So far this season the Chicago Bulls have simply looked uninspired. Here are a couple ways they may be able to re-establish themselves as viable title contenders.
Develop a Team Identity
Over the past few years the Chicago Bulls have arguably been the most injury-riddled team in the league. During the Tom Thibodeau era the Bulls defined themselves through their defensive presence and gritty work ethic. Although they repeatedly found themselves short-handed, the Bulls were still considered a force in the Eastern Conference. This "never-quit mentality" was largely fostered by team leader Joakim Noah and reverberated strongly amongst fans in the city of Chicago. At the end of the day there was never a doubt whether or not the Bulls' players cared about winning.
Unfortunately, the injury-bug seems to still be in Chicago. However, the Bulls quandaries cannot be marginalized solely by their health issues. The players have had ample time to adjust to new coach Fred Hoiberg and his system; nevertheless, the team still looks dazed and confused. Since January 9th the team has gone an egregious 5-13 and at their current pace they may not even make the playoffs. Ironically, many agreed before the start of the season that the current roster is one of the best in the league on paper.
Joakim Noah embodies the heart and soul of this Bulls team. With him being out, another Bulls player will have to fill the void and step up as a natural leader. Although Jimmy Butler has tried to be more vocal, Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol seem to operate within the team from more passive roles. A lack of communication and ball movement are what have been killing the Bulls on both sides of the floor. In order to spur their team's competitive spirit, it is vital that players step up with authority and hold each other accountable. If team chemistry can continue to develop, this should in turn positively influence offensive/defensive efficiency.
Coach Hoiberg promised a fast-paced offensive-minded system that would ideally mirror that of the league-best Golden State Warriors. It is highly evident that on defense the Bulls have multiple liabilities. Regardless, the Bulls proved in the past that a lack of talent does not necessarily need to translate into lethargic play and lack of effort. In order for the Bulls to succeed they must first recognize that their team has evolved. It is essential that they focus on each of their players' individual strengths and use them to reshape the team's identity. In addition, veteran players need to show the younger players how to effectively utilize the defensive principles instilled by former Coach Tom Thibodeau.
Explore the Trade Market
As the trade deadline approaches, Bulls management will have a lot to consider. Front court players like Noah and Nikola Mirotic have largely diminished value due to recent injuries. In addition, veteran power forward Gasol is likely to opt out as a free agent this summer. Defensive anchor Taj Gibson has value but due to a recent influx of injuries, trading him could leave the Bulls even more short-handed on big men. Younger players such as Tony Snell and Doug McDermott also have very limited value. The Bulls are in desperate need of another defensive stopper who can take some of the weight off of Jimmy Butler's shoulders as well as someone who can serve as an offensive spark off of the bench.
The pending salary cap raise will also make it difficult for the Bulls to leverage their already limited trade assets. The only 2 star players that seem to have substantial value are Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose. Butler just signed a max offer this past offseason and has easily been the Bulls best player thus far. Unfortunately, he too has recently fallen prey to the injury bug and is to be sidelined 3-4 weeks with a left knee injury. Rose is currently the Bulls highest paid player but due to his extensive resume of injuries and lack of consistency it is unlikely that many teams will be interested in picking up his contract. Ultimately Bulls management will have to decide if they want to begin rebuilding the team or find ways to pursue big name players such as Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, and Al Horford.