CHICAGO -- The 2016 Chicago Bulls season was more like a drama-filled reality television show called “Chicago Bulls High” than an NBA basketball squad.
Starring Butler, Wade and Rondo, as the “Three Alphas,” fans were fed hope of one last push at a playoff run, but you’d be hard pressed to recall a big win on the court. Instead, who could forget how Jimmy used to bully Fred Hoiberg for not coaching hard enough? The tension between Dwayne Wade and the young players on the team made for great tweets but did little to change their reputation around the NBA as being ground zero for “Basketball Hell.” Rajon Rondo’s infamous “Instagram post heard around the world” was a helluva plot twist, but in the end he too would be a casualty of the ineptitude of “GarPax”- the villains of “Chicago Bulls High.”
Fast forward a year and the “Three Alphas” are no more. The Bulls passed on bringing back Rondo, traded Jimmy Butler back to his rightful owner (Thibs…who else?) and cashed out Wade to the tune of $18 million so he could go play with his buddy in Cleveland. The dreaded “red button” was pushed and the decision was made to put all plans of “winning now” on hold to rebuild for the future. Enter newcomers Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and a familiar face in Justin Holiday, the Bulls are gearing up for the 2017 season by rallying fans to “Run With Us”– appropriate given the fact that most fans simply want to run away from the Bulls this year. In the spirit of a fresh start, I’m not here to pile dirt onto the Bulls’ grave. Let’s take a look at some of the potential bright spots of what is sure to be a dim year for the residents of the “Madhouse On Madison.”
Fred, you’re the Captain Now…
No longer does Fred Hoiberg have to look over his shoulder wondering if Jimmy Butler approves of his coaching style or decisions. Still relatively inexperienced as a head coach in the NBA, it’s fair to say Fred has yet to get a fair shake. Hyped up as a coach that would bring an uptempo style to Chicago, he was equipped with a roster full of slow, athletically challenged players that never fit the “younger and more athletic” talk that GarPax tried to feed us after they shipped D. Rose to the Knicks. Leading a squad full of young players with something to prove and Zach LaVine, even with him returning from an ACL injury, means Fred finally has a chance to run his show. If he can get his guys to buy in early and commit to playing hard every night, the Bulls could at least be watchable this year and that would be a huge positive for the organization. In other words, Fred, you’re the Captain now.
Zach LaVine, the centerpiece…
The Bulls have decided to put their hopes and dreams into a young, freakishly athletic guard that is nursing his way back from an ACL injury. Sure we’ve heard that before…but you’d be tweaking if you’re not willing to admit that if there’s any reason to be excited about this Bulls season, it’s the return of Zach LaVine. All eyes will be on him as the early questions will be centered around if he’s lost any of the athleticism that put him on the cusp of being must-see TV during his time in Minnesota with the TWolves. After claiming that his vertical is higher than ever at Media Day last month, fans have a player to latch on to during the rebuild that is sure to provide the ooo’s and ahhh’s they are desperately craving.
“Running WIth Zach”
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Bulls once Zach LaVine finally hits the hardwood is who will be his sidekick or sidekicks. The Bulls will surely have their options to choose from. Will it be familiar face Justin Holiday who makes his return to the Madhouse after being thrown into the D. Rose trade to the Knicks a couple seasons ago? He’s lit it up in the preseason and looks to be in store for a good year. Will it be his fellow ex-Timberwolves teammate Kris Dunn, who’s nursing his way back from his own hand injury? The 2nd year point guard is looking to prove that he belongs after a lackluster rookie campaign. What about the rook? Lauri Markkanen, the Finnish sensation has only played a couple of preseason games but has showed flashes of having a few offensive tricks up his sleeve. He could provide an outside threat that Hoiberg is going to need and has the size to make you keep your eyes on him. Let’s chill on branding him the next Dirk but Lauri will surely get his opportunity to shine sooner than later.