Columns and Features

2014-2015 Chicago Bulls ‘Can Or Keep?’: Part 2

(Photo credit: Jerry Lai – USA TODAY Sports)


If you missed Part 1, you can read it by clicking here.


Taj Gibson
Grade: C+

Can or Keep: Can


Taj Gibson had a lackluster campaign and it looked even more lackluster without Carlos Boozer around for Bulls fans to beat up on. Taj obviously had some injuries which resulted in him only playing 62 games. It wasn’t about how much time he missed, but the style of play he brought to the Bulls this year that frustrated fans. I’ve been called a “Taj hater” because I point out the obvious with Taj, but he played uninspired and selfish basketball for the majority of the season. Judging by just the eye test, the team just seemed to play better with Mirotic in the lineup and Taj remaining on the bench.

That brings us to why you “can” Taj Gibson: He’s almost 30 years old and next he’ll stand to make $8.5 million dollars. Here’s the real problem: Nikola Mirotic deserves playing time. He’s 24 years old and has the potential to become a star player in this league. You have to find minutes for him and that’s not going to happen behind Gibson, Gasol, and Noah. Taj Gibson becomes the most expendable player and here’s the bonus for the Bulls: He’s still well regarded around the league and you’ll probably get the most value for him in a trade. I honestly can’t see a scenario where management keeps Taj Gibson next year. I think he’s as good as gone.


Joakim Noah
Grade: C
Can or Keep: Keep?


This is the most heartbreaking person to talk about. Last year, Joakim Noah had a phenomenal season and single-handedly dragged the Chicago Bulls to the Playoffs. This year, he nearly had to be dragged on the court with his apparent knee issues. What a sad fall for a guy who is clearly the heart and soul of this roster. But what do you do with Joakim Noah?


I know I just said the Bulls should trade Taj Gibson — and I think they will — but ideally, you would keep Gibson, Gasol, and Mirotic and trade Noah while you still can. The real problem is what are you going to get for him? He’s on an expiring contract, he’s 30 years old, and now has a history of knee and foot injuries. I don’t think many people are going to be kicking down the door to get him. I think Noah stays, but I think the Bulls need to be careful and evaluate whether he can be a starting center anymore. I also think there’s value in starting Mirotic/Gasol next season and letting Noah be a key reserve off the bench and allow him to play 20-25 minutes per game. We’ll see how the Bulls approach it. Also an interesting subplot: Will Noah re-sign? What will he ask for? Will the Bulls show loyalty and pay it? It’s crazy to think about, but this could be Joakim Noah’s last season with the Chicago Bulls. I’m not sure I can accept that.


Pau Gasol
Grade: A+
Can or Keep: Keep


I was excited about the Pau Gasol signing this past offseason and I was actually thrilled they landed him over Carmelo Anthony. Nothing that happened this season changed that. Yeah, his defense around the rim was killing the Bulls and yes, he can be frustrating to watch, but where would the Bulls have been this season without Gasol? He was brilliant this year and had one of the best statistical seasons of his career. He’ll be back next year and I’m glad. I’m ready for a second round of Pau Gasol.


Nikola Mirotic
Grade: B+
Can or Keep: Keep


Mirotic was fantastic this year. He exceeded every expectation I had for him and I’m thrilled he’s a Chicago Bull. He literally has the potential to become a franchise cornerstone alongside Jimmy Butler. He has that “Dirk-esque” game and plays so smooth. Once he figures out how to utilize his strengths, he’s going to be tough. He already posted the third best PER on the team (17.9 – behind Butler and Gasol), but I’d like to see his shooting percentages go up across the board. But this shouldn’t be a cause for alarm either. Look at this comparison between Nikola Mirotic’s rookie season and Dirk Nowitzki’s. Notice any similarities? How about the fact that Dirk, one of the greatest shooters ever, averaged a mere 20% from three in his rookie year or that Mirotic outscored him per game in similar minutes? I’m not saying this is a definitive sign, but you have to be encouraged when you see this comparison. Mirotic can and probably will be something special. This is why the Bulls have to find big minutes for him. Let him develop and see what he can be. This could be the best thing to happen to the Bulls since Rose was drafted.


