The irony of the catastrophe, that is the Chicago Bulls minus Tom Thibodeau, is that interest in the Bulls is still strong. It’s just not this Bulls team. All of the attention is on the Michael Jordan glory year of 1995-96 and their 72 win season that, at the time, seemed as unbreakable as Hank Aaron’s home run mark of 715. But records are meant to last until the next generation figures out how to get them to fall.
Steve Kerr is the last man standing between the Jordan Bulls of 1996 and Steph Curry and the 2016 Warriors. Will he rest his players because winning the title is more important than besting the Bulls? Only he can know for sure. As it is, each time the Warriors win and the record chase is laid bare for everyone to see, a bitter reminder fills the mouth. Oh, how the Bulls have fallen, how far they have tumbled into the abyss.
Even during the worst of Derrick Rose’s injury years, the Bulls were never out of the playoffs. The emotional decision to fire Tom Thibodeau for reasons that had nothing to do with basketball are rearing their ugly head and I suppose it’s karma. What goes around comes around. You reap what you sow. And so the Bulls have to live with their self-destructive narcissism that has trickled down from the front office to the court and players.
Last year, after 60 games, the Bulls were 37-23. They were 11-9 in their last 20 games, clearly not world beaters but a winning record. They posted victories over the Spurs, Warriors and Cavs.
This year, after 60 games, the Bulls are 30-30. Their 6-14 record in the last 20 games is pathetically awful. They have beaten the Cavs, Raptors and Wizards. But they have also lost to the Cavs. They have given up 100 points in 15 straight games. Six of those games they have given up more than 110 points and in two games the allowed 129 points (Heat), and 120 points (Clippers). All is not well. This dog can’t hunt.
But the savior is coming.
Jimmy Butler will return Saturday against the Rockets. They need him desperately, particularly his defense on the wing. In his 11 game absence, the Bulls have been a putrid 3-8. So if anyone wants proof that Bulter was worth the max, the Bulls record without him is evidence A. When he returns, he’ll be thrown into the fire, a national televised game with James Harden on the scouting report. Butler won’t be on a minutes restriction and so he’ll be 100% Jimmy Butler or as close as he can be. But will it be enough to salvage this season? Should it be?
Face it. The Bulls will be a lower tier seed if they make the playoffs and a long shot to do anything more than upset a first round opponent. They don’t have the personnel to play the way Hoiberg wants them to play and his defensive schemes get an F. After Thibodeau, a respected coach in the NBA, Hoiberg is second rate. But this is what Gar Forman wanted, a relationship with a coach that wasn’t adversarial. But did he want the losing too? Did he want the lottery?
No one will say it publicly so I’ll be the first. This is a rebuilding team. Noah is gone. Pau Gasol should be gone. Derrick Rose’s salary is strangling the Bulls, he can no longer perform up to it. Doug McDermott isn’t worth the pick they used on him. Bobby Portis has promise. Taj Gibson is a hard worker but limited offensively. This isn’t a championship roster by any stretch of the imagination.
But Butler will try to work his magic by defending first and then rescuing the Bulls with his offense. In less than a week, the Bulls go to San Antonio and the Raptors and Wizards. They have a nice little dip in the schedule with home games against lottery teams: Nets, Jazz, Kings, Knicks. It should get them in rhythm to try to get it together for one last gasp of a run.
Jimmy Butler has all the pressure on him to be the Bulls first responder. They need oxygen and an i.v. line. They need a transplant real fast.
photo via llananba