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NBA AM: What’s Next For the Chicago Bulls?

From head coach to free agency decisions, the Chicago Bulls have a pivotal summer ahead.

Lang Greene profile picture
Updated 1 year ago on

6 min read

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Basketball Insiders chats with draft prospect Myles Turner at the 2015 NBA Draft Combine in Chicago.

What’s Next For the Chicago Bulls?

The Chicago Bulls were unceremoniously eliminated from the playoffs on Thursday night by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who now march on to the Eastern Conference Finals. The victory marks the fifth consecutive trip to the Eastern Conference Finals for James and third time in the past five years a team he led has knocked Chicago out of the playoffs.

The disappointing playoff elimination loss – at home and by a margin of 21 points – could have signaled the end of the Bulls’ recent run as we know it. The franchise has numerous choices to make this summer regarding the future direction of the team, from the coaches on the sidelines to the personnel in the locker room.

For starters, let’s begin at head coach, where Tom Thibodeau has compiled a 255-139 (.647) record in five seasons at the helm of the team – never missing the playoffs in the process. While Thibodeau’s results have been solid, rumors have continued to swirl over the past two seasons regarding tension between him and the Bulls’ front office. With the Bulls getting bounced from the playoffs in such an emphatic fashion, do not expect the speculation surrounding Thibodeau’s job security to stop leading the daily headlines.

All signs point toward Thibodeau’s time being up in the Windy City.

Outside of coaching, the team currently has $60 million in guaranteed salaries on the books for next season, which will limit the franchise from being a huge buyer on the free agency front this summer.

Veterans Mike Dunleavy, Aaron Brooks and Nazr Mohammed will all be unrestricted free agents. Brooks and Dunleavy each played a key role in the Bulls’ rotation this season, so expect the team to take a strong look at potentially re-signing both depending on each players’ final price tag.

However, the biggest free agency decision that Chicago will make this summer will be regarding the next contract of emerging guard Jimmy Butler. The fourth-year player averaged 20 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists this past season, making the All-Star game for the first time and winning the league’s Most Improved Player award in the process. Butler appears to be the real deal and, at 25 years old, is just scratching the surface.

Butler will undoubtedly be seeking a max-level deal this summer and the market around the league for a two-way player who has yet to reach his prime will be friendly, to say the least. Once the Bulls issue Butler the $4.4 million qualifying offer, the team will have the right to match any offer for his services come July 1 when free agency opens. Chicago will have the final say on whether they keep Butler because of his restricted free agency, but all signs point to him receiving a monster payday (and perhaps signing a strategically structured offered sheet from another team, like Chandler Parsons got from the Dallas Mavericks).

The next roster decisions will be tough.

Former All-Star center Joakim Noah will be entering the final year of his deal, worth $13.9 million next season, so the team will have that to consider. Is Noah the long-term solution for the franchise at center? What will the then-31-year-old Noah command and will he be worth the investment? Noah has undoubtedly personified the character, grit, toughness and heart of the recent Bulls teams, but he also underwhelmed in the playoffs this season – especially in the Cavaliers series.

Former league MVP and Chicago native Derrick Rose is owed $41 million over the next two seasons. Rose shook off the injury bug and managed to play 51 regular season contests, which is a lot considering he played just 49 over the prior three campaigns. There haven’t been any credible rumblings about Chicago attempting to shop Rose, so the guard appears locked in at the top of the lineup as their floor general.

One of the biggest areas to watch is at power forward, where the Bulls feature two strong, relatively young talents in Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson. Mirotic generated some late-season buzz for Rookie of the Year and Gibson received some consideration for Sixth Man of the Year honors. However, it’s a fair question to ask whether the Bulls need both guys in the fold, especially with Pau Gasol still playing at an All-Star level even though he is past his prime.

Gibson is owed $17.4 million over the next two seasons. Mirotic is owed $11.2 million during the same time period, but also holds a $7.7 million player option for the 2017-18 campaign. Gasol will earn $7,448,760 next season and then he has a $7,769,520 player option for the 2016-17 season, which is the final year of his deal.

Young players such as Tony Snell and Doug McDermott are expected to continue developing and eventually become consistent rotation members. Both guys are on relatively inexpensive rookie deals.

Veteran guard Kirk Hinrich, a Thibodeau favorite, holds a $2.8 million player option for next season. Hinrich, 34, could choose to opt out and take a risk in order to secure one more multi-year deal in free agency. You can’t blame the veteran if that’s the route he chooses to take with his playing career winding down because it comes down to maximizing earnings. It’s business.

All in all, the Bulls have a solid core of guys in place returning next season with Gasol, Mirotic, Noah and Rose. Factor in Butler re-signing to a long term deal and there’s no reason why the Bulls shouldn’t be back in the title hunt next season.

But the biggest question is who will be coaching the team from the sidelines in 2016? Will the new coach’s style, if there is indeed a new coach next season, force the team to explore a slight roster shakeup to accommodate a shift in philosophy?

All eyes will be on Chicago to see where the franchise goes from here.

Basketball Insiders’ Combine Coverage

The 2015 NBA Draft Combine is underway and Basketball Insiders is on the ground in Chicago doing interviews, shooting videos and producing content.

Be sure to check out our NBA Draft section for our in-depth coverage of the event.

All of our combine-related articles and videos appear on that page, so you can see what the players have the say and stay on top of the all of the action in Chicago.

Keep an eye out over the next few days for even more videos, articles and analysis.

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Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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