Missing the postseason for the first time in eight years was reason enough for the Chicago Bulls to almost completely overhaul their entire roster via free agency and the trade market for the 2016-17 season.
The loss of several stars may be disconcerting to fans, but Chicago has addressed both sides of the ball, while shoring up its frontcourt and bench, and could be a top five Eastern Conference team next year. In short, the Bulls have seemingly pulled off one of the quickest rebuilding efforts of recent memory.
Team vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman reinvigorated the Bulls backcourt while also taking some scoring pressure off All-Star shooting guard and stupendous defender Jimmy Butler, but it came at a cost as Chicago tries to rejoin the East's elite.
In order to facilitate the on-the-fly restructure, the Bulls were forced to cut ties with several players who were previously viewed as franchise cornerstones. Five years removed from his stunning MVP campaign and never capable of rediscovering that form due to serious knee injuries, point guard Derrick Rose was shipped to the New York Knicks while former All-Star center Joakim Noah, who’s also been limited by injury the last couple of seasons, signed with the Knicks as an unrestricted free agent.
Willingly parting with Rose would’ve been unthinkable even two years ago, but it became abundantly clear that Butler was the player of the future. Even if reports surfaced Chicago was open to moving the All-NBA defender on draft night and in the weeks since.
And the Rose deal did bring back a solid haul that included young back-up point guard Jerian Grant, who flashed potential with New York during his rookie season, as well as veteran center Robin Lopez. Coming off one of the best seasons of his career, Lopez immediately shored up the center position and made up for the loss of Pau Gasol in free agency. It also helps that Lopez is seven years younger and locked into a reasonable contract until 2019 compared to Gasol.
However, free agency is where Chicago made its biggest and perhaps most questionable splashes. Former Celtics, Mavericks, and Kings point guard Rajon Rondo was brought in on a two-year deal, and while many have labeled him a “head case” with a poor locker room demeanor, the 30-year-old did lead the NBA in assists on a Sacramento squad that was severely lacking scorers and his pass-first style should fit perfectly with Butler, forward Nikola Mirotic, and All-Star shooting guard acquisition Dwyane Wade.
Rondo’s also embraced his role as floor general and leader early, especially with Chicago’s younger players like Grant, second-year forward Bobby Portis, and first-round draft pick Denzel Valentine during Summer League play.
"He was giving us some insight and what to look for on the court," Valentine said to the Chicago Tribune. "He's a big help. He told me to slow down and survey the floor. He's a championship guy, so he knows what he's talking about. I'm trying to get all that knowledge."
The now former Miami Heat All-Star and three-time champion Wade returned to his roots at a hefty price ($47.5 million over two-years), and his age (34) and declining stats are reason to be concerned. But his veteran presence and clutch scoring are just enough to help Butler out. Furthermore, Wade could even opt-out of his deal in 2017, and Chicago’s still under the current salary cap with more than $19 million of luxury tax space, according to Spotrac.com
And for years, the Bulls bench has been a constant issue. but no more. Young forwards Doug McDermott and Tony Snell should see even more more next season while the rooke Valentine could be the steal of the lottery, with veteran Taj Gibson, who could be moved because of his expiring contract, and budding big man Cristiano Felicio to boot.
Here’s the current roster for the 2016-17 season:
PG Rajon Rondo
SG Dwyane Wade
SF Jimmy Butler
PF Nikola Mirotic
C Robin Lopez
PG Jerian Grant
SG Denzel Valentine
SF Doug McDermott
SF Tony Snell
PF Taj Gibson
PF Bobby Portis
C Cristiano Felicio