CHICAGO (AP) No matter how this season plays out, this much is clear about the Chicago Bulls: They’re worth watching.
Coming off a flat season that ended with them missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008, the Bulls at least spiced things up in the offseason. Now, it’s time to see if interesting also means better.
“I love the vibe of this group,” Hoiberg said. “I love the competitiveness of this group.”
The Bulls clearly had to do something after a year that began with high expectations ended with a 42-40 record, a fractured locker room and all sorts of questions about team leadership.
Gone is Chicago native Rose – derailed by injuries after leading the Bulls to heights they hadn’t reached since the Michael Jordan Era – after being dealt to New York for center Robin Lopez and guard Jerian Grant. So is Joakim Noah, who signed with Knicks not long after the big trade. Pau Gasol went to San Antonio as a free agent.
Wade shocked Miami when he chose to come home to Chicago and accept a two-year deal worth about $47 million.
Here are some things to look for this season from the Bulls, who open at home against Boston on Oct. 27:
EYE ON THE BENCH
The Bulls thought Hoiberg’s fast-paced tempo and soft-spoken style were just what the team needed when he was hired. They just didn’t think the learning curve would be as steep as it was. Hoiberg got called out by Butler last season for not coaching the team hard enough. The system and the roster did not mesh.
So does Year 2 bring a better Hoiberg?
Executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said he expects it. So does Hoiberg, who came to the Bulls after a successful five-year run at Iowa State.
But is this the right roster for him? After all, Wade and Rondo are both in their 30s. And if the Bulls struggle, who takes the fall?
THE WADE EFFECT
Who knows what might have happened had Wade signed with the Bulls six years ago rather than form a superstar triumvirate with LeBron James and Chris Bosh in Miami? But he’s here now, coming off a strong season and being counted on at age 34 to set the tone for the Bulls’ younger players. The 12-time All-Star has been doing just that, speaking up in practice and meetings.
FOLLOW THE LEADER
It’s been a steep climb for Butler from low first-round draft pick to bench warmer to two-time All-Star with an Olympic gold medal. But his success hasn’t translated to team success. Butler’s first All-Star season ended with Tom Thibodeau’s firing. Last year, the Bulls dropped into the lottery. And while Wade and Rondo have said the Bulls are Butler’s team, it’s not clear exactly how far he can lead them.
“I can learn from (Wade and Rondo), the winning culture they’ve built,” Butler said. “I’m excited because there’s so much growth I can handle in that aspect of the game. You look at what Wade has done for his career, a future Hall of Famer. I think that I can model the way I do things around him.’
While the Bulls added scoring punch and the reigning assists-per-game leader in Wade and Rondo, they still lack a starting guard who can consistently hit from long range. That was a problem last season with Rose and Butler, who moves to small forward.
Spacing could be a problem when Rondo, Wade and Butler are on the court together, though the Bulls do have solid shooters in Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott. Gasol’s departure also creates a scoring hole in the paint.
Rondo is coming off a resurgent season with Sacramento that saw him average 11.9 points and a league-leading 11.7 assists. It was the fourth time he averaged a double-double in a season and the first for him since the 2012-13 season. The four-time All-Star has clashed with coaches, most notably Dallas’ Rick Carlisle, and his relationship with Hoiberg could be one to watch.