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Chicago Bulls Taught Valuable Lesson In Loss To Heat

Posted by sportsmaven on May 26, 2011

Following their Game 5 and the NBA Eastern Conference Finals series loss to the Miami Heat, the Chicago Bulls hopefully learned some valuable lessons. Like the Oklahoma City Thunder, the youth and inexperience of Bulls ended up being their undoing. Nobody thought the Bulls would get this far in the playoffs, never mind finishing the regular season with the NBA’s best record. But the Miami Heat did to the Bulls what the Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks couldn’t do: capitalize on the flaws of this particular Chicago team. So what did the Bulls learn from this series?

1. More balanced scoring is needed from this team. A reliable two guard is an immediate need, inside scoring is a secondary need.

2. Young teams like the Bulls and Thunder won’t get the same calls as the Heat and the Dallas Mavericks. One look at the foul differentials is all you need to see. In Game 5 alone, the Bulls had 15 more FG attempts, 5 more FG made, 1 more made 3 pointers, 5 more offensive rebounds, 6 more assists, 1 more steal, and 5 fewer turnovers than the Heat. The only significant stat the Heat exceeded the Bulls was FT attempts (+12) and FT made (+10) and the Bulls were at home. In an 83-80 loss, this was significant and the officiating in this series was questionable at best.

3. Derrick Rose can’t do it alone. He needs some serious help. This team is so close but yet so far. Gar Forman and John Paxson have some work to do.

4. What are we to make of Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah spending significant minutes on the bench in the 4th quarter of playoff games? That’s a about $30 million in talent sitting out crunch time. That’s a HUGE concern, Boozer in particular. On the NBA’s biggest stage, Boozer was a major disappointment, both offensively and defensively, and is now the biggest question mark for the Bulls going into the offseason.

5. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau is an outstanding coach, but he’s not a magician. He couldn’t make the adjustments needed to keep up with the Heat, mostly because the Bulls lacked the firepower of the Heat. The only questionable move was why Kurt Thomas didn’t get more playing time earlier in the series, but ultimately that debate is insignificant to the final outcome of this series.

While I don’t want to take anything away from the Miami Heat, they had to play on top of their game and play all out to beat the Bulls. And they did just that. Despite the Game 1 result, the remaining games were all close games. One more made shot, one more foul for or against was the difference between these two teams.

The Bulls are not far away from being a perennial contender for NBA championships for years to come, but this offseason may be as significant as last offseason in terms of advancing to the next level. Talent ultimately wins in the long run. The Heat had more talent than the Bulls this year and it showed. So where do the Bulls go from here? More to come on this question.

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The Chicago Bulls Have NO Chance Of Beating The Miami Heat

Posted by sportsmaven on May 22, 2011

You heard it here first if you already haven’t witnessed it firsthand tonight. The NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals are over. The Chicago Bulls have no chance of winning against this Miami Heat team. Not in a seven game series. Not when the Bulls vaunted defense is neutered by NBA referees when they decide to play defense. Not when the Bulls don’t follow their game plan. Not when the Bulls again can’t make a basket. Not when the Bulls are bullied, pushed around, out-muscled, out-hustled and out-classed. Not if they play defense like they did tonight.

Believe what you want about the Bulls, but know this: The Bulls are in the midst of learning a serious lesson and if they don’t get their act together soon, their season will be over. When you turn on your TV tomorrow, I can almost guarantee that you will hear ESPN’s Skip Bayless say the series is over and he won’t be the only one that holds that opinion.

ESPN, TNT and Comcast Sports Net, analysts have all talked about the benches being a factor, but they are absolutely wrong. What it comes down to is Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh vs. Derrick Rose, and the level of defense each team plays and that’s it. The rest is all coffee house chatter. The problem with this Chicago Bulls team is that I don’t trust them. Not in these playoffs. They have played two good games in a lackluster first round matchup against an inferior Indiana Pacers team. They played two somewhat dominant games in the second round against a very beatable Atlanta Hawks team that played even less physical than the Pacers. The Bulls played their most dominant game of the post-season in Game 1 of the Conference Finals and haven’t shown up since.

