After John Paxson and Gar Forman's harsh critique of their team's under-achieving season, you'd have to expect an active summer of personnel changes at the Advocate Center. Both front office executives stressed all options are on the table for improving the roster; draft, trades and free agency.
Paxson took a veiled shot at All-Star guard Jimmy Butler for his failed attempts at assuming a vocal leadership role with this year's team.
"Here’s how I feel about the whole leadership thing: When you’re talking too much about leadership you’re probably not getting what you need from the team leaders," Paxson said. "I played with the greatest player in the game (Michael Jordan) and you didn’t hear him talking about leadership. You heard him going out and showing leadership and showing that he was a winning player. I don’t think any of our guys need to talk about that anymore, about leadership. I think they need to show it.”
A number of fans and media members took that as a signal the Bulls will actively look to trade Butler this summer. Yes, it's true Butler's attempts at proclaiming himself team leader rubbed some veterans the wrong way. And, it's also true a number of people inside the organization are turned off by the way Jimmy has morphed from the humble, small-town kid who came in as a rookie to a sometimes disruptive, self-absorbed celebrity. Plus, we've all seen that Butler and Derrick Rose don't always function well playing together in the same backcourt.
But let's not get carried away in this whole Jimmy has got to go mentality. The NBA is and always has been a players' league, and Jimmy Butler is one of the top 15-20 players in the game. Butler is one of the NBA's best shooting guards, along with Klay Thompson, James Harden, Dwyane Wade and DeMar DeRozan, and when you factor in his defensive skills, I don't think there's a two guard I'd rather have with the exception of Thompson.
I'm hoping the front office is extremely aggressive in trying to give Fred Hoiberg a roster that suits his offensive and defensive systems, but trading away Butler would send the franchise into a total rebuild. And, we all witnessed how well that worked in the dark era that followed the Bulls' six championships. In case you've forgot, the Bulls won 13 games in 1999 (lockout shortened season), 17 in 1999-2000, 15 in 2000-2001, 21 in 2001-2002, 30 in 2002-2003 and 23 in 2003-2004.
Rebuilding is hard and painful to watch. Just ask the fans in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New York who are watching three proud franchises (76ers, Lakers and Knicks) try to come up with a winning formula.
The Bulls should be able to return to the playoffs next season with a few tweaks. Let Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah leave in free agency. Trade the contracts of Mike Dunleavy and Tony Snell to create more cap room. And use the minimum of 23 million dollars in cap space to make a run at all of the top free agents: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, DeRozan and Al Horford. When they say no, pursue a defensive anchor like Hassan Whiteside in free agency. Or failing that, sign an impact 2-way wing player like Nic Batum, Harrison Barnes or Kent Bazemore.
Use the 14th pick in the draft to select a point guard of the future like Notre Dame's Demetrius Jackson, who can serve a one-year apprenticeship behind Derrick Rose, then take over in 2017-18 if Rose leaves in free agency.
A 2016-17 roster of Whiteside and late season find Cristiano Felicio at center, Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott, Niko Mirotic and Bobby Portis at forwards, and Butler, Rose, Jackson and Justin Holiday (another late-season find) at guards should be good enough to get back into the playoffs next season. And the Bulls should have enough cap room left to re-sign valuable reserve E'Twaun Moore as well. Plus, with the cap increasing by another 15 million in the summer of 2017 and the contracts of Rose and Gibson coming off the books, the Bulls could have over 40 million dollars available to add more high end talent to the roster.
The rumors we heard at the trade deadline about sending Butler to Boston for a pair of 1st round picks isn't fair value for one of the best 2-way players in the league. Now, if All-Star players like Blake Griffin, DeMarcus Cousins or Kevin Love become available in trade, that might be something for the Bulls' front office to consider.
But simply trading Butler because of perceived attitude issues could send the Bulls into a prolonged rebuild. And I don't know about you, but I'd rather watch the team compete in the playoffs, as opposed to the draft lottery.
Bulls suffer another loss
Speaking of the lottery, in case you missed it on Friday, the Bulls hopes of landing that 1st round pick from Sacramento from the 2014 Luol Deng went up in smoke.
