The Bulls have run into a problem in their mission to dump Larry Hughes and his ginormous contract, the problem being: Nobody wants him. But, to me, that simply means John Paxson isn’t trying hard enough. That’s where I come in, because some times the best Trade Machine…is the human mind.
To: The Bueller family.
For: Ferris Bueller.
Why it works: The Bulls need a clutch player, someone who can make things happen in pressure situations, and Bueller is perfect. Look at everything he was able to accomplish in the six or seven hours he was supposed to be at school: Attend a Cubs game; visit the Sears Tower, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Board of Trade; take part in the Von Steuben Day Parade, even lip-syncing to “Danke Schoen” and The Beatles’ version of “Twist and Shout;” and pretend to be the Sausage King of Chicago to dine at an upscale restaurant on Rush Street. Anybody who’s spent any time in the Windy City knows that, for most people, those things could take days, even weeks to accomplish. Ferris did it in half a day. He’s also a larger-than-life personality that fans can rally behind. Plus, no scandal would ever stick to this guy: He was able to ditch classes and even destroy his best friend’s dad’s Ferrari yet came out smelling like a rose. I have no idea whether he can shoot a basketball, but that doesn’t seem to matter on this team. Just look at Joakim Noah.
What the Bueller family gets: I don’t care that she had a change of heart at the end of the movie and saved him from Dean Rooney, Ferris’ sister, Jeanie, hated her brother…mostly because his inexplicable popularity and unstoppable coolness made her feel badly about herself. That wouldn’t happen with Larry; if anything, his underachieving nature and lack of popularity would actually build her confidence. As for Mr. and Mrs. Bueller, they couldn’t tell the difference between their actual son and some cheesy sound effects. Chances are, they wouldn’t even notice the Ferris-for-Larry switch.
Why it works: Hiro has the ability to bend space and time. Effectively, that allows him to both freeze time and travel through it. Imagine the possibilities. First, it would be pretty easy for Hiro to get to the hoop if everybody in the stadium was caught in a time warp. Second, a simple time rewind could be used to undo any mistake: Turnovers, bad shots, eating too much pizza before the game. If the Bulls collapsed in the fourth quarter, Hiro could simply zip back to the end of the third and let his team replay the final 12 minutes over and over until they got it right. And on a larger scale, maybe he could go back and help rewrite other past blunders, like signing Ben Wallace to that huge contract or trading LaMarcus Aldridge for Tyrus Thomas. Yeah, that first one would ensure that Larry was never a Bull in the first place (since he was acquired for Wallace) and thus cause some kind of schism in the time-space continuum, but whatever. Alternate realities can be fun.
What the Heroes get: The series’ arch supervillain is a guy named Sylar, who cuts open peoples’ brains and inspects them in order to learn their powers. Sylar has, thus far, proven to be unstoppable, but can you imagine what would happen if he dissected Big Shot Larry’s brain and poked around inside it? Not only would it scramble Sylar’s abilities — no doubt causing him to misfire on every finger laser or telekinetic blast — it would eliminate his capacity to even realize he couldn’t use his powers anymore. While he was thus crippled, the Heroes could put Sylar in a rocket ship and fire him into the sun or something.
Why it works: Oh come on. It is literally impossible to imagine any way that adding Mr. T to the Bulls’ roster wouldn’t make the team about a thousand times better. Especially as B.A. Baracus. For starters, their pity-to-fool ratio would immediately jump off the charts. But there’s more. According to his Wikipedia page, B.A. is a mechanical genius who can “fix anything but dinner.” So I figure he could either repair the team’s offense — which consistently breaks down during the fourth quarter — or maybe build some kind of super vehicle that would save the day. (Let’s hear it for the deus ex machina!) The Wiki entry also notes that Baracus has a special fondness for children, occasionally working at a youth center teaching sports to kids…which would make him perfect for the NBA Cares program.
What the A-Team gets: According to the A-Team’s Wiki page: “The team’s opponents are rarely hurt, as bullets miss their targets and the enemies manage to evade or survive, unscathed, numerous explosions.” I figure that if the A-Team needs a guy who likes to shoot a lot but rarely (if ever) hits anything, Larry Hughes is perfect!