For the last three days leading up to Game 3, I’ve heard the Bulls talk extensively about wanting to push the pace, attack before Miami sets up their half-court defense, be aggressive. What I saw tonight was the Bulls walking the ball up nearly every possession, settling for jump shots, no movement of the ball, and no drive, kick and shoot. Too many missed shots under the basket. As for the Bulls players, what happened to Joakim Noah and Luol Deng? Kyle Korver’s shot still MIA. Carlos Boozer offensive game appeared tonight, but as usual, his defense was atrocious.

On defense, the Bulls had too many breakdowns, bad or no rotations, little help defense and virtually no aggression. Nobody in a red jersey touched Chris Bosh tonight and it showed. Little intensity, passion and desire in the 4th quarter equals yet another winnable loss. Miami seemed to get to all the loose balls and seemed to have all the bounces go their way.

As for the Heat, give them credit, they executed their game plan. They let go of Game 1, made their adjustments and cranked it up a notch. They executed the Bulls game plan better than the Bulls did while they were at it. They played defense the way the Bulls have played defense the entire season, something the Bulls have seemed to forget to play at times throughout the playoffs.

Now that the Heat have figured the Bulls out, shut down Derrick Rose and wrestled home court advantage away from the Bulls, how will coach Tom Thibodeau and his young team respond? So far, the Bulls have had absolutely no answers for the Heat’s adjustments, nor have they matched the Heat’s intensity and hustle. Game 4 becomes critical, the most important game of the season. And by the way, all the pressure is squarely on the Bulls. I can guarantee you this, the Bulls will learn a lesson on Tuesday night. Only time will tell if they are mentally strong enough to learn the lesson now, next year or if they will ever learn it.

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Are The Chicago Bulls Better Off Without LeBron James?

Posted by sportsmaven on July 8, 2010

Who in their right mind would dare write anything suggesting that the Chicago Bulls might be better off without LeBron James?  After all, LeBron James is considered by nearly everyone in the world outside the city of Los Angeles to be the best basketball player in the world.  How can the Chicago Bulls be better off without LeBron?  Well the answer to that question depends on the LeBron James that you get — the best basketball player in the world, who wants to legitimize his basketball legacy by winning — and winning multiple NBA Championships, or the LeBron James that is morphing into this persona of a global media icon?

In past interviews leading up to his free agency, LeBron has spoken about cemeting his legacy by winning multiple NBA Championships.  He has also spoken about building himself up as a global icon and his desire to be the first billionaire athlete.  What I’m unclear about is which is more important, and that unclarity should be resolved in about 8 hours, when LeBron picks his “choice” on ESPN.

Chicago seemed to be the early favorite in the LeBron derby, offering the best roster that would allow James to compete for titles immediately.  As rumors persisted that Chicago was moving down the list of possibilities, the Bulls reportedly reached agreement with former Utah Jazz PF Carlos Boozer on a very cap favorable 5 year, $75 million deal, filling a major hole in the Bulls lineup, a hole that has existed for years.  With a young nucleus of PG Derrick Rose, C Joakim Noah, surprising rookie PF Taj Gibson, and even SF Luol Deng, if he ever reaches his potential, Boozer provides the grit and determination of a back-to-the-basket inside game that the Bulls have lacked since the Jordan days.

Adding LeBron James to the mix would vault the Bulls to the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, especially if you get the best basketball player in the world version.  Even with all the hype, the circus-like atmosphere and potential disenfranchisement of many basketball fans for the garish way in which this free agency season ended up for the Big 3 of LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, the Bulls may somehow be better off without LeBron.