The Kings finished in a tie with the Nuggets and Bucks at 33-49, but won a pair of blind draws to earn the 8th overall pick in the June 23rd draft. Had the Kings lost the draws and fallen to 10th in the draft order, the Bulls could have stolen the top 10 protected pick if one of the teams in the 11-14 slots jumped into the top 3 through the lottery process (ideally the Bulls).
Now, the Bulls have to wait another year, and if the perpetually dysfunctional Kings can't find their way out of the bottom 10 next season (the pick is again top 10 protected), the choice owed to the Bulls converts to a 2nd rounder.
Turns out the 50th anniversary season of Bulls basketball didn't go exactly as planned. No playoffs, Golden State breaks the 1995-'96 Bulls' record of 72 wins in a season and Sacramento comes up three wins short of giving the front office another 1st round draft pick to use this summer.
Around the association
It will be another busy offseason of coaching moves, with at least a half dozen teams expected to make a change at the top.
Three coaches were let go after the final game of the season, George Karl in Sacramento, Randy Wittman in Washington and Sam Mitchell in Minnesota. In addition, the Rockets, Nets, Knicks and Suns are expected to address the fates of their interim coaches.
Sacramento is reportedly interested in Kevin McHale, Mark Jackson and Vinny Del Negro. Kings GM Vlade Divac would also like to talk with Scott Brooks and former Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, but the belief is they'll be looking for better situations.
Brooks is reportedly the leading candidate to replace Wittman in the nation's capital. The Wizards have been planning to make a run at D.C.-area native Kevin Durant in free agency, and they're hoping bringing in Brooks (who coached Durant in Oklahoma City) will help their chances.
Thibodeau figures to be the most highly sought-after coaching candidate this offseason, and it's believed he has his eyes on the Minnesota vacancy. Thibs was an assistant for Bill Musselman back in the Timberwolves' expansion days, and it would be interesting to see what he could do with all the young talent on the roster, including franchise big man Karl-Anthony Towns, former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins and slam dunk champ Zach LaVine. Minnesota only won 29 games this past season, but you'd have to believe they'd contend for a playoff spot with Thibodeau in charge.
Phil Jackson still prefers to hire a coach who will keep the principles of the triangle offense, whether that's interim coach Kurt Rambis or someone else. Jackson told reporters at the end of the season he doesn't want to bring in a coach he doesn't know because the relationship the coach will have with him and general manager Steve Mills is crucial to the team's success.
Meanwhile, Jackson's star player, Carmelo Anthony, is growing more restless after another losing season. Anthony told New York reporters he understood the Knicks would be going through a rebuilding process when he re-signed in 2014, but it's still hard to remain patient.
"I understood that because I agreed to come back to be a part of that process," Anthony said of the rebuilding process. "I was here the first day that they started cleaning this thing out and started a new process. Last year was a total disaster as far the process goes. This year we got a little bit better, a little ahead of that process. Every year the plan is to get better. We've gotten better. We've made some strides this season. I think this offseason is a big offseason for us."
Anthony said he expects the Knicks to pursue impact players in free agency this summer.
"I look at the list [of free agents] every day. Whether it's for me, whether it's for other teams," he said. "I want to see what other guys are thinking about as far as who they want to get to better their team and where we fit in the free agency market. I look at that stuff. Those are things I pay close attention to."
Don't be surprised if Anthony makes a trade demand if he doesn't like Jackson's personnel moves, or his choice of the next head coach.
History making night
I don't know if we'll ever see a closing night of the regular season like we witnessed last Wednesday. Steph Curry scored 46 points in Golden State's blowout victory over Memphis, allowing the Warriors to break the single season record of 72 wins set by the 1995-96 Bulls. Curry made 10 3-pointers in the finale, giving him 402 for the season, obliterating the record he set a year ago by more than 100.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr was a reserve guard on that record-setting Bulls team, and admitted he didn't expect his squad would be able to top 72 wins. "I'd never in a million years have guessed that that record would ever be broken. I thought it was like [Joe] DiMaggio's hit streak, really, and I was wrong."