Why it works: The Bulls can’t protect the paint, and it’s a major problem. Forget Al Jefferson and his season-best 39 points. Guys like Anderson Varejao, Ben Wallace, Darko Milicic, Nick Collison and Zaza Pachulia have also torched Chicago for their season-high in scoring. Enough is enough. What better way to protect the paint than with a guy who can grow to any size by simply saying “Inyuk-chuk!” over and over. One time, Apache Chief grew large enough to battle a Space Colossus that plucked Earth from its orbit and placed it in a glass bottle. If Apache Chief can do that, he can probably contain the Zaza Pachulia’s of the NBA.
What the Super Friends get: During the late 1970s, Apache Chief was added to the Super Friends (along with Black Vulcan, Rima the Jungle Girl, El Dorado and Samurai) to give the team a more multi-cultural feel. And while the Super Friends’ Native American representation would drop to zero percent, adding Larry would double their African American membership. Plus, it would give Black Vulcan somebody to commiserate with over the questionable (and possibly racist) naming schemes employed at the Hall of Justice. I mean, what the heck is a “Black Vulcan” anyway? And I don’t think Samurai was actually a real samuri either. I’m just sayin’.
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “In their current season-long five-game losing streak, the Bulls have been outscored by a combined 21 points in the fourth quarter. That’s as good a place as any to start the discussion on the team’s woes, which include too many turnovers, poor defense and the inability to execute even the most basic of plays down the stretch. ‘Anyone who is watching us knows we’re playing harder and with a lot of spirit and effort,’ forward Luol Deng said. ‘We just have to play smarter.’”
John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times: “Coach Vinny Del Negro put the ball in the hands of rookie point guard Derrick Rose for the last-second plays in regulation and overtime, and there’s no problem with that. Rose is the team’s best ballhandler and the player most capable of breaking down the defense. The problem against the Timberwolves was execution, not play design. ‘The first one, I waited too long,’ Rose said. The result was a forced, off-balance jumper that missed badly. In overtime, Rose made his way into the paint, but his path was cut off and he picked up his dribble, a definite mistake in that situation.”
Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: “Opponents are finding unprecedented success against the Bulls’ defense. The list of players who have set career highs in scoring against the Bulls this season is long and features a mix of both young stars and run-of-the mill big men. Detroit’s Rodney Stuckey lit up the Bulls for 40 points. Toronto’s Andrea Bargnani (31), Charlotte rookie D.J. Augustin (29), Atlanta’s Al Horford (27), Cleveland’s Anderson Varejao (26) and Boston’s Kendrick Perkins (25) have all rung up career highs that still stood as of Monday morning. The players who have set season highs against the Bulls is an even longer list and contains familiar names: LeBron James (twice), Joe Johnson, Vince Carter, Al Jefferson, Pau Gasol, Travis Outlaw, Stephen Jackson, Mike Bibby and Rudy Gay.”
Mike Imrem of the Arlington Heights Daily Herald: ”Del Negro and Paxson are in an unwitting race to determine which will be out of his job first. In Paxson’s case it would be because he has had enough. In Del Negro’s it would be because somebody noticed he is the wrong guy at the wrong time. Then again, who is qualified to coach this motley crew? Would Mahatma Gandhi have been? No, these Bulls would stampede all over him, or worse. Would Charles Manson be? No, he’d stampede all over them, or worse. Someone between a Gandhi and a Manson? Yes, that’s it, someone between a pacifist and a mass murderer. Del Negro fits in there somewhere but lacks the certain ‘it’ that would command the Bulls’ respect.” [Via TrueHoop.]
You find yourself setting standards that those around you cannot reach. However, failure will dog your steps until an underdeveloped skill is perfected. And that thing in Ben Gordon’s locker is not a Twinkie.
With away games against the Suns, Rockets, Hornets and Mavericks looming darkly on the horizon like the creeping shadows of Mordor – yes, it’s a Tolkien reference, deal with it – this weekend’s two matchups were about as critical as they come. Friday’s game against the Raptors was the Bulls’ last at home until February 10th while Sunday’s battle with the Timberwolves was the first of a seven-game road trip that could officially flatline the season.
And they lost them both.
The Toronto game was actually closer than the final score (114-94) indicates — the Bulls pulled to within a point (91-90) when Luol Deng nailed a 21-footer with 6:22 left in the fourth quarter — but the end result was still a 20-point home loss that earned the team little love (and a lot of boos) from an increasingly cranky home crowd. Turnovers (23 for 27 points going the other way) and an inability to defend (the Raptors shot 56 percent) or finish (the Male Cows were outscored 23-4 down the stretch) were the lowlights of the loss.