Derrick Rose
Grade: C
Can or Keep: Keep…


To say I wasn’t thrilled with D-Rose this season would probably be an understatement. He drove me nuts this season. I was glad he played 51 games and was there for the Playoffs (where he had some moments), but overall, he just didn’t look like the same guy. And maybe that’s my fault for having that expectation, but I don’t think it’s unrealistic to be annoyed with 5.3 three-point attempts per game (on 28% from three), 40% shooting from the field, and a team-high 3.2 turnovers per game. I wrote about how you can’t trust Derrick Rose as a franchise player anymore and the Bulls need to stop pretending he is one, but what do you really do with him? Try and trade him? Where? For who? The only two teams that MIGHT take a flyer on him are the Lakers and Knicks, who are so desperate to be relevant that they would try anything.  Do you really want to do that though? Is he replaceable? I wrote about the prospect of trading him recently as well.


And what happened to him in the second half of game 6? Did he really just quit on the team? Is his competitiveness just…gone? Is the fiery D-Rose gone forever? That was the game where you would think, “Okay, we’ve been waiting three years for this” and then…nothing happened. It was odd and I know some hacks are trying to say that Butler and Rose have beef (I find this to be 100% nonsense). Even if they did, wouldn’t the old D-Rose have submitted an epic performance to assert his dominance? And if he quit on his team, what does that say about this new Derrick Rose?


I noticed this about myself during the Playoffs, but I just don’t enjoy watching Derrick Rose play basketball anymore. He’s just annoying and maybe it’s because I know what he used to be able to do and we haven’t seen it. Either way, it’s just not fun. I don’t enjoy watching him lob up threes like he’s playing at the Y or jogging back on D like it’s the preseason. We saw absolutely no urgency from him this season at any point. It’s a tragedy. This guy was something special and everything that made him special — his freak athleticism, his fire, his competitiveness — seems to have vanished. He’s truly becoming this generation’s Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway.  What a shame.


Jimmy Butler
Grade: A+
Can or Keep: KEEP


The best player on the team all season long and it wasn’t close. Jimmy Butler brought it on both ends all year. He rejected a 4 year, $40 million contract this past offseason and bet on himself…and is about to be rewarded. The Bulls have said they will match any offer to Jimmy Butler and they should. My greatest irrational fear is that the Spurs re-sign Kawhi Leonard and somehow steal Jimmy Butler to create a lineup that would never allow any perimeter points ever.


If the Bulls lose Butler in the offseason, Gar/Pax need to be fired immediately. He’s 25 and alongside Nikola Mirotic, you had two players who could carry this franchise for the next decade. That’s assuming the Bulls land a new coach that manages Butler’s minutes so his career can actually last a decade. You can’t say enough about this guy. He was fantastic and did as good a job of defending LeBron in the second round than anyone ever has. I can’t wait to watch him play for years to come.


Tom Thibodeau
Grade: C-
Can or Keep: Can


I gave Thibs a C- because the offense, even with all the new weapons and such, just was as bland and predictable as it has been every year he’s been the coach. His rotations remained stubborn and he deserved an F for playing Kirk Hinrich at all this season. As much as I appreciate Tom Thibodeau and what he brings as the coach of the Bulls, it’s time to go another direction.


I just think the fans and the team are burned out on the Thibs mantra: Next man up, do your job, etc. I think Thibs is burned out on Gar/Pax. I think a mutual parting would do wonders for all parties involved, but I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Thibs is a top 6 coach in the NBA and I don’t think I’d fire him unless I knew I had an upgrade. Is that Fred Hoiberg? I’m not certain on that. This is a team built to win now and it’s a risk. Could Adrian Griffin step up and lead this team? He’s my pick. I know people think he’s just a Thibs clone, but having watched him coach in Summer League, I think he has a different offensive philosophy, but could still maintain the Thibodeau defensive principles that made the Bulls so successful. I also think Griffin is a player’s coach and having played in the league, would understand how to nurture egos and manage minutes. So, there you go: Adrian Griffin for Bulls head coach. He has my support.


