Bulls

Bulls' roster - not just Thibs - a question for future, too

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Bulls' roster - not just Thibs - a question for future, too

The ugly way the Bulls were dispatched in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers unearthed some harsh truths and stripped away a facade many believed all season long.

That presently constructed and fully healthy, the Bulls were a championship team.

Losing to LeBron James in a series that featured his third-worst field-goal percentage in a storied 12-year career, where his support didn’t feature Kevin Love at all or a full-strength Kyrie Irving erased the visions of grandeur.

The revelation of the reality is the easy part.

The process of going about turning the fantasy of having a championship team into a reality is an entirely different one.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau and the franchise will likely part ways, as the clashes seemed to pile up as the season wore on, the so-called “noise” began to add up the closer things got to playoff time—whether it played a part in the team’s performance can be debated from now until the start of next season, but there’s a chance the Bulls will look moderately different than the outfit that walked off the floor of the United Center in disappointment.

If the Bulls are convinced coaching or friction between the front office and head coach is the only problem, only one change needs to be made, although you’ll be hard-pressed to find many coaches better than Thibodeau.

But considering the way the Bulls under-performed, it seems more plausible to believe that this roster isn’t ready for June basketball and internal improvement is necessary to get this team in form for true contention.

Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler will both likely be working under max deals next season, as Butler is entering restricted free agency and getting a max offer sheet from another franchise or the Bulls appears to be a certainty.

Two ball-dominant guards who haven’t played a lot together will spend a lot of time doing that next year, and the teams who win championships with starting guards who command so much attention are scarce in the modern NBA, but it can happen.

[MORE: Nikola Mirotic named to NBA's All-Rookie team]

While Butler’s game is still evolving and it doesn’t seem quite like a stretch to say Rose will come back next season closer to form than in any of his previous comebacks, there are questions about the existing roster—warts that showed up in the playoff series against the Cavaliers.

Will Joakim Noah, a year removed from knee surgery that took a very long time to recover from, regain the form that had him finish fourth in the 2014 MVP voting? He’s entering the last year of his deal next year and of course there will likely be concerns about his play this season, but considering he’s such a huge part of this team’s identity, will management take the risk of even shopping him this summer?

Rose, Noah and presumably Butler could take up $48.7 million of a $67 million salary cap, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for free agency additions, especially if they bring Mike Dunleavy back on a similar deal to this season ($3.3 million).

Taj Gibson is another part of the Bulls’ culture of toughness, and he doesn’t have a cap crippling deal ($8.5 million in 2015-16, $8.95 million in 2016-17).

He’s slightly off last year’s career-high showing of 13 points and 6.8 rebounds, and his offensive rating rose to a career-high 112 points per possession, so he could be attractive to other teams if the Bulls look to shop him. But his teammates love him and a trade likely wouldn’t be received well in the locker room.

Pau Gasol was a godsend, with his best and most consistent season in years, but he’ll be 35 by the time training camp convenes in October, and his hamstring injury severely hampered his participation in the second round—and players his age don’t get healthier as they cross that age.

The list of players who have averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds at 35 or older: Robert Parish in 1989 for a Celtics team that crept into the eighth playoff spot before getting swept.

[RELATED: Weight of previous years came crashing down on Bulls in loss to Cavs]

The Bulls have higher goals than that, and if they’re going to lessen their dependency on Gasol’s usage, it means Nikola Mirotic must take a more prominent role and Doug McDermott must have a role.

McDermott couldn’t crack the veteran-laden rotation and Mirotic was only trusted when player availability got really thin, so one would have to assume they’ll make jumps next season.

But if nobody takes a leap, will Gar Forman and John Paxson feel comfortable heading into a season where the East will markedly improve, a veteran roster is a little older and with the strong possibility integrating a new coach will take time?

Either way, there appears to be a lot of questions, more questions than answers as the Bulls head toward an interesting offseason.

Five observations from Bulls-Sixers: Well, at least the first quarter was good

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USA TODAY

Five observations from Bulls-Sixers: Well, at least the first quarter was good

Here are five observations from the Bulls' season-opener loss to the Sixers on Thursday night.

1. How about that first quarter?

In what could wind up being the most exciting quarter all year, the Bulls began the year with a 41-point explosion. The Bulls shot 63 percent in the quarter, at one point scoring on an absurd 11 consecutive possessions. Bobby Portis scored 13 points and hit all five shots, while Zach LaVine added 15 of his own. The ball was moving, they played quickly and caught Philadelphia out of position at times and took care of the ball. The fun times didn't last, but it wound up being the highest scoring first quarter in a Bulls season opener. It was fun. The other three quarters? Well, the first quarter was fun.