As for the game in Minnesota, well, it was pretty important for the Bulls to start this trip off on the right hoof, especially against a Western Conference bottom feeder like the Timberwolves. (Although, to be fair, the Wolves have been surging lately.) But even though the Bulls limited their turnovers to 15 (giving up “only” 15 points to the Wolves in the process), the team still lost the Battle of the Paint to Al Jefferson (a season-high 39 points and 9 rebounds) and Kevin Love (19 points and a career-high 15 boards). Surrendering 15 offensive boards for 24 second-chance points didn’t help either.
And Jefferson’s 39 felt more like 60. Poor Joakim Noah had a double-double (14 points and 10 rebounds) plus a career-high 7 blocked shots but got used like a movie prop by Jefferson. Said Noah afterward: “I don’t even know what to say. I was playing as hard as I could and he just kept scoring the ball. He’s just a great offensive player and we just couldn’t slow him down tonight.” Yeah, that was a problem, all right.
The Bulls actually took a seven-point lead (95-88) off two Tyrus Thomas free throws with 3:54 left in regulation but – Shock Alert!! – couldn’t hold on. Here’s a summary of their next eight possessions to close out regulation: Missed jumper by Luol Deng; missed jumper by Ben Gordon; loose ball foul on Thomas; missed jumper by Thomas; missed jumper by Derrick Rose; offensive rebound/layup by Joakim Noah; missed driving layup by Rose; missed jumper by Rose. To recap: 1-for-6 and a turnover. And that’s the story of the season: The Bulls can’t get good shots in the end game.
I mean, they hit almost 58 percent of their field goals (34-for-59) through the first three quarters and had scored 82 points going into the fourth. That’s great! Then they eked out only 15 points on 5-for-19 shooting (26 percent) in the final period, including just two points in the last four-ish minutes. That’s not great. It’s enough to make me want to lobby Vinny to bring Big Shot Larry back off the bench. Because, seriously, as much as I detest him, when Kirk Hinrich is going 0-for-7, it might be worth taking a fresh look at…oh no. I’m calling for Larry Hughes to get back into some games for his clutch shooting. You know clutch situations have gotten bad when…
And Vinny Del Negro sure noticed the fourth quarter collapse, even if he couldn’t coach the Bulls out of it: “We didn’t convert down the stretch. In regulation and then a couple of plays on overtime, we just couldn’t get the ball in the basket.” If you try and tell me that quote — and the game in general — didn’t give you a sick feeling of déjà vu, you’re lying.
I’d say the bright side is that the team’s next two games are against the Clippers (10-32) and Kings (10-35), but at this point, Vinny and the boys can’t afford to take anything for granted. Particularly since they’re 5-17 on the road this season. And at this point, I’m not even sure what to suggest. Block out? Play better defense? Hit a few shots in the final five or six minutes of the game? It sounds so simple and easy. But for the Bulls, right now anyway, it feels impossible.
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “Poor late-game execution once again doomed the Bulls, whose season-long losing streak extended to five games after a 109-108 overtime loss to the Timberwolves. Leading by as many as 16 in the first quarter and shooting 57.6 percent through three quarters, the Bulls collapsed down the stretch by shooting 8-for-29. Randy Foye, 1-for-10 to that point, scored on a driving layup with 41.3 seconds remaining in overtime to provide the final points. Making the basket worse, Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro had employed his ‘offense-defense’ substitution, replacing Ben Gordon and Derrick Rose with better defenders Kirk Hinrich and Thabo Sefolosha for that possession. Gordon and Rose returned on the ensuing possession, and Gordon missed a 19-foot jumper.”
John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times: “Magic Johnson, who made his share of game-winning plays, used to call crunch time ‘winning time.’ It has been anything but for the Bulls this season. The Bulls had an opportunity to set up potential game-winning plays at the end of regulation and overtime but couldn’t convert either time in dropping a 109-108 decision to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday night at the Target Center. ‘It’s very frustrating,’ forward Luol Deng said. ‘This is a game we should have won.’”
Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: “In the final analysis, the Bulls simply couldn’t slow down Minnesota center Al Jefferson, who scored 39 points while hitting 16 of 29 shots. Jefferson scored most every important basket for the Timberwolves except for a driving bank shot by guard Randy Foye with 41.3 seconds remaining that turned out to be the final points of the game. Rookie forward Kevin Love added 19 points and 15 rebounds for the home team.”
Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Rose didn’t dominate Sunday; he still looks like the future. He scored 18 points with seven assists and three rebounds without ever looking lost. If he can develop an outside shot, he will be the NBA’s next great point guard.”