If LeBron chooses Miami and links up with Wade and Bosh, there will be one less team (The Cleveland Cavaliers) competing for dominance in the Eastern Conference.  In addition, the “Three Amigos” and a remaining roster of minimum salary players is still not guaranteed to be a championship roster, not to mention the potential ego clashes once play begins.  Anywhere else, LeBron is no better than his situation is in Cleveland — other than Chicago.  If LeBron chooses not to come to Chicago, the Bulls can spend their remaining $18 million of cap space on getting quality role players (a pure shooter or two, backup center for instance) that truly make the difference between contending and winning championships (ask Kobe Bryant about Ron Artest and Derek Fisher).  Finally, the Bulls would not have to deal with a circus-like environment that would enevitably follow James wherever he goes. 

Believe it or not, the Chicago Bulls are in the driver’s seat tonight so to speak.  They have the least to lose in the LeBron sweepstakes.  If LeBron is not in Chicago, it’s not the end of the world.  In fact, it might be the beginning of a run of championships that could potentially rival the Jordan days.

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Jerry Reinsdorf Speaks, Do Chicago Bulls Listen?

Posted by sportsmaven on January 30, 2009

Jerry Reinsdorf doesn’t do very many interviews.  Not with the Chicago White Sox, certainly not with the Chicago Bulls.  Jerry Reinsdorf woke up early this morning and gave Mike North and Dan Jiggets an interview on their Comcast Sports “Monsters In The Morning” TV show.  It seems to have been a bit of a disaster, at least for Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro.

Chicago Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro wipes his face as he watches his team play.  (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Chicago Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro wipes his face as he watches his team play. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

In the interview, North gets into the meat of the conversation with Reinsdorf

Mike North: Where would you rate this season?

Jerry Reinsdorf: You want the grade up till today? What’s the lowest grade you can give? This has been a disaster. It’s embarrassing. But it will get better.

Nearly 200 miles away, the Bulls were getting ready for their matchup against the Sacramento Kings.  After their shoot around, Del Negro was asked about Reinsdorf’s assessment.  Chicago Sun-Times staff reporter John Jackson writes in his article in today’s Sun-Times:

“That’s just Jerry trying to motivate and trying to get guys going,” Del Negro said. “Jerry wants to win just like every owner, every coach. It’s not easy. Managing expectations and developing and all those things are very easy to talk about, but they’re hard to do and they take time. Some people are more patient than others.”

I think Vinny got about three quarters of that comment correct.  It is very difficult to manage expectations.  Yes, Jerry Reinsdorf does want to win, and yes, some people are more patient than others.  The motivation part of the statement I absolutely don’t buy one bit.  Honesty is what it is.  Motivation is definitely what it’s not.  It certainly isn’t easy to manage the average ego of an NBA player.  It definitely isn’t easy to manage that ego if you’re a rookie head coach who supposedly carries the label of a “players coach”.  Jerry isn’t the guy that is going to motivate players.  DelNegro is that guy and if he needs Reinsdorf to motivate, that’s an indictment of Del Negro not getting the job done.  It isn’t an easy job, ask Scott Skiles.

The next part of the conversation is what really disturbed me.  Jackson’s transcript of the interview continues with this exchange:

Dan Jiggetts: How comfortable are you with John at the helm?

Jerry Reinsdorf: When you have a team that’s not performing it’s an organization failure. You win and you lose as an organization. But if there’s one person that is not responsible for what’s going on right now, it’s John Paxson. I have tremendous confidence in John Paxson. He’s really one of the best people that I know. He’s a great general manager and a great judge of talent. I just worry that he not be too hard on himself. He takes all of this very, very seriously.

Mike North: To say that he’s not at all responsible … he brought in the players. So are the players not being coached up?

Jerry Reinsdorf: I have a lot of thoughts about that but they’re not thoughts that I really can say publicly. All I know is what we have right now is not good and we have to get it better. They are playing hard in the last half-dozen or so games. We had some games where…

Mike North: You knew they were mailing it in.

Jerry Reinsdorf: They were mailing it in and I felt like standing up and booing along with everybody else. They’re not mailing it in anymore.

