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Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota Timberwolves’

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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Is Chicago Bulls Coach Vinny Del Negro Losing The Team?

Posted by sportsmaven on January 8, 2009

Chicago Bulls GM John Paxson knew he was taking a huge risk by hiring rookie coach Vinny Del Negro as his next coach of the Bulls.  We all know how well rookie coaches have fared in Chicago since Phil Jackson left town after the 1997-98 season.

Chicago Bulls Head Coach Vinny Del Negro, left, talks with Joakim Noah in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings in Chicago, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009. Chicago won the game 99-94. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

Chicago Bulls Head Coach Vinny Del Negro, left, talks with Joakim Noah in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings in Chicago, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009. Chicago won the game 99-94. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

Names like Tim Floyd, Bill Cartwright, Jim Boylan (interim after the Scott Skiles firing) and now Del Negro have all walked the hallowed halls of the Berto Center with the unofficial title of “rookie head coach.”  All have failed miserably, some setting the team back years in what feels like year 10 or 11 of  the rebuilding project.

Now there’s rumblings behind the scenes that current Bulls rookie coach Vinny Del Negro may be losing the team:

Are these signs that Vinny Del Negro is losing his team?  I would have to say that these are definitely not signs that Del Negro has a firm grasp on the team, the way Scott Skiles had a grasp on the team when he was named Bulls coach.

The Bulls are definitely in a rebuilding mode around Del Negro and rookie point guard Derrick Rose.  A .500 record is not out of the question for this Bulls team, but losing to the likes of the Minnesota Timberwolves doesn’t help the cause.  More to come on this issue as the season progresses…

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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 Bring Big Ben Back to Detroit

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).

Ben Wallace Returns to Detroit
(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?

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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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