Bulls

The Bulls have been out of the NBA action since April, but off-season chatter is booming. If you’ve blocked out the Bulls since they missed the playoffs, you may be a bit out of the loop, but let me catch you up on the details consuming Chicago fans.

First, the Minnesota Timberwolves named ex-Bulls Head Coach Tom Thibodeau the president of operations as well as the head coach of their organization in April. Basically, the T-wolves gave Thibs the reigns and said “make us a contender pretty please.” Thibodeau got pushed out of the Bulls organization after the 2015 season mostly because he didn’t see eye-to-eye with the front office – specifically Gar Forman and John Paxson. Despite his winning  the Coach of the Year award in 2011 and tying the record for most wins (62) for a rookie coach, Gar and Paxson figured Thibs was the problem with the Bulls. Then the Bulls hired pretty-boy Fred Hoiberg, had the rockiest season I can remember and missed the playoffs entirely. Just loads and loads of disappointment.

Fast forward to May, as news broke that Joakim Noah was over the Chicago Bulls organization and will be exploring his options as an unrestricted free agent this off-season. WHAT! Literally my heart shattered into a million pieces. Jo-No has been a staple in Chicago since being drafted by the Bulls in 2007. He’s given his heart and soul to the team, been viewed as a leader and then Hoiberg struts in and takes away his starting lineup spot. Now, it’s understandable that Hoiberg was trying to jazz things up and find a rhythm for his new team, but pushing his veteran out of the picture probably wasn’t his best move. However, Noah didn’t specifically bring up losing his starting spot as a reason for his desire to move on from the Bulls. Instead, it was all focused on the front office. A fellow player said Noah has no trust in the front office moving the team in the right direction and that players don’t trust Gar Forman. Rumor has it there’s an assistant coach who is also a little tattle tale and tells Gar everything that happens with the team. That same player also indicated that former head coach Thibs acted as a buffer between the front office and the team, which is probably why he got pushed out.

Jo-No is coming off his worst statistical season of his career, only appearing in 29 games, averaging only 4.3 points and shooting under 40 percent from the floor. Let’s not forget about the season ending shoulder injury he suffered and has been rehabilitating. Although the demand for Noah may not be what it once had been, he’s still a presence to be reckoned with. Also any team looking for a veteran leader with sick rebounding abilities would be interested in Noah. He’s 31 and could easily revive his career if he can stay healthy.

This week, rumor has it that Thibodeau is interested in shopping for Joakim Noah during free agency. Honestly, I’m not surprised. Noah had his absolute best seasons under coach Thibodeau and won the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2014 with Thibs by his side. Why wouldn’t Joakim want to reunite with his favorite head coach?

So where does that leave the Bulls? A hot damn mess. Pau Gasol is also a free agent come the off-season so technically the Bulls could be without both veteran centers. Rumors are surfacing that the Bulls should trade Jimmy Butler and completely rebuild. Looks like we may be stuck with Derrick Rose and his two surgically repaired knees. Ummm, go T-Wolves? Thank goodness it’s baseball season.

 

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With a heavy heart (and a secret sigh of relief) the Bulls 2015-2016 season is officially over after Chicago beat the 76ers at home on Wednesday. I guess it’s better to end on a win, but the Bulls failure to find a lack of urgency was painful to watch this season and it was all too little too late.

Yes you read that right. The Chicago Bulls failed to make the NBA Playoffs for the first time since drafting Derrick Rose. Also, I’d like to note that the Bulls are in the Eastern Conference, which is by far the weaker of the two and they STILL couldn’t seem to drum up enough wins to snag that 8th seed in the playoffs. If I seem bitter, I am. The Bulls 42-40 record on the season hurt my feelings as a fan. I can’t pin-point just one problem that lead to the Bulls’ demise, it was more like a slew of issues that ended up just blowing the season out of proportion.

We’ll start with the injuries that always seem to hamper the Bulls and ruin my dreams of strutting around town in Chicago Bulls NBA championship swag from this decade. First, Joakim Noah went down in January with a season ending shoulder injury. Then Nikola Mirotic had to have an emergency surgery to remove his appendix which kept him off the floor for some weeks. In early February, star Jimmy Butler sustained a knee injury that kept him out of the game for about a month and some seriously crucial games. Not to mention Mike Dunleavy did not return from off-season back surgery until February. For the majority of the season, the Bulls were kind of a band of misfits and rarely had their starting lineup in tact.

