At the beginning of the NBA season, I professed my basketball allegiance to the Golden State Warriors for the year because I was sick and tired of the crap that is the Chicago Bulls. Maybe it was a little harsh and maybe it’s because year in and year out the Bulls are always “close”. I used to drink the Bulls Kool-Aid, but I can’t any longer. The Bulls have had their chances even when they weren’t necessarily the best team in the NBA, but they had a team of try hard guys that played as a team. Things have changed dramatically from the head coach to the players, but one thing hasn’t changed, which is Bulls are not anywhere near winning an NBA championship. Until things change from upper management, Bulls will continue to be a middle of the road team despite their current record.
The Bulls have had success recently. They have been in the Playoffs 10 of the last 11 years. The last 5 years, under Tom Thibodeau, they were at or near the top of the Eastern Conference standings, whereas in previous years they were fighting their way into the playoffs. They currently sit in a tie for 3rd place in the conference and will most likely finish somewhere between 2nd and 5th (They have finished 1st, 1st, 5th, 4th, and 3rd the past 5 years). Derrick Rose is healthy after spending most or all of the last 3+ years fighting knee injuries. And Jimmy Butler is turning into a superstar right before our eyes.
So why am I jumping ship despite this seemingly successful run they are having? After reaching the Conference Finals in Thibs’ 1st year with the team, the Bulls have lost in the 1st, 2nd, 1st, and 2nd rounds respectively. Last year, with a full healthy squad, they caught Lebron James’ Cavs team playing without Kevin Love, and losing Kyrie Irving early in the series . . . and they still lost.
After their improbable series loss, what did the Bulls do to ensure they wouldn’t repeat this performance? First, let’s address the Cavs. They added Mo Williams, an experienced veteran who has played with Lebron before, and who gives them a much needed upgrade at backup PG because it is highly unlikely that the Matthew Dellavedova train has enough steam left for a repeat of last year’s playoff magic. They also resigned key players such as Love and Tristan Thompson to ensure they had the pieces in place to contend again. The Bulls? They fired their coach who they’ve had their greatest success with since the Jordan, Pippin, Phil Jackson era. They replaced him, and his defense 1st philosophy, with an offensive coach. And they resigned their 35 year old wing man. Did they add any players to fit their new coaches system? No. Did they address their weaknesses from the previous year? No. Did they make any creative moves to revamp their roster to ensure continued success, while also preparing for the future? No, no, no!!!!!
The Bulls took a disappointing loss, and their off season moves consisted of replacing their head coach (one of the most highly regarded in the league, although I’m not arguing with the move) and hoping really hard that everyone played better. Derrick Rose would be better because he would be healthy. Jimmy Butler would be better as he continues to outperform anyone’s expectations for him. Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah would remain pillars in the middle. Doug McDermott would actually get playtime to prove his worthiness of the Bulls trading up to get him. And Fred Hoiberg’s offense would allow everyone to shine! So to recap, disappointing loss, plus new coach, plus another year older for the exact same group of players that were a part of that loss, equals CHAMPIONSHIP!?! Seems flawed doesn’t it?
The Bulls are stuck in Basketball Hell, and the past year proves it more than anything else. Don’t get angry at that label, hear me out first. They aren’t the Philadelphia 76ers, but that’s not what I’m talking about. The 76ers aren’t in Basketball Hell, they just suck. They aren’t close to winning anything, despite a starting lineup worth of lottery picks the past few years. They haven’t won recently, they won’t win this year, and they aren’t going to win in the near future. By Basketball Hell, I mean the Bulls are stuck in this middle ground that is almost impossible to get out of. The Bulls are “one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference” year in and year out. But are they really Championship caliber? Have they really been contenders since that ECF loss to Miami in Rose’s MVP season? Some thought they were last year, but they lost to a 3 headed monster that was missing 2 of its heads despite the Bulls being at full strength!
Every year the Bulls are considered one of the best in the East. They get a high seed in the Playoffs, but aren’t good enough to win anything. They have poor draft picks due to their relative success in the regular season. Rinse, wash, dry, repeat. Most people think the Bulls will never go anywhere as long as Lebron remains in the East. My question is why not? The West doesn’t fear Lebron James, and they’ve proven it by beating him in the Finals. Why is the East so scared of him? Is it an easy task? No, but you have to try! The Bulls version of trying is crossing their fingers on BOTH of their hands and hoping really hard!
I’m tired of it. All of it. And I don’t see an end to it. Pau Gasol will finish his contract, then walk at the end of the year. Joakim Noah will finish his contract, then walk at the end of the year. Taj Gibson has been underutilized his entire career. Once one of the best bench players in the league, he has never had the chance at an expanded roll due to the Bulls giving that opportunity to others like Carlos Boozer and Gasol. The problem is, if he isn’t going to be used on the court, then use him off the court and trade this valuable commodity to fill needs you do have. That didn’t happen, and now his skills are declining. He still has value, but he also has a team-friendly contract. I’d argue that he has more value to the Bulls with his contract, then the return he’d get due to NBA Trade rules with matching salaries.
The big talk is that the Bulls will (more likely should) trade one of their big men to break up the log jam, and add a much needed wing player. That talk has been the same for the past 4, 5, 6 plus years, and yet it never happens. At best, the Bulls will get expiring contracts in return. But how does that help when you are giving up expiring contracts or at least team friendly ones? Plus, with a new TV contract on the horizon, the salary cap is expected to increase significantly, so expiring contracts carry less value than before, because most team’s will be able to add to their payroll as it is.
That being said, it is fun to play fantasy GM and speculate on the moves that the Bulls could make. Every year they are right in the middle of some of the hottest trade rumor talks. But open your eyes for a minute. This front office doesn’t make moves. Since 2010 they have acquired 3 players via trade. Andrew Bynum, Tornike Shengelia, and Anthony Randolph, all in 2014. Bynum was acquired as a salary dump. The Bulls traded Luol Deng for him, in the final year of his contract, where he was going to walk at the end of the year. Sound familiar? So start getting excited for every name you hear linked to the Bulls. Start finding ways to give up Taj Gibson and pieces for Kevin Durant so you can sign him before he hits Free Agency in the off season. Dream up whatever your little heart desires, but remember that the Bulls front office likes this team, thinks that they will still gel together, and thinks that if a sinkhole consumes Cleveland, that they can represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals, where they will promptly get swept by (insert name here).
Fool me once – shame on you.
Fool me twice – shame on me.
Fool me again and again and again and again . . . . . Let’s Go Warriors!!!!!
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