3 Points: Bulls' (other) big weakness?
May, 1, 2014
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJoakim Noah and Taj Gibson would benefit from some quality backups next season.Every week, ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.
1. Aside from scoring, what is the Bulls' biggest weakness that needs to be addressed this summer?
Friedell: Lack of depth. It's up to general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president John Paxson to get on the same page with coach Tom Thibodeau about this. When the Bulls went to the Eastern Conference finals in 2011, they basically had a set of another five guys to bring off the bench -- the popular "Bench Mob." The Bulls must find a way to get more breaks for guys like Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler or else they run the risk of watching them wear out again next season.
Jon Greenberg, ESPNChicago.com columnist: Frontcourt depth. Noah and Taj Gibson are great, but they need backups. Nazr Mohammed is a first-team role model, but the Bulls have to get a little younger. I'm assuming Carlos Boozer is gone, via the amnesty provision or salary-matching trade. Although Noah has blossomed into an All-Star the past two seasons by playing the bulk of the minutes at center, the Bulls still miss Omer Asik, who is an excellent defender. Chicago needs to draft at least one big man this summer and sign another in free agency. Maybe Greg Smith, signed in mid-April, could be one of those backups. But the Bulls could use a bruiser in the Marcin Gortat mold.
Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist: Health and roster spots. To me -- and I'm probably the only one of this group who feels this way -- the Bulls don't need to make a Carmelo Anthony-like splash in the offseason to put themselves into title contention going into next season. Just getting Derrick Rose (even if he's not at 100 percent old-school D-Rose) back and an equal replacement for Luol Deng will work. They don't need a max-deal type of player. They need an above-midlevel baller, who along with Noah and Rose, could play in some All-Star Games. A DeMar DeRozan-type, a Harrison Barnes-type, a Wesley Matthews Jr.-type, a Chandler Parsons-type. That's the biggest thing they need to address. But right, right, right below that: They need a serious rebounder. Desperately. If Nene and Gortat exposed anything about the Bulls in the final minutes of those last two losses, the Bulls need someone to stop other teams from turning 24-second possessions into 90-second plays.
2. Do you view the Bulls' season as a success or failure?
Friedell: Success. This team could have mailed it in when Rose got hurt. Or when Deng got traded. It didn't. It continued to fight all the way until the end. Yes, it is disappointing that the Bulls couldn't get out of the first round, but they weren't going to the NBA Finals either way. This team should be praised for continuing to play even when the obstacles were stacked against it.
Jackson: Big success. Regardless of how the playoffs played out, losing to the Wizards in 5, to me, doesn't negate what they did and overcame to get to that point. And I refuse to be one of those fickle/flaky fans/journalists who loved the Bulls two weeks ago and was calling for Thibs to be coach of the year and is now saying that the season was a failure and that Thibs needs to change his coaching style. I wrote earlier in the season that the Bulls were pound-for-pound the best team in the NBA. Now, I can't say that they played that way against the Wizards, but I do feel comfortable in saying that their entire season was very far from a failure.
3. How do the Bulls reverse the trend of being worn out at the end of the season?
Friedell: Thibodeau is one of the best coaches in the NBA, but he must sit down with Forman and Paxson this summer and come up with a better strategy for doling out minutes in the regular season. He has to make the rotation deeper and play more than just seven guys on a regular basis, an area Forman and Paxson can help. They have to get through to Thibodeau that winning regular-season games is great, but being as fresh as can be in the postseason is more important. Running out of gas by the playoffs has developed into a trend for the Bulls.
Greenberg: Get a deeper team, I suppose. It's easier said than done with the salary-cap restrictions. Every team is tired to some degree by the postseason. There just isn't enough rest available. The playoffs afford you a chance to catch your breath, with the lack of back-to-backs and all. In the Bulls' case, having to play catch-up nearly every game was more the cause of their second-half meltdowns than big minutes in March. But as Deng said to a group of reporters after the preseason ended, he wouldn't have minded the Bulls' trying things the San Antonio way, just as an experiment. Thibodeau might want to set aside a few rest days for his starters in the last two months. First, he needs a healthy team to do that.
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsTom Thibodeau has to be able to play more than just seven players next season if the Bulls are going to last the entire season.
Jackson: They don't. The Bulls spent most of the season not just two men down but two All-Stars down in Rose and Deng. For them to even make it to the playoffs -- let alone get home-court advantage in the first roun by finishing with the No. 4 seed -- every man on that roster had to step up. And they did. If Thibs stretched his roster and starts giving everyone minutes during the season to avoid being worn out, there's no way they would have won the games they did to get into the playoffs. People act as if the Bulls were blowing teams out to get those wins. They weren't. If you want the Bulls not to be worn out at the end of the season so that they have a better chance of beating a team at full strength in the playoffs, don't trade Deng without getting immediate help in return and hope Rose doesn't get injured. Simple.