January 23, 2009
A few days ago, I received a long and impassioned comment from By The Horns reader Spencer G. He had a lot to say, but the line that struck me the hardest — in a Shaq-sized fist between the eyes kind of way — was this: “I’ve been a Bulls fan for 30 years now (I’m 35) and it’s the worst I’ve felt about our direction…ever.”
Sweet grandmother’s spatula! That’s quite a statement, especially considering that Spencer managed to survive those post-Jordan, Tim Floyd-led Bulls teams that won 13, 15 and 17 games in gloomy, I hate-myself-for-loving-you succession. From 72 wins to 13 in four seasons? How depressing was that? In comparison, the Bulls have already won 18 games in 2008-09 and have a decent chance to reach 30-35 victories. That’s not great. Heck, it’s not even mediocre. But it’s not as bad as it was in the not-too-distant past.
And while it should be noted that the 13-win squad played during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, they finished the year with a starting lineup of Tony Kukoc, Ron Harper, Dickey Simpkins, Corey Carr and Rusty LaRue with Charles Jones, Mark Bryant and Corey Benjamin all getting double-digit minutes off the bench. It’s hard to imagine this year’s club being even remotely as awful as that motley crew of NBA journeymen and hoops mannequins.
But that’s not the point, is it? The point is: This team feels worse than those others. To Spencer, anyway. And he’s not alone. I did a Google search for “Chicago Bulls” and “hate,” and look what I found: A Chicago Tribune blog post by Melissa Isaacson entitled Booing The Bulls II. It was published last week, and it featured some write-in comments from Missy’s readers. Here are a few excerpts. [Warning: Undiluted rage and bitterness ahead; proceed with caution!]
First there was this: “I hate this team. I think it is the worst Chicago pro team ever! Even when our teams [stink, which is always] they always give effort and play hard like winning or losing actually matters. This Bulls team is the most selfish I have ever seen that doesn’t [care] about whether or not it loses. Each player is only worried about one thing; themselves. Hughes, Gordon, Gooden, Thomas all they care about is getting up as many shots as possible and what their individual stats are at the end of the game. They could not care less about whether they won the game or not. I am 40 years old and I’ve never hated a Chicago team as much as I hate these Bulls. ”
Then there was this: “Have the Bulls hit rock bottom? Kind of like the stock market, we hope so but the market keeps sliding. In all seriousness, I’ve stopped watching and that’s a pretty bad sign. I started watching the Bulls full time around 1979 and in that time the only time I couldn’t watch was about year three of [Eddy] Curry, Tyson [Chandler] and [Jamal] Crawford. This team has more talent but [Ben] Gordon’s selfish play, Larry [Hughes] being Larry and everyone else but [Derrick] Rose being kind of immature clock-punching jokers makes it pretty hard to watch.”
Things didn’t get better with this: “Not only is this the low point since ’07, this team is approaching Tim Floyd territory. You can expect good teams to be up by 20 points by the end of the first quarter on a regular basis from now on. … I just hope Rose doesn’t get contaminated by the stench of this slop we’re witnessing.”
The vitriol didn’t stop there, but I think you get the point. The feelings are strong, and they are angry. Which completely contradicts this article by Mike Imrem of the Daily Herald in which Mike assumes that John Paxson’s job is (relatively) safe because the fans have stopped caring. But, in fact, it seems that the very opposite is true: Fans care so much that they can barely stomach watching the Bulls fail, even if it’s by only a few points to a clearly superior team (such as, recently, the Spurs and Hawks).
That’s Chicago sports fandom for you. The Cubs entered the playoffs as one of the best regular-season teams in Major League Baseball and the White Sox made it into the postseason on the basis of a late-season rally and a one-game mini-playoff-to-make-the-playoffs. But when the teams were upended in the first round, the city turned on them with extreme prejudice (including one Cubs fan who sold his loyalty to the team on eBay!)
