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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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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.

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Chicago Bulls Pull One Out On The Detroit Pistons

Posted by sportsmaven on May 13, 2007

Game 4 of the Chicago BullsDetroit Pistons playoff series was about one thing, and one thing only: Did the Bulls have any heart? I think the answer to that question was a resounding yes. As we have been reminded time and time again, no team in NBA history has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series. None, nada, zippo. Heck, teams with a 3-1 defecit have come back to win the series a total of 8 times in 162 tries. So, nearly impossible?  Today’s 102-87 victory over the Pistons is a good start.
Bulls Beat Pistons 102-87

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Logic is telling me that the Bulls will meet their demise in Game 5 of this series, as the locale moves back to Detroit, but there is a growing part of me that thinks, “Someone has to be the first team to win a series being down 3-0, why not the Bulls?” So what will it take for the Bulls to win this series? Well, frankly, a miracle, but miracles do happen, but the Bulls need more. They need to:

1. Keep moving through the Pistons zone defense – The Bulls did this quite effectively today, but inexplicably, they stopped doing it during most of the 4th quarter. When they stopped being aggressive with their cuts, Detroit came back. Same thing happened in Game 3, and before we knew it, 19 point lead and the game were history.

2. Limit turnovers – The Bulls must drastically limit the amount of turnovers, with the main culprit being G Kirk Hinrich. Hinrich’s drive and dump passes have been sloppy, with the Pistons taking advantage to run their limited fast breaks. The Bulls did much better today in limiting the amount of devistating turnovers, and will need to continue this trend to have a chance.

3.  Ben Gordon, Hinrich, and Luol Deng need stellar performances — not one of the three, not two of the three, but all three need to step up and lead for this team to have a chance.  Deng dropped 25 pts. on the Pistons today with Hinrich and Gordon netting 19 each.  If the Bulls can get the same amount of production from their Big 3, that will go a long way towards getting back in this series.  If even one falters, go get the golf clubs.

4.  Play with energy, emotion, and intensity for 48 minutes – this is the Tyrus Thomas  rule, for he is the only Chicago Bull that has faithfully followed this rule whenever he steps on the court.  The Bulls need to, at minimum, match the Pistons intensity and more like exceed their intensity and energy to have a fighting chance.  The Bulls came out today and did that for most of the 48 minutes today.  They will have to continue this trend to continue playing on…

5.  Play for today, don’t look beyond today’s game — have to take it game by game, even quarter by quarter.  Small victories, win each quarter.  Look beyond any of that and y0u are dead in the water…..

So maybe the Bulls don’t have a chance, but maybe they do.  Which team will show up in Detroit on Tuesday.  The Bulls have nothing to lose at this point, so play all out and play hard.  Don’t leave anthing on the court.  That’s how you get back into the series.  It’s not going to be easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is….

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Chicago Bulls Welcome Chandler Back With Open (More Like Closed) Arms

Posted by sportsmaven on March 4, 2007

Last night was Tyson Chandler’s first game in Chicago since he was traded by the Bulls to the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets during the past offseason. Believe it or not, Tyson is actually giving Kevin Garnett a run for the NBA rebounding title this season averaging 12.2 rpg this season. He also entered last night’s game with 10 double doubles — not for the season, but in a row. That’s impressive production for a guy who couldn’t do a thing last season for the Bulls. Glad Tyson is finally thriving, now he just needs to learn to shut up and play basketball and he wouldn’t be so misunderstood or misquoted in his interviews. By the way, is it just me, or are the Hornets trying to rebuild with former Chicago Bulls during the Bill Cartwright/Jerry Krause heyday loaded their roster with ex-Bulls Jannero Pargo, Linton Johnson III, in addition to Chandler. This can’t be a good sign for the depth of the Hornets bench.

Tyson Chandler Returns to ChicagoChicago Bulls Kirk Hinrich Torches Hornets
(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Tyson did pretty well last night for Tyson, scoring 10 points and grabbing 13 rebounds, statistically outplaying Bulls C Ben Wallace. Tyson did get to watch his three former amigos, Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, and Luol Deng put up 27, 22, and 24 points respectively in the Bulls 104-93 win. The other notable of the game was that F Tyrus Thomas of the Bulls logged his 4th start of the season and finished with a decent line of 10 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks and a not so good 7 turnovers. He did have the sequence of the game though with a second quarter shot block followed by a one handed flying jam on the other end. I like that the Bulls are giving Tyrus Thomas a chance to play more, even to start, looking more and more like F Michael Sweetney is a goner at the end of the season.

One final note, providing a little bit of reality as a reminder of the past, Tyson did attempt a one handed jam with 44.2 seconds left in the game — and whiffed. Now that’s the Tyson I know and remember. Thanks for the memories, big guy.

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Chicago Bulls Crush The Hapless Phoenix Suns?

Posted by sportsmaven on February 12, 2007

Our road weary Chicago Bulls finished their 7 game road trip on a very strong note by beating the Phoenix Suns 116-103 tonight. I was shocked to see that this was the Suns first double digit loss this season, after 51 games played. This bested the record of longest streaks to start a season without a double-digit setback held by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls record of 45 games.

Bulls Beat Suns 1Bulls Beat Suns 2
(AP Photo/Tom Hood)

Of course, the Suns were playing without G Steve Nash and F Boris Diaw, which makes playing this game a bit easier, but the Suns still rolled out a strong lineup with Amare Stoudamire and Leandro Barbosa each racking up 26 points. Amare also had 10 boards to go along with those points. The Bulls came out HUGE tonight with Kirk Hinrich scoring 29 points, and Luol Deng having another monster night with 29 points and 12 rebounds. Ben Gordon added 27 points. Tyrus Thomas also started the game tonight, scoring 9 points and grabbing 4 rebounds. This win was a bit of a shocker to me. This is a good Phoenix Suns team and the Bulls were coming off very poor losses to the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors and playing 3 games in the last 4 nights.

Another couple of factoids for this game: G Jalen Rose played 6 minutes and scored 3 points in this game, his average for the season. This was Jalen’s second game in the last 15 the Phoenix Suns have played. Also, this game marked a reunion of another ex-Bull, G Eric Piatkowski. Eric logged a DNP – CD (Did Not Play – Coaches Decision for those acronomically challenged). Eric has played exactly 1 game this season for the Suns, 4 minutes on 11/11. This guy must be worn out from those tough Phoenix practices that wore out Tim Thomas last season.

This is yet another maddening chapter in this season’s version of the Chicago Bulls. The inconsistency of this team is unbelievable. If they ever put it together, get some consistent scoring, and play at another level offensively, this team is a leading contender in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls have beaten the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, Detroit Pistons, Miami Heat twice, Washington Wizards, and the Los Angeles Lakers, all strong playoff contenders. Their losses? They have lost to the Philadelphia76ers, Sacramento Kings twice, the Minnesota Timberwolves, the New York Knicks, and the New Jersey Nets twice, blowing 18 point leads in both those losses. All these teams are well under .500. Consistency, consistency, where are you, consistency?

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