More K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “There are times during almost any NBA game where head coaches appear as if they’d rather be gargling with cod liver oil than patrolling the sideline. Yet even with a five-game losing streak, a minor incident with Ben Gordon angrily questioning a fine and all the injuries the Bulls have endured, Vinny Del Negro is savoring the ride of his rookie coaching experience. ‘I enjoy it all, the good times, the bad times, the frustrations,’ Del Negro said. “Are you going to give in to the adversity, or is your character going to show? I think our guys have handled things well at times. Other times we haven’t. Hopefully, we’ll team up so we compete and get better defensively.’”
Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “The Wolves trailed 12-2 and 20-4 almost before they knew it, but they recovered with an effort the rest of the way that was long on grit and resiliency and lacking nearly any aesthetics. ‘I tell the guys that every night is not a Picasso’ [Timberwolves coach Kevin] McHale said.’I'm sure Picasso threw more pictures in the garbage than he put on museum walls. I won’t watch the film of this one. I’ll just wonder for the rest of my life how we won’”
The result: The Minnesota Timberwolves (15-27) pulled out a 109-108 overtime home victory over the Bulls (18-27), who have now lost five straight and nine of 13 games this month.
The good: The Bulls jumped out to a 16-point lead in the first quarter while the Wolves were clanging their first 11 shots. Joakim Noah came back Hulk Hogan-style from his Scott Hastings impersonation against the Raptors to submit a double-double (14 points and 10 rebounds) to go along with 3 assists and 7 Wilsonburgers served. Luol Deng (22 points, 7-for-14, 8 rebounds, 4 assists) looked like the Loul of 2005-06. Ben Gordon’s targeting computer was on the mark (10-for-20 from the field and 3-for-6 from downtown for his team-high 23 points). In fact, the Bulls shot pretty well as a team (47 percent) and – in a refreshing change of pace – managed to force more turnovers than they committed (17-15).
The bad: That 16-point lead? Lost it. But they still managed to go up 97-94 on Noah’s layup with 1:08 to go in the fourth quarter. However, Minnesota scored the next four points (off a hook shot and a tip-in by Jefferson) to force OT. So, you know, here’s another game that can be filed under “Come-From-Ahead Losses.” Derrick Rose’s performance was reasonably solid (18 points, 7 assists) but he also committed a team-high 5 turnovers and blew two golden opportunities to put the game away: He gonged a 17-foot jumper at the end of regulation and later forced (and missed) an off-balance shot under heavy pressure at the end of overtime. (Time for John Paxson to put out a “Clutch Scorer Wanted” sign outside the United Center, I think…)
The ugly: Kirk Hinrich must have caught whatever Noah had against Toronto, because he was dreadful (1 point, 0-for-7, 1 rebound, 2 assists, 3 turnovers). Despite Noah’s 7 blocked shots, Chicago’s interior defenselessness again proved to be their undoing. Al Jefferson scored a season-high 39 points — yes, another frontcourt player had his best game of the year against us — and Kevin Love came off the bench to contribute 19 points (8-for-11) and 15 boards (including 5 on the offensive end). Oh, and Love’s rebound total represented a career-high. Not to go all Hubie Brown on you, but teams that can’t control or at least somewhat protect the paint aren’t going to win many games.
The result: The Raptors (17-28) snapped their seven-game losing streak at the Bulls’ (18-26) expense, blowing the home team out by the score of 114-94.
The good: Well…the earth didn’t open up and swallow the Bulls. So there’s that, I guess. Oh, and Tyrus had a highlight reel dunk over Jermaine O’Neal:
The bad: Suffering their fourth straight defeat in a 20-point home blowout (by a team that had lost seven straight) right before starting a seven-game Western Conference road trip. Letting the Raptors shoot almost 57 percent from the field for the game. Failing to get a hand in the face (or anywhere in the general vicinity) of the freshly-returned-from-injury Jose Calderon, who had a “John Stockton on steroids” game (23 points on 9-of-10 shooting and 10 assists). Missing nine free throws (22-for-31).
The ugly: Getting outscored 23-4 in the final 6:19 after being down only 91-90. The 23 turnovers that translated into 27 bonus points for the Raptors. Joakim Noah, who’s Greg Kite-like performance (zero points, 0-for-0 from the field, 0-for-2 at the line, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 turnovers and 6 fouls in 14 minutes) brought the boo-birds out of the United Center rafters.