And take the Bears. Make no mistake, this was a rebuilding year. Management invested nothing on the perpetually putrid offense except a first round pick on a lineman who had an existing back condition (and, indeed, he injured it and missed the entire season). So, naturally, most people had the team pegged for three, maybe four wins at the most. Yet the team went 9-7 and were a single win away from a wildcard playoff spot. I would say that winning three times as many games as predicted should have been a cause for wild celebration. Instead? More doom and gloom as the city called for coach Lovie Smith’s head.
Look, I get it. I’m frustrated too. But remember, building a winning team isn’t an exact science. It takes time, effort and lots of luck. It wasn’t that long ago that the Boston Celtics — including GM Danny Ainge and coach Doc Rivers — were in almost the exact same position as the Bulls, and look at them now. I’m not saying the same thing is likely to happen here. It probably won’t. But try to keep in mind that professional sports teams do not exist to validate our existence through winning. Winning is nice, for sure, but their primary purpose is to entertain us.
I mean, think about it. The Cavaliers, Celtics, Lakers and Magic are all much, much better than the Bulls. However, all but one of those teams (I’m guessing) are going to end their season the same way the Bulls will finish theirs: By not winning the league championship. I mean, every NBA campaign has the same final act: One winner, 29 not-winners. That doesn’t mean those 29 teams are all failures. (Not all of them, anyway.)
We knew there would be tough times going into this season. Our coach is a rookie. Our best player is a rookie. Other than Rose, our roster is almost identical to last year’s 33-win team. And, in all fairness, we have lost a lot of player games due to injury (primarily to Hinrich, Deng and Gooden). Look, there are worse things than being stuck on 18 wins and almost beating division leaders (like the Spurs) and playoff-bound teams (like the Hawks). Just ask fans of the Clippers, Thunder and Wizards.
So keep your heads up, people. Better times are coming. I just know it. I mean, we get to play the Raptors tonight! (I will now try to ignore the upcoming seven-game road trip that includes games at Phoenix, Houston, New Orleans and Dallas.)
KC Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “The Bulls fined guard Ben Gordon for breaking an undisclosed team rule Thursday, and the typically stoic guard was seen at the Berto Center expressing his displeasure with the decision by using profanity during an animated conversation with coach Vinny Del Negro. The incident took place after Del Negro addressed reporters. Del Negro declined a request through a team spokesman to address the issue. Reached outside the Berto Center, Gordon said the incident was no longer an issue and he had no problems with the Bulls’ coach.” [One. Big. Happy. Family.]
Brian Hanley of the Chicago Sun Times: “Minutes after Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro told media members Thursday to ask his players if they respect him, some of the same media members witnessed guard Ben Gordon confronting Del Negro and using expletives in a Berto Center hallway. Gordon supposedly was upset at being fined for being late for a team flight. ‘I respect Vinny, everybody respects Vinny,’ Gordon said. ‘This is not a respect issue. It’s a non-issue.’” [Oh, sure. Because breaking team rules and cussing out your coach are two sure signs of a deep and abiding respect.]
More Brian Hanley from the Sun-Times: “Del Negro had fielded a number of questions after practice, including whether he believes his players respect him. A day earlier, general manager John Paxson had expressed disappointment with the play of the 18-25 team and declined to publicly evaluate the job Del Negro and his staff have done. ‘You can evaluate me every day if you want,’ Del Negro said. ‘I don’t even spend time on that. If you’re not willing to handle the fire, then you shouldn’t do this job. Not every day is going to be perfect. You’re going to have ups and downs. Guys are going to play well, and then you’re going to struggle. There’s scheduling and injuries and so much involved. It’s not that easy. I don’t have the time to waste on articles and radio and TV. I could care less. All I care about is this team getting better.’” [I wonder if Vinny's wife knows that making the Bulls better is all he cares about...?]
Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: “A day after general manager John Paxson talked about something every Bulls fan already knew — the team hasn’t been playing very well — coach Vinny Del Negro had a chance to respond. Right off the bat, Del Negro said he didn’t read Paxson’s quotes and felt certain they covered topics that have already been discussed between the two of them. ‘My mindset is every day I come in and do my job and work hard and try to get this young team getting going in the right direction,’ Del Negro said following practice at the Berto Center. ‘There’s no easy answers to this stuff. Everybody thinks there is, but there’s not. You need a lot of talent and you need dedicated guys. And when you have young guys who have had as many injuries as we’ve had, there’s going to be inconsistencies. That’s just part of the business. It’s easy to play, it’s hard to win.’” [Is it just me, or did he suggest his players aren't all that talented or dedicated? I mean, he's right, but still.]
