Typically when the season draws to a close, thoughtful analysis on how players, coaches and management performed is conducted.
I won’t be doing that.
Simply put, I don’t have the time, energy or conviction to review the Bulls’ entire 2016-17 season — it’s better if we all move on as soon as possible. Plus, the guys over at The Athletic will do a far better job at that kind of thing, should you be so inclined.
So, rather than reliving the broader themes of the season, I thought it would be more interesting (and amusing) to go back and look at some of the forgotten moments of the season that have since faded into the ether.
Remember when Rondo was problem?
I’m not sure I can remember a time when a player went from being loathed to loved in such quick fashion. Funny how five weeks of inspired basketball can erase five months of vile play.
As season-ending press conferences and player exit meetings ensued, anyone and everyone affiliated with the Bulls raved about Rajon Rondo and his importance to the team.
It’s not surprising. Recency bias has a tendency to shape thoughts, and Rondo’s final game for the Bulls was his best. But how quickly we forget. Before Rondo proved to be so indispensable, high praise and admiration weren’t associated with Rondo for the majority season.
Most would have forgotten about Rondo’s verbal altercation with associate head coach Jim Boylen in December. The Bulls suspended Rondo one-game for “conduct detrimental to the team.”
In the same month, the Bulls benched Rondo for the entire second half in a Dec. 30 loss to Indiana. Five consecutive DNP-CDs passed before Rondo was resurrected for sixth-man duties in a Jan. 10 loss to Washington.
Prior to the game against the Wizards, Rondo explained to reporters why the Bulls decided to bench the 11-year pro.
“I got a slight explanation from another guy on the staff,” Rondo said. “A guy told me that he was saving me from myself.”
Rondo added: “I thought it was bullsh—. Save me from myself? I never heard that before in my life. But I guess [they are] trying to do the best thing for me.”
Of course, there was also the infamous Instagram post, which put Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler’s leadership abilities on blast. Rondo was fined an undisclosed amount for airing team issues via public forums.
But all is forgiven now. Despite benching him, Fred Hoiberg loved coaching Rondo. Role players lauded their point guard’s leadership through the team’s public dysfunction in January. Even management weighed in on Rondo’s importance, citing the Instagram post he was fined for as an empowering moment.
“To be candid with you, when we had that incident where Dwyane and Jimmy spoke up in January, when he stood up for our young guys, that empowered them a little bit.”
Dwyane Wade, the three-point shooter
When the Bulls signed veteran free agents Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade to be Jimmy Butler’s perimeter running mates, the primary concern was the lack of the three-point shooting.
In joining Butler — an inconsistent jump shooter himself — the only way a cohesive offense system could exist is if one (or more) of the the Three Alphas bucked career-long trends of poor outside shooting.
For the briefest of moments, any doubt surrounding the Bulls’ potential shooting woes were tabled.
In the season-opener against the Boston Celtics, the rebirth of Wade as a shooter was on show. The new Bull drained four three-pointers on six attempts, including this dagger.
Through the first 17 games of the season, Wade made 20 of his 53 three-point attempts (37.7 percent). Considering the 14-year veteran only made seven threes the previous season, this was a notable achievement, which raised the question: Were doubts about the team’s shooting oversold?
What appeared to be late-career development for Wade proved to be nothing more than an aberration. For the remainder of the season (65 games), Wade only made 25 more threes on 92 (27.2 percent), bringing his season totals to 45-of-145 (31 percent).
Michael-Carter Williams shamed out of wearing Rose’s old number
Trading Tony Snell to the Milwaukee Bucks for former Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams caused an already disgruntled fan base to rage on even further.
Fans weren’t necessarily infuriated with the components of the trade itself (I was). Many were actually happy to receive any player with a beating pulse in exchange for Snell (I wasn’t). The problem with this trade wasn’t even about basketball. The real issue here — to certain fans — was the apparent disrespect Carter-Williams had shown by choosing to wear the No. 1 jersey.
If you’re not following or don’t recall, after arriving in Chicago, MCW took to Instagram and made this post:
How dare he.
Fans clearly weren’t ready to move on from the Derrick Rose era. Many took to social media, trolling Carter-Williams for having the gall to wear the number Rose had made his own.
It didn’t take long for the new Bulls point guard to realize the controversy he had caused. Following the outrage, Carter-Williams retracted his decision to don the No. 1 jersey, opting for No. 7 instead.
The president of the Tornike Shengelia fan club was asked for an opinion on Carter-Williams changing to jersey No.7. He declined to comment.
The Bulls explored trading Nikola Mirotic
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune recently reported the Bulls intend to re-sign Nikola Mirotic. This approach makes sense as the team is unlikely to have the necessary cap space required to replace Mirotic with a comparable talent.
What makes this recent development interesting is, only a few months ago, the Bulls were aggressively shopping Mirotic at the trade deadline. Here is what Johnson reported at the time:
Where the Bulls have been aggressive, sources said, is in shopping Nikola Mirotic. The Clippers are one possible destination, although Mirotic’s status as a restricted free agent this summer limits the return value.
If we’re to believe both of these reports, over the span of 2 1/2 months, the Bulls effectively went from trying to flip Mirotic at the deadline to now wanting to re-sign the enigmatic third-year forward.
I guess we can chalk this up as another win for recency bias.
The Bulls were interested in trading for Jahill Okafor
When Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago first reported the Bulls’ interest in Philadelpha 76ers center Jahill Okafor, it made perfect, illogical sense.
Already struggling with the modern concepts of the NBA basketball, the last type of player Chicago needed was a lumbering, back-to-the-basket center incapable of defending pick-and-roll actions. And yet, here the team was, inquiring about a player whose game fails to mesh with uptempo offenses and switch-heavy defenses.
Sure, Okafor is a young player with upside who likely could have been had at a discounted rate. But buying low on players who don’t fit modern basketball principles, those of which your inexperienced coach hopes to implement, would have been grossly negligent.
Thankfully the trade never happened. Let’s hope discussions between the Sixers and Bulls for Okafor aren’t revisited during the offseason.
Drafting in the middle of the pack is hard
It’s become a tradition for Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson to address the state of the team at the end of each calendar year.
Speaking to David Schuster on 670 The Score on Christmas day, Paxson fielded a range of questions on the progress of the team through the first two months of the new season.
In an otherwise forgettable media performance from a Bulls official, the only noteworthy response from Paxson came when pressed about the direction of the team moving forward. Paxson interestingly diverted his answer to the difficulty of team building whilst drafting in the middle of the first round.
“In the meantime, you’re drafting in the middle of the pack all the time. You’re good enough to make the playoffs a little bit, but you’re picking between 14, 15, and 22. It’s difficult to get impact players, unless you’re lucky like we were with Jimmy (Butler) years ago.”
Paxson is correct. Finding players who project to be anything more than bench players when drafting in the middle of the first round is a difficult task. The amusing part, of course, and why this quote should be remembered, is the Bulls constantly put themselves in the position to draft “in the middle of the pack all the time.”
And here we are again. By sneaking into the eighth-seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Bulls will have the No.16 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
The irony is palpable.
Former Bull R.J. Hunter
“Who is R.J. Hunter?” I hear you asking.