The Chicago Bulls are in the basement.
The past five years has been filled with devastating injuries, demoralizing playoff losses to LeBron James, and hectic conflict inside the organization.
But right now, after the team has finished another season, is the worst fans feel about the state of the team since the drafting of Derrick Rose.
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Through all the injuries and losses there was always hope. Hope that when Rose finally does play he can get back to the same level. Hope the offensive-inept Bulls would get to another level when they finally had the right scoring pieces under Tom Thibodeau. Hope that the return of Rose would mesh well with the improvement of his teammates. All the pieces were there this season, and it all fell apart.
Where is the hope now?
Ever since “The Night Delly Murdered the Thibs Tenure in Chicago”, the reality has been clear for most: The Bulls blew their opportunity to win with Thibodeau in Chicago and the players already missed their chance to take the East from LeBron and his early-20s teammates, and the Bulls are going to join the Shaq-Penny Magic, Bibby-Webber Kings, and the Nash-Stoudemire Suns as another championship-caliber team missing out on a title.
How can anyone not feel this way? The Bulls—the third oldest team in the East with an average age of 28.5—blew an opportunity this year. Nobody in the East besides the Cavs was a real threat to go to the Finals over the Bulls. Chicago couldn’t even top a depleted Cavaliers team.
If the Bulls couldn’t beat a Cleveland team without Kevin Love for the series and J.R. Smith for two games, an injured Kyrie Irving and Tristian Thompson, and LeBron shooting 39 percent from the field and 10 percent on three-point attempts over six games, how will they ever beat them? When will Chicago ever have the same opportunity?
May 10, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) scores over Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) and guard Jimmy Butler (21) in the second half of game four of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at the United Center. Cleveland won 86-84. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
One depleted team was in the way for the Bulls to get to the Finals and they couldn’t do it. Next year it will only be harder. The Cavaliers, like every team that combines star players, will be better next season with improved chemistry. The talented but young Wizards, Bucks, and Magic will have had another season of maturation under their belts. Former contenders in the Heat and Pacers will be back competing after lost years from injuries.
So, almost every contender in the East is going to get a little bit better. The Bulls will need to be different in someway to get over the hump. They can’t just do the same as this year and expect to go deeper in the playoffs. It may be possible that the roster’s youth of Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic, Doug “DNP” McDermott, and Tony Snell improves. But with that, the players already past their prime—Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson—will be another year removed from their top form.
All U Can Heat
Major change has to happen some way for the Bulls, and they’re are all but guaranteed to have a new coach next season.
One remaining question stands for the Bulls: Accept that a new head coach will be enough to push them past LeBron and come back with virtually the same roster, or trade away the older players for young assets and let a new coach grow with a young team.
The Bulls could revamp its core as Butler, Mirotic and Rose, and once again be an up-and-coming contender. Rose is 26, but he has still only played less than 14,000 minutes in his career. He is a young 26-year-old. Kevin Durant is also 26, but has played almost 10,000 more NBA minutes. If Rose declines over the next couple of years, it won’t be because of his age.
Having said that, it would be insane for the Bulls to get rid of able veterans and rebuild the team. The Bulls’ best option is to come back with the same team and a new head coach. The best place you can be in the NBA is one of the five teams that have a legitimate shot to win the Finals.
Right now, the Bulls are considered of the cursed teams that will never win a title. They said the same thing about LeBron before 2012, the Mavericks before 2011, and the Rockets before 1994. The Bulls can still join that list. To trade away players for younger assets in the hope they get you to the same place you are already at, would be asinine.
Let’s not forget Game 6 in Milwaukee and Game 1 in Cleveland. Did any team have a more impressive two-game stretch in the playoffs? The Bulls’ offense was working in those two games and they were unstoppable. Also forgotten: If the refs saw David Blatt calling a timeout during Game 4, the Bulls would have been up 3-1 in the Cavs series. At that point, only eight teams in the history of the NBA have won a series after being down 3-1.
Little, fluky things always change seasons and, often, legacies.
Maybe Love leaves Cleveland. Maybe John Wall and Bradley Beal realize they don’t like playing together. Maybe one of Irving’s numerous injuries actually leaves him completely out of the playoffs. Maybe the Hawks general manager has a racist scouting report and one of their players breaks his leg while getting arrested.
Oh wait, that already happened.
May 12, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose (1) reacts in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game five of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
The point is every team is one injury or feud from coming apart. And this stuff is going to happen to one or two contenders in each conference every single season. Between Rose and Thibodeau, the Bulls have had two completely unrelated, season-killing incidents occur every year the past four seasons.
The East will still be much worse than the West next year. The Bulls’ best option is just to come back with the same roster, expect a new coach to help the offense, and hope the breaks finally fall their way. Often times, the teams in the Finals are the ones unaffected by injuries (Warriors) or able to overcome them (Rockets and Cavaliers).
Chicago is bound to finally find some fortune, right?
Couple the Thibodeau stuff with the Rose injuries and apex LeBron playing with great teammates and the Bulls have had remarkably bad timing. Did they do something to piss off the basketball gods? They got super lucky in getting Rose, so they are going to be super unlucky when actually trying to play him? The universe doesn’t allow the same city to have an amazing basketball team and hockey team at the same time? Any obstruction to LeBron’s path to the title has all forces of the earth going against it? What is it?
This year Chicago’s problems had everything to do with Thibodeau. Why would he put in all that extra work just so his bosses—who clearly don’t want him around—could share the credit? If you knew you were going to be fired at the end of the year and had a disdain for your bosses, would you really want to put in extra at your company? The environment around the Bulls was just so dismal the past couple of months that winning became close to impossible.
No one trusted each other. In a recent piece, Adrian Wojnarowski tells the story of how an assistant coach had to turn a fan on high blast when talking about the Thibodeau situation to an outsider in fear that the room was bugged.
"When a visiting scout visited the Bulls practice facility in the past year or so, he had the opportunity to watch the awkward, strange interplay between Bulls general manager Gar Forman and Thibodeau. Eventually, the man walked into the office of an assistant coach and asked: “What the hell is the deal here?”Before answering, the coach turned his fan on full blast. For the visitor, everything was becoming even stranger. He gave the assistant a befuddled look, as though to say, “What are you doing?”“I’m not taking any chances,” the coach said, refusing to risk the possibility of those walls being bugged."
It reminds me of something a prisoner would do when talking to a visitor about illegal endeavors. It becomes impossible to be successful in the most competitive basketball league in the world and have to worry about all of that unnecessary drama. Not even the greatest coaches are winning in that kind of environment.
One more problem with Thibodeau that everyone who watches Bulls games sees but is trying to ignore: The players are worn out playing under him. All season they looked like the Zombie Bulls.
Everyone told themselves: “They are actually much better than this. They just have to save their energy for when it really matters.” Well, it really mattered in Game 5 and Game 6 against Cleveland and the Bulls still had that lifeless look to them.
Everyone is just worn out. It’s like working at the same office with the same people on the same tasks for multiple years. You may still love what you do, but at a certain point you just need some sort of change.
Whether it is basketball, the heavy minutes, Thibodeau, each other, five years, LeBron or something else, the Bulls need change. Not an overhaul, but instead a boost. A long offseason of restoration and a new voice for the team is the best solution for that.
Chicago’s model is not broken. It just needs some fine-tuning.
One team that needed fine-tuning last offseason was the Golden State Warriors. I have a piece coming on them and how they relate to the Bulls later this week.
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