Coaching wisdom: Said Vinny D: “I thought our energy to start the third quarter was not good. We are not good enough to do that. We have to play with high energy and play together.”
Okay, last word on Ben versus Vinny before I recap tonight’s matchup with the Raptors. Del Negro likened his not-suitable-for-children-under-13 spat with Gordon to “an afternoon conversation at the table, a little Sunday afternoon pasta. That’s about it for me.”
But wait, there’s more: “I’m Italian, I like to argue. That’s how I grew up. It doesn’t bother me. So whatever helps to get this team going, whatever comments are made, everybody knows where to find me. The players, everybody. Everybody says, ‘What’s going on?’ Nothing’s going on, we’ve got to try to win. That’s what I focus on.”
Yeah, but didn’t he see Gordon’s rant as a sign of [beware the "D" word!] disrespect? “No, because I argue with everybody. It’s funny to me, it really is. This is pro basketball. If you can’t take the heat, you’d better get out. I’ve been around way too long to worry about that. I love that guys show passion. I hope guys argue and get on each other and get into it and show some fight and some grit. That’s what it’s all about. It’s not easy out there. That’s why it’s pro basketball. It’s easy to play, it’s hard to win. So when guys show passion and get aggravated, take it out on the other team. You can’t back down. You’ve got to go and work. That’s what I believe.”
The important thing is that you believe it, Vinny. Now bring on the Toronto!
Welcome to the second installment of my ongoing series, Fan on the street, which features real people from the Windy City telling me (and, by extension, you) how they really feel about our Chicago Bulls.
Answer: “I think Ben Gordon is an [expletive] anyway so it’s not shocking. It’s ridiculous and very disrespectful that he would curse out his coach for something I’m sure he knew about in advance, but like I said, he’s an [expletive].” ~Letise Lawson, Office Manager
On the cutting room floor: When informed that I would be editing her colorful description of Ben Gordon, Ms. Lawson said: “I thought [expletive] had a nice ring to it, but if you must.”
I was halfway through my “Let’s try to stay positive everybody!” post when I read about Ben Gordon’s tiff with Vinny Del Negro. (More details in today’s fresh ink). The gist of it is that Ben, upset over a fine levied because he was late for a team flight, lodged a strongly worded (of the four-letter variety) complaint with Vinny in a Berto Center hallway. Even more damning was that the incident took place just a few minutes after Vinny had told media members to ask his players if they respect him. I guess they got their answer. Way to set a good, veteran example for the young guys, Ben. No wonder Joakim and Tyrus can’t seem to get it together.
In other “What the hell is wrong with these guys?” news, Derrick Rose is struggling with the decision of whether or not to accept the league’s invitation to the NBA All-Star Weekend Skills Challenge. Said Rose: “I still have to think about it. It’ll depend on how busy I am [and] the way I feel. If I don’t feel like being in it, I guess I don’t have to play in it. It is an honor [to be invited]. I have to see how I feel.”
Dear readers, I’m just a caveman. I fell on some ice and was later thawed by some of your scientists. Your world frightens and confuses me. Sometimes when I fly to Europe on the Concorde, I wonder, am I inside some sort of giant bird? Am I going to be digested? I don’t know, because I’m a caveman, and that’s the way I think. When I’m courtside at a Bulls game, I wonder if the ball is some sort of food they’re fighting over. When I see my image on the security camera at the country club, I wonder, are they stealing my soul? I get so upset, I hop out of my Range Rover, and run across the fairway to to the clubhouse, where I get Carlos to make me one of those martinis he’s so famous for, to soothe my primitive caveman brain. But whatever world you’re from, I do know one thing: Any All-Star invitation is an honor that should be accepted immediately unless you’re suffering a debilitating injury and/or brain damage.
What’s with these Bulls rookies, anyway? Remember when Tyrus, still an idiot impressionable rookie himself, was asked to participate in the Slam Dunk contest? He accepted, of course, but he showed signs of his trademark immaturity when he said: “I’m just going to go out there, get my check and call it a day.” Then, when asked if being surrounded by the league’s best players could benefit him, he responded” “I’m just into the free money. That’s it. I’ll just do whatever when I get out there.”
Yeah. I facepalmed when that happened. And I double-facepalmed when these latest issues came up…since I’d just spent, like, a thousand words consoling Bulls fans and telling them that, hey, things aren’t all that bad. And I still believe that. But Ben and Derrick sure made me look kind of stupid. Not to mention themselves.