Posted by sportsmaven on April 21, 2008
The NBA playoffs started this weekend and noticeably absent are the Chicago Bulls. While the best teams in the NBA begin the “money” season, teams like the Milwaukee Bucks hire disciplinarian coaches like Scott Skiles. Other teams like the Chicago Bulls are holding their off season team meetings and wondering what to make of the mess of a wrecked season.
In the NBA, like other major professional sports leagues, teams win with a combination of athleticism/talent and desire. With talent and desire, you are the San Antonio Spurs or the Boston Celtics. With lack of athleticism/talent, but an abundance of desire, you can be teams like this year’s Philadelphia 76ers and in the past, teams like the Chicago Bulls. Teams with neither talent or desire become the Memphis Grizzlies or the New York Knicks.
What exactly happened with the Chicago Bulls this season? The Bulls were a team with little talent but with great desire. They worked, hustled, played defense according to the gospel of John Paxson and Scott Skiles. It brought the Bulls 49 wins last season, a playoff series win against the rapidly aging Miami Heat, and a heated playoff series loss to the Detroit Pistons. Entering this season, the Chicago Bulls had a high draft pick, compliments of the New York Knicks and all their starters returning from last season’s successful run. Many picked the Bulls to win the Eastern Conference and advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since the Michael Jordan era.
Then, two things happened that led to the downfall of this year’s team. First, Bulls GM John Paxson knew that he needed a superstar talent to lead this team. Every successful team in the NBA, short of the Detroit Pistons, have a superstar player, a team leader, the guy that will take over in crunch time of a game and impose the will to win on his teammates. Paxson missed badly on acquiring C Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves and whiffed a couple of times on trades for C Pau Gasol. Paxson had drafted some very nice complementary players from solid, winning college programs after cleaning up the mess left by previous Bulls GM Jerry Krause, but none had proven to be the superstar, athletic talent that teams require to compete in the upper echelon of NBA championship contenders. Paxson correctly determined that he needed to acquire that superstar player, and as timing would have it, during the NBA pre-season, Kobe Bryant, arguably the best player in the NBA was vocally unhappy with his situation and publicly stated he desire to get out of Los Angeles. To his credit, Paxson inquired about the availability of Kobe Bryant and rumors ran rampant over the airwaves. Bryant was sure to be traded, as there has been no love lost between Bryant and Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, supposedly Jackson had enough with his moody star player. The table was set for a blockbuster deal with prime players identified from the Bulls being some combination of Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas, Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich, and Ben Wallace. Luol Deng and Ben Gordon were also offered what each player considered lowball contract offers going into the preseason, but combined with the trade talks, led to a bad taste in every player’s mouths. In the end, the teams never came to terms on players and the deal fell through as the season began.
The second thing that happened was most likely residual from the events above, for some reason, most every player on the Bulls had stopped responding to the playing and coaching style that brought great success to the Bulls. The Bulls stopped hustling for loose balls, stopped playing hard nosed defense, lacked hustle, with team play virtually non-existent. Both Deng and Gordon admitted that the Kobe Bryant trade rumors plus the perceived lowball contract offers affected their play. Each played as through they had to individually prove they were worth not only bigger contracts, but to justify not being traded for Bryant. Their play dropped off dramatically, along with the other potential players in the trade, Kirk Hinrich, Ben Wallace, and Tyrus Thomas and the fate of Coach Scott Skiles and the Chicago Bulls was sealed.
So where does that leave the Bulls now? John Paxson had two of the most difficult tasks to complete in last year’s off-season. He needed to find a superstar, talented player and needed to move Ben Wallace and his albatross contract. Paxson was successful in unloading Wallace to the Cleveland Cavaliers after this season was lost, but has been glaringly unsuccessful in getting that superstar athletic stud talent, and without the high draft picks that can yield that player in the NBA draft. If the Bulls get lucky to land one of the top 2 picks and be in a position to get C Michael Beasley or G Derrick Rose, they can still leverage a combination of Larry Hughes, Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, or Drew Gooden to land a second superstar type player to fuel their rebuilding process. The Bulls need athletic, talented players that have the desire to compete and win every night and need to complement those players with a supporting cast of complimentary players. Right now, they have the complimentary players, but they still lack the superstar.
The Bulls also need a coach that will bring the team spirit back, a coach that can get the players to buy into the team concept once again. Rick Carlisle is available, as is Larry Brown as well as a slew of other ex-NBA coaches that work for ESPN, TNT, or any other network that employs ex-basketball coaches. This offseason is mission critical for GM John Paxson. If he doesn’t get it right, his next moves will be as ex-GM of the Chicago Bulls.
