As the NBA season winds down and the losses keep piling up, it is becoming more and more clear that the Chicago Bulls’ streak of seven-straight playoff appearances is in jeopardy. Luckily for Bulls fans, the collapse of the team is one of the most ignored stories of this NBA season.
From around 2009 to 2015, Chicago has been at the top within the Eastern Conference. Their success has been due to the emergence of former MVP Derrick Rose, hard-nosed and demanding head coach Tom Thibodeau and historically great defense.
However, there have been multiple factors working simultaneously to slowly nudge that window shut. Injuries have been the most prominent. It seems like the Bulls’ key pieces during that run (Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng) could never stay healthy. Tensions between the front office and the coaching staff have been ever-present, and it seemed like Father Time showed up a few years too early.
These things led to the firing of Thibodeau and the hiring of Fred Hoiberg. Now, the team has been inconsistent with performance and effort, and it seems like its drive to win is completely gone.
The championship window is sealed shut. It won’t open back up with this current roster or administration, either.
That’s why it’s time to rebuild. There’s no shame in it. It is something every team (except the super-human Spurs) has to go through at some point, and Bulls fans have been spoiled not having to go through it for almost a decade.
But there comes a point when changes have to be made. It isn’t giving up; it’s making a smart business decision to give your organization the best chance at success in the future. Since I doubt that the front office (the owner, the general manager, and the president of basketball operations) are going to fire themselves, I guess I’ll settle for a complete roster overhaul.
There are good and bad ways to rebuild. A couple of examples of the bad way, look at the 76ers and the Nets. The 76ers have been making moves just for the sake of making moves for years now, and it’s clear that there’s no goal in sight. The Nets had some talent, although they were all veterans (Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Deron Williams) past their primes. They dragged it out for too long and sacrificed young talent to try to make a Finals run that was far more than a long-shot in the first place.
However, the Bulls can look to league examples like the Boston Celtics for proper guidance. The Celtics were consistently in the Conference Finals but had a team full of aging veterans. They were far-sighted enough to know they wouldn’t win a championship and flipped those still-valuable veterans for young talent. Now, only a few years later, they are already back at the top of the Eastern Conference with one of the youngest teams in the league and a lot of upcoming draft picks.
The way I see it, Chicago has two options. They can keep this roster and administration, continue to be a fringe playoff team with no hope of making the Finals (continuing to get post-lottery draft picks and fade off into irrelevancy) or they can look at the big picture. They must swallow their pride, deal some of the aging players for youth and draft picks and try to build a team of winning it all.
It all depends on what Chicago’s goal is. If the goal is just to make the playoffs and have a good-but-not-great team, then the current roster is fine. But if the goal is to win a championship and reward a historic, loyal fanbase, then the Bulls might as well get started now.
I’m sure fans will be able to deal with a few years of experimentation if it means greatness is on the horizon.