Columns and Features

2015-16 Chicago Bulls “Can or Keep?”: Part 1

Editor emeritus Brandon Pence evaluates how the Chicago Bulls players performed during the 2015-16 season in his annual “Can or Keep” series.

You didn’t think retirement was going to keep me from writing “Can or Keep?” did you? This is my WrestleMania, and just like the aging WWE legends, I’m making a special guest appearance. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write a eulogy for this era of Bulls basketball.

(If you’re unfamiliar with “Can or Keep,” read last year’s edition. Basically, I go through the roster one by one and decide if the Bulls should
“can” him, let him go, or keep him.)


Cameron Bairstow

Grade: D?
Can or Keep: Can
There’s not much to say about Bairstow: seldom used, not very good and just kind of there. He’s on a cheap contract, but the Bulls need to acquire some depth for their aging and possibly departing frontcourt. I would go ahead and let Bairstow go and maybe use a second round draft pick on another project.


Cristiano Felicio

Grade: C+
Can or Keep: Keep
After doing very little the rest of the season, Bulls Nation’s favorite Brazilian had some bright spots at the end of the year. He’s under a ridiculously cheap contract next season — less than $1 million — and is 23 years old.
He looked like a rookie this year in the way he moved, the passes he made, and the way he defended, but you could still see some raw ability. Playing in Summer League or for the Brazilian national team should give him a nice bump into next season. He’ll play a nice role next season and will continue to develop.


Bobby Portis

Grade: C
Can or Keep: Keep
Portis had a solid rookie campaign. Fans created a Twitter campaign to get him off the end of the bench, and then he was forced into action after a season-ending injury to Joakim Noah.
I was not as high on Portis as some. His shot selection was a real problem: He averaged 14.5 field goal attempts per 36 minutes and only shot a mere 42.4 percent from the field.  At times, it looked like his tendency to shoot caused hesitation for his teammates to pass it to him and, in turn, disrupted the flow of the offense.
Portis also looked lost on defense, which is understandable.  He’s a rookie, and there is a learning curve even for experienced college players. (See: McDermott, Doug)  He will be playing Summer League again per CBS Chicago’s Cody Westerlund.
Another summer of work and we’ll see a nice sophomore campaign from Portis.


Justin Holiday

Grade: B
Can or Keep: Keep
Holiday was a solid midseason acquisition by the Bulls. The trade seems like a steal in hindsight: The Bulls landed a competent three-and-D guy in Holiday and a second round pick for Kirk Hinrich, a guy who was looking more and more washed up by the second.
Holiday has some work to put in during the offseason: He needs to work on his shot selection (took too many contested shots and shots off-the-dribble) and work on his 3-ball (still shot 38% from three for the Bulls) to become a true three-and-D guy.
Head coach Fred Hoiberg seems to like him, and he’s proven to be a steady addition to the rotation. Holiday has a real shot of taking Mike Dunleavy‘s starting spot if he comes into next season ready and prepared to play.


Aaron Brooks

Grade: D
Can or Keep: Can
What a disappointing campaign for Brooks.
He had a nice season last year but just looked out of place in “Hoiball.”  He didn’t really provide that scoring punch the Bulls needed on a consistent basis, and he seemed to play a two-man game with Taj Gibson to the detriment of everyone else on the court. His contract is up, and I think the Bulls will move on from him. Probably a good idea.


Tony Snell

Grade: F
Can or Keep: Can (but he’s sticking around)
To say Snell was terrible would be an understatement. There were expectations coming into the season that he could become a solid rotation player for the Bulls and it just never happened.
His 6.2 PER was the worst on the team, and we saw more of the same ol’ Snell this year: inconsistent play, flashes of competence and little value to the team. With Holiday’s arrival, Snell became an afterthought and was buried on the bench next to his former New Mexico brother, Bairstow.
Unfortunately, the Bulls exercised his option back in October, and they’re probably stuck with him next season unless they can find a taker. Maybe that’s possible, but I think he just comes back as insurance next season.


Doug McDermott

Grade: B+
Can or Keep: Keep
I loved the season McDermott had: 9.3 points per game, 44 percent from the field, and 42 percent on 3-pointers. Maybe the coaching change helped him, or maybe Butler dragging him out of bed in San Diego for a couple of weeks lit a fire in him. Either way, I liked what McDermott showed.
He looked better on defense, confident on offense and like he knew where he belonged in this offense. I’m hoping he builds on this during the offseason and comes back even better.


E’Twaun Moore

Grade: A
Can or Keep: Keep
Moore is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, so it’s possible he will be in a different uniform next season. Personally, I hope that is not the case.
Moore really started to flourish after he secured the backup point guard spot and eventually landed a starting shooting guard spot due to injuries and Hoiberg trying different combinations.
Averages of 7.5 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists seem mediocre, but Moore also shot 48 percent from the field and 45 percent from three.  He showed excellent decision making and played solid defense. He could handle the ball or play off of it, allowing Rose or Butler to drive-and-kick. His shooting also helped space the floor.
Moore filled a lot of gaps for the Bulls this season and championship teams need guys like that. I hope the Bulls decide and are able to keep him, but we’ll see.


Nikola Mirotic

Grade: C- pre-appendectomy, A- post-appendectomy
Can or Keep: Keep
Mirotic had a hot start to the season and quickly tapered off after being moved to the bench. I have no idea if that frustrated him or ruined his confidence, but after he returned from his appendectomy, he scored in double figures in 9 of 19 games and had seven games of three or more 3-pointers.
On the season, Mirotic was the fourth on the team in points per game, fifth in 3-point percentage and fifth in PER. His defense seemed better even if he still has a long way to go, and he seemed to find his niche as the spark off the bench.
I don’t like that Hoiberg moved him into the starting lineup late in the season, though. He prevented the Bulls from having scoring droughts while the starters rested.
Mirotic will be back next year, and hopefully, he will have a place on the Spanish national team. We’ve seen other players get that “Olympic bump,” and I would love to see Mirotic come back next season with a fire from playing in the Olympics.
My early prediction for next season: Mirotic is in the conversation for an All-Star appearance and averages around 17 points per game.


Joakim Noah

Grade: D
Can or Keep: Can
You won’t find a bigger Noah fan than me.
I called him a superstar two years ago, and everybody scoffed. Then they saw him drag the Bulls to the playoffs on a bum knee. He has given this team and the city of Chicago everything and has been a leader in every sense.
Unfortunately, the NBA is a business and the Bulls are (supposedly) in the business of building a championship team. Is that possible with Noah? Before his season-ending injury, he was shooting a mere 38 percent from inside eight feet per That’s embarrassing for a 7-footer. He looked more like himself on defense this year and, at times, showed the all-around passing that made him such a special center.
But his contract is up and, realistically, the Bulls might be better off building for the future. Noah has been a huge part of this team for nearly a decade and is a fan favorite, but if a championship is your ultimate goal, then it’s time to move on. I don’t like his fit with Hoiberg’s system, and even though there are reports stating that the Bulls are going to try and re-sign Noah, there may be better options available in free agency.


*All headshots courtesy of


Check out Part 2 of “Can or Keep.”


Brandon Pence is the founder/editor emeritus of The Bulls Charge.  Follow him on Twitter and Google+