More Mike McGraw from the Daily Herald: “Bulls guard Derrick Rose confirmed that he’s been invited to participate in the NBA skills challenge during all-star weekend, but he hasn’t decided if he’ll participate. This contest generally features guards running through an obstacle course of sorts that includes passing accuracy and dribbling speed. Utah’s Deron Williams won the event last year, beating out New Orleans’ Chris Paul, Miami’s Dwyane Wade and Dallas’ Jason Kidd, who played for New Jersey at the time. ‘I’d like to play in it, but I don’t know yet,’ Rose said Thursday. ‘(It depends on) how busy I am and just the way I feel.’” [How busy he is and how he feels? Seriously?!]
Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times: “Paxson is straightforward, honest, conservative, intense, disciplined, self-effacing, without a show-off bone in his body. And that’s how he wants his players and coaches to be. Trouble is, that’s not the NBA. And wishing that the people you choose are going to have your qualities — plus great skill — is a recipe for meltdown in a league that’s infested with me-first-ism and huge guaranteed contracts. Not only will those players not be like you, but you already will have avoided, sometimes subconsciously, the egomaniacal superstars who make you nauseous but who might make your team transcendent. … When Ben Gordon angrily confronted the coach Thursday over a fine for being late for a team flight, swearing within earshot of the media, you know it’s a sign the inmates are starting to run the asylum.” [I'd feel better about Ben Gordon's me-first-ism if he was, like, six inches taller. Wouldn't you?]
January 22, 2009
Believe it or not, I have something in common with Michael Jordan. Besides being world-famous and fabulously awesome, that is. We’ve both rocked the rock at the United Center. (That’s me, above, getting beaten off the dribble!)
A couple years ago, I participated in the Barbara Armstrong MS Half Court Classic. It’s a co-ed, 4-on-4 half-court tournament played at the United Center, with all proceeds going to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. (Sign up to compete or volunteer now!) It is held in honor of former Bull B.J. Armstrong’s mother, who suffers from MS. I was jazzed about contributing to a good cause, of course, but what really got me juiced up was the opportunity to play ball at the UC. To trod the same storied hardwood as Jordan and dozens of other greats (and not-so-greats)…that’s one of those hoop dreams that every pickup baller has, right?
Now, the tourney is, technically speaking, co-ed, and they claim that ”all skill levels are welcome.” But here’s a little secret: Very good basketball players show up – few of which are women, most of which are tall and scary – and they come out expecting to win (or to kill you trying). Our team, “The Witnesses” (so named because the team captain was from Cleveland and obviously loves LeBron James), was made up of me, my buddy Evil Ted, a guy who looked like a lumberjack and two short, skinny girls with what you’d call “limited experience” playing basketball. When I saw the first team we had to play leaping and dunking their way through a layup line, I figured we were monumentally screwed.
As it turns out, we pulled off a couple rather improbably victories to win our bracket and advance to the championship round, where we lost a close game to the team that had won the tournament two years prior. It was one of those crazy underdog stories, and you could tell that our opponents — who openly laughed at us before the games started, by the way — were stunned when we put ‘em down. That first team I mentioned, they were still talking (bitterly) about it when I walked past them a couple hours later.
If it turns out anybody is interested, I’ll tell the whole story sometime. But for now, I just want to describe what it was like to compete on the court inside the house that Jordan built. It was cold (due, no doubt, to the ice rink maintained below the court for Chicago Blackhawk games). The court was huge. It was hard to draw a bead on the basket because there was nothing but open space behind the backboards (this resulted in the most airballs I’ve ever seen in a single day of hoops…nobody on any team got a good feel for shooting until a few games in). And it was just, you know, cool. I could go on, but I asked Evil Ted to jot down a few notes and he wrote a book instead. So I’ll let him tell the rest of this tale:
United Center 4-on-4 MS Tournament — By Evil Ted
Usually when I enter a professional basketball court as a spectator, I find it looks puny. This is most likely because I tend to have seats in the 300 Section, and because the seven-footers trampling around make the court look cramped. Entering the United Center as a player, however, I found myself struck by how large and imposing it felt. Beyond the professional dimensions of the court itself, the open space of the seating area surrounding it — dwarfing the volume of any gym where I’d ever played before — conjured a feeling of agoraphobia, bordering on vertigo.
