With minuscule playoff hopes, would it be smarter for the Bulls to rest Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose, and Taj Gibson for the rest of the season?
Technically, the Chicago Bulls are not yet mathematically eliminated from the playoffs being 2.5 games behind the Detroit Pistons for the 8th and final Eastern Conference playoff spot and 3.0 games back of the Indiana Pacers.
But with only four games left on the schedule, including a tough matchup against the Miami Heat tonight and then a meeting LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday, can we trust the Bulls to win out plus either the Pacers or Pistons (or both) to lose three of their next four? The midnight hour of the Bulls’ 2015-16 season appears to be fast approaching.
With this season shaping up to be a dead end whether they fail or succeed in making the playoffs—the Bulls would be looking at a first round date with LeBron as of now—should the Bulls to start looking ahead to next season? Namely, is it time to shut down Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose, and Taj Gibson for the remainder of this campaign?
The fan in me hates that I would even write these words, but given their injuries (Butler: left knee strain; Rose: left elbow contusion; Gibson: fractured rib), their projected status on next year’s team, and the way this Bulls season has shaped up, this approach is not without merit.
For one, barring any potential trades (which so far looks unlikely for all three players), Butler, Gibson, and Rose are all expected to be on the roster next year and are, in theory, going to be the nucleus of the team. Joakim Noah’s contract is up this year, and the whispers are that the Bulls will let him walk.
The same could also go for Pau Gasol, who has indicated since December that he would decline his 2016 player option that would pay him just under $8 million and likely won’t return to the Bulls unless they pony up more cash; with the NBA’s blockbuster $2.67 billion TV deal becoming coming into play next year, the sum he will want, given his strong play, could be bigger than the Bulls are willing to pay.
Should both (or possibly even just one) of these bigs leave the team, Gibson would be likely slide immediately into either the starting power forward or center position next season, depending on how much the Bulls like Bobby Portis and if they possibly bring in another front court player in free agency.
While Gibson is certainly a warrior and willing to play through pain, there is no long-term benefit to playing him at less than 100% at this point. Prudence would counsel the Bulls to allow him to heal and come back at maximum health for next season, when he could very well be playing starter’s minutes each night.
For Butler and Rose, the idea of taking precautions with health should be considered even further, especially if the Bulls lose tonight against the Heat. Rose’s injury list needs no recounting for Bulls fans, and his current ailment—a troublesome left elbow contusion—kept him out of two straight games in the midst of this most important stretch of the season, after which he returned vs. the Memphis Grizzlies to score 12 points on 5-15 shooting (33.3%) to go with eight assists and five turnovers.
While that’s better than Jimmy Butler’s 5 points on 2-8 shooting (25%), that wasn’t worth coming back from injury to do. After experiencing an uptick in his level of play earlier in the new year, his play has gone back to being inconsistent, and the Bulls have not benefited from his presence as much as they would have hoped. Taking his performance into account with his ailments, it might make sense to let Rose take a break right on through into the off-season.
It’s also important to note that while Butler has had some stellar games during the past week and a half (including his monster triple-double against the Pistons and his 25-point, 91% shooting night vs. the Bucks), he has been doing this after a left knee sprain that was serious enough to raise speculation of off-season knee surgery.
While Butler has to this point not committed to doing any such thing, he also is likely not operating at 100% as this apparently doomed season draws to its close. Who knows if injury/fatigue may have contributed to his off-night vs. the Grizzlies? Given that Butler is currently the best player on this team and is likely instrumental to their future success (check out Brendan Dzwierzynski’s post from yesterday), why would the Bulls want to risk more damage to a knee that is already in poor condition? T
he Bulls don’t want the distinction of having two star players having their careers fundamentally altered by knee injuries…
Butler and Rose are going to be in the lineup tonight vs. the Heat (Gibson is still out), so this is a moot point for the most immediate future. However, if the Bulls lose tonight, their playoff odds will dip below the 9.7% at which they currently sit and will keep their elimination number (currently at three) ticking down to zero. At that point, it could be in their best interests to wave the white flag and nurse their wounds for next season rather than continue trying to fight a battle that they will eventually lose to LeBron even if they manage to slip past the Pacers and Pistons, who would need to collapse badly.
Given the importance that Butler, Rose, and Gibson would appear to have looking ahead to the 2016-17 Bulls team, it might not be worth it to endanger their health for what could soon be nothing more than pride, especially when you still have to evaluate the players that will be helping them atone for this lost season next year.