By Cody Westerlund–
(CBS) The Bulls kicked off the 2016-’17 season with media day Monday at the Advocate Center before they open practice with a scheduled double session Tuesday. While a headlining story is whether coach Fred Hoiberg can balance the needs of and find continuity for a new-look unit infused with Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, there are plenty of other subplots as well.
Here are the notes and observations from media day.
1. Flanking Bulls general manager Gar Forman at the press conference was his boss, executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson. This was notable because Forman had handled such season-opening media briefings himself in recent years. For Paxson to take questions meant he actively wanted his voice to be heard.
How much meaning that carries is debatable, but it’s refreshing to hear from the straight-shooting Paxson, who like he did last April openly stressed the Bulls want to see growth from Hoiberg and didn’t waste time like Forman does reciting numbers of yesteryear that have no present-day value. Paxson is big on leadership, and it appears he’s taking on more of a headlining role now, as he referenced having a number of “sitdowns” with Hoiberg this past offseason as well to talk shop.
2. The Bulls medical and athletic performance staffs have had preliminary discussions with the 34-year-old Wade about his minutes workload, but the team hasn’t finalized a plan yet. Wade played in 74 games last season, his most since 2010-’11, and averaged 30.5 minutes.
“That’s going to be fluid,” Forman said of Wade’s usage. “I don’t know that any definitive have come from that yet, but it’s obviously something that we’ll watch in regards to Dwyane being a little bit older but really to a number of our players. We’ve obviously invested a lot in athletic performance, and it’s an area we’ve done a lot of study in and we’ve got a lot of analytics as far as in that area.”
Hoiberg called Wade playing in 74 games last season “tremendous,” so the expectation isn’t that Wade will play every night. It would seem logical to sit him on one end of the back-to-backs here and there as the season wears on.
“The biggest thing with Dwyane is being in constant communication on everything,” Hoiberg said. “How he’s feeling, making sure his body is right.”
3. Paxson expressed a belief that the season could tilt on the development the younger players, notably forward Niko Mirotic and wing Doug McDermott.
“We are going to need our young players,” Paxson said. “We can talk about the five vets. It’s not a one-man game or a five-man game either. It’s playing roles and accepting roles and helping us win games.
“Niko Mirotic, Doug McDermott, Denzel Valetine, these guys are going to get opportunity. And we’re going to find out a lot about them. In a lot of ways, that will probably dictate how well we do.”
At one point, Paxson singled out McDermott with praise. McDermott shot 42.5 percent on 3-pointers last season, the sixth-best mark in the NBA.
” I thought Doug showed real flashes of what he can be offensively,” Paxson said. “One thing we haven’t mentioned about Rajon, he’s an assist leader, a distributor. If I’m a shooter like he is, I’m going to find my open spots on the floor. Doug will have opportunity to benefit.”
4. Who’s going to have the ball in their hands in crunch time for the Bulls? Jimmy Butler or Wade? Or will Rondo be creating for others?
Everyone is reciting the company line well so far — some variation of it will “depend on matchups” — but it’s a subplot worth following all season, as the failures in such instances will shed light on whether these Bulls will have tight-knit chemistry or locker room fractures and hard feelings.
“That’s going to be on coach Hoiberg for who has the ball in crunch time,” Butler said. “Whoever has it going, the object of the game is to win. Whoever is going to put the ball in the basket at the end of the game is probably going to have the ball. The alpha thing, I think we’ll be just fine. Everybody is going to have something to say. As long as everybody is listening and is willing to take some criticism if you’re doing something wrong, just like if you’re doing something right I’m going to tell you, there’s good and bad in everything you do. At the end of the day, as long as we win games, it won’t matter.”
5. Near the end of last season, Hoiberg acknowledged there was wisdom behind staggering the minutes of Butler and former Bulls point guard Derrick Rose more. With Rose traded to the Knicks, such calculus now revolves around Butler and Wade.
While the Bulls have to see their new-look group on the floor to decide how and when to split up minutes, they have done research into staggering the minutes of Butler and Wade.
“We’ve put a lot of thought into that, and that will work itself out as we get into preseason games and even as we get into the first part of the season,” Hoiberg said. “Who fits best with who? Do you take them out early to get them back in, be the leader of that second group? Then again, who is going to be on the floor in crunch-time at the end of games? But yeah, that’s been a big part of our season, thinking about who fits best with who on the floor.’’
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. He’s also the co-host of the @LockedOnBulls podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes and Stitcher. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.