In the initial shootaround, it was difficult to focus on the rim and net. The densely-lit basket and backboard were more pronounced against the distant surroundings. This gave the basket a shrine-like appearance that added gravity to each shot.
Fortunately, once the games began and focus turned to the opponent, the enormity of the stage faded. With the first successful pick and roll, it was just basketball…but it also wasn’t just basketball. It was basketball played under flawless conditions. The floor was perfectly clean, sneakers squeaked — none of the sliding and gliding that happens on a typically substandard pickup court — and the vibrant lighting added a hyper-reality to the look of everything and everyone.
One team we played had a small cheering section. It was only ten people or so, but their presence elevated the importance of that particular game. It caused me to consider how exhilarating it must be to play ball in front of a full house, or even a half-full house, or even a quarter-full house.
Playing basketball in the United Center was like flying first class. Since then, I’ve always flown coach, but I’ll always remember what it’s like to sit in that big, cushy seat, get the hot towel treatment, and eat filet mignon.
I know this already got play in today’s Fresh ink post, but I wanted to share a few more juicy bits from John Paxson’s recent mea culpa:
Regarding the team’s performance so far this season (which has sucked fallen below expectations): “I’m obviously not happy. I don’t think my expectations were such going into the season thinking we were going to be a top-level team. But what I want to see is the team play together. And right now, through 40-plus games, we’re not doing that. And that concerns me.” It apparently took him 40+ games to see this. You realize that, right?
Regarding the ”Captain of the Titanic after the ship had already hit the iceberg” performance of Vinny D and the rest of the coaching staff: “The only person I’ll evaluate right now is myself, and I obviously haven’t done the job of putting the type of team I want on the floor in terms of competitiveness and effort. That falls on me.” It’s pretty honorable for Pax to throw himself under the bus and everything…but notice how he used self-deprecation to completely dodge answering any questions about Vinny? Yeah, me too.
Regarding the team’s defense (read that: defenselessness): “It’s two things. The level of personal commitment to that side has to be there. And paying attention to whatever the scheme is you’re trying to run. I know [coach Vinny Del Negro] and his staff have tried to simplify a lot of things we’re doing defensively to try to get consistent at something. Even though we haven’t always been consistent moving the ball offensively, I still think we can score enough. But we’re giving up far too many points and far too many easy points. The defensive end has to get better, or we’re going to continue like [this].” Is it the schemes or the men coaching the schemes? Because I seem to remember Scott Skiles squeezing a lot of blood from a very similar turnip. Defensively speaking. Defense, which is less about athletic ability and more about focus and determination, is a mindset and it comes from the top.
Regarding how the team keeps choking down the stretch: “We’re not very good right now. We’re not playing well enough to win those games. … The turnovers we had throwing the ball away in the backcourt, it’s just concentration and focus. I’m not going to say I’m pleased we’ve been competing better because we want to win. I don’t like where we’re at. I don’t think anybody does.” Yes. Yes, you’re right about that, John. Except maybe Larry Hughes, who sounds pretty excited about it, since he’ll soon be getting a one-way ticket out of here.
There’s more in the article, including Paxson’s feelings on Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, trade possibilities and whether the team is secretly trying to position themselves for the 2010 Free Agent Bonanza. But while I appreciate that Pax has suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere developed a sense of self-awareness, I’m not sure I feel any more comfortable with the way he’s running the team. But let’s give him a chance, anyway. (Because we have no other choice at the present.)
Now with saracastic comments at the end of each quote!