Posted in Chicago Bulls | Tagged: Basketball, Ben Gordon, Ben Wallace, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Chicago Sports, Derrick Rose, Detroit Pistons, Drew Gooden, ESPN, Jerry Krause, Joakim Noah, John Paxson, Kevin Garnett, Kirk Hinrich, Kobe Bryant, Larry Brown, Larry Hughes, Los Angeles Lakers, Luol Deng, Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat, Michael Beasley, Michael Jordan, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, NBA, NBA Finals, New York Knicks, Pau Gasol, Phil Jackson, Philadelphia 76ers, Rick Carlisle, San Antonio Spurs, Scott Skiles, TNT, Tyrus Thomas | 4 Comments »
Posted by sportsmaven on January 19, 2008
Watching the Chicago Bulls play the Golden State Warriors tonight in a 119-111 home loss, it occurred to me that the Bulls are flat out, not a very good team. And that’s about as polite as I can get about a team that really lacks game-breaking talent or any semblance of leadership, organization, or passion. The Bulls also lack a clear identity and that’s been a long running problem for this team and organization. The Bulls have somehow figured out a way to take two and a half steps back on the path to reclaiming their glory days of the Michael Jordan years.
(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
It appeared that the Bulls were assembling good, solid, fairly skilled players that are fundamentally sound and would be great complementary pieces to a marquee free agent signing. The Bulls then signed F/C Ben Wallace and paid him a boat load of money, but I’m still not exactly sure WHY they signed him. He was a high profile name, coming from a successful, NBA Champion pedigreed team in the Detroit Pistons, and seemed to be high energy with the heart of a gamer. A closer look at Ben Wallace shows an undersized F/C that was clearly on the downside of his career, a defensive stopper with no offensive game, a free throw shooter on par with Shaquille O’Neal, in short, not the marquee name to slide into the star role the Bulls sorely lack and need.
Future drafts and free agents signings brought in good, talented players from successful college programs. The Bulls were assembling more complementary talent, that I was sure was earmarked for a trade to bring a game-breaker or two. Then the Tyrus Thomas pick….GM John Paxson moved off the playbook and drafted for potential, bypassing C LaMarcus Aldridge for a more athletic, less fundamental, sky high potential of a freak athlete with only two years of college basketball under his belt. Then the whole thing blew up under the weight of high expectations following a 49 win season in 2006-2007.
After tonight’s home loss the Bulls record stands at 14-22, 8 games under .500 and having a very Chicago Bears-like season. The Bulls, owners of a win streak no longer than two games, are a mess. The Joakim Noah farce was the latest in a turbulent season that has seen gross underachievement, the firing of very successful head coach, Scott Skiles, on Christmas Eve, nonetheless, the two day pause in naming Jim Boylan as interim head coach (as if Skiles was fired with no plan for a replacement in mind) and now G JamesOn Curry developing a urination problem that required resisting arrest and an overnight stay in a Boise, ID jail cell.
The record and poor play would have been more than enough to dislodge the faithful. Add in the endless public relations nightmares, repeated over and over again, the lack of any clear direction or vision for this team, and the lack of any action to forge an identity (pointing out lack of pulling triggers on trades for Memphis C Pau Gasol, C Kevin Garnett, SG Kobe Bryant, or any other playmaker that can make a difference). Now there is talk that the Bulls may be interested in Tracy McGrady. Please. The Bulls are turning into the New York Knicks, and doing it so well, that people are forgetting about the real New York Knicks. Only in the NBA Eastern Conference, would a team like the Bulls be sniffing a playoff spot with this kind of karma……Note to Ben Gordon and Luol Deng: you should have signed those contracts.
Posted in Chicago Bulls | Tagged: Basketball, Ben Gordon, Ben Wallace, Bulls, Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors, JamesOn Curry, Jim Boylan, Joakim Noah, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, LaMarcus Aldridge, Michael Jordan, NBA, New York Knicks, Pau Gasol, Scott Skiles, Shaquille O'Neal, Tracy McGrady, Tyrus Thomas | Leave a Comment »
Posted by sportsmaven on February 26, 2007
It was a homecoming of sorts for Ben Wallace yesterday in a rare afternoon matinee as the Chicago Bulls fell to the Detroit Pistons 95-93. The Bulls had a 16 point lead in the third quarter, but as history has reared it’s ugly head, the Bulls have blown yet another 2nd half double digit lead (note the 2 18 point leads lost in back to back games against the New Jersey Nets eariler this season). This game had all I love and hate about the NBA and pro basketball. The love: good intense physical basketball with two solid contenders in the Central Division, good mix of athletic, inside/outside play and a good matchup. What I hate: Chris Webber getting away with a blatant push to put back the game winner ( I didn’t realize that Chris Webber got the same respect from the refs as say a Kobe Bryant), the Bulls allowing Detroit 20 offensive rebounds (any one of which cost them this game) and the fact that Ben Gordon still can’t hit a game winner (4th one he’s missed as of late).
