Bulls still a rudderless ship
By Andrew Seligman
AP Sports Writer
CHICAGO — There were no bold proclamations or promises for sweeping changes from Chicago Bulls management on Wednesday for a team that barely made the playoffs.
They gave no clarity on Jimmy Butler’s future with the team and had no real answers when it came to Dwyane Wade’s. Rajon Rondo looks like he will be welcomed back. The front office won’t be getting a major makeover, and coach Fred Hoiberg will return for a third season.
“We’ve got a lot of guys under contract,” said John Paxson, the executive vice president of basketball operations who was joined by general manager Gar Forman. “The landscape is such that to make significant change right now will be difficult.”
The Bulls tried to operate on two fronts last year, trying to get younger while bringing in veterans, and it added up to more mediocrity for a franchise that missed the postseason in 2016. Chicago won 41 games and got back to the playoffs this year as an eighth seed. After bowing out against Boston in the first round, there are some big issues facing the organization.
The list starts with Butler. The question is whether the Bulls try to build around the three-time All-Star or trade one of the league’s best two-way players.
Paxson didn’t commit either way
“You always have to keep things open,” he said.
Butler’s name has circulated in trade rumors for a year, with Boston mentioned prominently as a landing spot. The lottery could help bring the picture into focus, with the Celtics owning the right to swap first-round picks with Brooklyn in this year’s draft.
Keeping Butler could go a long way toward Wade exercising his $23.8 million option to return for a second season with his hometown team.
Paxson said the Bulls plan to meet with Butler again to discuss the organization’s direction, and the same goes for Wade. Rondo, meanwhile, looks like he has a place in Chicago with Paxson saying there’s “a really good chance” he returns. The team holds an option for next season on the contract he signed to join the Bulls last summer.
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Rondo was at the center of a dispute during the season, defending some of the younger players while firing back at Wade and Butler after those two criticized the team’s effort following a loss. The incident resulted in fines for all three veterans.
“I can’t underscore the positives for Rondo being with our young guys,” Paxson said. “Inside the building, we understand how important that was. It started last summer when he started hanging with our guys in summer league. To be candid with you, when we had that incident where Dwyane and Jimmy spoke up in January, when he stood up for our young guys, that empowered them a little bit.”
Rondo was in an out of the rotation, but he played well down the stretch. He helped Chicago take the first two playoff games at Boston, only to watch the Bulls drop the final four while he nursed a broken right thumb. The offense wasn’t the same without him, and his injury exposed a lack of depth at the position.
That combined with a shortage of shooters and a star in Butler who needs the ball in his hands adds up to a roster that doesn’t quite fit the fast-paced style Hoiberg wants to play. There have also been growing pains for a coach who was presented as a final piece when the Bulls hired him to replace Tom Thibodeau.
Wade, however, voiced his support for Hoiberg. And Paxson insisted he sees growth, though he didn’t mention any specifics.
“I view young coaches in this league as like young players,” he said. “They have to develop and grow, too.”
As for management, any changes will be subtle.
Paxson might continue to take a more public role as he did in the past year, but Forman will continue to report to him.
“This is very much like in the business world, CEO, COO relationship,” Paxson said. “My responsibilities lie mostly in defining the culture of what we do every day; Gar’s responsibility as GM is in the day-to-day grind of this business. … That’s the way we’ve always handled it; we feel we have a good staff, we have a very small staff; we use all our resources. So we will continue to do so.”