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


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.

Lauri Markkanen celebrates 21st birthday with a spot on the NBA's All-Rookie First Team

Lauri Markkanen celebrates 21st birthday with a spot on the NBA's All-Rookie First Team

Lauri Markkanen’s celebration for his 21st birthday coincided with another major honor, being selected to the All-Rookie First team.

Markkanen received 76 of 100 possible first-team votes to join Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, Boston’s Jayson Tatum and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma on the first team. Mitchell and Simmons were unanimous selections and Tatum was one vote short of joining Mitchell and Simmons.

Markkanen, acquired on draft night in the package of players for Jimmy Butler, showed he was far more advanced than many expected. His 15.2 points per game ranked third among rookies and his 7.5 rebounds were first.

Markkanen was a constant in a topsy-turvy season for the Bulls, scoring 30-plus twice and hitting the 25-point plateau another three times. As a perfect fit in Fred Hoiberg’s offensive system, Markkanen had eight games where he hit four triples or more, including a game in New York where he drilled eight 3-pointers against the Knicks.

Only 15 rookies have hit more than 140 triples in NBA history, with Markkanen accomplishing the feat in 68 games—he was joined by Mitchell and Kuzma from this year’s star-studded class.

As the season progressed and Markkanen took hold of the power forward position, the Bulls began maneuvering personnel around him, trading disgruntled forward Nikola Mirotic and making a concerted effort to put Bobby Portis at center to pair Portis with Markkanen as a spread-shooting duo.

As the most impressive rookie the Bulls have employed since Derrick Rose, he’s also the first rookie since Taj Gibson in 2010 to make All-Rookie First Team.

ESPN ranks Derrick Rose No. 36 in its World Fame 100 list


ESPN ranks Derrick Rose No. 36 in its World Fame 100 list

Yes, Derrick Rose Stans. Your boy still has plenty of relevance in the sports world.

ESPN released its third annual ranking of "the biggest names in sports," and the Timberwolves point guard ranked No. 36 on the list. ESPN formed the list based on a formula that took three factors into account:

1. Search score, "which measures how often a name is searched"

2. Endorsement dollars, with sources using ranging from Forbes to ESPN contributors

3. Social media followers, with ESPN taking only the platform in which the player had his or her most followers into account.

Rose's search score wasn't all that impressive, ranking 15 - the average on the top 100 list had a score of 35. But with Bulls fans, NBA fans and now of course Timberwolves fans chiming in on his game, Rose's name came across plenty of timelines and search engines.

Rose's $14 million in endorsements - primarily from that massive Adidas deal - was better than the average $12.6 million of the top 100 athletes.

Rose's top social media page is on Facebook, where he currently has more than 10.7 million likes. This, as ESPN notes, is largely due to the international following Rose and so many other NBA athletes have built up over the years.

In 2016, Rose ranked No. 30 on the list. In 2017 he was No. 33 on the list, so while he isn't trending in the right direction there's no denying his presence in the sports landscape. Love him or hate him, Derrick Rose still matters.

The only NBA players above Rose on the list were LeBron James (No. 2), Kevin Durant (No. 7), Stephen Curry (No. 9), James Harden (No. 24), Kyrie Irving (No. 27), Dwyane Wade (No. 31) and Russell Westbrook (No. 34). NBA players below Rose included Carmelo Anthony, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Isaiah Thomas, and Cameron Payne.

OK, not Cameron Payne. He must have been No. 101.