(AP Photo/Gary Malerba)
This game, shown to a national television audience, shows how far apart the Bulls and Pistons are as the class of the Eastern Conference. The Pistons seem like they haven’t missed a beat in losing C Ben Wallace, while the Bulls haven’t closed much ground in acquiring Wallace. The Bulls were content to let the trade deadline pass without making a deal, which I believe was the smart thing to do given the outrageously high price that the Memphis Grizzlies put on C Pau Gasol and the apparent unavailability of Minnesota Timberwolves C Kevin Garnett. F Luol Deng is emerging as a budding superstar in his 3rd year in the NBA and he definitely would have been a part of a Garnett trade scenario, but wisely, wasn’t part of a Gasol scenario.
The Bulls are on pace to finish between 44 and 47 victories this season, which would probably put them between a 4 and 6 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The New York Knicks have been playing improved basketball as of late, so their pick may just fall out of the lottery. This offseason will be key for the future direction of the Bulls. They need an inside scoring threat/skilled big man to move to the next level….will it be too late?
Posted in Chicago Bulls | Tagged: Ben Gordon, Ben Wallace, Central Division, Chicago Bulls, Chris Webber, Detroit Pistons, Eastern Conference, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Luol Deng, Minnesota Timberwolves, NBA, New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks, Pau Gasol | Leave a Comment »
Posted by sportsmaven on February 10, 2007
Who are these Chicago Bulls? I hardly know these days. This Bulls team is an enigma, an inconsistent enigma. The Bulls lost a very winnable game tonight to the Golden State Warriors. A game where they led by 14 points going into the 4th quarter. A game where they scored 93 points through 3 quarters. The Bulls lose 123-121 in OT, guaranteeing a losing road trip.
(AP Photo/George Nikitin)
It figured that the Bulls would struggle, as they have not won in Golden State since the 1998 championship season. When asked about the game, Bulls coach Scott Skiles commented:
“We built a nice lead,” Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. “We just lost focus.”
Nice. These are the games the Bulls will look back on at the end of the season and say that they should have had this. This Golden State team is struggling. They were 23-27 going into tonight. This was the Bulls game and they let it get away. Lack of focus? This Bulls team cannot afford lack of focus. They are not good enough to be able to turn it on and off on a nightly basis. When this team works hard and is very focused, they are difficult to beat. When they are lacksidasical and unfocused, they are their own worst enemy. The Bulls beat themselves tonight. As of this evenings results, the Bulls are holding the #5 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, which is not home court advantage. The Eastern Conference is once again, a weak conference this season, but teams like the Bulls, who many consider to be the best team in the East, underachieve, making the Eastern Conference race wide open.
As the trade deadline approaches, the Bulls need to consider how to improve this team. Again, I have been a stong backer of a Kevin Garnett deal. I am really hoping that it’s not a Pau Gasol deal. Kevin Garnett in Chicago equates to the Bulls being the Eastern Conference frontrunners and a definite NBA title contender, but the question is, at what price?
Posted in Chicago Bulls | Tagged: Chicago Bulls, Eastern Conference, Golden State Warriors, Kevin Garnett, NBA, Pau Gasol, Scott Skiles | Leave a Comment »
Posted by sportsmaven on February 6, 2007
The Chicago Bulls continue their march through the Western Conference on their current 7 game road trip. They must have taken some cues from their football bretheren in Chicago, as the Bulls were beat pretty handily by the Utah Jazz 100-95. Coach Scott Skiles said the Bulls played hard, but not smart. (sound familiar?). Basically, they could not keep up with 6’11″ Jazz C Mehmet Okur yet again. The book is out on the Bulls – exploit them in the middle, especially late in the game. The Bulls still lack a back to the basket post-up player.
With the trading deadline a couple of weeks away, I can tell you right now that I don’t like a Pau Gasol trade at all. He couldn’t cut it in Memphis. Some believe that he doesn’t want to be “The Man” and that going to a team where he can be a second or third option would benefit his game. My feeling is that the Bulls have enough guys on the team who are second or third options. What the Bulls need is someone who is feared, someone who can take over when the game is on the line. Seeing as guys like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Gilbert Arenas, and others are locked up with their perspective teams, it only makes send to go after a guy like Kevin Garnett, to be that go-to guy. Meanwhile, the Bulls are 28-21 and 2-2 on the 7 game road trip.
What do you think about a Kevin Garnett scenario to the Bulls? It’s got to be better than Pau Gasol……thoughts?
Posted in Chicago Bulls | Tagged: Chicago Bulls, Gilbert Arenas, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Mehmet Okur, Pau Gasol, Scott Skiles, Utah Jazz, Western Conference | Leave a Comment »