The Golden State players were similarly awe-struck, Klay Thompson saying, "I'm going to look back at this and think of it as the best time of my life." While Draymond Green, the most vocal Warrior player about trying to break the record had this to say about what it all means, "It means I'm a part of the best team ever."
I'm sure Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen might have an argument over that statement, but both stars from the 1995-96 teams took the high road in sending out messages of congratulations afterwards.
Still, victory No. 73 for the Warriors had to take a back seat to Kobe Bryant's incredible final game in Los Angeles. The NBA’s third all-time leading scorer turned back the clock, piling up an unimaginable 60 points in a come from behind win over Utah, making all five of his shots in the final three minutes with the Staples Center crowd and his Laker teammates going crazy.
Bryant came into the league at 18 as an unapologetic gunner, and that's the way he went out, making 22 of 50 attempts from the field, including 6 of 21 from 3 point range.
He kept his sweat-soaked jersey on for an extended news conference, not wanting to see an unforgettable evening come to an end.
"It's surreal," he said of leaving the court for the last time. "It's hard to describe. It's almost like you're in a fog and everything is moving extremely slow yet extremely fast. You're trying to look and take it all in. You're trying to observe and you're not quite sure where to look to just take it all in. Very difficult to do. But it's like a dream."
And for one final night, Kobe reminded fans around the world why he should be included on any list of the Top 10 NBA players of all time.
Stat of the week
Kobe's 60 point farewell game got our stats whiz, Chris Kamka, thinking about how some of the other greats did in their last regular season outing. Here's a look at the Top 10 scorers in NBA history.
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 10 points (April 23, 1989; had 7 on June 13, 1989, in his last playoff game)
2. Karl Malone: 4 (April 14, 2004; had 2 on June 13, 2004, in his last playoff game)
3. Kobe Bryant: 60 (April 13, 2016)
4. Michael Jordan: 15 (April 16, 2003)
5. Wilt Chamberlain: 1 (March 28, 1973; had 23 on May 10, 1973, in his last playoff game)
6. Dirk Nowitzki: still active
7. Shaquille O'Neal: 6 (April 3, 2011; had 0 on May 9, 2011, in his last playoff game)
8. Moses Malone: 6 (Dec. 27, 1994)
9. Elvin Hayes: 8 (April 14, 1984)
10. Hakeem Olajuwon: 4 (April 17, 2002; had 8 on May 2, 2002, in his last playoff game)
Quotes of the week
Bulls Executive Vice-President of Basketball Operations John Paxson didn't hold anything back in his season-ending news conference last week.
"I do think that anybody who watched us play this year saw a team that didn't have the collective fight and toughness to fight through adversity," Paxson said. "To me that's the biggest disappointment in all of this. That falls on all of us. We put the roster together; the coaching staff and players, we're all in this together. That's the way it should be. Again, it goes back to responsibility and accountability for all of us. Gar and I know we're ultimately the ones that are responsible. Moving forward, we understand changes are going to have to be made."
Here's what Jimmy Butler had to say about the Bulls' lost season. "I think that a lot of this season I put on myself. Because I feel like I could have done more. It's a learning curve for everybody, especially for myself. Very humbling, to tell you the truth. Whenever you think you're good enough or you can do this, something like this happens."
But Jimmy did not want to discuss the much-reported story that he and Derrick Rose can't co-exist in the same backcourt, telling the Trib's K.C. Johnson, "Come on, man," "That s--- always comes up. Man, when [we're] losing. I'm tired of talking about that bull----."
Butler is still hoping to work out in California with Rose and other Bulls players this summer. Might be a good way to start building a better relationship with his teammates.
Let's give the final word to Paxson on what to do with the Bulls' under-achieving roster...... "It's obvious this roster isn't going to be exactly the same coming back. We have to make some changes. What we have to do is determine that path, whether it's through trades, free agency, draft, all those type of things."
Sounds like it will be a very active summer, starting with the Bulls hoping to beat the odds in the NBA Draft Lottery on May 17.
This will be my last weekly NBA Buzz column for 2015-16, but I'll have much more on the Bulls' draft preparations as we get closer to the big day on June 23. And we'll be back with regular weekly columns next season.