Chicago Bulls Management Was Right After All
Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports
Chicago Bulls management has endured its fair share of criticism in recent years.
Grumblings about the long-term contract given to Carlos Boozer, breaking up the "Bench Mob" from the past couple seasons and an overall hesitancy to make any daring blockbuster trades have triggered frustrations from many Bulls fans.
Is this criticism warranted? Could Bulls management actually be right after all?
While some minor irritations with Bulls management—namely John Paxson and Gar Forman—are perhaps understandable, there's no reason for excessive displeasure toward Chicago's recent managerial decisions.
In fact, the overwhelming majority of the Bulls' maneuvers have not only sparked success in the here and now, but have also situated the Bulls with an incredibly bright future outlook.
Since the Bulls landed Derrick Rose with the No. 1 overall pick in 2008 (we won't laud Paxson and Forman for this, because Rose essentially fell into their lap through the lottery), they have done a superb job of surrounding Rose with ingredients to become a true contender.
First of all, consider the progress of two late first-round selections—Taj Gibson (2009 26th overall pick) and Jimmy Butler (2011 30th overall pick). These two picks have made impressions like they were lottery picks.
Gibson, after being named to the All-Rookie First Team in 2009-10, has become a staple in Chicago's rigorous defensive system. His prowess on the defensive end is elite and his overall meaning to the Bulls cannot be overstated. This season, according to 82games.com, he boasts the highest plus/minus (plus-129) on the Bulls' roster, even higher than 2013 All-Stars Joakim Noah (plus-91) and Luol Deng (plus-22).
Butler is in the midst of an eye-opening month or so, tallying games in which his suffocating defense and steady offensive contributions have been the difference in certain outcomes. His improvements are occurring at a speedy rate, which bodes well for his upside.
What's more, they made another brilliant draft move in 2011 when they obtained the rights to foreign prospect Nikola Mirotic. There remain questions about when Mirotic will first appear in a Chicago uniform, but his talent and potential are raising eyebrows in a big way.
Needless to say, these two late first-round selections have been steals, and Mirotic could end up being the biggest steal of them all. Bulls management is undoubtedly deserving of respect for this.
Another development worthy of praise has been the reconstruction of the Bench Mob. In 2010-11 and 2011-12, the Bulls led the league in wins, and one of their strengths was depth off the bench.
In the offseason, the Bulls bid farewell to six players—Omer Asik, C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, John Lucas III and Brian Scalabrine—from their productive bench. This raised reasonable concerns about Chicago's depth entering 2012-13, because its second unit suddenly inherited a plethora of new faces.
Any such concerns have been put to rest, because Bulls management made numerous wise decisions from a financial and basketball perspective.
At point guard, they added veteran floor general and active defender Kirk Hinrich and energetic playmaker Nate Robinson. This tandem has arguably been more efficient than last year's point guards, Watson and Lucas III.
Robinson, in particular, has been a featured success story in terms of basketball and finances. The Bulls signed him for the veteran mininum's contract, and per Basketball-Reference.com, he's currently averaging 18.2 points per game and 6.4 assists per game per 36 minutes. He was even recently named Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
Marco Belinelli has been another competent addition. During the offseason, the Bulls traded Kyle Korver and his $5 million contract to the Atlanta Hawks. They in turn signed Belinelli to replace Korver as a shooter in Chicago's rotation.
Not only does Belinelli come at a much cheaper price (less than $2 million), he also brings a more multi-dimensional skill set. Korver was simply a catch-and-shoot offensive player, but Belinelli can do that as well as create off the dribble.
The only player it's clear Chicago misses from the past two years is Omer Asik, who departed for the Houston Rockets as a restricted free agent in an offer that the Bulls couldn't justify matching.
Overall, Bulls management concocted a prodigious strategy in their efforts to not merely replace the Bench Mob, but upgrade it. They used their money wisely while snatching players who have enhanced team performance.
Paxson and Forman have also prudently handled doubts concerning Carlos Boozer. Their patience and willingness to stick with Boozer has paid off, as he's having a stellar season, particularly in the past couple months. In January, he averaged 19.5 PPG and 10.1 rebounds per game.
Since Boozer's first year in Chicago, there have been hostile fans lobbying for a Boozer trade or for him to be amnestied. But Bulls management has recognized the lack of logic in this hostility, noting that a Boozer trade isn't going to net much in return. Plus, using the amnesty clause last summer didn't contain any merit.
Their patience with Boozer is now paying off since he appears more comfortable than ever in a Bulls uniform.
The last managerial move deserving of distinct mention goes back to the summer of 2010, when the Bulls selected a coach to take the reins for the long-term future. They couldn't have made a better selection than Tom Thibodeau.
While his tendency to ride players for hefty minutes is at times bothersome, his unwavering intensity and dedication have been at the foundation of Chicago's success the past couple campaigns. His basketball intellect (particularly from a defensive standpoint) might only be matched by the San Antonio Spurs' Gregg Popovich.
Thibodeau is simply a basketball genius, and the fact that he became the fastest coach to 100 wins is proof of this. He was most definitely deserving of the 2011 NBA Coach of the Year award, and he'll certainly be deserving of any future accolades he garners.
What's decidedly clear is that Paxson and Forman made the right call on Thibodeau.
These layers of successful stratagems provide ample evidence that Chicago's management is worthy of appreciation. The criticism that has been often spewed in recent years has typically been unwarranted, because Paxson and Forman have had a much greater propensity to make the right call than the wrong call.
It's time to give credit where credit is due. Bulls management may have had a few blips along the way, but overall, they've positioned this team as a contender—both now and into the long-term future.
That's deserving of praise.
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