If the rumor mill is to believed, the Bulls avoided a mini-disaster by re-signing Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy to multi-year deals, ensuring their core will have a great chance of returning intact for Opening Night.
They avoided Butler taking an offer sheet from another team and didn’t give Dunleavy a chance to be wooed by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, in a move that would’ve dealt a huge blow to the Bulls while boosting the Cavaliers to an even greater advantage over their rivals.
For the past year, James was the big bad bully the Bulls were focused on, literally fearing no one else in the Eastern Conference. But now, the East, and Central Division has gotten better in the opening days of free agency, gaining ground on the Bulls.
Those pesky Milwaukee Bucks have become a problem for the Bulls, the team that pushed the Bulls to a Game 6 in their first-round matchup, added what they didn’t have in the postseason—a low-post scorer in former Pistons center Greg Monroe.
Monroe isn’t the best athlete and no one would ever confuse him with being that, but he’s a throwback in terms of being a back to the basket scorer who you can dump the ball down to consistently, and he’s surrounded by the perfect type of players in scorer Khris Middleton (former teammate), point guard Michael Carter-Williams, along with athleticism and length on the frontline who can help cover his weaknesses.
He didn’t garner much attention in Detroit the last couple of years, having his development perhaps stifled by the presence of Josh Smith (who occupied the same position) and willingly allowing teammate Andre Drummond to grow by leaps and bounds.
What Pistons President and coach Stan Van Gundy couldn’t find workable with Monroe has turned out to be a gem for the Bucks.
Very quietly, the Bucks have assembled a team that will only grow and get better under new coach Jason Kidd, and that’s not even mentioning a player who was the second pick in last year’s draft, Chicago native Jabari Parker, who’ll return from a early-season knee injury that cost him the majority of the season.
It seemed very minute on the surface, but the Bulls giving away a couple games to the Bucks gave them confidence in knowing they could compete and sent them into the offseason on a high note.
In addition to the Bucks, the Indiana Pacers just got better and appear to be transforming from a team headed by the underwhelming Roy Hibbert to one led by returning star Paul George and new addition Monta Ellis, who agreed to a four-year deal on the second day of free agency.
While the Pacers are in a bit of transition, with Hibbert on the trading block and rugged veteran David West searching for a different environment, they’ll still have a stout defense and a two-way perimeter player in the same mold as Butler.
The Pacers certainly have more questions than the Bulls and Bucks, but if they retain Rodney Stuckey it gives them another perimeter player who can create his own shot late in games—giving them at least three while the Bulls have just Butler and Derrick Rose.
The Bulls certainly haven’t gotten worse by staying intact, and Fred Hoiberg’s impact remains to be seen, but the Bulls’ offense should be better than the often-plodding product you saw the last few years.
Nobody’s saying the Pacers and Bucks have completely caught up to the Bulls, but the Bulls can hear those footsteps—as they still try to chase LeBron James and the Cavaliers.