The Chicago Bulls have fallen off pretty heavily from their decent run of success in the late 2000s up to 2015. The franchise was, in essence, doomed from the moment Derrick Rose tore his ACL in 2012. In the last four years, they won 42, 41, 27, and 22 games.
Starts at the Top
The preeminent issue with this franchise remains and will remain for the foreseeable future: the entire area of management. Gar Forman and John Paxson have been disastrous as GM and President of Basketball Ops. But they are both safe in their positions – because of Jerry Reinsdorf. Reinsdorf is the team owner, and also owns the Chicago White Sox, a franchise in a similar position of desolation following their 2005 World Series win.
The front office of GarPax has made some awful blunders in their time at the helm. Paxson traded LaMarcus Aldridge for Tyrus Thomas in 2006. In 2009, while they did draft Taj Gibson late in the first, they passed on Jrue Holiday for James Johnson. They have constantly been spurned by high profile free agents, such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Instead, they have added players far past their prime such as Pau Gasol, Rip Hamilton, and Nazr Mohammed. One of the worst moves the franchise made the last decade was trading their 16 and 19 overall picks in 2014 for number 11, which they used to select Doug McDermott. Those two picks traded became Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic.
Finding the Right Coach
While there was a relative level of success in the Tom Thibodeau era, after his stellar first season, the team reached the Eastern Conference Finals, but lost to the Miami Heat. The team never reached that height again. The front office totally wore down that relationship, while Thibodeau literally wore out Joakim Noah, and Luol Deng, two of the best Bulls of that era.
They moved on to Fred Hoiberg, who wanted to run a more modern system, and gave him players who could not shoot such as Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. Once Hoiberg was axed during a 5 and 19 start last year, they moved on to former assistant coach Jim Boylen. After Boylen finished the season 17 and 41, the franchise awarded him a 3-year extension. That is an absolutely classic “new Bulls” move.
Draft Time Hits and Misses
The single best pick they have made this span was with Jimmy Butler at number 30 in 2011. Drafting Derrick Rose at one was a layup; they do not deserve credit for that. Butler developed from the last pick of the first round, who basically redshirted year one, to one of the centers of attraction this free agency period. Butler was one of the lone bright spots before he forced a trade out of Chicago. The Bulls did get a pretty good return on the trade, as they acquired Zach Lavine, the team’s best player last season, and Kris Dunn, and the 2017 Number 7 pick.
2015 pick Bobby Portis was shipped out with disastrous last season signing Jabari Parker for Otto Porter. 2016 14th overall man Denzel Valentine is still with the team and showed a solid level of improvement year one to two. In 2017, the Bulls selected Lauri Markkanen 7th overall. He has shown flashes of being an excellent player, and is still only 22. Wendell Carter was selected at 7th overall last draft and showed flashes as well, but missed about half the season.
As said, the main thing holding this franchise back is the front office. The three-headed hydra at the top, Reinsdorf in particular, is coasting off of the 90s. The Trail Blazers selecting Sam Bowie at two in 1984 was the single best thing that ever happened to this franchise. They are living off of past glory at this point. While they have an extremely young core, with pieces with high potential, they will be hamstrung by their management.
Their biggest move this offseason was adding UNC superstar Coby White at number 7 (yup!) in the draft. White was a scoring sensation at UNC, breaking the freshman point record set by Michael Jordan. Hopefully he carries that energy into the united center. They also added Thaddeus Young, which is neat, but does not move the needle much.
Their Own Worst Enemy
Despite this, somehow, the Bulls are in position to compete for a playoff spot in the ever-weak Eastern Conference. That may be outside of their best interest though, when they could play the lottery game once again. Otto Porter shot nearly 50% (!!!) on 5 attempts a game from three, albeit in 15 games. He could be an appealing trade piece to a team looking to offload a contract in exchange for picks or another nice asset. He has a player option after this season.
Frankly if this is not obvious enough, the Bulls need a cleansing at the top. If Reinsdorf was not who he was, in an ideal world he would sell the team. In February, Forbes valuated the team at 2.9 billion dollars, so they would sell for well over that price. More likely would be Paxson and Forman being canned, and someone like Sam Hinkie being brought in. Perhaps if Daryl Morey does not survive the Rockets’ new owner, he would be another great option.
The Bears will always be the number one team in Chicago, full stop, and the Blackhawks usurped the two slot in the 2010s. The Cubs have taken that spot from the Hawks now. The point is all three of those franchises are much better run than either of the dreg Sox and Bulls. While they have made solid draft selections in Valentine, Markkanen, and Carter, a move like extending Boylen undoes all of that. Nothing will change with this franchise until the people at the top do some soul searching and realize they are their own worst enemy.