Running of the Bulls

Let’s start with the beef. Or the suspected beef.

The best way to describe how the final few games/minutes of the Chicago Bulls 2014-15 season was like the old fashion chemistry experiment, the works bomb.

The Tom Thibodeau era had finally worn on the entire organization, from Gar & Pax to Butler and Rose. When Thibs arrived, his no-nonsense, tough-minded approach was a perfect fit for the then young Bulls. That core is no longer classified as “young.”

Eventually, the whole Thibodeau experiment finally burst like the works bomb.

Soon after the firing of Thibodeau and the hiring of new head coach Fred Hoiberg, rumors began to leak about the organization and what lead to the abrupt end of the Bulls season. First off, this always happens when a team with high expectations does not fulfill them. Remember when the Heat lost in 2011 to the Mavs and rumors swirled around LeBron James saying that he made the wrong decision to come to Miami?

So when the story about supposed beef between Rose and Butler broke in late June, I wasn’t very concerned about it, and still I am not. Do I think Jimmy and Derrick have argued and confronted each other about something before? Of course I do. No matter the sport, the two best players on the team normally go through these types of things, especially when both of them want to win as badly as they do, and then continuously lose to the same guy in the playoffs.

Many tend to forget that Rose and Butler have plenty of respect for one another. They both have different, yet tough upbringings, and both had to work incredibly hard to get to where they are today.

This summer, it was Butler’s day in the sun. After inking his 5-year $92 million max-deal, along with signing with the most famous shoe brand in the world, Butler was in the national media spotlight for much of the offseason.

Whether it be drinking expensive bottles of wine with his buddy Mark Whalberg, or appearing on all of ESPN’s shows including First Take, SportCenter and Cari Champion’s Be Honest Podcast, Butler was able to silence every single one of them, even laughing at points before he even got the question that he knew was coming.

“The only reason that it came up is because we lost,” Butler said. “I don’t think we have any beef or whatever you want to call it. I think we just want to win. We didn’t win, so now [people say] we’re beefing, now we have a problem with each other, and I don’t think that’s the case.”

Essentially, Butler reiterated this throughout the offseason. I’ll let you decide whether Rose and Butler have any sort of beef still. But by all indications, last season left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth in the organization, from top to bottom.

Thankfully, a new one awaits us.

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It’s a new era. While yes I’ll forever miss Thibs, as should all Bulls fans, there should be nothing but excitement for the new regime of the ‘Mayor’.

With him he brings his personable coaching approach, which Bulls players have welcomed with open arms. Hoiberg visited with every player throughout the offseason, even traveling to Spain to watch Pau play in EuroBasket.

He also brings a new system, that will hopefully cure the bland offense the Bulls have had in years passed.

And the style is already pretty clear. Push the ball offensively, shoot 3’s and be aggressive going to the basket. And my goodness do I love it.

With Rose suffering an orbital fracture on the very first day of practice, yes, the preseason did not get off to the hottest of starts, but Rose looked better than expected in his preseason debut, and is expected to play opening night. With all that being said, here are the three biggest storylines heading into the 2015-16 season. A season crucial to the core of Rose, Noah, Butler, Gasol and Gibson.

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1. Derrick and Jimmy, Jimmy and Derrick.

The story shouldn’t be whose team it is. I know, the NBA culture wants us to label and mark who is “the guy” on each team, but in this case, it truly shouldn’t matter. Even Rose won the MVP in ’11, Noah was looked at as the emotional leader of this team, and he probably still is.

Yes, Jimmy had an outstanding season a year ago. He got paid, spent the summer in the limelight, the whole nine yards.

But for how long have Bulls fans longed for a running mate alongside Rose? Sure, Ben Gordon was great for the Celtics series in ’09, but after that, it has been strictly on Rose. They struck out on LeBron, Wade, and Bosh in ’10, and struck out an offseason ago on Melo.

In the meantime, Jimmy Butler has become exactly what the Bulls needed all along. Butler has added a new extension to his game every season. This year it’s the ball handling that he has said to improve on. This only makes life easier on Rose, who has amassed nearly all the ball handling duties his entire career, bribing him of being able to create anything off the ball.

Hoiberg’s presence also has a dynamic effect on these two as well. The trigger words you hear of, “pace” and “open court” are words you did not hear under Thibodeau. I’m a strong believer that this offense, which basically begs Rose to get out in transition at all costs (as we saw in his season debut), will bring new life to his game and career.

Toss in Butler on the wing, whose game has grown to where he can either slash to the hoop or kick out behind the three-point arc, adds dimensions to the Bulls offense they simply have never tinkered with.

