Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Bulls Run As An "Elite" Team Is Over

     Probably only Bulls fans would remember that before the 2008 NBA when the team won the number one pick despite only having a 1.7% chance of doing so, General Manager John Paxon was almost out the door. He'd had enough time to do whatever it was he was going to do and the Bulls were going nowhere. Bulls' fans will probably also remember that the pick of Derrick Rose with the number one pick was no certainty, as many speculated the Bulls would draft Michael Beasley of Kansas State. But they took Rose, and that turn of a friendly card has saved John Paxon's ass far longer than he deserves. However, even the deodorant of Derrick Rose's superstardom couldn't cover the stench that was the Bulls' lineup this playoff season. When Derrick Rose hit the floor at the end of game one with one minute on the clock and a twelve point lead the air left the building, but after the initial shock wore off many still pointed to the Bulls' so-called bench compiling a 28-14 record without their superstar during the year. Many, like ESPN host Skip Bayless went so far as to opine the Bulls would be better off with John Lucas 3 playing point guard instead of Derrick Rose. Even up until last week many were lauding Tom Thibodeau's coaching job this year and campaigned for him to win a second consecutive Coach of the Year award.

     But here's the deal, people. Regular season wins count for almost nothing in the NBA. Superstars do. The Bulls swept the Miami Heat in the regular season series 4-0 last year, but when the chips were down in the playoff series the Heat buried the Bulls 4-1. There's no reason to believe it would have been any different this year, even with Derrick Rose. Tom Thibodeau, John Paxon, and Gar Forman have wasted three years by not surrounding Derrick Rose with players who will eventually help him win an NBA Championship. And they've gotten a pass from writers, fans, and analysts because of a gaudy record in meaningless regular season games, games Thibodeau sacrificed the bodies of his players to win. Games that essentially meant nothing.

     Decisions like allowing Luol Deng to keep playing instead of opt for rest or surgey to heal his wrist, rushing Rose back to the floor after multiple separate injuries to his toe, back, ankle, groin etc, and pursuing wins with a reckless abandon in meaningless regular season games all culminated last week on the floor of The United Center. The fans I hear on the radio this afternoon are the same ones I heard all year not saying what they are saying today. They didn't know this team had no chance of beating the Heat this year or any other year until it became apparent over the past few days.  

     Perhaps the Derrick Rose injury was necessary to make this clear. Without it it's likely the Bulls would have easily manhandled Philadelphia, fought through their second round opponent, then been throttled by Miami in the Eastern Conference finals, but the fans and writers would have said don't change anything, just tinker with it a little, we're almost there.

     No, the team is not almost there. Not even close. 

     It's not in the nature of Garpax to make big moves, so Bulls' fans shouldn't expect any in this offseason. No two guard who actually wants the ball at the end of games and can hit a shot, no big under the rim who can jump higher than a postage stamp, no help from the draft because of all those pointless regular season wins. 

     The Heat should easily win the NBA Championship this season, and there's no reason to believe they shouldn't win it every season until further notice. There's no reason to believe any sought after free agents would want to come to Chicago and play for a coach with a record of driving his players into the ground and insisting they play team defense rather than doing their own thing own thing. The Bulls wouldn't have beaten the Heat this season in the playoffs. Not a chance. And I mean no chance. After the Heat win the championship this year it seems likely every free agent in the league will be lining up to join the conga line to multiple NBA Championships. If Derrick Rose can't come back from this injury, or comes back less of a player than before, I predict the Bulls will just fade back into the ranks of the mediocre NBA also rans they have been since 1998. There was never a flash of insight that led this Bulls' team to rocket to the most regular season NBA wins, it was the pure luck of a ping pong ball bounce. The Bulls' have many obstacles now to overcome besides Derrick Rose's injury, not the least of which is a coach who's stubborn, inflexible philosophies will only drive away free agents and further diminish the careers of whatever players are unfortunate enough to not be able to leave Chicago. This story arc is over. Remember it. Times even this good may not come again for a long, long time.

Good luck in the Olympics, Luol. The fact that any Bulls player even considered competing in the Olympics this year is a joke. 

December 11, 2012 update: Coach T continues to grind his players into dust, and now refuses to play who he has on the bench. I think John Paxon needs to step aside and I'm wondering if coach Thibodeau's hard-ass attitude won't cause him to lose his team and discourage free agents from wanting to play here. I think the Bulls are back in basketball hell.

March 26, 2013 update: Derrick Rose still doesn't feel like playing basketball..

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