bulls, as would either Otto Porter and J.J. Redick. All three are top 15 in three-point percentage and play positions of need.

Felipe Carvalhaes @fcarvalhaes: Assuming GarPax and Fred are safe (barfs), what can we expect from the offseason? Niko & Felicio reup? Then what?

Let’s just go ahead and assume Forman, Paxson and Hoiberg will be next season. That much is clear. Which players join them, though, remains a mystery.

Really, the Bulls’ free agency starts and ends with Jimmy Butler. It’s hard to say what the Bulls will do in free agency without knowing if they intend to keep their All-Star guard. I’m expecting the Butler to Boston rumours to resurface once the playoffs and draft lottery have been run and won. How these events shake out may determine Butler’s future in Chicago.

If Jimmy is dealt, Wade won’t stay. Other veterans will likely be moved, too. If Butler remains a Bull, you’d like to think they’d build a team around him that best fits his game. Regardless of the direction, Felicio should be re-signed. Mirotic too if the price is right. Both are young enough to keep if a rebuild occurs. They also fit nicely next to Butler long-term.

That may not be the definitive answer you’re after, but it represents the state of the Bulls at the moment; an organisation uncertain which path to head down.

Night @nightangelqt: If the Bulls finally build ‘around’ Jimmy who do you see as potential targets in free agency, incl our own restricted FAs?

Following on from Felipe’s question, I’ll assume they keep Butler around. Let’s ignore the big names like Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and Paul Millsap. They’re too remote to be considered ‘potential’ targets.

I’ve already mentioned some guys the Bulls should chase: Gallinari, Hill, Redick and Mills. You can add Jrue Holiday to that list, though it’s likely he remains in New Orleans after the DeMarcus Cousins acquisition.

Really, I’d be very surprised if a big name were to join the Bulls. More likely, the team will spread it’s cap space over several role players. As much as it may pain people to hear, keeping Mirotic may be the Bulls’ best option at power forward. Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson and Ersan Ilyasova could be options if Mirotic’s time in Chicago is over. Are any of those guys better than Niko? Hardly. Keep Mirotic and empower him. He still has the talent to be a starter in this league.

As for guards, whether they draft one or not, point guard needs to be the priority for the Bulls. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of options out there. Mills would be a good buy, but could be costly. Langston Galloway could work next to Butler in a similar way E’Twaun Moore did, and is unlikely to remain with the Kings. He’s a decent player, but it wouldn’t be an exciting signing.

I think fans need to prepare themselves for quiet free agency period.

Kbar @kbar17: If the Bulls can’t get a quality starting PG, could you see them getting a high level SF and moving Butler to PG?

I’m going to answer no to both parts of this questions. Here’s why:

1. To me, signing a high level small forward means going after a guy worthy of a maximum contract offer, or close to it. In this free agency class, names like Kevin Durant, Gordon Hayward and Otto Porter will all be offered huge deals by their incumbent teams. I couldn’t imagine any of these guys leaving money on the table to join the Bulls. After these guys, the market dries up quickly.

The best case scenario here for the Bulls would be Danilo Gallinari. But is he a small forward as his body ages, and is a high level player? Not really.

2. Even if the Bulls could sign someone like Gallinari, shifting Butler to point guard full time is too tall an order. You can’t ask a player to carry and run your entire offense while guarding the oppositions best scorer for 37 minutes a night. It’s too much of a workload. For stretches in the fourth quarter, it works extremely well. Anything more and you’re likely increasing the chance of injury.

If the Bulls can get Gallinari for a reasonable amount, they should. They’d still need a point guard, though.

HGIII @henryguindi: Why are the Bulls not trading for Brandon Knight, or claiming Brandon Jennings? Both can be had for cheap.

Going into the trade deadline, the assumption was the Bulls wouldn’t be trading for any player with a guaranteed contract for next season to ensure they keep as much cap space open for the offseason. That theory was confirmed once the deadline passed, with Cameron Payne being the only player in the Thunder deal who is contracted for next season. Importantly, his deal will cost $1.1 million less than McDermott’s next season, so in effect, the Bulls have gained an extra $1.1 million in cap space.

Given Brandon Knight has three-years, $44 million lefts on his deal, he was never going to be an option for the Bulls. He’s also regressed as a player. He’s not really a point guard and too undersized to the play two. He doesn’t offer much, so the Bulls were wise in ignoring him.

As for Jennings, he wants to play for a contender. The Washington Wizards are far closer to that than the Bulls. Chicago is also looking to reduce the amount of guards it has on the roster, so the fit isn’t ideal.

