COMMENTARY | The Miami Heat eliminated the Chicago Bulls from the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, despite Chicago taking the first game of the series. The Bulls were eliminated in the first round by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2011-12. The Game 1 win gave fans hope, but we all knew it was simply delaying the inevitable.
That being said, what a ride in an injury ridden season. The former MVP Derrick Rose sat out the entire season from the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in the first round of the 2011-12 playoffs, backup point guard Kirk Hinrich missed off and on this season from a barrage of injuries, Rip Hamilton continued to struggle with injuries again this season missing 50 games, Luol Deng missed a majority of the postseason and Joakim Noah suffered from plantar fasciitis missing his fair share of games during the regular season. That's a lot of personnel to account for, yet the Bulls still managed to go into the second round of the playoffs and finished the regular with a winning record of 45-37. Not an easy feat to accomplish with many of your bench players as starters.
It was a remarkable season for a team some were worried wouldn't even be competitive in the postseason. Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli emerged as some of the key players in the Bulls playoff success and Carlos Boozer played one of his better seasons with the Bulls. With Rose looking to return next season, the Bulls have a lot of hard choices to make this off season. They definitely have needs which need to be addressed. such as a backup for Joakim Noah and another scorer, preferably a guard.
The Hamilton experiment has run its course. While he did well late in the postseason for the Bulls, he's injury prone, which makes him a liability. We'll probably see a drastic reduction in minutes for the veteran next season, if his contract isn't bought out or he's traded in a multiplayer deal in the interim. Either way, he's likely gone opening up a number two guard role to fill. Jimmy Butler might step up into his starting role, but the Bulls should also take some interest in different guards in the NBA draft on June 27 to regain some depth.
Robinson, while a key player in the playoff success this season, isn't expected back either. He'll be an unrestricted free agent in the 2013-14 season with the Bulls having the option to resign him, but they probably won't. Robinson will play somewhere next season, just not in Chicago. Marquis Teague is expected to step into his role as the third-string point guard.
Belinelli is also an unrestricted free agent after this season and it doesn't look as though the Bulls will retain him either. It's unlikely they're going to be able to afford the contract he'd be looking for following this season. The Bulls are taking another hit from their successful bench mob losing Belinelli. The Bulls need for a guard would be greater if Belinelli leaves as expected.
The Bulls also need a backup center. Nazr Mohammed will be an unrestricted free agent this season and while Tom Thibodeau said he'd like to see Mohammed re-signed, age is not on his side in such a physical role, the Lebron James shove aside of course. They need someone younger.
Earlier this month I mentioned the Bulls should target Steven Adams in the draft. I stand by that statement especially after the NBA combine over the weekend, which does hold less weight than the NFL combine, but can still boost a guys status, much like Adams.
ESPN Insider analyst Chad Ford called Adams a "big winner" in the combine and said he showed a "shocking offensive game" causing on unnamed NBA GM to reevaluate the kid's skills. Not all that shocking. Adams had a tough year, but it was his first year of real competitive play and adjustments needed to be made. At the combine he proved he's made significant strides toward making those adjustments. He's certainly a first round pick, but will still go below guys like Cody Zeller, who had the best standing vertical leap of someone over 6'8" in the last decade at 35.5 inches.
Adams is projected to go as one of the 14 lottery picks early in the draft. The Bulls would be wise to try to secure him on their roster instead.
The Bulls should also be targeting a guard in this draft. The Fighting Illini's Brandon Paul comes to mind as good fit into Thibodeau's scheme. Tim Hardaway Jr, the son of former NBA great Tim Hardaway, is also worth looking at, but he may go to the Utah Jazz as their second first round pick.
Hardaway Jr. doesn't exactly have the best defensive instincts in the zone, which may not translate well into Thibodeau's defensive strategy. He has the tendency to go for the steal leaving the zone vulnerable. That being said, he can score points and make opportunities on offense, which is something the Bulls could use a little more of as well. Thibs can also drill the stealing obsession out of Hardaway Jr., if need be.
Paul, on the other hand, doesn't lack on the defensive end and has a longer scoring range, including good enough arm span to be effective in the paint. His biggest fault is not holding intensity, which cannot last in the NBA. Good news is, on the Bulls he'd be a backup at best the first season or two with enough veterans who can help teach Paul how to maintain intensity for an entire basketball game.
Paul's defense can be very physical and something the Bulls could really use more of. He knows how to position himself well, but tends to cheat to the post position. He could also stand to pressure the ball better reducing the amount of times he gets dribbled by. These are all skills that can be worked on in the off season and developed over time.
If the Bulls can manage to make some good moves in the draft and stay away from some of the older free agents this off season--something they tend to do (i.e. Kurt Thomas, Rip Hamilton and Nazr Mohammed)--they have a chance to build a ball club that will only continue to be more successful.
Tim Bearden has covered professional sports in Chicago since 2010. He's extensively covered the Chicago Bulls, Bears, Blackhawks, Cubs and White Sox. He graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a degree in journalism and has written sports for Buzz Magazine, the Chicagoist and his own blog FantasyFreakout. You can also follow Tim (@tdbearden) on Twitter.
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