The Chicago Bulls are facing their biggest offseason in years. They should approach it with an eye to change.
Coach Tom Thibodeau has been beyond admirable as the Bulls’ general in recent years. He’s gotten a ton out of marginal talents like Nate Robinson and D.J. Augustin, and pushed this team into playoff runs despite repeated season-ending injuries to their best player, Derrick Rose.
However, Thibodeau’s sometimes-militant approach has filtered out certain types of personalities that are often invaluable to NBA teams.
Namely? The mercurial. Those who struggle with their egos and decision-making on the court. Provided that sometimes-loose cannons pack a true punch, they're quite handy to have on hand.
Upon first glance, this is a positive franchise trait. All too often, we see NBA squads fall below the equator of contention as they buckle under the weight caused by disagreeing temperaments in the locker room.
That the Bulls have been able to create a culture so unharmed by oversized personalities is largely a remarkable feat. The Bulls’ roster echoes the tremendous, league-influencing enculturation of the San Antonio Spurs—and this is no coincidence. Their temperamental cohesion is essential to their foundation.
Thibodeau suggested as much in an interview with Grantland's Zach Lowe:
When you have a core of guys who have done it for a while with you, and you can use San Antonio as an example — the core of their team has been the same for a long time. And I think we’re starting to get close to that ourselves. Those players understand your system. It’s like having eight or 10 additional coaches. They help bring the new guys along, and that speeds things up.
But Rose or no Rose, Bulls fans still have the sense that something is lacking. Chicago is not lacking in confidence, but it is lacking in overconfidence.
As the team hit a wall against the Washington Wizards in the playoffs, it was hard to watch as the Bulls passed the ball around like a hot potato in their offensive struggles. There was no one with enough heroic exuberance to even try putting possessions on his back.
Thibodeau, along with Chicago’s front office of John Paxson and Gar Forman, needs to allow more irrationally confident players on his team if it's to overtake their in-conference peers.
If it’s no fluke that the Bulls have come to such a level-headed collection, it’s also not a surprise that they have so much trouble scoring. Players who aren’t exactly team-first stay in this league for a reason—they can be scheme-breakers.
One of the most obvious additions in this vein is a divisional foe: Indiana Pacers wingman Lance Stephenson. Stephenson embodies the moxie the Bulls sorely missed this year, which was provided by Robinson in their more successful 2012-13 season.
Although Stephenson, like Robinson, is wont to turn the ball over and take foolish hero-ball shots, he’s also a crucial stick of dynamite for his squad.
Sure, the Bulls offense will look a lot better with Rose around. Even with the hometown point guard performing at an MVP level in the past, though, Chicago has been offensively challenged. Having another potential ace in the hole could change that.
Outside of Rose, who else on the books for Chicago next year is even physically capable of freelancing offensively?
Taj Gibson showed improved shot creation in the playoffs, but he's never done such a thing consistently. The Bulls are punchless, and they might not get their preferred, consistent and cool player attitude in their hunt for another puncher.
No instance of unpredictability’s silver linings is more telling than Robinson’s 2013 playoff performance.
The most memorable individual outing the Bulls have seen over the last two Rose-less seasons, Robinson scored 29 points in the fourth quarter and overtime of Game 4 against the Brooklyn Nets to pull his team out of a 14-point deficit.
Simply put, Robinson was an X-factor the Bulls no longer have. A similar boom-or-bust talent could have been integral toward at least one extra victory against Washington this season.
If the Bulls falter in free agency and fail to add a superstar like Kevin Love or Carmelo Anthony, Stephenson or a similar player would be a welcome sight in red and white.
The Bulls have a solid system of dependable defenders, passers and gluey players who keep them on a string at both ends. What they’re missing is the spice to throw opponents off when things aren’t going according to plan.
It’s time for Thibodeau and company to pull their hands back from the wheel a little and throw more mercury into the fray of their offense.