Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler both shone as Chicago got their season off to a perfect start with a 105-99 win over the Boston Celtics at the United Centre. The Bulls are one of the most intriguing NBA stories this year…
The Chicago Bulls were in danger of being totally irrelevant this year following the departures of high profile stars Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol in the off season. All the talk was of a complete rebuild and there were even some rumours on draft night that star player Jimmy Butler would be traded so the Bulls could move up into one of the top picks.
Had that happened the Bulls would surely have been throwing the towel in on this season, but thankfully Butler wasn’t traded and management then did a complete about face on their “rebuild with youth” plan. First they signed 30 year old free agent point guard, Rajon Rondo, and then followed that up by taking advantage of the messy divorce between Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat to bring the 34 year old future Hall of Famer back to his hometown and the team he supported as a kid.
A risk, certainly (particularly in the case of Rondo), but what choice did Chicago have? They could have gone down the Sixers route and sucked to get high draft picks, but by going in this direction they’ve ensured that they’ll be at worst a middle of the road team this year, but maybe, just maybe….
I’ve read a lot since about how these big personalities won’t mesh; that Jimmy won’t like Wade coming in and usurping him as the Alpha Dog, or that Rondo’s abrasive personality will rub Wade (or coach Fred Hoiberg) up the wrong way and various other things. Maybe it will all go south, it’s certainly possible. But then again maybe it won’t. It’s certainly going to be fun finding out.
Wade and Rondo both keep stressing it’s Jimmy’s team and in terms of their styles, aside from the lack of outside shooting (opening game success notwithstanding) there doesn’t seem to be any reason why they can’t play together. Butler and Rose were never compatible but Rondo isn’t Rose, he’s just about the polar opposite to Rose in fact. As for Wade, he’s got experience of sharing the spotlight and it’s never seemed to bother him. He’s always been a good team-mate so why would that change now?
They certainly looked on the same page in their season opener against Boston when Chicago led almost from start to finish (the Celtics took a one point lead briefly in the third). Wade and Butler both got plenty of shots and surprised everybody by nailing four each from downtown. The salty as ever Rondo got in a couple of altercations with Celtics players and brought just much needed edge to a Bulls team who had none last year.
Others stepped up too, most notably Taj Gibson (a favourite of mine) who had 18 points and 10 rebounds. Several role players contributed and all in all this was probably better than most people expected, especially against a fancied team like Boston who are expected to go deep into the playoffs this year.
It was certainly strange pulling for Wade though as I’ve disliked him going back to the Bulls playoff battles with the Heat, back when D Rose could dunk and was the league MVP (seems like a lifetime ago now). I didn’t like Rondo much either, let’s face it no-one does unless he’s on your team. Now they’re both Bulls so it’s different. Being a sports fan means you’re allowed to flip flop like that.
There was an edge to the Celtics game throughout and Rondo was usually in the thick of it. Both he and Butler picked up technicals along with two Celtics players after Butler and his former college team-mate Jai Crowder got into a little spat. Butler remarked afterwards “I want to thank Rondo for backing me up. Wade was practising his three point shot!”
Wade’s got no time for this… pic.twitter.com/CSmdJa0ob8
— Brendan Tobin (@Brendan_Tobin) October 28, 2016
Opinion seems to be split on the Bulls chances this year though. Shaquille O’Neal had them down as a definite playoff team in the pre-match show on TNT, whereas Charles Barkley was having none of it. Both backed up their arguments well. There’s a lot of mystery about this team, which just makes them all the more interesting.
The Bulls probably won’t be serious contenders for anything this year, but they will definitely be worth watching. I’m biased because they’re my team, but even if they weren’t this is still one of the more interesting storylines in the NBA this year.
The neutral hoops fan surely has to be curious as to how Wade is going to fare back in his hometown, or if Jimmy is going to elevate his game further by playing with a star like Wade and a selfless assist machine like Rondo. Personally, the thing I’m most intrigued by is whether Rondo can get himself back to the All Star level performer he was with the Celtics.
All of these questions will be answered as the season progresses, but after flirting with the abyss the Bulls are definitely going to be worth tuning in for this year, and I’m happy about that because last year I just couldn’t muster up any kind of enthusiasm for them at all.