Issues for Bulls Run Much Deeper Than Jimmy Butler Leadership Questions


At 16-12, the Chicago Bulls are searching high and low for an identity. That’s one of the many issues, on top of their newest stars ability to lead the franchise.

Same ol’ Chicago Bulls, right?

On Christmas Day, the Bulls went into Oklahoma City to face the Thunder after three days filled with practices and more questions more than answers.

The Bulls not only defeated the Thunder to win their third straight game on Christmas, they racked up arguably their biggest win of the season.

The next night is where the phrase “same ol’ Bulls” begins to fit.

Former Illinois Fighting Illini guard and current Dallas Mavericks guard Deron Williams missed Saturday night’s game against the Bulls with a hamstring issue, but that didn’t stop his replacement from having the game of his life.

J.J. Barea scored a game-high 26 points on 7-of-8 shooting from beyond the three-point line to lead the Mavericks to a 118-111 victory over the Bulls; the fourth loss in the last five games for the Bulls.

Then, before Monday’s game against the Toronto Raptors, this hit the headlines.

The report came from NBC Sports NBA insider Kurt Helin via the Posting Up podcast with Tim Bontemps.

On the podcast, Bontemps spoke with ESPN Chicago’s Nick Friedell on the status of the Bulls internally.

Here’s what Friedell told Bontemps (via Helin’s transcription):

"“You talk to anybody within that Bulls organization, and they’ll tell you that Jimmy has changed. His personality has changed.And it’s not to say he’s wrong in that.But this was a kid that loved saying he was from Tomball, Texas and that he was just a role player on a really good team. And now he wants all the trappings that come with being a star in the league.And that’s all well and good.But again, this ties back into the leadership problem this team has. You can say all that, but you can’t just say, “Alright, I’m the leader.” You have to earn that respect over time. Maybe Jimmy will.”"

Butler’s attempts at becoming a leader for the Bulls apparently aren’t sitting well with the rest of the franchise. On top of that, the Bulls don’t look anything like a contender through the first 28 games.

The issues for the Bulls run deeper than “OK, who is the leader of this team?”

The main issue for the Bulls right now is remaining consistent.

More from Bulls History

Through the first 28 games, the Bulls have two four-game winning streaks. On top of those streaks, the Bulls also have two separate three-game losing streaks, along with losing four of their last five games at the moment.

The big stretch to circle so far this season was the three-day window from Dec. 16-18.

After a 13-point win against Memphis at home, the Bulls had won their fourth game in a row and were sitting at 15-8 through 23 games.

(For the record, Tom Thibodeau’s coaching record during the 2010-11 season was also 15-8. The Bulls would finish 62-20 that season; Derrick Rose‘s MVP season.)

Then, a four-overtime loss to Detroit at home has seemingly sent the Bulls into a downward spiral that they’re still trying to recover from.

Everything seems to be trending downward for the Bulls and for good reason.

It’s not just, “Oh, Jimmy Butler doesn’t know how to lead a team!”

That’s true.

Butler doesn’t know how to lead a team.

This is Butler’s first real season in the NBA spotlight and he might be biting off more than he can crew in the first year of a new five-year deal.

The other so-called “leaders” of the franchise for the Bulls—Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah—haven’t exactly stepped the plate either. Rose is the midst of his worst season ever (despite two solid performances in the last two games) and Noah is on the shelf for a few weeks with a left shoulder issue.

On top of their leadership issues and inconsistency, the crowded front court rotation isn’t getting any easier to decipher.

Noah’s injury has opened up minutes for Bobby Portis to produce, but Nikola Mirotic is basically position-less right now (because he’s definitely not a small forward) and Pau Gasol‘s continuous matador defense isn’t helping matters.

Mirotic’s move to the SF spot is due to the fact that Tony Snell basically provides nothing on the nightly basis (that’s actually almost happened this season) and despite his hot shooting and relentless work with assistant coach Jim Boylen, Doug McDermott can’t guard a traffic cone in his second season.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for the Bulls not looking like the team many thought they could be coming into the season.

The high-powered offense outlook hasn’t come to fruition and it’s been the defense (with a hint of luck) that’s carried the Bulls to some relevant wins over Oklahoma City (twice), San Antonio and Cleveland.

Blog a Bull’s Tyler Pleiss wrote an excellent piece on the Bulls defense from Saturday night against Dallas and in the last five-game stretch.

The main takeaway from the piece was the downward trend of the Bulls defense without Joakim Noah for four of the last five games.

"While the Bulls have seen an uptick in its offense during said stretch, 13th in scoring at 105 points per 100 possessions, the defense has suffered: allowing 108.6 points per 100 possessions, sixth worst, resulting in a -3.7 net rating overall.(Tyler Pleiss, SB Nation’s Blog a Bull)"

In the next 10 games for the Bulls, they’ll take on Toronto (twice), Indiana, New York, Milwaukee (twice), Atlanta and Washington.

Next: Despite Good Performance, Derrick Rose Blames Self for Loss to Dallas

There’s no clear-cut contender to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference.

It’s basically just Cleveland and then the field.

Starting on Monday, the Bulls start a key stretch heading into the new year against some relevant teams in the East.

Now would be a good time to start getting everybody on the same page.