Irish hammer @jandj5150: I know it’s ping pong balls but if Bulls missed playoffs where do you think they would pick?

The Bulls currently sit in seventh place out East, right at .500 with a 30-30 record. If they were to go on a losing streak that sees them sitting outside of the eight at the conclusion of the season, I wouldn’t imagine they fall too far.

Like last season, the Bulls are clearly trying to make the playoffs. If they do miss out, it won’t be by much. Realistically, the lowest they will fall in the wretched Eastern Conference is tenth place, likely resulting in the No. 13 pick in the draft.

Chad G @Cgersk: Lots of things could be the reason, but how can the Bulls find their identity for the remaining season…should they find it?

When we talk about team identity, we think of a few things: an offensive team that gets up and down the court in quick succession; a defensive squad that grinds and slows down a game; a young, rebuilding squad in full development.

None of those examples sound like the Bulls. This hodgepodge roster is incapable of fitting into one of those definitions, so who are they?

What if I told you the Bulls have already found their identity? Is being an inconsistent team struggling to crawl out of mediocrity an identity? It’s certainly not a positive label, but it’s apt. We don’t like to admit it, but that’s who the Bulls are, and have been since last season.

Daniel Clayton @danclayton23: In Fred’s mind is Bobby Portis an upgrade on Taj Gibson because of his shooting? Looks like he has a green light so far.

No, I don’t think Hoiberg sees it that way. If Portis is making his jumpers, Hoiberg will love what it offers to the offense, but he’s too flawed too be viewed as an upgrade over Gibson.

It does look like Hoiberg has empowered Portis to shoot. He’s confidently stepping into his jumper and isn’t afraid to rise up for a shot. Ultimately, though, it will come down to how consistent Portis’ shooting remains. If he starts missing open looks, it’s difficult to justify his spot in the rotation.

Paul Sorensen @psorensen: How would you grade the performance of the Bulls FO over the last 5 years? How about Coach Hoiberg since he joined?

There are so many variables to consider here. Really, this question is worth a lengthy post in itself. Holistically, if we break it down into the three elements of team building, the front office have really struggled in recent times.

Drafting was once a strength, but what player selected since Jimmy Butler has become a valued rotation player? Marquis Teague, Tony Snell and Doug McDermott were drafted from 2012-2014. All three are gone. Nikola Mirotic can still be good, but will they keep him? Are we certain Denzel Valentine and Portis will grow into key pieces?

Pau Gasol and Dwyane Wade have been the key free agent signings. Unfortunately, both were past their prime when they signed and play very little defense. As for trades, the Bulls rarely make them. And when they do, they haven’t done well — the Snell trade is looking worse and the recent deal with the Thunder was really, really bad.

These roster decisions have been problematic, but how management has handled interpersonal relationships with coaches and players has been far more troubling. It hasn’t been a good run, and without being completely irrational, I’d say a D+ is fair.

As for Hoiberg, he’s really struggled. He was brought here to rejuvenate the offense. That hasn’t happened. Communication was meant to be one of Hoiberg’s strengths. Maybe it was at the collegiate level, but it hasn’t transferred to the NBA. The second-year coach has had issues connecting with his best players. Role players have complained about a lack of understanding of their roles. That’s…not great. His after timeout plays have been poor and the younger players on the roster haven’t developed under his tutelage.

Some things have been out of Hoiberg’s control, and that’s impacted his ability to do his job. Whilst it’s true, he hasn’t been dealt a great hand, he also hasn’t really helped himself, either. Overall, I give him a C-.

JPB @RealJPB: What celebrity / business person can we realistically convince to buy the Bulls out from the Reinsdorfs and fire everyone?

The word ‘realistically’ makes this question impossible to answer with an actual solution. There isn’t one, unfortunately.

But, I still like to think about this. Barack Obama has more free time these days, can hoop and is a Bulls fan. Oprah Winfrey has the bank account to get it done. You also know she’d be giving away free stuff to fans all the time, so that could work. The best answer, though, is Mark Wahlberg. At least he’d build around Jimmy Butler, not with him.

Bulls Express @bullsexpress: Should Kirk Hinrich’s number be retired?

Yes, and it’s a damn shame it hasn’t happened already (I’m only half joking).

On that note, let’s wrap this up. Thank you to everyone who contributed to the mailbag. If you have any further questions you want answered or if you’d like to contribute to future editions of the Mailbag, feel free to contact me via Twitter.

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