This exchange to me, shows how ridiculous Reinsdorf can be sometimes.  The organizations win and lose mantra starts from the top on down.  I didn’t hear Reinsdorf say it starts with him.  He definitely doesn’t hold Bulls GM John Paxson accountable.  It all ends right there with Del Negro holding the bag of stink.  North tried to take it right back at Reinsdorf, suggesting that it might be coaching and Reinsdorf, with the eloquent defense for his general manager, offered no such grace for his head coach.

This whole exchange reminds me of the end of the movie, Titanic.  The ship has hit the iceberg and everyone in charge realizes the ship will eventually sink.  The ship’s captain (Del Negro), doing the honorable thing, locks himself in the bridge, planning to go down with his ship.  The ship’s archtect (Paxson) is last seen standing on the slanted deck of the first class lounge adjusting a clock that stopped, his fate sealed by the iceberg.  It is implied that he too, goes down with the ship.  The ship’s owner (Reinsdorf), who gave the order to speed through the oceans dotted with the icebergs, sheepishly jumps in a lifeboat and saves his life as the ship goes under.  See the parallels?  Accountability starts at the top.  Reinsdorf hired Paxson.  Paxson hired Del Negro.  Reinsdorf signed off on Del Negro.  Reinsdorf is as much a cause of the “disaster” as Paxson and Del Negro.  If he says that instead of that jibberish he said this morning, I would have more faith in his management skills, but alas, it’s yet another example of a lack of leadership and accountability at the top of organizations.  By the way, Bulls analysts Norm Van Lier and Kendall Gill both agree with me.  They said it themselves on tonight’s Bulls Postgame show.

Finally, do you think for a single moment that anyone wearing a red and black uniform really gives a damn about what Jerry Reinsdorf says?  Do you think that Ben Gordon read that interview and suddenly got motivated to drop 50 on the Kings, or to play a little defense?  Do you think Tyrus Thomas or Joakim Noah, or Derrick Rose watched that interview and felt the need to break down the doors to the hotel to sprint to the ARCO Arena to pound the Kings into submission tonight?  Only in your sweetest of dreams.

P.S. The Chicago Bulls pounded the Sacramento Kings 109-88.  Maybe the Bulls were listening a little bit to Reinsdorf….nah, I don’t think so.

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Three Reasons Why Chicago Bulls Show Signs Of Implosion

Posted by sportsmaven on January 26, 2009

This has not been the best of weeks for a beleagured Chicago Bulls basketball franchise.  This week may be, perhaps the most trying and challenging week in the last 10 years since the drama filled Bulls championship run ended in 1998. With tonight’s 109-108 OT loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Bulls end the week with a five game losing streak.  The Bulls have looked unprepared, disjointed, and uninspired.  And  now, G Ben Gordon airs his dirty laundry out on a rookie head coach in a profanity laced tirade over his objections to a fine for being late for the team flight. The argument just happened to occur in plain sight of the local Chicago sportswriting media.  It may be an inflection point for a franchise that has seen more turmoil of late than championship caliber basketball.

Chicago Bulls forward Thabo Sefolosha (2), guard Kirk Hinrich (12), and forward Tyrus Thomas (24) look on from the bench in the final seconds of their 109-108 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves in overtime in an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2009 in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

Chicago Bulls forward Thabo Sefolosha (2), guard Kirk Hinrich (12), and forward Tyrus Thomas (24) look on from the bench in the final seconds of their 109-108 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves in overtime in an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2009 in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

Where did it all go wrong for the Chicago Bulls?  The Bulls ended the 2006-2007 season with a record of 49-33, one win away from the magical 50 win mark, an acheivement the Bulls have not accomplished since 1998, the year of the 6th and final NBA Championship.  In the 2006-07 playoffs, the Bulls swept the defending NBA Champions, the Miami Heat decisively in 4 games.  In the Eastern Conference semi-finals, the Bulls ran into a buzzsaw, losing the first three games of the series to the Detroit Pistons, but showed great heart and fight by coming back to win the next two games, including a game in Detroit, before bowing out of the playoffs in a 95-85 Game 6 loss.  These Bulls were positioned to skyrocket back to prominence in the Eastern Conference, with some experts picking the Bulls as a favorite to win the conference in 2007-08.

