Musings On The Chicago Bulls and the NBA
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.