In a game that felt like bad root canal surgery, the Chicago Bulls left the NBA stage in late May, unceremoniously whipped into dust. As a reward, the NBA is allowing the Bulls to begin the new year in grand style by kicking off the NBA season and hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers on October 27th. It is the very same Cavaliers bunch who embarrassed the Bulls at home in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
No one wants to remember how completely and perfectly manhandled were the Bulls, a team that is supposed to live off of their toughness, in a close out game. They actually looked like rag dolls up and down the court. Everything to play for translated into going through the motions and blame who you want. Their season over, the Bulls then had to suffer the indignity or pleasure as the Cavaliers were easily beaten in the NBA Finals which I imagine made the Bulls feel pretty worthless about what they could not do.
Recent history aside, the NBA still has faith that the Bulls can be the foil for another LeBron James team. But in three months things have gotten really weird in Chicago.
Weird Thing #1: The Bulls fired their coach of five years Tom Thibodeau who, frankly, saved their ass from being a mediocre sixth or seventh seed because he coached hard, went with the defense or die mantra, didn’t obsess over the loss of Derrick Rose, and pulled the best out of every single player. But he couldn’t or wouldn’t communicate with the big shots in the front office so his ass was out. It happens. Nothing new there, coaches have a shelf life. But the Bulls reached back into some Ghost of Christmas Past Tim Floyd hiring and tapped NBA coaching neophyte Fred Hoiberg to guide veterans players who eat rookie coaches for lunch.
Weird Thing #2: Jimmy Butler. First he loves Derrick Rose and then he’s lukewarm towards Derrick Rose and then he admits they aren’t texting day and night because they are teammates not friends. Now Jimmy Butler wants to be the point guard which is…umm…Derrick Rose’s position.
“First off, I think I am a point guard. So I’ve done a heck of a lot of ball screen work, ball handling, getting into the paint and still handling, floaters, all that stuff point guards do. If I get a chance, high pick and roll and more. I want some triple doubles. I’ve got to get my handle right so I can pass and get it to guys where they can make shots. I told Fred, You ask what position I play, I say point guard. ” (Jimmy Butler to SI.com)
Umm. Okay, then. Discipline shown by not saying I play Derrick Rose’s position. Not that I am the first to point this out but, perhaps staying in your lane would be the more beneficial approach here. Let’s say Butler is right and he is a great point guard. I’m skeptical but let’s imagine there is truth in his self-perception. What if Rose is not a better two guard? What if Rose only is a point guard? Is Butler willing to take away what Rose is good at just so Butler can show off his variety of skills?
Butler seems to be approaching his new contract (5 years, $92 million, $4.6 million signing bonus) as if he is the team leader. Caution is required here. An important aspect of leadership is valuing the perspective and interests of others and not trying to be some Robin Hood who steals from the rich to give to the poor.
Naturally, the Bulls will benefit by Jimmy Butler doing more things. Versatility is the name of the game in the NBA now but there is a professional way to expand your game without insulting and demoralizing someone else. Butler and Rose are a fragile bunch. Rose wants the ball and wants to score. Butler wants the ball and wants to score. Can this marriage be saved?
Weird thing #3: Pau Gasol is old. Gasol is 35 and he’s a seven footer and he’s been in the NBA since he was 21 and he was never a good defender, not as a rookie, not at 25, not at 30, not when he went to three NBA Finals in a row. At 35, attrition has worn his body down into a series of anguished expressions. It happened during the Eastern Conference Finals in 2015, it will happen in 2016. Then what? Gasol was a huge Bulls get last off-season but when he’s hurt there is no substitute for his size, length, finesse and skill.
The Bulls milked Gasol in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals and then had to adjust on the fly when he went down with another hamstring issue. One year later Gasol’s body will only be older, not better.
Weird thing #4: The Bulls did zilch in the off-season besides re-signing their own guys. The playoffs exposed the Bulls front court athleticism as Tristan Thompson punked them repeatedly and the Bulls answer to that was to get a center with the 49th pick, some big white guy out of New Mexico via Australia named Cameron Bairstow. But the Bulls are over the cap so there is that excuse management can trot out as to what happened to their off-season.
The Central Division is no longer the Bulls to take like candy from a baby. They have to win it. LeBron is running things now and the Milwaukee Bucks are a young bright team on the rise. Even the Pistons off-season didn’t suck. The Chicago Bulls have to get their house in order and fast. Blink and in a few minutes Derrick Rose will be 30. Pau Gasol will be retired. And Fred Hoiberg will be asking, “why did I leave college.”
photo via llananba