Chicago Bulls 2015-16 Season Preview
2014-15 Record: 50-32, No. 2 Central Division, No. 3 Eastern Conference
Bobby Portis (PF) – Drafted No. 22 overall
Nazr Mohammed (C) – Contemplating retirement
Notable Staffing Changes
Tom Thibodeau – Dismissed as Head Coach
Fred Hoiberg – Hired as Head Coach
SBN Affiliate: Blog A Bull
2014-15 Season In Review
When healthy (the official post-noughties caveat of the Chicago Bulls), they looked like real championship contenders; a team of battle-worn veterans revitalized by Jimmy Butler’s meteoric rise to stardom. When enervated by injuries (the official post-noughties equilibrium of the Chicago Bulls), they looked like… well, they still looked better than the average Eastern Conference team. Nothing came easily for the Bulls last season, but they made their annual run at lasting prominence nonetheless.
For the most part, they buttered their bread with suffocating Thibodeau defense. That’s the beauty of unwavering implementation at the systemic level; as long as everyone does their job well, a grind-it-out win is rarely out of sight. This was hugely important for their success because the offense was oddly disjointed at times. Spacing was a major issue for the first completely Luol Deng-less iteration of the Bulls in a decade. Mike Dunleavy, although a gifted 3-point shooter, is not the kind of replacement that can lose defenders by flying around off-ball screens, and the alternative Nikola Mirotic small forward experiment fizzled because he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn from beyond the arc. Consequently, the Bulls never really found an offensive rhythm.
Still, their strict defensive formula and abundance of talent carried them through a myriad of injuries and into the Eastern Conference semifinals for the second time in three years. The aforementioned ascension of Butler (who won Most Improved Player by a landslide) and the addition of Pau Gasol (who somehow returned to peak form at 34) created high expectations from Day 1. Whether or not they met those expectations in the playoffs depends on your level of cynicism. On one hand, they made it as far as LeBron James and the Cavaliers allowed, keeping even with the King through four games. On the other hand, they got quite a scare from the Milwaukee Bucks in Round 1, which should not happen to a title-worthy team. Not last season anyway.
After a long deterioration of trust between Thibodeau and the Bulls’ front office, he was dismissed by the team on May 28. Among other things, team owner Jerry Reinsdorf and GM Gar Forman were never fond of Thibodeau’s propensity for diminishing his stars in extended minutes. A fair point of contention, perhaps. They tactlessly kicked him to the curb with a parting "this was all your fault" in place of a thank you for the 255-139 record in five years of service. Former Bull Fred Hoiberg was hired to fill Thibodeau’s chair less than a week later.
Hoiberg now has the benefit of coaching a team that has already established some form of synergy, as the Bulls boast impressive roster continuity at the cost of being well above the $84.7 million tax line. They made no moves in free agency outside of re-signing their own players. The only player not returning from last year’s squad is the 38-year-old Mohammed, who is contemplating retirement after a 17-season career. Hoiberg has the tools to get just as far as Thibodeau did, so it will be interesting to see how he stacks up in a fairly direct comparison. As is generally the case with first-time NBA coaches, how well he is able to handle the stars will determine how much he gets out of them.
Chief among them, if only in name at this point of his injury marred career, is the heretofore unmentioned Derrick Rose. Presently, Rose is at the center of deeply concerning rape allegations, the details of which can be found elsewhere for those inclined to learn more. I would be remiss to entirely glaze over this ongoing story, but out of place to comment further at this time. In news strictly pertaining to basketball, Rose suffered a left orbital fracture in practice on September 29 and remains doubtful for the season opener.
PG: Derrick Rose | Aaron Brooks
SG: Jimmy Butler | Kirk Hinrich | E’Twuan Moore
SF: Tony Snell | Mike Dunleavy | Doug McDermott
PF: Pau Gasol | Taj Gibson | Nikola Mirotic | Bobby Portis
C: Joakim Noah | Cameron Bairstow
[Insert customary caveat] The Bulls look solid. Their most pressing challenge will be adjusting to a new coaching style, but, at a certain point, you have to trust that talent will get the job done regardless. In the Eastern Conference, this team should have no problem landing near 50 wins again. With young guys like Snell, Mirotic, and maybe McDermott rounding into form, they might even improve on that mark. Questions remain about the team’s offense, but none that cannot be answered with time and proper attention from Hoiberg. Playoffs seem likely.
Gibson puts forth his usual stellar play, but is shopped heavily at the trade deadline to create space for the younger Mirotic and clear some salary. Gasol plays a bit more center to ease the pressure on Noah’s body; especially if Portis emerges as a viable option at backup power forward as a rookie. Butler is the only starter to eclipse 75 games played. With the return of Jabari Parker, the Bucks overtake them for second in the Central Division, but not by much. Snell averages more points than words per game.
Yesterday's preview: Dallas Mavericks
Up next: Cleveland Cavaliers