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.
Posted in Chicago Bulls | Tagged: Atlanta Hawks, Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls, Chris Bosh, Comcast Sports Net, Derrick Rose, Dwayne Wade, ESPN, Indiana Pacers, Joakim Noah, Kyle Korver, Lebron James, Luol Deng, Miami Heat, NBA, TNT | Leave a Comment »
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.
Posted in Chicago Bulls | Tagged: Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls, Chris Bosh, Cleveland Cavaliers, Derek Fisher, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, ESPN, Joakim Noah, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Luol Deng, Ron Artest, Taj Gibson | 6 Comments »
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 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.
Posted in Chicago Bulls | Tagged: Basketball, Ben Gordon, Ben Wallace, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Chicago Sports, Derrick Rose, Detroit Pistons, Drew Gooden, ESPN, Jerry Krause, Joakim Noah, John Paxson, Kevin Garnett, Kirk Hinrich, Kobe Bryant, Larry Brown, Larry Hughes, Los Angeles Lakers, Luol Deng, Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat, Michael Beasley, Michael Jordan, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, NBA, NBA Finals, New York Knicks, Pau Gasol, Phil Jackson, Philadelphia 76ers, Rick Carlisle, San Antonio Spurs, Scott Skiles, TNT, Tyrus Thomas | 4 Comments »
Posted by sportsmaven on December 26, 2007
It’s the day after Christmas and Scott Skiles has left the building, be it the United Center, The Berto Center, or any other official Chicago Bulls facility in the greater Chicagoland area. Fired by the Chicago Bulls on Christmas Eve (memo to Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf: try not to fire personnel on holidays or eve of holidays, it makes your team management look very insensitive), Coach Skiles was spared the agony of having to deal with this dysfunctional Bulls team. Oh, and don’t feel so bad for Coach Skiles — he walked away with $7M in compensation, which negates any ill feelings over the timing of his termination.
The Chicago Bulls team that Scott Skiles leaves is certainly better than the one he inherited, but the larger question remains — what direction is this team heading? Like the Doug Collins firing in the late 80’s, the Bulls (and GM John Paxson, I might add) are at a crossroads. They have some fine young talent, but no clear floor leader or go-to guy that can take the heat off of everyone else. G Ben Gordon and F Luol Deng look foolish every day of lacksidasical, underachieving day that passes. The extensions that were offered look so much better in the light of poor, uninspired play.
Don’t think for a moment that this is the last move that Paxson makes, because if he doesn’t make wholesale changes to this roster, he may not be around to make any more changes…..oh, and by the way, welcome back to the interim coaching ranks, Pete Myers. Your reward? A date with the defending NBA Champions, the San Antonio Spurs.
Posted in Chicago Bulls | Tagged: Basketball, Ben Gordon, Bulls, Chicago Bulls, Chicago Sports, Doug Collins, John Paxson, Luol Deng, NBA, Pete Myers, pro sports, Scott Skiles | Leave a Comment »