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “John Paxson was matter-of-fact and candid in delivering a midseason state-of-the-Bulls address Wednesday at the Berto Center, admitting the Bulls are ‘not very good right now’ and acknowledging that he had failed to create the team he wants. Know this about the Bulls’ general manager: For all those who criticize him for failing to make a move or perhaps making the wrong one, Paxson already has pummeled himself over it. On the first day of training camp, Paxson said his top priority was to re-create the selfless, hustling, lunch-bucket teams that made three straight playoff appearances under Scott Skiles from 2005-07. Asked his assessment of where this season’s team stood in that category, Paxson said, ‘It’s not good enough.’” [So he wants things to get back to the way they were under the coach he famously fired on Christmas Eve. Good forward thinking, John.]
Brian Hanley of the Chicago Sun-Times: “Bulls general manager John Paxson is not happy. Not with his team. Not with himself. ‘The only person I’ll evaluate right now is myself, and I obviously haven’t done the job of putting the type of team that I want to have on the floor in terms of competitiveness and effort,’ Paxson said Wednesday when asked about the job coach Vinny Del Negro and his staff have done. The Bulls are 18-25. ‘That falls on me. That’s the only person I’m going to critique. That’s the way it is.’” [So he's finally blaming himself? Finally a decision the fans can get behind!]
Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: “Finding a new home for Larry Hughes is something Bulls general manager John Paxson would like to accomplish before the Feb. 19 trade deadline. But Paxson provided more detailed insight into how he wants to reshape the Bulls following the team’s practice and a Navy induction ceremony Wednesday at the Berto Center. Specifically, he’d like to find another star player to complement rookie guard Derrick Rose. ‘A lot of our guys fit teams that have an established star or two,’ Paxson said. ‘We’d obviously like to get another guy with Derrick where every night you can say to yourself, we’ve got these two guys we can go to all the time, and fill around them.’ The best opportunity to add such a player might be in free agency, and the Bulls could create cap room in the summer of 2010 if they trade some long-term contracts or simply let Ben Gordon, Drew Gooden and Hughes walk away when their deals expire.” [So now the Bulls want in on the 2010 LeBron Lottery? Great. Only a season and a half worth of sucking to go...]
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “Calling his time with the Bulls ‘almost a non-experience,’ Larry Hughes continued Wednesday to answer questions calmly about his desire to play more — which won’t happen with the Bulls — or be traded. As he has maintained, Hughes said his biggest frustration is his lack of opportunity while pulling down a $12 million-plus paycheck. ‘The opportunity wasn’t there from the start of training camp, for whatever reason,’ he said. ‘I was brought here to contribute, and I haven’t been able to like I want to. But it’s a situation I have no control over, and I’m ready to move on from it.’ [Larry, Larry, Larry. We never wanted you. We just wanted Ben Wallace less.]
Dave D’Alessandro of The Star-Ledger: “The Nets did their due diligence on Hughes weeks ago, and one instance on March 4 was widely interpreted as telling: Three weeks after he was traded from Cleveland to Chicago, the 11th-year vet essentially said that he’d rather get shots with the Bulls than play in the NBA Finals for the Cavs, as he did the year before. ‘I play to enjoy myself. Some people take this the wrong way, but winning a championship is not what I base everything on,’ Hughes said. ‘I would rather enjoy myself with 18,000 to 20,000 people watching the game and the people sending fan mail and those things and be happy. I was asked to sacrifice for the (Cavs) to win and for everybody, I guess, to get paid. That is what was told to me, and I wasn’t happy with that. I was unhappy, though, and wasn’t myself. I’d rather enjoy the game than all that.’ What was often under-reported, however, is that Hughes was also dealing with a personal tragedy: His 20-year-old brother Justin had died from a heart ailment during the playoffs in May 2006.” [Geez. That's kinda sad.]
Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: “Bulls general manager John Paxson admitted the obvious Wednesday, that he’s trying to accommodate guard Larry Hughes’ desire to find more playing time elsewhere. The veteran guard has sat out the last five games, but there is no guarantee that a suitable trade will be found since Hughes is due to make $13.6 million next season. He joined the Bulls last year from Cleveland in the Ben Wallace trade. ‘Right now I feel we have to play our younger guys,’ Paxson said. ‘I want to see Thabo (Sefolosha) get consistent minutes. We are working to try to move Larry, (but) Larry’s salary is such that it’s not always possible to do.’” [Okay, so you just now realized that? No wonder it took you so long to blame yourself.]
Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune: “The Bulls choked at the end of a winnable game against the Hawks at home on Tuesday night, same as they did against the Knicks on Monday afternoon. Two stinkers, each marked by bad play and bad decisions, a combined 45 turnovers, kill me now or take this joke of a team off my HD. That stuff alone should tell you how pathetic this bunch is with their coach who has better hair than coaching credentials. But here’s how you know the Bulls players also know what a joke they are: Ben Gordon is talking about playoff chances because of how weak the Eastern Conference is.” [The Eastern Conference: Where, as Kevin Garnett might say, "Anything is pooooooossssiibble!!!]
January 21, 2009
So a few weeks ago I was having lunch with a friend – a man who’s lived in Chicago his entire life, by the way – and I mentioned to him that I was starting a new blog about the Bulls. His immediate response was: “That’s cool. Are they any good? They have any decent players?” I was mildly stunned: He knew absolutely nothing about the Bulls. Nada. Nicht. Zero. Zilch. He couldn’t even remember the name of the player he and a childhood friend used to regularly harrass with prank phone calls. (He remembered later, but only after asking his friend. Turns out it was Will Perdue.)
I’m a basketball-obsessed kook, I know that, so obviously I’m going to know more about the city’s NBA team than the Average Joe or Joanne. But still. I mean, I can’t stand baseball, but I still keep track of the Cubs and Sox, their rosters, their records, recent trades, etc. Part of embracing your city is embracing it’s professional sports teams, right?
Anyway, that experience inspired me to start a new series: Fan on the street. I’m basically going to wander the streets of the Windy City and ask its citizens some question about the Bulls…and publish their unedited reponse. Here’s the first installment.
Question: Derrick Rose…Rookie of the Year?
Answer: “If people don’t think he’s the Rookie of the Year, then they obviously haven’t been watching Bulls basketball. His ability to be the streaking, slashing, scoring player all teams need has allowed other players on the team to better exert their skills.” ~Mark Clark, Business Development
On the cutting room floor: After answering the proffered question, Mr. Clark continued on: “Why not ask me about Ben [Gordon] instead of Derek. I mean, then I could say all the stuff that I want to, like why don’t we trade him to some team. I know he’s not a fit for most teams, but he could be an asset to someone like the Lakers or something. Maybe we can get something, like a big man, for him. At least if we had another big man then Aaron Gray wouldn’t be able to play as many minutes as he gets, which should in turn slow down the other team’s offense. All Gray does is make other teams better.”
When I started this blog, I decided to write a short recap of every game the Bulls have played this season. To be completely honest, I just wanted to generate some content because the site is brand new. I figured it would be give readers something to look at. However, reading summaries and perusing box scores for 40+ games had another unexpected benefit: It allowed me to pinpoint certain (to me) glaring trends. For instance, the Bulls have a maddening (read that: pitiful, feeble, distressing) habit of surrendering season-highs to so-so (or worse) frontcourt players. Guys like Joel Przybilla, Darko Milicic, Anderson Varejao, Ben Wallace and Nick Collison are among the players who have put up season-bests against The Windy City Male Cows. (Note that some of those players might have since surpassed their performances against Chicago; I haven’t checked.) That trend continued against the Hawks, as Zaza Pachulia scored a season-high 18 points.
Pachulia’s big game wasn’t lost on Vinny Del Negro. The Bulls coach said: “Bibby had his way with us. But I thought the difference really was Pachulia. His 18 points really, really bothered us because he got easy points, layups.” That Zaza! He’s such a bother! I wonder if Vinny’s noticed that the Zazas of the league keep having those kinds of bothersome games against his team.
Another thing I noticed was a series of turnover meltdowns that either caused the Bulls to fall behind early or cost them the chance to win tight games. And, sure enough, they bumbled away the Atlanta game with 18 miscues that gave the Hawks 22 bonus points. Again, Vinny saw it – “The Turnovers really hurt,” he wisely perceived – but his observations sound like a broken record. Sorry, that’s a dated saying. They sound like a scratched CD that keeps skipping over the same chorus over and over. Better?