Problem number two, coaching. Fred Hoiberg assumed the role of Head Coach in the wake of Tom Thibodeau’s dismissal in 2015. Here’s the thing, I definitely loved me some Thibs basketball. He wasn’t perfect, but he empowered his players to play passionately and effectively. He was a defensive stone-wall and this year was proof that defense matters a whole hell of a lot more than people like to admit. I hate to say it, but Hoiberg came off as a soft pretty-boy this first season behind the reins. Coming into the season Hoiberg was praised for his work at Iowa State and his offensive focus. Well my handsome friend, that sissy stuff may have worked in the farm fields, but it sure didn’t work in the big leagues. Hoiberg’s lack of command seemed most obvious from veteran players who had played under more, we’ll say ‘aggressive’ coaches. Jimmy Butler first stirred the waters when he spoke out after a tough loss that Hoiberg needed to be tougher on the guys. Umm, I agree. Most recently, Pau Gasol spoke out about how difficult this season has been for him. Players took games for granted, lacked a sense of urgency and maturity. Oh, you mean like your head coach playing a dumb and dumber clip when your season is on the line?

Despite the criticism, from haters like myself, Hoiberg has argued that he has a stronger relationship with his players than it seems through the medias eyes. Prove it buddy.

Problem number three, we have Jimmy Butler in his prime and Derrick Rose still tough, but a little washed up, trying to play on the same team. The two “super-stars” never gelled. Which SUCKS because we’ve seen what happens when you get two super-stars to gel, just google some old highlights of MJ and Scottie Pippen.

So what happens when you don’t make the playoffs? The rumor mill begins a churnin’. Some people think the Bulls should blow up the roster and start with fresh young talent. Others question if the team should keep both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Some people are lobbying to axe Hoiberg and the whole front office. We’ve got a lot of emotional fans on our hands here.

Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol have been the free agent talks of the town this year. After Pau Gasol openly expressed his frustrations with the season, we’re all guessing the dude will opt out of his contract, but now focuses have been shifting to Noah. This season proves more than ever that Noah was the leader of this Bulls team and the player who could look at Butler and Rose and tell them to step it up. Now stories have surfaced that the front office may be looking to sign Noah to a short term deal. The question is, would Noah even want to take it after Hoiberg falsely said Jo-No volunteered to come off the bench earlier this season? The front office also believes Gasol is part of the “core” of the team So who stays and who goes?

My most favorite rumor of late is the Jimmy Butler trade. Butler’s quick rise to stardom and hefty pay raise has led to a bit of an ego issue and preferential treatment. Lets just say Jimmy’s rubbed some teammates the wrong way and some have gone to infer that his attitude is toxic to the locker room.  With his level of play this season, it was clear that Butler was the star of the roster, but leadership is earned and not determined by who gets paid the most (Rose has proven that to us). Jimmy has shown his work ethic is top notch, but he may not yet be mature enough to lead or motivate veteran players. Now, he’s put himself in a predicament as the best player on an extremely dysfunctional team with a very high trade value as one of the most sought after two-way players in the league. If these issues are true, we can’t be surprised if Butler is wheeled and dealed this off season.

When your team doesn’t make the playoffs there are always serious repercussions, especially if you’re the so-called leader of that train wreck of the a team. Put your seat belts on Bulls fans, I’m predicting a wild ride for this off season.

Until next time my friends 🙂

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The start of Spring means the NBA playoffs are around the corner.  This should be good news all around for basketball fans, if you’re like me and completely bored of an even more uneventful NBA regular season than what is to be expected.  Yes, Chef Curry is still cookin, Kobe is still retiring, Lebron is still mad, George Karl is still in Sacramento, and the Spurs are still good.  The story lines have remained the same across the league since Halloween, and aside from a few Boogie tirades, Lebron social media standoffs and Blake Griffin blackouts, this season has lacked the high stakes and high drama we need to come from 7 games between Golden State and San Antonio, and the possibility of Boston, Miami or Toronto knocking off a tumultuous team in Cleveland.

With the postseason in view, the next few weeks aren’t only important to those 16 teams who will see the court in mid-April, but also to the organizations who are already looking toward next year, or have been for months.  NBA tank-a-thon 2016 is in full effect in Philly, LA and Phoenix, but come June 23rd, will it even matter? There’s a significant yet rarely discussed major detail in the tanking discussion – losing the most games rarely gets teams the coveted number one draft slot they so desperately want out of the draft “lottery.”

To be transparent, I support about 90% of conspiracies I hear about in general, and fully believe that there is no NBA Draft Lottery for the top 3 picks.  Those picks are bestowed upon the teams selected by Adam Silver, and David Stern before him, in order to keep parity in the NBA to the best of their ability while maximizing revenue and dominance in the major markets.  While I know this is constantly debated and there is much evidence to the contrary, I don’t really care to hear it, and basically operate under the assumption that this is fact.

