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How the new look Bulls can avoid Disaster

Chicago Bulls 2017

The Bulls had one of the most peculiar offseasons this summer. Trading away Derrick Rose for Robin Lopez, signing Dwyane Wade to a 2 year $47 million deal (with a player option for the second year), and signing Rajon Rondo to a 2 year $27 million deal. The Rose era Bulls are officially gone and over, and a new era will be starting, the question is whether or not the next era is now, with Rondo/Wade/Butler leading the way back to relevance, or if Wade and Rondo are just a bridge to keep the masses entertained until they can actually figure something out.

A lot of people have made a lot of fun of the Bulls for their moves, and their (theoretical) starting lineup of Rondo/Wade/Butler/Gibson(??)/Lopez.

Many thought Mirotic would start over Gibson but this is the starting lineup they put out in their first preseason game - because there is not much, in fact hardly any, shooting on the floor with that lineup. That will be a problem all season for the Bulls, but there is a chance that this team could avoid being a total disaster. In fact, they may even end up being pretty good.

The Shooting

As mentioned before, this is going to be an ongoing battle all year for the Bulls, especially if they play Taj Gibson over Mirotic with regularity. That lineup literally has no good (outside) shooters in it which will present a huge struggle. The best likely option for Fred Hoidberg is to rotate Rondo, Wade, and Butler around a whole bunch so that one (or 2) of them are on the floor at all times but stagger them so that all 3 are not on the floor very much.

Most importantly will be to play Rondo with McDermott and Mirotic as much as possible, because a PG who can't shoot hurts your spacing more than the other 2 guys will. So in order to have much hope with Rondo, they will need to get what shooting they can onto the floor, and then play other guys at the point as much as possible when Butler and Wade are on the floor. In fact, it may even be prudent to simply go with no true PG when Rondo isn't on the floor and just let the offense run through Wade/Butler.

Beyond that, the main hope for the Bulls is to simply pray. Butler has been a good shooter before so there is some decent hope that he can be one again, especially with him theoretically playing off the ball a bit more. Wade has never been a good 3 point shooter, but that is mostly by choice. He's just never taken them, who knows? Maybe he will be able to shoot at least 33% from 3 if he starts actually taking them at a decent clip. Rondo, on the other hand, I have very little hope for, he actually shot ok the last couple years from 3, but those are the comically wide open 3s that every team gives him. Which FWIW, it does help that he can hit those occasionally, but it isn't enough to get teams to stop sagging so far off of him.

The Defense

The Bulls could, in theory, be an excellent defensive team. The trick will be that they need to get Rondo and Wade to commit enough to be at least decent because both of them have been fairly bad in recent years. But when looking at a lineup of Rondo/Wade/Butler/Gibson/Lopez, the bottom 3 (Lopez/Gibson/Butler) are all legitimately wonderful on the defensive end, so if Rondo and Wade can put enough effort forwards on defense to not be negatives this team could be incredibly hard to score on. There is some irony to the fact that this roster now looks like a roster that Tom Thibodeau would do really well with.

On the other hand, Rondo and Wade have not been good on defense for a few years now, and Hoiberg has never been known as a defensive coach, leaving serious concern of whether or not this team will be much good defensively or not.

So about Hoiberg...

Yeah, it doesn't look very good for him right now. They brought him in to try and run a wider open offense that pushes the pace and has good ball movement, and they are not a team that has crawled from the late 90s to try and murder people defensively and score just enough points out of isolations to survive. This will be a serious test of Hoiberg's coaching abilities, particularly since his first season was not exactly a roaring success. I don't know how hot his seat actually is since the Bulls are not the quickest organization in the NBA to fire their coaches, but this is a roster that is built in the exact opposite way that you would expect him to want, and if the team does not start winning quickly this season, expect lots of problems to start circulating about friction between players, coaches, and the front office.

HOWEVA, Wade and Rondo are both at new spots trying to start over, and Rondo, in particular, is going to try and get his stock to rise again. On top of that, Butler hears all of the negative things that have been said about him and his leadership, and he is looking for a bit of a fresh start this year as well. What if Wade brings the sort of leadership that results in people actually listening to the coach, and Wade commits to Hoiberg's vision to try and run the ball? Wade likely has an extra motivation to make this Bulls team win, in the same way that LeBron had an extra motivation to win a chip with the Cavaliers, he wants to prove Pat Riley wrong, and show that he can win without Riley.

So if there is something that could get Wade to really lock in on both ends of the court and push a team to success, it would be now. The only problem is that Wade is not what he used to be, and likely the decider of success for this team will largely rely on how aware Wade is of his own decline. Because if “locking in” means that he just tries to do it all himself, there will be some serious problems because he just isn't good enough to do that anymore.

Just like Wade will have to be honest with himself, Hoiberg will have to be as well. Although perhaps this team could do well in his pace and space system (if enough guys prove able to shoot well enough) but the reality is that he would likely be trying to fit square pegs into round holes. Can he flip his entire coaching philosophy to fit the roster he has? Basically, he should channel his inner Thibs and get the team playing defense like crazy and let Wade, Rondo, and Butler scratch out points on offense. And FWIW, starting Gibson is actually a good sign to start things off (if he sticks with that) because Gibson is definitely the better defender.

Will they be a disaster?

I'd say no, they won't be a disaster. I actually would put quite a bit of faith in Wade to be a real positive influence on the team both on and off the court. But the problems with the roster are very real, so I don't really see them being all that good either. They will probably be in the playoff hunt, but nothing near to being real contenders. The biggest hope for Bulls fans has to be that these Bulls channel the former Bulls teams and play the same way, play defense like crazy, and scratch out enough points on the other end to survive, because with Butler, Wade, and Rondo on the team they have the guys to try and scratch out points pretty effectively. That is the only way that I can see this team ending up being more than just another team in the mix of the Eastern conference playoffs picture.

What do you think? How will the Bulls do this year? What do you think they should do?

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