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)
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.
Posted in Chicago Bulls | Tagged: Ben Gordon, Ben Wallace, Chicago Bulls, Chris Bosh, Chris Duhon, Connecticut Huskies, Derrick Rose, Detroit Pistons, Dirk Nowitzki, Doug Collins, Drew Gooden, Duke Blue Devils, Dwayne Wade, Eastern Conference, Florida Gators, Joakim Noah, John Paxson, Kansas Jayhawks, Kevin Garnett, Kirk Hinrich, Kobe Bryant, Larry Hughes, Lebron James, Luol Deng, Miami Heat, Mike D'Antoni, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, NBA, NBA Finals, Phoenix Suns, Scott Skiles, Thabo Sefolosha, Tyrus Thomas, University of Memphis, Vinny DelNegro | Leave a Comment »
Posted by sportsmaven on April 16, 2007
Hello loyal readers! The SportsMaven is back from a break and ready to catch you up on all things Chicago sports! In my absence, a lot of things have happened in the Chicago sports world, but I wanted to kick off my return post beginning with the Chicago Bulls. I attended today’s Chicago Cubs game against the Cincinnati Reds this afternoon. I actually attended the entire three game series this weekend, but today’s game was on one of Wrigleyville’s famous rooftops (thanks to the folks at Beyond the Ivy). More to come on the Cubs, but one of the cool things about going to a rooftop game is the fact that I was able to watch both the Cubs game live and the Chicago Bulls play the fading Washington Wizards in an all important game for the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
I’m happy to note that the Bulls looked OUTSTANDING again today. They are peaking at the exact right time of the season. After today’s 101-68 blowout of the Washington Wizards, the Bulls are on track to finish their season with 50 wins and the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference. The beauty of the situation is that the Bulls are getting better and better as the season goes on. With each passing day, the Bulls are proving that they are a strong contender for the Eastern Conference championship and a shot at the NBA Title.
A win on Wednesday against the New Jersey Nets will seal the #2 seed in the East and a date most likely against the same Nets team or possibly the Wizards, who are in a free fall and predicted to be a quick exit from this year’s post-season. I LOVE the Bulls chances to get to the Finals this season. The Eastern Conference is wide open and the Bulls have beaten the conference’s top team, the Detroit Pistons three of four games this season. If all things hold true, look for a classic Bulls-Pistons matchup that has more sub-plots and drama than a good Shaquille O’Neal – Kobe Bryant feud.
Posted in Chicago Bulls | Tagged: Beyond The Ivy, Chicago Bulls, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Pistons, Eastern Conference, Kobe Bryant, NBA, New Jersey Nets, Shaquille O'Neal, Washington Wizards | Leave a Comment »
Posted by sportsmaven on March 1, 2007
Well, maybe we’re going a bit overboard on this one, but what a game for the rookie, Tyrus Thomas, who heated up off the bench in relief of PJ Brown to pop off a career high 14 points. I can say the same for the other Bulls rookie, Thabo Sefolosha, who had an even better night, dropping a career high 19 points on the hapless Golden State Warriors (well they didn’t play like warriors tonight) in the Chicago Bulls 113-83 victory. The Warriors started F Kelenna Azubuike, fresh from the NBADL. He may be the poster child for the NBADL as the Bulls allowed Mr Azubuike to hang 23 pts. on them. A shrewd move by Warriors coach Donn Nelson to start Azubuike, of whom the Bulls apparently didn’t get a scouting report. This guy was 20% of the Warriors offense tonight!
(AP Photos/Nam Y. Huh)
This game looked over after a third quarter push by the Bulls. It looked like neither team really wanted to play the 4th quarter. If they could, the Warriors would have called it a night after three and went home with the whipping from a Bulls team with the personality of Sybill. Adrian Griffin even scored 17 points tonight. He may have not scored 17 points all season.
Lose 2, win 2, lose 2, win 3. This appears to be how the Bulls plan to approach the next few weeks of the regular season, at least until they decide to flip the switch for the 10-1 run into a 6 seed in the Eastern Conference for the playoffs. Maddening inconsistency, that’s our Bulls team motto. Steve Schanwald, this marketing tidbit is on the house, courtesy of the Sports Maven. It’s has to rank right up there with The Playoff Payoff.
Posted in Chicago Bulls | Tagged: Adrian Griffin, Chicago Bulls, Donn Nelson, Eastern Conference, Golden State Warriors, Kelenna Azubuike, NBADL, PJ Brown, Thabo Sefolosha, 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 15, 2007
I wanted to write this post last night immediately after the Chicago Bulls game ended last night, but I decided to wait before expressing what I thought about the Bulls performance and the loss to the Charlotte Bobcats, 100-85. The Bobcats are one of the league’s worst teams, entering the game with an 18-33 record. Again, I note that this is a team that the Bulls should beat 9 times out of 10, but the problem is that when the Bulls plays these teams, they tend to play them on the 10th time, typically getting saddled with a loss.
(AP Photo/Rick Havner)
The Chicago Bulls are not playing with a lot of confidence at this point and are limping into the all-star break on a low ebb. Even teams like the Charlotte Bobcats, on any given day when your confidence is low, can take the wood to you. Now, I know that the Bulls flight was delayed due to weather in Chicago and they didn’t get to their hotel until 3am, but that is how life in the NBA works. Life poses situations where it’s not always ideal and cozy. It’s called adversity and the Bulls are getting it in large doses. Yes, it would have been nice to get into town earlier, especially after coming off a the first night of a back to back situation. It would have been nice for the Bulls to get their rest, do their shoot around and be mentally and physically in peak performance for a game against a weak opponent like the Bobcats, but the Bulls again, came out sluggish and forgot how to play defense and gave less than maximum effort, from all appearances.
The margin of error for the Bulls is very small. They cannot afford to take nights off, even against weak teams. They are simply not that good that they can turn it on and off and cruise to victory after victory, yet this is how they approach key games in their season. The Bulls need to win as many games as they can against the weaker opponents in the league and yet they don’t. Their record against quality opponents is actually pretty good, as I outlined in an earlier post at the beginning of the week. It’s games like the Bobcats loss that could make or break a season, especially in a weak Eastern Conference. This is very reminiscent of the NFC vs. AFC in the NFL. The Bulls could emerge from the weak Eastern Conference and to face any number of stronger teams from the Western Conference and get swept out of the NBA Finals, like the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl. (Although, unlike the Bears, the Bulls are not the class of the conference)
Another thing to note, the Bulls were snubbed once again when G Joe Johnson of the Atlanta Hawks was named as a replacement for injured G Jason Kidd of the New Jersey Nets for the 2007 All Star Game this Sunday in Las Vegas. Not to discount Joe Johnson’s production or resume (he is scoring 25.1 ppg this season, but for a team with a 21-31 record.) This should be a wake up call for the Bulls, who have some decent talent on their team, but no real breakout talent (although I believe Luol Deng is developing into breakout talent. He must develop more consistency, but he beginning to do that on a nightly basis now.) Whatever is ailing this team needs to be fixed immediately and the All-Star Break is a good place to start that deep reflecting.
Posted in Chicago Bulls | Tagged: AFC, Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Bobcats, Chicago Bears, Chicago Bulls, Eastern Conference, Jason Kidd, Joe Johnson, Luol Deng, NBA, NBA Finals, New Jersey Nets, NFC, NFL, Super Bowl, Western Conference | 2 Comments »