That aside, it’s also important to note that the 2016 draft class is very shallow with a significant talent drop off after the first two picks – likely Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram – and there is abundant skepticism as to whether either of them will become a franchise, super star, foundational leader wherever they end up.  In some ways that makes getting a top 2 pick even more significant than in other years, but on the other hand, maybe it’s best for teams not to cash in their good karma in what might be a wasted year.

With that in mind, who has the best chance of locking up the draft’s top pick?  Let’s see…

If they were to show the draft balls on TV, as it stands now, Philadelphia and their impressive 9-64 record have the largest claim to the #1 pick with a 25% chance of opening their envelope (do they still do envelopes?) last.  They are in such desperate need of that franchise player to round out their squad of top picks in Joel Embid and Jahlil Okafor if they can ever stay healthy, and probably should be rewarded for what has been just an epic tank job, and potentially their best work to date.  But I just don’t see it.  They’re going to get a top 3 pick given that they have a 64.3% chance of landing on the medal stand, but the #2 spot seems like a better place for the Sixers so they don’t have to make the Simmons or Ingram decision, and can just play the hand they’re dealt.

That 9-64 record in Philly is particularly remarkable this year given that they have 7 more losses than even the Los Angeles Lakers.  The Lakers have been nothing short of terrible, and it comes at an optimal time when LA would have to give up their first round pick to Philly if it fell outside of the top 3.  Instead, the Lakers have a 55.8% chance of keeping their pick, and a 19.9% chance of it landing at #1, making it less discernible when Silver selects them to be the next and forever home of Ben Simmons, the kind of star that LA requires, forming an up-and-coming big 3 with D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle.

And there’s no one that would hate that more than Boston.  But Boston is in a weird spot with this year’s draft.  They’re seemingly in an incredible spot given that they have Brooklyn’s pick, and the 4th best odds of landing in the #1 spot, at a time when they’re urgently in need of a star to put them over the top.  On the flip side, their team is young but not that young and they’re actually a contender in the East given the right match up.  The star they need has to contribute now, not in a few years when their current core is on the decline.   If Silver bestowed #1 on the Celtics, it might make the most sense to complete some type of blockbuster trade that gets Boston star power this year.  But having the #1 spot go to the highest bidder doesn’t sound like the best thing for the NBA.  Boston and everyone else would be better off if they were to land #3, grab a role player who can help win some games, and continue their efforts to bring KD, Kevin Love or Boogie to the City on a Hill.

So that’s my prediction for this year’s “lottery” – Lakers, Sixers, Celtics (via Brooklyn) 1,2,3.  Minnesota’s too small for Silver to let them rise to dominance with Wiggins, Towns, LaVine AND Simmons, and the Bulls’ chances are too small at 0.5% to pull another Derrick Rose scenario so blatantly.  But there are still 3 weeks left in the season and anything can happen.  In the meantime, you can follow tank-a-thon 2016 here to stay updated on the odds across the bottom of the league.

And for the record, I know videos like this exist; I just choose to ignore them.

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Alright my fellow Bulls fans, prostate I know this hasn’t been the easiest of seasons for Chicago and many of you have probably given up altogether (I get it, here it’s no fun watching your favorite team suffer through losses), but it may get uglier as the Bulls attempt to claw their way back up the standings. Get ready for a bumpy ride.

Lets start with the good. Jimmy Butler who had missed 11 games with a knee strain returned on Saturday and helped the Bulls defeat the Houston Rockets at home. Buckets looked good, just serving up defense and making some beautiful baskets. Then this week, his knee weirdly swelled up on him and he had to go make a special visit to some guy named Doctor Andrews to get a second opinion on what’s going on. Luckily, Jimmy got the all clear by a second doc so hopefully he should be back in the lineup soon.

Next up on the agenda, Doug McDermott is finding a bit of a rhythm in his sophomore season. Things looked a bit shaky for McBuckets earlier this year. He had struggled to find minutes under old head coach Tom Thibodeau in his rookie season and was expected to really thrive under offensive minded Hoiberg. Until, he didn’t. In February, Dougie had his absolute worst showing of his professional career against the Cavaliers, but has seemingly used that performance to harness some kind of mojo. The following night he put up a career high 30-points over the Toronto Raptors. He admitted he’s just too tough of a critic on himself.

I’m really hard on myself. That can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing. I think in college it’s a good thing because you have a week between your next game. In the NBA, you have a game, and then you have another game the next day. So if you’re constantly down on yourself, being mad about a play the night before, it’s going to affect the way you play the next night. So I kind of just let some things go, focus on the moment and just keep moving forward.

