Jan 27, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Rajon Rondo and forward Jimmy Butler and guard Michael Carter-Williams and guard Dwyane Wade (left to right) on the bench to start the first quarter against the Miami Heat at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
On the heels of a mediocre 2016-17 campaign, the Chicago Bulls have a few questions that need to be addressed going into next season. Here is a look a few of them.
The 2016-17 version of the Chicago Bulls can be described as a mixed bag at best. With a group of veteran and young players, the Bulls finished the season with a 41-41 record.
Yes, they qualified for the playoffs, but that was only because they had a soft schedule down the stretch. Once the playoffs began, things would not go as planned.
After taking the first two games against the top-seeded Boston Celtics, Bulls fans had faint hope that their team was better than the mediocre record it produced during the regular season.
Unfortunately, reality set in, as the Celtics stormed back to take the next four games of the series. This would be the second time in four years in which the Bulls would suffer a first round exit.
Now that the season has mercifully come to an end, the Bulls have a lot of issues to face heading into another offseason filled with uncertainty.
Here is a look at the biggest questions they will have to address from the 2016-17 season.
Dec 28, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic (44) reacts to a foul call against the Brooklyn Nets during the second half at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Should Bulls re-sign Mirotic?
To be perfectly honest, restricted free agent Nikola Mirotic has been somewhat of an enigma since he joined the team back in 2014. During his first two seasons in the NBA, he averaged 10.2 and 11.8 points per game, respectively.
Being that his conversation rate from beyond the arc improved from 31 percent in 2014-15 to 39 percent last season, the organization felt confident that he was ready to take another leap forward in Year 3. Unfortunately for the Bulls, that was not case.
Yes, Mirotic posted a double-digit scoring average for the third consecutive year, but there were too many stretches in which he had little or no impact when he was on the floor, including the playoffs as well.
During the Bulls’ postseason run, Mirotic averaged just 8.7 points per contest on 34 percent shooting and a forgettable 29 percent from beyond the arc. The good news is when Mirotic plays with confidence, he is a legitimate floor spacer.
Conversely, when that is not the case, he is more of a liability than anything else. While the front office seems committed to giving Mirotic yet another opportunity, Bulls fans have to wonder if they will see more of the same inconsistency they have witnessed since he joined the team.
Apr 4, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Rajon Rondo (9) drives to the basket past New York Knicks guard Ron Baker (31) during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Does Rondo deserve another chance as well?
Prior to joining the Bulls, Rondo had developed a reputation for not getting along with his head coaches. He didn’t do himself any favors when he got into a verbal altercation with assistant coach Jim Boylen, which resulted in a one-game suspension.
After a poor showing in the first half of a December game against the Indiana Pacers (zero points, one assist and one rebound), Fred Hoiberg removed Rondo from the lineup for the next five games.
It appeared that an imminent breakup was going to take place between the two sides, but once he returned to the lineup, it became obvious that the Bulls played much better when Rondo was running the offense. This was certainly the case in the playoffs as well.
After Rondo helped pace Chicago to victories in the first two games against the Celtics, the Bulls weren’t the same team when Rondo was forced to miss the rest of the series due to a thumb injury he sustained in Game 2.
Despite nearly exiling the 11-year veteran midway through the season, general manager John Paxson gave Rondo a ringing endorsement during the team’s postseason conference.
“To a man, our young people loved Rajon. He was great in the locker room,” Paxson said, via CSN Chicago. “He was great off the court with these guys. He took them under his wing in a lot of ways, and he was responsible for a lot of the good things that came from them. We have a lot of respect for Rajon, especially how he believes in the game. He used to drag guys into the weight room, and he held them accountable in a lot of ways.”
The fact that Rondo gave the younger players a voice — combined with the offensive meltdown that unfolded during the playoffs when he was sidelined with an injury — more than likely indicates that we will see Rondo in a Bulls uniform next season.
Dec 19, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; The Chicago Bulls bench reacts to a call during the first half of the game against the Detroit Pistons at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports
Will younger players see more playing time next season?
When the Bulls sent Taj Gibson and sharpshooter Doug McDermott to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the plan was for their younger guys to get more playing time during the second half of the season.
However, as the Bulls remained in playoff contention, Hoiberg decided to stick with a rotation that gave them the best chance to qualify for the postseason. Although they managed to sneak into the playoffs, the downside was players like as Cameron Payne and Denzel Valentine did not see a ton of playing time — a trend that Paxson hopes will change moving forward.
“We know change is a part of this, but we don’t want to change without knowing exactly what we have,” Paxson told the Daily Herald. “I don’t feel that we’ve given our young kids a chance to see.
“Again, we know we’re on the line for that. Players develop, don’t develop. We scout them. We drafted them. We traded for them. That’s part of the job. But we have to give them an opportunity.”
From the perspective of Bulls fans, this isn’t the best news in the world. But like it or not, a lot of the younger players that struggled for the most of the season will be calling Chicago home once again in 2017-18.
Dec 28, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Dwyane Wade (3) reacts after a foul against the Brooklyn Nets during the second half at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Will Dwyane Wade return next season?
One of the biggest offseason headlines from a year ago was Dwyane Wade returning home and playing for the team he rooted for during his childhood. Depending on your perspective, Wade played reasonably well for the Bulls during the 2016-17 campaign.
While Wade did sit out 22 games, his numbers (18.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists per contest) were comparable to what we saw during his final season with the Miami Heat (19.0 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game).
Sure, his addition didn’t transform the Bulls into a conference powerhouse. At the same time, he did provide the Bulls with another player who is still capable of taking over games down the stretch, even in the latter stages of his career.
In light of a mediocre season, the question is: Will Wade opt to return to the Bulls next season?
“A lot of it depends on the whole big picture. Not just one piece,” Wade said, via the Chicago Sun-Times. “Jimmy’s a big piece, but it’s a big picture as an organization. Just want to make sure we’re all on the same page.
“I don’t have to think about it right now. I’ve got at least a month before my mind starts going there. I’m just going to get away and let my hair grow a little bit, get a tan.”
Based on those comments, it doesn’t sound like Wade is in much of a hurry to make a decision one way or the other. Considering there won’t be a lot of suitors willing to offer him a huge payday, it’s a safe to presume that Wade will return for another season.
Dec 12, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls vice president of basketball perations John Paxson (left) and general manager Gar Forman (center) talk with sports writer Sam Smith (right) prior to a game against the New Orleans Pelicans at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Which needs will Bulls look to address in the NBA Draft?
On the heels of a less-than-impressive 41-41 season, it is painfully obvious that the Bulls have several needs heading in the NBA Draft next month. For starters, as Rondo willingly pointed out, they were one of the least athletic teams in the league.
On top of that, the lack of perimeter shooting continues to be a glaring issue as well. During the season, the Bulls ranked 24th in three-point shooting, as they converted 34 percent of their attempts.
In the postseason, the ugly trend continued, with Chicago shooting an abysmal 30 percent from distance.
Furthermore, the backup point guard position needs an upgrade, as the trio of Jerian Grant, Michael Carter-Williams and Cameron Payne did little to show they are capable of running the offense.
Taking all of that into consideration, what kind of player are the Bulls looking for heading into the draft next month?
“Our philosophy has been we’re going to draft who we feel the best player on the board is at that time,” Gar Forman told the Chicago Sun-Times. “We take from physical tools to their skill level to their ceiling, obviously their background work, all those things are taken into account. We take who we feel the best player is.”