Gar Forman and John Paxson
Grade: A
Can or Keep: They’re obviously staying regardless


I gave Gar/Pax an A because they signed Gasol, they signed Brooks, they got Mirotic over here, found E’Twaun Moore, and landed McDermott, whom they wanted. They also didn’t panic and trade assets to sign Carmelo Anthony and they’re claiming they are keeping Butler. That’s a great season by Bulls management.


Maybe this grade should’ve been lower because of the drama with Thibs. Nevertheless, they stayed the course this season and gave this group it’s “one chance” to capture a title and they seem ready to move into the next phase for the Chicago Bulls, whatever that is.  I’m interested to see where they go.


Brandon Pence
Grade: C-
Can or Keep: Can


I started this blog four years ago after the 2011 NBA Finals when LeBron collapsed with an article called “The Sweathog Formula” that said there was a formula for building NBA champions and it was similar to what made the show “Welcome Back, Kotter” so good. And here we are in 2015 and this thing has grown more than I ever expected it. I’ve been truly blessed to be able to write about the Bulls for this long and to have a group of readers that actually cared what I had to say. It’s still surreal to me that I’ve been able to accomplish what I have.


But I made the decision recently that this is to be my last year blogging about the Chicago Bulls. My fire and my desire to write enough to maintain a blog has just been absent lately and I’ve felt more and more frustration while watching this team than I have in a long time. I’m not sure if I’m walking away permanently or if it’s just a prolonged hiatus, but for now it feels like the end. Also, I have some projects coming up in my personal life that will be taking up a large portion of my time and I don’t want feel right giving you less than my best.  It’s just the right time to walk away from it.


However, “The Bulls Charge” itself is not going to die.  Ashley Wijangco is going to be taking the reins of the “The Bulls Charge” and maintaining it. Honestly, I couldn’t ask for a better person to continue on with what I’ve started and I’m honored that she has made this decision to continue this site. She’s a fantastic writer and an even better person.  I hope that you continue to read and to follow her on Twitter @wijangco12.


As I close, I just wanted to thank several people:


Erica (@SaneBSBFan98): who was literally my first or one of my first followers since I started my Twitter account in 2012.  Erica, you are truly an insightful and passionate Bulls fan and I’ve loved hearing your insight for the past three years. Thanks for all the support!


Jason and Will at One of the best Bulls podcasts out there and two quality guys. I appreciate all the debates (Will), all the shout-outs on the podcast, and the opportunity to write for the site. My favorite article I’ve ever written is actually on your site: Joakim Noah: Superstar?


Big Dave and Chris from BAWL Sports.: Guys, I appreciate your support and for giving me an opportunity to be on your podcast several times. It’s always…ALWAYS great talking to you both and I love listening to your pod every week.  Keep up the great work gentlemen!


Fred Pfeiffer (@CBEFred): thanks for having me on “The Chicago Bullseye” and for your constant support. Lots of respect and love for not only the work you do, but your feelings for Kirk Hinrich. (Note: Fred thinks I was too harsh on Doug McDermott.)


And last but not least, I want to thank all of you who have read this blog over the past four years. I can’t express how much I appreciate the debates on social media, your input, your kind words, and your support. I hope those debates will continue. I’ll still be around on Twitter (and social media in general). If you are a Google+ follower, follow my personal page here as I will be leaving “The Bulls Charge” page to Ashley Wijangco. God bless each and every one of you.


Brandon Pence is the former editor and creator of “The Bulls Charge.”  You can follow him on Twitter @thebullscharge or like “The Bulls Charge” on Facebook and Google+