The season is finally over. Mercifully, it’s over.
After winning two playoff games on the road and taking a 2-0 series lead against the top-ranked Boston Celtics, for a moment, we all believed the unthinkable was possible.
Of course, the Bulls won’t let us have nice things. A four-game losing streak in the playoffs was perhaps the most poetic way the Bulls could’ve ended such a turbulent and frustrating season.
With the season now over, rather than reliving the past, focus should quickly shift to the offseason. Here are five significant questions that will shape the Bulls’ offseason.
Will the Bulls finally commit to Jimmy Butler?
Jimmy Butler’s future with the Chicago Bulls is the most pertinent question headed into the offseason. Until this known, all other roster moves are secondary and stem entirely on Butler’s presence.
Despite a career year from Butler, had the Bulls missed the playoffs, moving on from the All-Star guard to commence a rebuild would’ve made sense. Now, though, after sneaking into the post-season it appears the Bulls will keep Butler, according to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Whilst it’s pleasing to read the Bulls are finally headed down the path of keeping Butler, will this logic hold if rival teams inquire for Butler via trade?
Should the Boston Celtics choose to revisit trade talks once the draft lottery has taken place, how do the Bulls react? If the Celtics win the lottery and own the first overall pick (via the Brooklyn Nets), do trade discussions intensify?
Until the Bulls publicly endorse Butler as their franchise centerpiece, we should remain skeptical.
Does Dwyane Wade opt into the final year of his deal?
The simple and forthright answer: Yes, Wade would be mad to opt-out of a deal paying him $23.8 million. Any past their prime, soon-to-be 36-year-old perimeter player would be foolish to turn down such a huge deal.
The only plausible way Wade doesn’t return for a second season for his hometown franchise is if the Bulls decide to move on from Butler. Speaking to the media after concluding his exit meeting with the team, Wade made it clear that Butler was a huge factor in choosing Chicago during the 2016 offseason. Should Butler stay, Wade likely will, too.
Even if Butler is dealt, Wade may stay a Bull. After all, money talks, and the noise of $23.8 million streaming into a bank account would be difficult to drown out. Sure, it’s theoretically possible that Wade declines his option and chases another ring. I wouldn’t bet on it, though.
The more relevant question surrounding Wade’s future is what role he will have with the team moving forward. Asked if he would consider a role off the bench, Wade said he was an “open-minded person.”
Being open-minded to a lesser role and accepting it are two different things. Time will tell if this ever becomes a serious option the Bulls can explore. Entering the twilight of his career as the team’s designated sixth-man is the only way to maximise Wade’s contract value with production. A greater role will be problematic for player and team.
Here’s to hoping Hoiberg and his staff can convince the three-time champion to come off the bench.
Is Rajon Rondo’s future with the Bulls?
If Rajon Rondo were President, his approval rating would be unprecedented. That tends to happen when you play your best game in years while simultaneously proving to be indispensable in a seven-game playoff series.
Chicago never recovered after Rondo went down with injury, losing four consecutive games in unconvincing fashion.
While Rondo’s unlikely importance was obvious, his true worth was felt through the words of his coaches and teammates. Coach Fred Hoiberg didn’t hide his emotions, stating he loved coaching Rondo, despite their run-ins. Bobby Portis referred to Rondo as “the brother I never had”. Denzel Valentine praised the point guard’s leadership through the team’s public dysfunction in January.
If it were up to those in the locker room, Rondo would stay a Bull. Whether Bulls management agrees is still unclear.
The Bulls have a team-option on the final year of Rondo’s deal. While his fit next to Butler and Wade makes little functional sense, it may be the only feasible option. Should Wade opt into his contract, the Bulls will have limited cap space to splurge on a Rondo’s replacement, let alone correcting other roster flaws.
While better options will exist on the free agent market, the Bulls may not be able to afford Jrue Holiday, George Hill or Patty Mills. It’s entirely possible that Rondo is the Bulls’ most viable point guard option. Thinking back to early January, who saw that coming?
The 2017 plan or 2018?
Bulls management had no intention of signing long-term contracts last offseason. General Manager Gar Forman said as much last July.
We knew this (free agency) market would be different because of the spike in the cap. I think we saw a lot of long term big money contracts, and I think next year with the spike we’ll see it again. And so part of our goal in addressing needs yet staying within the plan we talked about of retooling is we didn’t want to go long term. We wanted to keep some level of flexibility.
“Flexibility” has long been part of the jargon routinely muttered by Forman. By handing out two-year deals to Wade and Rondo in 2016, the Bulls maintained flexibility, but at the cost of a functional roster that best fit their franchise player.
At some point — should the team commit to Butler — the Bulls will need to cash in flexibility for certainty. Whether that happens now or later is unclear.
Wade will ultimately control the Bulls’ ability to retool the roster in 2017. Should the veteran return, the Bulls will have limited cap space to make noticeable enhancements to the roster. They’ll have even less money to spend if Rondo is retained.
To support Butler with the best fitting roster, moving on from Wade and Rondo as soon as possible would be ideal. It’s also unlikely. Should the ageing backcourt return, it would mean the Bulls will have to push back free agency plans to 2018.
By holding out another year, the Bulls will likely run back a similarly flawed team next season. Should this occur, Butler, who will turn 28 before next season begins, will need to continue his heroics with a roster caught between a rebuild and a retool.
Which younger players are worth keeping?
Younger and more athletic was the offseason goal. Looking at the age profile of the roster, the majority of the Bulls’ roster was made up of inexperienced talent playing on their first NBA contract.
10 of 15 players on the Bulls roster are aged 26-years or under. Of those 10, six players are aged 24-years or under.
Filling the roster with youth achieved part of the Bulls’ offseason plan. But how many of these players have justifiably earned their place for next season?
Nikola Mirotic, Isaiah Canaan, Joffrey Lauvergne, Michael Carter-Williams and Cristiano Felicio will be free agents. Jerian Grant, Denzel Valentine and Cameron Payne were unplayable in the playoffs.
Canaan, Lauvergne and Carter-Williams are unlikely to return. Mirotic and Felicio will have roles in the rotation, but only if the Bulls prioritize re-signing the international big men.
Recent draft selections on cheap labor is music to the ears of a typically frugal Bulls front office. Valentine, Zipser, Payne and Bobby Portis will earn a combined $7 million next season. As cost effective as that may be, unless all four significantly improve, the potency of the Bulls bench will again be a concern.