Meet the new Bulls, the same as the old Bulls

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Next year’s Bulls team could feature a lot of the same faces from the team that went 41-41 in 2016-17. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Did you like the 2016-17 Bulls? No? You thought they were a collection of average, odd-fitting pieces and, worse, a bland collection of average, odd-fitting pieces?

Too bad. You very well could be stuck with them.

A 41-41 record speaks of mediocrity, and, if a Bulls news conference Wednesday is any indication, that mediocrity is not going to shut up any time soon.

Vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman sat in front of reporters at the United Center and talked about staying the course with the same actors who brought you that thoroughly average product this season. If you want change, start digging in your car’s seat cushions.

There will be no significant changes in the Bulls’ front office.

No change at head coach.

Gar-Pax didn’t rule out trading Jimmy Butler, but they don’t want a complete roster rebuild.

An assistant coach could get axed, which is what teams do when they want to look like they’re making changes without making changes.

No one thought there was going to be a bloodletting — the Bulls are still a Jerry Reinsdorf property, after all — but, I don’t know, was a paper cut or two asking the world? Something that might say, hey, this is how unacceptable we found this season to be? Instead, nothing.

Paxson and Forman both said player contracts preclude the team from making a splash in the offseason. In other words, what can a couple of shrugging front-office guys do? What they didn’t say was that they were the ones who handed out the contracts that now hamstring the franchise.

I’m guessing Gar-Pax would love to get out of the contract that will pay 35-year-old Dwyane Wade $23.8 million next season, a contract, by the way, that puts the decision of Wade’s return in 2017-18 solely in his hands. Which means he’s not going anywhere. Giving him all that money just to add a superstar name to a sort-of rebuild is why the Bulls find themselves where they are. I’ll let you guess which hyphenated front-office duo gave him that contract.

Clunky contracts are why Gar-Pax complimented almost everybody on the Bulls’ roster Wednesday. They “value’’ Nikola Mirotic. Bobby Portis “made some real strides,’’ Forman said. I thought Tyrus Thomas might get a shout-out, just for old time’s sake.

The goal, Paxson and Forman said, is to find out how good the team’s young players are, which means more consistent playing time for them next season. So expect a lot more Cameron Payne.

That leads us to Butler, the team’s best player and only true commodity. The Bulls are in the worst place you can be in the NBA, in the meaty midsection of the standings, a position that comes with a middle-of-the-pack first-round draft pick. It’s pretty much a maximum-security prison.

If you’re Butler, you’re gazing at a future that doesn’t look a whole lot different from the present you’re experiencing now. Paxson dismissed the idea of a complete rebuild, but that might be the most humane thing to do for Butler and for Bulls fans.

“The thing with Jimmy is, all of us would love to go out and get another superstar player to go along with him, but right now the situation we’re in, with the salaries we have and that type of thing, that’s a difficult thing for us to manage,’’ Paxson said.

Forman talked about being in position cap-wise to land a big-time free agent down the line because that’s what the Bulls always talk about. Inevitably, name-brand free agents go elsewhere. The Bulls then trot out someone past his prime or roll out a guy on a gurney.

There’s no boldness to what the Bulls are doing, and that’s no surprise either. Signing Wade and Rajon Rondo wasn’t bold. It was a way to pander to those ticket-buying fans who want someone recognizable on the court, no matter how many age spots are involved. I wonder how many of those fans were happy while the Celtics were stomping the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs.

The Bulls didn’t do Hoiberg any favors by giving him players who can’t run his up-tempo offense, and Gar-Pax acknowledged that by saying they needed to find some better shooters and athletes for him. But they also said they would push Hoiberg to give more playing time to the young players on the roster.

There are at least two scary things about the plan, lower-case “p’’:

We still don’t know if those young players — Payne and Denzel Valentine, among others — can play.

And we still don’t know if Hoiberg can coach.

Other than that, things are going great.

The arrow is neither pointing up nor down for the Bulls. It’s just pointing, accusingly.

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