There was a time when the Chicago Bulls were one of the best teams in the NBA. They had a smart, wily head coach in Tom Thibodeau, an up-and-coming superstar in Derrick Rose, a defensive wiz in Joakim Noah and good supporting pieces that made opponents miserable due to their tough, hard-nosed defense.
Since then, it has been a downward spiral.
Rose tore his ACL during the 2012 playoffs and was never the same, players started to clash with Thibodeau, Noah became injury-prone and the infrastructure that made Chicago so good in 2011 had imploded by 2015.
Now, the Bulls are languishing at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings without a real sense of direction.
Jim Boylen is the current interim head coach, but who knows how long that will last? The roster has some young talent, but no identity.
So, what does Chicago need to do to fix itself? Let’s break it down:
Hire a Coach with a Plan
I am of the opinion that NBA coaches are overrated, but for a young team that needs guidance, head coaches do matter.
Obviously, Fred Hoiberg was not the guy for the job, and considering the players tried to stage a mutiny against Boylen mere days into his reign, he may not exactly be the choice going forward, either.
Now, to be fair, Boylen deserves a chance, but he has not inspired much confidence thus far.
What the Bulls need to do is hire someone who, well, knows what they are doing. Young players need a coach they can relate to and/or respect. Just take a look at Brad Stevens in Boston, for example.
Not that it’s easy to find someone like Stevens, but Chicago needs to go out and land a guy who can make the players feel at home, motivate them and put them in the best position to succeed.
Hoiberg certainly could not do that, and the jury is out on whether or not Boylen can.
Stop Handing out Bad Contracts
This past summer, the Bulls signed Jabari Parker to a one-year, $20 million deal with a $20 million team option for a second year.
Let me just clarify that I don’t think there is anything wrong with a rebuilding club like Chicago trying to sign struggling young players as reclamation projects.
Parker was the No. 2 overall pick once upon a time, after all, and he does have offensive talent.
But $20 million? Seriously?
There is a reason why there was virtually no interest in Parker on the free-agent market, so the Bulls likely did not even need to give him that much money. And if another team was offering nearly that much? Just let him go.
An argument can even be made that the four-year, $78 million deal that the Bulls matched for Zach LaVine was not even all that wise, given LaVine’s injury history and the fact that he is a terrible defender, but at least he can score the ball at a somewhat efficient rate.
Will LaVine be worth his contract? I don’t know, but there is a chance that deal severely handicaps Chicago’s flexibility moving forward, and LaVine is not good enough to hold a team back in that regard.
The last thing a rebuilding team needs is to hand out lucrative contracts to unproven talent.
Focus on Adding Defenders
Right now, the Bulls appear to have two really solid defensive players on their roster: Kris Dunn and Wendell Carter. That’s it. Chandler Hutchison is decent, but it’s hard to see him becoming a heavy-minute guy moving forward.
To put it plainly, Chicago needs to add some defenders.
Carter is doing a nice job during his rookie campaign, averaging 1.4 blocks per game and anchoring the Bulls’ defense and Dunn is a really nice perimeter defender, possessing the length and instincts to be pretty impactful in that area, but that’s basically where it starts and ends.
For a team that is going to be relying heavily on a mediocre—at best—defender in Lauri Markkanen as one of its core guys, it needs to provide him with some help and get some nasty defensive players in the vein of Marcus Smart and Justise Winslow.
The Bulls do have offensive talent. Markkanen looks like he could be special on that end, Carter is very polished for a rookie and we know that LaVine can fill it up. Even Ryan Arcidiacono can shoot the heck out of the ball. But defensively? Chicago is lacking.
Right now, the Bulls rank 21st in the league in defensive efficiency, and while that is not terrible, it’s far from what you want going forward.
Chicago can address this area through the draft and free agency. You don’t need to land big names to improve your defense. There are plenty of affordable defenders on the open market who can help teams year in and year out.
With a couple of shrewd free-agent signings here and there, the Bulls can go a long way to improving their defense.