Seems like our guy just needed a bit of a confidence boost. Just keep doing what your doing Doug; attack the rim, make those mid-range shots, take more than just 3-point-shots and get aggressive.

Now, on to the UGLY. So the Bulls are currently holding onto the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and the Detroit Pistons are hot on our trail. Normally, I would say “So what, we’ve got this,” but this season has been rough.

The schedule ahead isn’t necessarily the easiest either and Chicago has no room for stingy losses. The Bulls face the Spurs in San Antonio tonight and then head home to take on the Heat on Friday in back-to-back games. The Spurs are sneaky good, I swear there’s a fountain of youth Coach Popovich keeps for his guys, and have gone under the radar in the West with all the hub-bub about the Golden State Warriors. The Spurs are 30-0 at home too people. So two back-to-back tough opponents, then the Bulls still have match-ups with the Pacers, Pistons, Rockets, and Cavs left on the schedule. Not to mention, two months worth of games that could result in more injuries. It’s going to be a tough few months friends. I would say, don’t hold your breath for a crazy playoff run, but the Bulls could always surprise us.

 

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Damian Lillard is not a lot of things.  He was not highly recruited out of high school and he was not a major college player.  He’s not a 2014 FIBA World Cup winner, cialis or a 2016 NBA All Star.  He’s not a member of Nike’s elite, order and he’s not Steph Curry or Kobe Bryant.  So how is it possible that Damian Lillard is the talk of the NBA in early March, post trade deadline and headed into crunch time before the playoffs?

Because Portland.  You might see a woman walking her turtle on a leash down Pearl St. and you might catch an angry Damian Lillard dropping 51 on Golden State. Where zip off cargo pants and gluten free bread reign supreme, and a carpet can be the grand marshal of a parade, the Blazers are overcoming meager expectations and audacious snubs to do their part to keep things weird in the NBA.  I guess we shouldn’t even be that surprised.

So how did we get here?  The Blazers weren’t supposed to be good.  Lillard struggled down the stretch last season only to watch LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicholas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez leave in free agency and trades.  On draft night, the Blazers were poised to be absent of any big men this season and due to pay Lillard max money over the summer without the feeling that he had certain future All-Star potential.

But 2016 hasn’t gone as planned, in a good way.  A rebuild turned resurgence when Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh headed West in the Nicholas Batum trade bolstering the Blazer bench.  CJ McCollum has emerged as the NBA’s most improved player, Meyers Leonard plays with confidence behind the arc, and angry Damian Lillard has come to define clutch in a very raw Steph Curry kind of way, averaging 30 and 8 in the month of February.   Instead of 30 wins and a front row seat at the Draft Lottery in June, the youthful, “long term potential” Blazers have 33 wins with 6 weeks left in the season, a firm grip on a playoff spot and a very heavy bandwagon.

And I totally get it.  I might even join it.  Next season when the Bulls streak of giving up 100 points has hit 50, you might see me in PDX Carpet Adidas, covering my compost pile, and pretending to know why they call it #RipCity.  Regardless, it’s fair to say that things are staying weird in Portland for a while, and I’m not mad about it.

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The reigning champion Golden State Warriors have been rolling through the NBA with a whole lot of wins. For much of this season, and the Warriors have been compared to the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls who also happened to have an incredible season during their reign as the champs. One could say the Warriors are running with the Bulls. Today, pharm the Warriors have the chance to tie the Chicago Bulls record of 44 straight wins at home.

How do the Warriors compare to the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls? Through 59 games Golden State is sitting at 54-5 and the ’95-’96 Bulls were 53-6.

During the Bulls iconic season, they accomplished what no team had done before, or has been able to since, but the Warriors are knocking on their record-setting door.

Chicago won 18 games in a row during one stretch of the 1995-1996 season. They also led the league in scoring (105.2 points per game), ranked third in defense, lost just two home games all season and won more road games (33) than any team in NBA history. RESPECT. Come playoffs, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen lost just one game in their road to the finals and ended up beating the Seattle SuperSonics for the title.

This season, the Golden State Warriors started with a 24-0 run. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are hotter than hot and their team is in the hunt for a 73-win season.

So what do we think? Will the Warriors tie the Bulls record? It will be no easy feat as their opponent is the OKC Thunder – who just lost to Golden State by a mid-court, buzzer-beater in OT from Steph Curry in Oklahoma City. Let’s just say, tonight’s game will be entertaining to say the least (something Bulls fans aren’t currently able to enjoy). Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are thirsty for a win.

Despite all their success in the recent years, Steph Curry’s MVP award and countless three-pointers the Warriors don’t necessarily get the respect they deserve.  None of the contestants on Jeopardy could identify the team from their logo…I say it adds more fuel to the Golden State fire.

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