Okay Pippen Peoples, let’s be honest for a second. Who thought the Chicago Bulls would be in the third seed in the Leastern conference? I’ll wait. To all the people who believed…you are a FANATIC for real or you lie. Despite the season ending injury to Derrick Rose (for real, you guys, for real), to the trade of leading scorer Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers to clear cap space, to being silent on “Trade Away Tuesday” to signing a NBA clothing line model named Jimmer Fredette. I for one am shocked that the Bulls are in third place as of this writing in the conference standings. What a difference 90 days makes! When I came on to Pippen Ain’t Easy at the end of December, this team was in complete disarray with no identity and basically no future. Let’s break down the sequence of events and see what in the world happened.
1) Derrick Rose got hurt.
Seems cold to say this, but it is the truth. The Chicago Bulls offense right now is based on a motion offense with Joakim Noah playing the high post. When Derrick Rose was at the helm, the Bulls depended on his penetration to set up his teammates for easy opportunities. In his MVP season a few years back, this worked basically to perfection because of his speed and ability to get to the rim and finish. When Rose had his first knee injury, he lost some of his explosiveness and in my opinion some of his confidence. Listen Pippen Peoples, basketball is more than the physical, it’s mentally challenging as well. If we are honest with ourselves, we know that Rose struggled mightily when he played this season. He shot less than 40% from the field and was not efficient with his floor game. He led the Bulls with three turnovers per game when he played. When D-Rose tore his meniscus in his knee, it forced the Bulls to make changes in their offense. Believe me, Joakim Noah would not be in discussions for MVP this year if Rose was in the lineup. Coach Tom Thibodeau overhauled the offense and put the ball in the hands of Noah to make the playmaking decisions. Since Chicago does not have a knock down shooter than get his own shot, they rely on constant off the ball movement from other players to score. The system has worked on most nights based on the Bulls consistent discipline that they are widely known for plus the improvement and familiarity of everyone’s roles has kept the Bulls afloat.
2) Luol Deng got traded.
Boy it looks like I’m throwing players out in the desert with no shade or lemonade doesn’t it? But it’s true. Understand that this was TOTALLY by accident. Bulls management thought that this team was not going to be title contenders and was not going over the luxury tax threshold. In my opinion they didn’t want to resign Luol Deng to a long-term deal so they low-balled him with a three-year 30 million dollar deal. (Note..to all the people thinking it’s still 10 million a year, I ask you to do this…go to your boss and take a 30-35% pay cut. No matter how much the money, the principles are still the same.) They knew he wouldn’t take it and they traded him to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Andrew Bynum and a draft pick. Looking at Bynum now being out indefinitely with his knee problems, we see the Bulls smartly waived him. Now the Bulls are approximately 600,000 under the salary cap and will not pay the luxury tax.
With the departure of Luol Deng allowed the emergence of Jimmy Butler. Butler has seamlessly filled in the role of Deng admirably while continuing to improve his offensive game. The Bulls gambled on what Thibodeau could do coaching wise and the system that was put in place defensively. If the Bulls keep the three seed going into the playoffs, this move might be one of the smartest moves in recent memory. Butler would not have gotten the opportunity to grow this year with Deng still on the roster. Thibodeau had complete trust in Deng and Luol would have soaked up all of the minutes, especially with playoff time approaching. Jimmy Butler has grown to the level that he can be counted on in the final minutes in a tight game in the playoffs without freezing up. If the Deng trade was a good move for the Bulls management, they hit it out of the park when…
3) They signed DJ Augustin off the street in December.
There is no player in the NBA more cost efficient this year than DJ Augustin. My former colleague Candice Connell thought this was a great signing and broke down what he could do to help the Bulls. I thought the woman was NUTS! You see I remember how he left Charlotte. They rescinded their contract offer and signed Ramon Sessions. He went to Indiana and set the game of basketball back a few years. Sometimes you might watch a game and see a player that is playing so badly, you say…”I can play better than that guy.” When Augustin was playing with the Pacers, you probably could. When he latched on to the Toronto Raptors, he was released just to make the Rudy Gay trade work. Now Augustin is the leading scorer for the Bulls since Luol Deng left for Cleveland. Augustin has gone from a guy with no confidence in his game (anyone who gets cut JUST to make a deal work has to do something to you) to a guy that walks around the court with the cool collectives that surrounds this guy right now is amazing.
What do you think? Please comment on our Facebook page Pippen Ain’t Easy or on Twitter @BullsBeatBlog. Part two of this series is coming soon.