The 2016-17 Bulls season is mercifully over, and now it’s time to look ahead to what should be another interesting offseason. There are key decisions to be made on players up and down the roster, starting at the very top with star Jimmy Butler.
A thorough evaluation of the front office and coaching staff should also be in the cards, but who are we kidding? Nobody is getting fired. But, hey, it looks like Jim Paxson might get a bigger role!
Anyway, let’s get over the roster and see where things stand after another tumultuous season. We’ll quickly review each player in order of their salary for this season:
Wade’s $23.8 million player option looms over this entire operation. While he still has some juice left as a scorer and playmaker, he’s simply not cut out to be an impactful big-minute player anymore. He’s not particularly efficient, and his lack of effort defensively was noticeable all year and especially in the playoffs.
Wade — who will be 36 in January — opting in would hamstring the Bulls a bit, and it’s currently unclear what he’ll do. It’s hard to see him opting out of that money given no sane team should offer him anything close on the open market. But he said he’s going to take his time to look at his options and get an idea of what direction the Bulls go in. I hope he’s gone, but if he does come back, a sixth-man role would be preferable.
Butler had a career year and worked his way into the top-10 player conversation. He’s in his prime and on a great contract. He didn’t have a great playoff series, but he was still pretty good overall and gutted his way through several injuries to finish it (Joe Cowley said sore foot, sore knee and possibly torn ligaments in his hand). An attempt to smartly build around him would make sense.
Still, the Bulls should do their due diligence when it comes to the trade market. They should be in no rush to trade him and shouldn’t just do it to do it, but if they can get a monster return for him, dealing him and starting this thing over is an attractive option. Because as good as Butler is, the Bulls are still pretty far away from legitimate contention and don’t have a clear path to it with him.
Cowley reported the Bulls plan to outline their commitment to Butler, although KC Johnson says they’re keeping all their options open and haven’t reached an organizational consensus on him.
What an utterly bizarre year. Rondo was awful for a good chunk of the season, and that included a suspension and a benching. He returned to the rotation and was decent on the second unit, but then he really turned it on as a starter down the stretch. And he proved to be indispensable in the playoffs as the Bulls fell apart without him.
Rondo is guaranteed $3 million for next season. A decision on the rest of his $13.4 million needs to be made by June 30. The coaching staff and teammates have strongly endorsed Rondo’s return. He’s a hit with the young guys and stood up for them with his infamous Instagram post. At this point, I’d guess he’s back next year.
Of course, you worry about this late-season resurgence being fluky, and there’s also the concern of running the whole #3Alphas thing back. A return of Rondo and Wade, which would almost certainly mean no Butler trade, would likely leave the Bulls with a largely similar group next season. And do we really want to see that again?
RoLo was a steady presence in the middle after coming over in the Derrick Rose trade. He’s a beast on the offensive glass and has an underrated mid-range jumper. While he has obvious flaws, namely his lack of mobility on the defensive end (exploited by the Celtics), he’s a perfectly capable starting center on a reasonable contract (two years, roughly $28 million left). He could be trade bait if the Bulls opt for a rebuild, but otherwise I expect him back.
Oh, Niko. Another inconsistent year ended in another great March followed by another awful postseason. The idealized version of Mirotic is great and the Bulls have been better with him on the court all three seasons, but he’s an incredibly frustrating player to watch. And his playoff failures are hard to ignore.
The Bulls reportedly shopped Mirotic at the deadline but found no takers. It’ll be interesting to see if any team hands him a hefty offer sheet in hopes of getting the best out of the 26-year-old restricted free agent. Somewhat surprisingly, KC says he expects Niko back.
Morrow was a throw-in to the Gibson/McDermott deal and didn’t play much, although he was a surprise contributor in a playoff game. As a 31-year-old unrestricted free agent he’ll probably move on, although he may not be the worst guy to have around for cheap on the end of the bench as a shooter.
The Bulls lost the Tony Snell trade. Imagine that. While Snell wasn’t good in Chicago, the decision to trade a 3-and-D wing for another non-shooting point guard before the season was a weird one. And outside of a few flashes here and there, he was truly awful and also an abomination against Boston. He’s probably one of my least favorite players in the league to watch. He’s a restricted free agent, but I think there’s a decent chance he’s not in the NBA next season. Needless to say, he shouldn’t be on the Bulls.
The “prize” of the Gibson/McDermott trade and the alleged “point guard of the future.” Payne was mostly terrible in his limited action after the trade and spent time in the D-League. He’s been a bad NBA player with some injury problems thus far in his young career, and I don’t have high hopes for his future. Maybe he surprises us.
Valentine got off to a slow start in his rookie season but came on a bit in the latter part of the year, especially with his fearless 3-point shooting. Unfortunately, he didn’t show much in terms of shot creation or finishing around the basket, and his defense is problematic. That’s why he didn’t get much of a chance in the playoffs.
I like the idea of Valentine as a shooter and a secondary ballhandler, but he has to develop other parts of his game and is already 23 years old. Management apparently told him he’s in line for a big role next season, and he’s going to work on guarding point guards. We’ll see how that goes.
Another member of the Gibson/McDermott trade. I’m not really sure what Lauvergne does well. He’s theoretically a stretch big with some offensive skills, but he’s really not good at anything. He’s a restricted free agent, and maybe he returns if the price is cheap.
Grant was perfectly adequate throughout the regular season. He was a capable outside shooter who hit nearly 37 percent of his 3s. Too bad he was completely overwhelmed in the postseason and was just as big a train wreck as MCW. I’m perfectly fine with Grant as a backup, but that’s all he is.
Portis showed some signs at the end of the season (despite playing with a third-degree burn on his foot), including a standout performance in Game 1 against Boston. Sadly, he disappeared the rest of the series, which is kind of a microcosm of his time in the league thus far. He seems to either be really good or just plain bad. Still, he’ll likely get plenty of opportunities next season, especially if Niko moves on.
Canaan was out of the rotation for most of the year before being dusted off in the playoffs and providing some admirable minutes. He has $200K guaranteed until June 30. Like Morrow, he’s not the worst guy to have at the end of the bench, so bringing him back on the cheap would be fine if it happens.
Felicio is a fan favorite and did some nice things this year as an athletic, rim-running backup center. Unfortunately, he was out of his element against the Celtics heading into his restricted free agency. The Bulls should try to keep him around, but hopefully another team doesn’t make a high offer.
I’m still not sure if Zipser is actually good, but the rookie acquitted himself rather nicely as a second-round pick. He showed some versatility on the wing and was even called upon to play some point guard in the playoffs, which is pretty sad. In any case, he’s a nice piece to have around to come off the bench, and perhaps he develops into a capable starter the Bulls can rely on at some point.
Butler is obviously awesome, but there just aren’t many other definite keepers on this roster. One of the ESPN announcers said at the end of Game 6 that the Bulls have ‘nice young talent’, but do they really? They have a bunch of inexperienced players that are currently okay/bad and don’t seem to boast particularly high upside. Basically just a bunch of guys.
Trading Butler and “tanking” for a year or two could give the Bulls some high-upside youngsters, but obviously that plan comes with risk as well. It’s a bummer that the Bulls are in a position where it’s attractive to trade a player of Butler’s caliber, but years of bad drafting, questionable roster decisions and bad luck have them here.
The bottom line is the Bulls need to pick a lane. Either trade Butler to start a full rebuild or fully commit to him and build a sensible roster around him that plays to his strengths. The problem, of course, is Wade’s situation could interfere with the latter option. Running it back is something I don’t want to see happen, but it may be the most likely scenario.