2. The defense is as bad as we thought it was

Granted, Kris Dunn is far and away the Bulls' best defender and was out while attending the birth of his baby boy. But this was still about as bad a defensive performance as the Bulls could have had, even against an offensive juggernaut like the Sixers. Communication was off almost from the start, and they always looked two steps behind. The Sixers got just about anything they wanted in transition, meaning it was a moot point that they struggled from beyond the arc. From Jabari Parker to Zach LaVine, it wasn't pretty. They're going to struggle all year long. Dunn isn't going to make enough of a difference. Shoutout to Wendell Carter's block on Ben Simmons, the lone defensive highlight of the night

3. Bobby Portis' bet is off to a good start

Portis was guilty of an ugly defensive performance, as Dario Saric posted a monster line by out-hustling his counterpart much of the night. But offensively Portis continues to shine after a great preseason. Portis, now officially in a contract year, went for 20 points and 10 rebounds and added a steal, a block and three 3-pointers in 29 minutes. Without Lauri Markkanen he's the Bulls' No. 2 scorer behind LaVine. We'll add her, too, that LaVine continued to look smooth on offense. He had 29 points on 19 shots and had seven of the Bulls' 12 free throw attempts.

4. The backup point guard job is up for grabs

Cam Payne's leash is incredibly long. He's the best option for now once Kris Dunn eventually returns, but it's probably time for Ryan Arcidiacono and Tyler Ulis to get a look. Payne finished 0-for-4 with five assists and a turnover in 22 minutes. No one was expecting Payne to match Ben Simmons stat for stat (Simmons went for his third career-triple double in four games against the Bulls). But the ball routinely stopped when it got into Payne's hands, and he didn't seem to know where to go once he pushed in transition. His speed is a positive, but once he gets to his spot he struggled to make the right play. And he's a clear negative defensively. Arcidiacono and Ulis aren't exactly Gary Payton, but they deserve looks at some point in the near future. Arcidiacono had 8 points, 4 rebounds and 8 assists in 28 minutes. That came against Philly's second unit, but he was decidely better.

5. Jabari Parker will want a do-over

Friday feels like forever ago. For all Portis did well to close the preseason, it was gone on Thursday. Parker's final line is a bit misleading because of the points he scored when the game was well out of reach. The truth was Parker's shot selection early was awful, and his defense was a real liability. It was the "cons" side of his scouting report played out on the court. There's still hope he can improve, of course, and Hoiberg will need to find the right combinations to make him successful. But we can probably rule out him at small forward if he's having trouble staying in front of power forwards.

Bulls turn to Cam Payne as they take on Sixers

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USA TODAY

Bulls turn to Cam Payne as they take on Sixers

PHILADELPHIA -- The Bulls’ starting point guard missing the team’s season opener is less than ideal, but that is the dilemma Fred Hoiberg and company are faced with.

Hoiberg made the announcement during shoot around that Kris Dunn would miss the first game of his third NBA season for personal reasons, but noted that his absence is “excused.”

The Bulls will turn to Cameron Payne as they get set to play the Sixers in Philadelphia Thursday night. The 24-year-old guard out of Murray State will be tasked with running the offense against one of the better defensive teams in the league.

Because of injuries and the numbers game at guard, Payne hasn’t had a chance to show Bulls fans much since he came over from Oklahoma City in a trade that sent Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the Thunder.

“I feel like I can be way better,” Payne said when asked about the opportunity to show what he can do. “I know I didn’t make a lot of shots but it’s really not about that. It’s about getting my team involved and make sure everyone gets the ball in their spots to contribute.”

Payne showed flashes over the last 22 games of the 2017-18 season (14 starts), shooting 42 percent from three and averaging 4.6 assists per game in that stretch. The shooting stroke didn’t show up early in the preseason for Payne.

He was better in the team’s final exhibition against Denver and has shown enough to Hoiberg to earn the starting nod. He’ll have his work cut out for him tonight.

“Obviously we’ve been working on different coverages based on having a full roster, but things like this happen,” Hoiberg said when asked what this does to his game prep. “It’s going to be electric in here. They’re going to come out and play extremely hard and extremely physical. That’s who they are and we have to be ready for that. It’s a little bit of shock and awe with (the Sixers). You have to weather that first storm and hopefully give ourselves a chance with great effort.”

After Payne, the Bulls will have Ryan Arcidiacono as the first point guard off the bench. They’ll also have the services of newcomer Tyler Ulis, who will be in uniform tonight. Hoiberg mentioned that he feels comfortable with Zach Lavine bringing the ball up as well. He also mentioned that Jabari Parker will have his hands on the ball an awful lot with the team’s second unit.

The season hasn’t even started yet and the Bulls are already missing several key players. After an impressive rookie season, Lauri Markkanen will start the season on the shelf with a high grade lateral elbow sprain. Denzel Valentine will also miss tonight’s game with an ankle injury. The team may have Cristiano Felicio, also dealing with an ankle injury, depending on his pregame workout goes.

“It’s not ideal but it is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “It happens at this level. You just have to go out and do the best job you can. It’s an opportunity for our guys to step up with two of our better players out of the lineup – really three with Denzel as a guy that can make plays in that second unit.”