Taj Gibson, the ultimate role player
The Bulls lost four main contributors on arguably the deepest bench in the league. Now, Chicago will have plenty of new faces on its reserve unit.
Chicago parted ways with C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and Omer Asik. The team then added Marco Belinelli, Vladimir Radmanovic and Nazr Mohammed via free agency, and it drafted point guard Marquis Teague. The Bulls are expected to give second-year forward Jimmy Butler an increased role this season.
Taj Gibson is the lone returning member of the Bench Mob, but he was the most important player to retain out of the group.
Chicago's biggest free agent acquisition was Kirk Hinrich, who played seven seasons in the Windy City before being traded in 2010. Hinrich will begin the year as the starting point guard, but when Derrick Rose returns from his ACL injury, Hinrich will become a versatile guard off the bench.
Here is how the new Bulls subs stack up against the fan-favorite Bench Mob of the past two years.
C.J. Watson may have angered Chicago Bulls fans with his recent comments about Deron Williams being a better point guard than Derrick Rose (via Colin Stephenson of the Newark Star-Ledger), but in reality, the Bulls are going to miss Watson's production with Rose out for most of the 2012-13 NBA season.
Watson struggled in the team's first-round exit in the playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers. However, he was the only player on the second unit who could create his own shot.
When Rose missed time this past season, Watson stepped into the starting lineup and made sure the Bulls never lost its grip on the best record in the NBA.
While Kirk Hinrich may be an upgrade as a starter, the Bulls will deal with some growing pains as Marquis Teague fills the backup point guard role. Watson was the best offensive player for the Bench Mob, and it will be difficult for Teague to match that kind of production in his rookie season.
Teague will have to learn on the fly because he is the No. 2 point guard on the Chicago roster by default. He will see a fair share of minutes each game, and the team will realize how valuable Watson was as a backup floor general when Teague struggles.
But when Rose returns, Hinrich becomes a better No. 2 option than Watson. For now, though, Hinrich is the starter, and Watson is a much better backup than Teague.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau is going to need plenty of Advil next season for the headaches he will inevitably have after watching Marco Belinelli play defense.
If you thought Kyle Korver was a defensive liability, wait until you see Belinelli. Belinelli, like Korver, lacks the lateral quickness to keep up with nearly any penetrating guard. Korver had decent strength and leaping ability—compared to Belinelli, at least—and he improved his awareness to develop into an average defensive player last season.
However, Belinelli is a more versatile offensive player than Korver. He is decent in pick-and-roll situations, shoots better off the dribble and creates more opportunities for his teammates. Korver is the better spot-up shooter, and he nailed 43.5 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc last season. Belinelli knocked down 37.7 percent of his shots from downtown in 2012-13.
Ironically, the Bulls are becoming a worse defensive team in this situation by inserting Belinelli into Korver's role. Belinelli is a much-needed scoring option off the bench, but it will still take time for him to fill his role better than Korver did in his two seasons. The Italian needs to improve his defense to see extended time on Thibodeau's squad.
The decision to release Ronnie Brewer and to promote Jimmy Butler was probably the most predictable move for the Bulls during the free agency period. It made the most sense financially, and inserting Butler into the rotation will be better for the team anyways.
Despite a strong performance in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, Brewer took a step back during the 2011-12 season. He had an opportunity to make a statement in the starting lineup with Rip Hamilton missing most of the season, but it became more apparent that Brewer's inconsistent offensive performance was not enough to make up for his stellar defense.
The Bulls declined to pick up Brewer's $4.37 million option, and they elected to fill the void he left with last year's first-round pick in Butler.
Butler proved to the organization with his strong summer league showing that he has made major strides in his game and is prepared to accept a larger role in the rotation. The Bulls will not sacrifice much on the defensive end with the athletic wing player, and Butler is the better offensive player of the two.
Brewer has peaked in his development as a player and has established himself as a solid role player. Butler is just starting to bloom as an player in the league, and his potential has the Bulls salivating.
Who knows? Maybe Chicago will face the same problem next year deciding between Butler and Luol Deng in the starting lineup.
Let's be real here. Omer Asik is the better player to have as a backup center. But the Bulls made the right call to reject his 3-year, $25 million offer sheet and to move on without him.
It stings to lose the Turkish delight without anything in return, but signing Asik for that much money would have doomed the Bulls in the long run. Instead, the Bulls are nearing a deal to acquire veteran center Nazr Mohammed for the veteran minimum of $1.3 million.
Losing the shot altering ability and in-the-paint defensive domination of Asik will hurt. Mohammed is not the same defensive player, but he is a tough inside player who can effectively spell Joakim Noah for long stretches.
Think about the role Kurt Thomas played for Chicago in the 2011-12 season. Mohammed has a chance to fill a similar slot in the rotation, and if Noah gets injured, he could effectively step in as the starting center for an extended period.
Choosing Mohammed over Asik was strictly a financial decision for the Bulls, but it was the smart business move. When it comes to talent, however, this one is no contest.
John Lucas III started the season as a fringe NBA player, but his ability to heat up quickly gave the Bulls enormous lifts off the bench.
Lucas III saw more action than the team had anticipated with Rose missing 26 games, and he became a fearless scorer off the bench. He could knock down the outside shot and score off the dribble.
But Lucas III took too many shots and the offense went stagnant with him running the show. He struggled to get his teammates involved, and the Bulls saw plenty of possessions with Lucas III dribbling around the perimeter for 20 seconds before forcing a tough shot.
For the 11th player on the bench, however, Lucas III was a great bargain. Chicago now turns to Vladimir Radmanovic to fill that role.
Radmanovic is a designated shooter, but the 11-year veteran will be more under control than Lucas III was and will not ruin the flow of the offense. His production has declined in recent years, but he has the potential to come off the bench and change the momentum of a game with his shooting ability from downtown.
Radmanovic is a career 38 percent shooter from beyond the arc. He can play either forward position and possibly fill in at shooting guard for short stretches, if the Bulls put enough defense around him.
If the offense struggles, Radmanovic's veteran presence could turn into a major asset for the Chicago bench. Bulls fans have to feel comfortable with a guy who has been a productive role player in the NBA for over a decade.
When it comes to pure talent, this year's Bulls reserves just don't compare to the Bench Mob of the past two seasons. But financially, breaking up the infamous second unit was the best decision for Chicago.
Even though Bulls management promised to make basketball decisions, not financial ones, it appears that the strongest motive behind the team's choice to reinvent the bench unit was money.
Face it, Bulls fans. Chicago will not win the title in 2012-13. Why make long-term investments in role players who could be replaced?
With their hands tied financially, the Bulls made the most of what they could in the free agent market. They added solid veteran players in Kirk Hinrich, Nazr Mohammed and Vladimir Radmanovic, and they made a small splash by signing Marco Belinelli.
This year's reserve lineup may be a poor man's version of the old unit, but it will still be a strong contributor to the Bulls' success.
However, there can only be one Bench Mob.
Edge: Previous Bench Mob