The Chicago Bulls will be heading into the 2016-2017 season with a lot of questions. Can they challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers? Will they be playoff contenders? Is hope restored in the Windy City? No one will know the answers until the season has gone on and the playoffs have concluded. However, one question that has been solved this off-season has been Chicago’s faith in all-star Jimmy Butler. The discussion of trade rumours for the past year, many people thought it was inevitable that Butler would not be in a Bulls jersey come season tip-off. Reports indicated that various teams including the Boston Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves were hoping to acquire the 3x All-NBA Defender. With no deal getting done, the Bulls instead decided to build around Jimmy Butler and even had him represent the team on draft lottery night.
Last season was disastrous for the Chicago Bulls. Jimmy Butler missed 15 games with a knee strain and the Bulls missed the playoffs for the first time in Butler’s career. This was a giant step backwards for a franchise who was projected to be the 2nd best team in the Eastern Conference heading into the season. There were clear on court and locker room issues between Jimmy Butler and former-franchise player Derrick Rose. Veteran Joakim Noah was upset about his role off the bench and aging star Pau Gasol opted out of the final season of his contract. In his first season as an NBA Head Coach, Fred Hoiberg struggled with taking over after the release of fan favourite Tom Thibodeau.
At the conclusion of the season, General Manager Gar Forman immediately went to work. Derrick Rose was traded for Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant, and Jose Calderon (who was traded again to the LA Lakers). With Noah and Gasol not getting re-signed, it was expected that Butler would be traded and the Bulls would enter full re-building mode. Then a few free agent moves happened. Rajon Rondo signed with the Bulls on a 2 year, $28 million contract and hometown Dwyane Wade later joined on a 2 year, $50 million contract. These two men who were once rivals during their days in Boston and Miami suddenly found themselves as veteran teammates hoping to add another championship to their list of accomplishments. Despite once being franchise players for their respective teams, one thing remained clear: “The Bulls Are Jimmy Butler’s Team.” This was stated by Wade last month upon his arrival in Chicago. While Wade and Rondo are big playmakers, it is clear that the Bulls will go as far as Jimmy Butler takes them.
It will be a fresh start for Jimmy Butler and his Bulls in a new system. Hoiberg now has a pass first point guard capable of averaging double figures in assists and improving the play of every teammate on the roster. At 34 years of age, Wade has proven that he is still capable of scoring 20+ points per night, especially in clutch situations. By far the most successful person on the roster, Wade will be a significant locker room presence, especially as a mentor for Butler. Both men grew up at Marquette University and have a tremendous amount of respect for each other. Butler is the reason that Rondo and Wade wanted to come to Chicago.
Butler is a two-way player that will not only defend the best scorer on the other team, but can instantly take over a game on any given night. His scoring and assist averages have increased each and every season and Butler even set a franchise record over Legendary Michael Jordan with 40 second half points in a game last season. Butler is that type of guy who can log 40+ minutes and can simply go out there and win you a game. Just this past weekend, Butler helped Team USA capture its 3rd consecutive Gold Medal in Olympics Men’s Basketball. There is a definitely a positive correlation between winning a Gold Medal and increasing a player’s confidence. At just 26 years of age, Butler still has room to improve and will even be an MVP candidate next season.
Of course, there are a lot of concerns for the Bulls despite a renewed sense of confidence among the roster. One is the lack of front court punch. The Bulls have always had a strong front court whose defense and tough play have been key to the success of the franchise in recent years. Nikola Mirotic and Robin Lopez are reliable big men who know their roles in the Bulls’ system. However, the Bulls will need a scoring punch down low and cannot rely on the wing players every game. Taj Gibson will need to step up and finish his shots, as he should expect a lot of clean looks with plenty of play makers in the starting lineup. Another concern and is always an x-factor for sports teams is the health of key players in rotation. Rondo, Wade, and Butler have all suffered knee injuries throughout their career and if any man misses significant time, it can put the Bulls in a bad position come dog days.
The NBA season is just 2 months away and the Bulls will be a very exciting team to watch. The Eastern Conference is getting better and even though Cleveland is likely to be the top of the pack, every other ranking will be up for grabs. The Bulls are here to win and show that they are still a competitive team in the Association. Their season officially begins on October 27th when they host the Boston Celtics.