Average, mediocrity, call it whatever you like. It’s an NBA’s team worst nightmare. It’s where the Chicago Bulls are at. From where we’re standing, there are two ways of getting out of this situation: Trade Jimmy Butler, or finally fire Gar Forman and John Paxson.
The Bulls are 21-21, 5-5 over their last 10 games, rank 15th in the NBA and their point differential is 0. As in the middle as possible. Which means they’re going nowhere. Even if they make the playoffs, it’s hard to see this team going far or even making it past the first round. If they miss the playoffs, it should be a narrow failure (for the second straight season), and won’t put them in a position to improve drastically through the draft. Not that Paxson and Forman have shown an ability to make this team improve quickly through their “brilliant” talent evaluation.
And unless the Bulls want to continue and walk the path of mediocrity, while hoping for natural improvement through player development (which can happen, but isn’t likely to change the power balance in the Eastern conference), a big move needs to be made soon. A move can be changing their approach, and going with a new tandem to run the team, after Paxson and Forman took this group to the conference finals but have since seem intent on solidifying their power and authority instead of objectively looking at what’s good for the franchise. This could mean a number of things for Fred Hoiberg, but right now he seems like a secondary decision.
And of course, a more immediate move could be trading a player. Butler isn’t the only asset the Bulls have they can trade, but he’s their only All-Star, and borderline superstar. The question is: Is Butler the kind of player you tank in order to draft, or is he a means to an end? Butler, the 30th overall pick in 2011, wasn’t supposed to be this good (24.9 points per game, heading into what should be his 3rd All-Star game). He could be a franchise player for the Bulls (he’s paid like one), but he might be more useful by improving their future.
I guess the key decision that needs to be revolves around this question: Can the Bulls, with this front office, attract quality players in the offseason? Rajon Rondo isn’t going to stay for long and he’s not a player a lot of stars want to be next to. Forman and Paxson might also be poisonous in that aspect. With this roster, the Bulls are never going to be bad enough and land a blue chip player in the draft. The Bulls could have pushed the button on tanking over the last few years, but kept believing that once Rose is completely healthy, they’ll be able to return to contender status quickly. They never got past the conference semifinals, twice losing to a LeBron James team.
What can the Bulls hope to get for Butler, if they do decide to move him? One idea has been talking to the deep in draft picks Boston Celtics. How about Jaylen Brown and a first rounder? Not bad, but I think the Bulls will look for more. The same can be said about the Philadelphia 76ers, although they don’t have a player the Bulls can realistically get. But two first rounders and a little bit of something else for Butler? I don’t see the Bulls giving him up for less than three draft picks, two of them of first round value.
The Derrick Rose era ended. It was underwhelming, despite the exciting start, replaced by patiently waiting for something that never came. The old-guard is gone, Butler emerged, and around him a strangely put-together group was assembled. While the chronology might not be accurate, that’s the situation. And currently, in a league that’s about all or bust, the Bulls are neither here or there. Just waiting it out and hoping for things to get better on their own is going to keep them at around the same place for a very long time.