The Bulls took three steps back in 2007 and continue to take yet another step back this season, and it clearly shows when looking at the performance over the last season and a half.  There are three reasons why the Bulls are in a free-fall.  They are:

1.  Lack of growth and development from the core players of this team. F Luol Deng eventually received his long term contract, signing a 6 year, $71 million contract in July 2008.  He’s proceeded to become oft injured and his improvement has stalled as his missed time increased.scoring, rebounding and assist totals have decreased three years in a row.  G Ben Gordon signed the one year tender again, after initially stating he would not play for the Bulls again, and remains a perfect 6th man that demands to be a starter, a scorer extreme, and defensive liability.  C Joakim Noah has made virtually no progress in improving his game, irking veteran teammates with untimely, unwise criticism, while averaging 5.8 pts and 5.8 rebounds in his very short, very unenergetic career.  F Tyrus Thomas is one of the most athletic players in the NBA, but after 2/12 seasons, 187 games, he is shown only incremental improvement.  Add in the inconsistent play of G Thabo Sefolosha, the young core of the Bulls team has shown a clear lack of development.

2.  When the Bulls fired Scott Skiles, management removed one of the only legitimate symbols of a winning mindset. Coaching in the NBA is part knowledge of the game and part psychologist, and Skiles had a history of taking talented teams and getting them to buy into his program of selfless sharing on offense and hustling, all out play on defense, which ultimately leads to winning.  He lifted a struggling Phoenix Suns team to the playoffs, but was fired after the team stopped responding to his demanding, hard-charging style and started to tune him out.  The same thing happened in Chicago.  Now Skiles is the head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks and he has the Bucks in the 8th and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference if the season ended today.  The Bucks appear to be responding to Skiles coaching style quite nicely.  After Skiles, the Bulls needed to either reshape the roster, or hire a coach to take them from Point A to Point B.  What they did was whiff badly on their first to choices for coach (Mike D’Antoni and Doug Collins) ultimately taking a chance on a rookie coach (Vinny Del Negro) who has never coachedbasketball  on any level, who has a reputation for being a communicative “players coach”, the philosophical opposite of Skiles.  To date, that risk appears to have not panned out, with speculation of DelNegro losing the team already and rumors that he may not be around to finish the season.

3. Management has failed to acquire one superstar who can carry a team and provide leadership on the floor. Bulls General Manager John Paxson has tried to bring an atmosphere of winning back the Bulls organization.  He has focused on drafting and acquiring players that have played for high profile, winning collegiate basketball programs such as Duke Blue Devils (Deng and G Chris Duhon), Connecticut Huskies (Gordon), national championship runner up Kansas Jayhawks (G Kirk Hinrich and F Drew Gooden), and the national champion Florida Gators (Noah).   While the group of players Paxson acquired are solid basketball players, they are all role players of a supporting cast lacking a true superstar caliber player.  Paxson, like his predecessor, Jerry Krause, has whiffed on acquiring ultratalented superstars such as G Kobe Bryant and  F Kevin Garnett, instead, opting for a past his prime C Ben Wallace, who signed such an albatross contract, that Paxson had to take on the equally bad contract of G Larry Hughes to move Wallace.  The Bulls did luck out in winning the 2008 NBA Draft lottery, yielding Chicago-native G Derrick Rose from University of Memphis.  Rose is young and an up and coming superstar, but is not there yet.  Until he gets there, the Bulls will struggle with the roster they have today.

The remainder of this Bulls season should be focused on finding out if Vinny DelNegro is the right coach, identifying players on the current roster who can play with Derrick Rose, and positioning themselves as far under the salary cap as they can get in 2010, when they can grab any one of a host of superstars from a free agent class headed by F LeBron James, F Chris Bosh, F Dirk Nowitzki, G Dwayne Wade, amongst others.  Anything outside of this may signal the end of the John Paxson era in Chicago.

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