The Chicago Bulls face an uncertain future following their playoff loss at the hands of the Boston Celtics, culminating in the departure of two key players at the end of the 2016-17 season.
All-Star Jimmy Butler had been a key part in his side’s success in recent history, but he was traded away to the Minnesota Timberwolves, with the club receiving Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen in exchange for the 27-year-old.
Rajon Rondo has also left the Bulls after just one season in the Windy City. He arguably produced two of his best performances in the playoffs against his former team – the Celtics – although his injury problems played a significant role in Chicago’s downfall.
The Bulls signed Dwyane Wade before the start of the campaign from the Miami Heat. He in part was signed to replace Derrick Rose, who was traded away after a distinguished career with the club, although injuries had diminished the talent that saw him named MVP in 2011.
Wade did not provide the same level of quality he did during the height of his powers in Florida, but was still a vital part of the line-up, driving the club to the post-season.
The lack of experience halted the Bulls’ charge against the Celtics after taking a 2-0 lead in their series and the club will have plenty of challenges ahead to return to the playoffs next term.
Hoiberg’s men suffered runs of inconsistent form that almost held them out of contention this time around, only for a strong finish to bail them out. We’ll now look back their performances through the entirety of the campaign.
The Bulls began their campaign against the Celtics on home soil and produced a fine performance to kickstart their season. Butler notched 24 points, while Rondo collected nine assists against his former side to lead Chicago to six-point victory. They followed their display up with a win over the Indiana Pacers, with Doug McDermott leading the way with an impressive outing.
Hoiberg’s side continued their good start by brushing aside the Brooklyn Nets with relative ease. However, three defeats on the bounce brought them back down to earth, despite impressive outings from Butler and Wade.
Their inconsistent form was highlighted in the space of two matches as they crushed the Orlando Magic before suffering a frustrating loss against the Atlanta Hawks, wasting a 39-point performance from Butler. The forward maintained his high level of form driving the Bulls to four consecutive wins before producing a 40-pointer in a win on the road against the Los Angeles Lakers.
December began on the right note defeating the reigning champions – the Cleveland Cavaliers – at United Center thanks to a 26-point outing from Butler. Chicago were unable to build on their triumph, losing their next three matches, including a close loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Bulls bounced back with a close victory over the San Antonio Spurs with Wade coming to the fore against an old foe, while Butler dominated the Heat with a 31-point effort. However, the month would end in huge disappointment as the club dropped from 13-10 to 16-18 at the end of 2016, losing eight of their remaining 11 games of the year. This included a shocking performance against the Milwaukee Bucks, mustering just 69 points in the contest.
The Bulls displayed signs of recovery at the start of the new year, reeling off three victories on the bounce. Butler put in his best performance of the season in their opening game of 2017, scoring 52 points to dispatch the Charlotte Hornets at United Center.
Chicago got the better of the Cavaliers on the road, limiting the potent offense of LeBron James and company to just 94 points. Hoiberg’s men produced another fine performance to overcome the Toronto Raptors in overtime, with Butler leading their charge with 42 points.
However, familiar struggles were just around the corner as they lost three matches on the spin to spiral back into trouble. The inconsistencies of the Bulls were again highlighted towards the end of the month, winning five out of their nine remaining contests to leave them at 24-25.
A run of poor form before the All-Star break looked to have put the death knell in their post-season aspirations, but four outstanding performances to beat Toronto, Boston, Phoenix and the Cavaliers lifted them above .500.
Hoiberg’s men rediscovered their worst at the wrong time of the campaign, dropping five games on the bounce at the start of March. The Bulls’ record dipped five games below .500, but a win over the Utah Jazz re-ignited their push in the final throes to secure their berth in the final game of the season just beating out the Heat due to their three wins over their rivals.
Chicago rocked the Celtics in the opening two matches of their first round clash, with Rondo, Wade and Butler putting the number one seed on the back foot. However, Boston roared back winning the final four matches – following Rondo’s injury – to advance and the Bulls’ term.
The Bulls have taken a gamble by allowing Butler to leave the club. In exchange they received a good player in the form of LaVine, enjoying the best season of his career last term. At the age of 22 he has the best years ahead of him and should provide a scoring threat in the final third, although not quite to the level that Butler produced during his time at United Center.
The Timberwolves selected Dunn fifth overall in the 2016 Draft and opted to make him part of the deal to acquire Butler after seeing just one season of his talent in Minnesota.
The 23-year-old can hit the ground running for the Bulls next term, learning the ropes in his rookie campaign. He was extremely productive in the college game with Providence and should he find that same form in Chicago then Hoiberg’s men could be in business.
Although Markkanen was born in Finland – he played his basketball in college with the Arizona Wildcats. The 20-year-old averaged 15.6 points per game last term and could be tasked with being an immediate contributor for Chicago in his rookie season. Therefore backing him at odds of +3300 with Bovada sportsbook could be a worthwhile punt.
Due to the amount of off-season changes made by the Bulls it would be a surprise to see them challenge for the Eastern Conference title. However, they did give Boston a scare in the playoffs so a small bet at +8000 with SkyBet would provide decent value.
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