Butler essentially now has the tools to score anywhere on the court.
Butler essentially now has the tools to score anywhere on the court.

The Bulls cannot win a championship without Derrick Rose. And now, they can’t win without Jimmy Butler. The two of them at their absolute best, in an offense that will maximize their unique talents can morph into a backcourt that belongs up there with the “Splash Brothers.”

Enjoy.

2. Front-court rotation

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Coming off an extremely disappointing postseason, shooting an anemic 40%, and averaging 5.8 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. Joakim Noah spent his summer rebuilding his broken body from a year ago.

So, Noah decided to head to Santa Barbara for the summer, where he completely reinvented himself at Peak Performance Project, also known as “P3.” All reports from P3 suggested that Noah returned to the type of form he was in when he became Defensive Player of the Year, and finished 3rd in MVP voting in 2013-14 season.

If there is any indication from the preseason and training camp, Noah looks to be the same game-changing, full throttle player that he is known for around the league, entering the final year of his $60 million deal. Hoiberg expects to bring Noah off the bench, and Jo true to his form, is not going to complain about it.

“I’m down with whatever coach thinks is best for this team,” Noah said. “I’m a worker. I’m never going to stop working. So I’m excited for this team, we have a lot of talent, and just got to keep grinding, keep getting better,” Noah told ESPN Chicago.

This opens up a variety of lineup combinations for Hoiberg, who I assume will start Mirotic and Gasol at the 4 and 5 in tonight’s season opener. At first, it looks like the front-court is almost too crowded. Realistically, they have four possible starting big men, and rookie Bobby Portis has looked outstanding in both the Summer League and preseason.

So when the Rudy Gay for Taj, McDermott and picks trade surfaced this offseason, my first reaction was the Bulls need to make this happen. Since, I’ve back tracked, Hoiberg is going to do his best to keep all the players in his rotation in a reasonable minutes range.

Being loaded in the front-court is a gift. Pau is 34 and doesn’t need to play 45 minutes a game, though he’s not washed up by any means, as he won EuroBasket basically by himself for Spain. Mirotic, while very skilled offensively, is still a liability on the other end of the court. Taj and Noah have had their share of injuries.

But nobody in the league can match a healthy Noah and Gibson off the bench. They have a boatload of experience with one another, especially in close games, and I think can turn this into a strength for the Bulls moving forward.

3. Pace and Space

From 2010-2014, the Bulls lacked shooting. Outside of Kyle Korver, nobody could consistently knock it down from the deep. With the Mayor as the coach, everyone (outside of Taj and Jo) are given the go ahead to let it fly from deep.

Doug McDermott and Tony Snell are going to be relied on to play defense and knock down threes off of Rose and Butler drives to the hoop, while presumptive starter Mike Dunleavy Jr. recovers from offseason back surgery.

Snell shot 37% from beyond the arc last season, and McDermott rarely played, both will get a substantial number of minutes in the first two months under Hoiberg’s system that features guys who can catch and shoot for three.

What to take away most, the Bulls are going to run, and run, and run. It will be unlike anything the Bulls have experimented with in the last decade. They now have the pieces to turn this team into a high-powered offense.

In eight preseason games, the Bulls attempted 28.8 three pointers a game, good for 5th in the league. They finished third in 3-point baskets made, with 10.2 per game. The change is real, and it is here.

We fell in love with the Bulls that absolutely smothered teams defensively. In 2015, we are going to love watching a once anemic offense that relied heavily on their star player to do everything, to becoming one of the most free-flowing offenses in the Association.

Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler (21), dunks against the Charlotte Hornets, during the first half of their game at the United Center, in Chicago, on Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune)

Prediction

55-27, 2nd seed in the East 

They are going to meet LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs. It’s just going to happen. A LeBron-led team has bounced the Bulls four of the last six seasons. The Cavs are the 5/2 favorites to win the title this season, and they deserve those odds.

That’s why it is imperative the Bulls shoot for the #1 seed, as in 2011 and 2012. It’s possible too. Kyrie Irving’s timetable to return keeps getting pushed back (now he will return after Christmas.) LeBron’s back will be monitored closely and Love is still getting back into shape from season-ending shoulder surgery.

The Cavs may be the better overall team, but they will probably coast for the majority of the first half of the season, until everyone returns. Meanwhile, if the Bulls can get off to a hot start and find some rhythm early, it’s not crazy to think that they can snatch home-court, which is vital to them having any shot to beating LeBron.

And of course, health, but at this point, that’s a given when it comes to this core.

Opening night, might as well be Christmas morning.

Go Bulls.

-Goat

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