The 2015-16 Chicago Bulls were the most disappointing team in the league. They were expected to contend with the East’s elite, but instead they were competing for the 8th seed – and they came up short. As a Bulls fan, the best way to describe this season is like when your parents said "I'm not mad. I'm disappointed" after getting in trouble when you were younger. What they really meant was "I'm really mad but I'm also really, really disappointed."
This season was an eye-opening one for fans and hopefully a wake up call for the organization. There are many things we learned from this dreadful season. Here are five of the most important ones:
Tom Thibodeau was a great coach who covered up a flawed roster
The Bulls head coach situation is a classic situation of “you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone”. This year showed how flawed this roster is and has been but Thibs’ coaching and the players’ belief in him propelled the Bulls to be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Under first year coach Fred Hoiberg, the Bulls looked unmotivated, disjointed, and careless. The coaching change was a culture shock for the players. They went from stressed out, red-faced Thibs to relaxed, calm Hoiberg, and they didn’t adjust well at all. Going into year two, changes will need to be made if Hoiberg is to have any success with the Bulls.
Pau Gasol has to go
A quick look at Gasol’s time in Chicago might look impressive (2 time all star, 17.6 PPG/11.4 RPG) but his presence on the court is a negative to the Bulls. His defense has consisted of looking like a newborn horse trying to walk for the first time or being planted firmly like a tree. When he’s on the court opposing teams constantly target him. His foot speed is slow, his defensive IQ is low, and his effort has been subpar. He shows no desire to play defense which is the opposite of what the Bulls have been known for and had success with. It’s no coincidence that the Bulls dipped defensively in his two years with the team. Here's a play that sums up Gasol's time with the Bulls:
You can almost seem him wondering if he should even try putting forth effort in this situation. He then decides to do something but by that time, his slow feet can't move to contest the dunk, resulting in a posterization. Too slow, too late. The perfect clip to describe Gasol's defense in Chicago. His contract is up and he is a free agent this offseason.
Joakim Noah should be re-signed
The Bulls missed Noah after he suffered a season ending shoulder injury on January, finishing the season 19-25 without him. He has been the emotional leader for many years. Even though injuries have made Noah a shell of himself, the only way this core will get back to winning is if they have him. The reported beefs with Hoiberg and Butler will need to be cleared up (if that's possible at this point), but if they can move past it and Noah wants to return to the team, it’ll give the Bulls a leader who will hold his fellow teammates accountable.
Derrick Rose can still be a key contributor
No, he’s not at an MVP level anymore, but Rose can still play at a high enough level to contribute. After an unfortunate orbital fracture in the first practice of the year, he was experiencing double vision and struggled for the first few months of the season. Going into All Star Weekend he was averaging 15.9 PPG with a FG% of 40.8. In the 21 games he played after the All Star Break, he averaged 17.4 PPG and his FG% climbed to 46.8. He’s not the crazy explosive guy who can get to the rim at will anymore, but he’s still good enough to draw the defense’s attention. He also developed an ugly but functional mid-range bank shot that could be more effective if he keeps working on it. The big if, of course, is if he can stay healthy enough to be reliable. Luckily for the Bulls they still have one more year to determine if Rose’s health will allow him to be a part of their long-term plans.
Jimmy Butler might have to go
The most important thing we’ve learned from this past season is that Jimmy Butler might not fit into the Bulls’ long-term plan. Last summer, the Bulls signed Butler to a 5-year, $95 million max contract after he had a breakout season in which he transformed himself from hard-nosed defender to a well-rounded player and one of the best two-way guards in the league. The Bulls clearly wanted the 25-year-old to be part of the team for the prime years of his career.
Now after one season of that contract, rumors swirl more and more each day. There have been rumors in the past about Butler and Rose’s relationship. This season the drama started when Butler publicly criticized Hoiberg’s coaching style and recently stories have come out about Butler and Noah being so frustrated with each other that they could’ve come to blows. It’s hard to tell what’s going on behind closed doors, but on the court it looks like Butler wants more offensive responsibility. During the season the ball would stick to him and he was more isolation oriented than in the past when he was cutting off the ball. He’s even called himself a point guard, when he's clearly still a wing player. The Butler/Rose drama has been shushed in the past by both players, but this season showed there might be some truth to it, and it may be too much for them to overcome.
The Jimmy Butler saga will continue on and be one of the most intriguing situations in this offseason.