Then there’s the consistent inconsistency of Tyrus “Groundhog Day” Thomas. His ups and downs are giving me chronic whiplash, not to mention some pretty trippy Tyson Chandler flashbacks. Good one game, crummy the next, that’s our T-Time. Last week, he had 15 points (5-for-10), 7 rebounds and 4 blocked shots against the Cavaliers and then 7 points (3-for-8), zero [!!] rebounds and a block against the Spurs. So far this week, he was great against the Knicks (19 points, 8-for-11, 10 rebounds) and then a no-show against the Hawks (6 points, 2-for-7, 1 rebound). Plus, he’s already in that late Chris Webber “falling in love with my 15 to 17-foot jump shot” phase. But he’s hitting only 33 percent of his outside shots! And I keep getting this unsettling feeling that we’re going to give up on him and then watch him break out for some other team…just like Chandler.
The Bulls don’t have a go-to guy. Ben Gordon isn’t it, and Derrick Rose won’t be until he starts getting whistles. And they don’t have any end-game offensive sets that can produce anything but low-percentage jumpers under pressure.
Which brings us to Vinny D, whose post-game comments are indicative of a man who can’t make coaching adjustments when his team needs them most: During the fourth quarter. After the game, Del Negro deduced the following: “You have to make plays,. You can’t turn the ball over. You have to play smart. You have to know your limitations and know time and score. We’re playing hard but not real efficient at times.” (more…)
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “The Bulls have been in more stretch runs than a thoroughbred racehorse this season, blowing fourth-quarter opportunities more often than not. That trend continued Tuesday night at the United Center when the Bulls faltered in the fourth quarter of a 105-102 loss to the Hawks. Mike Bibby scored a season-high 31 points, including nine in the final five minutes, as the Bulls followed a familiar script. ‘That’s the story of our season,’ guard Ben Gordon said. ‘We’re not very good at closing games out.’”
Brian Hanley of the Chicago Sun-Times: “‘The turnovers really hurt us,’ Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said after his team committed 17 which the Hawks turned into 22 points. ‘Mike Bibby had his way with us. The difference was really [Zaza] Pachulia — his 18 points really bothered us. He got easy baskets and got after us on the glass a bit.’ After a Derrick Rose layup with 5:21 left, the Bulls led 94-93. But the Hawks then went on a 12-4 run before Rose (13 points) nailed a three-pointer with 3.4 seconds to go. ‘At the end of the game we needed to get stops,’ Rose said after the second game in as many days the Bulls lost in the final minutes. ‘This is real tough, but some way we have to find a way out and finish games. I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we have to come together as a team.’”
Sekou K Smith of the Atlanta Journal Constitution: “Bibby was trashing the Bulls everywhere else, though, outplaying heralded Bulls rookie point guard Derrick Rose along the way. Bibby had nine points on 4-for-5 shooting and two of those steals in the fourth quarter, when the Hawks had to break a 77-77 tie and did so by a mere three points, 28-25. Bibby made his only 3-pointer of the quarter and had a crucial steal with 40 seconds to play that set up his game-clinching jumper with 18.9 seconds on the game clock. ‘We used Bibby as our horse tonight,’ Josh Smith said. ‘He’s one of those players that once he gets it going he’s kind of hard to stop. And you saw him in clutch situations, he was hitting big shot after big shot. And when Joe [Johnson] doesn’t have it, we feel good knowing we have Bibby there, too.’”
Nick Hut of the Northwest Herald: “Rookie point guard Derrick Rose took 41 shots in the two games leading into Tuesday night’s game against Atlanta, yet had only two free-throw attempts. Gaining penetration into the lane with an eye toward successfully drawing contact and making more trips to the line is something Rose is trying to learn. ‘I definitely would have thought I’d get more [calls],’ Rose said. ‘I just have to do a better job of giving the refs a reason to give me the calls.’ Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro, a former guard, is working with Rose on that issue. ‘I think he’s just got to continue to be aggressive, just continue to attack the basket, and the referees will eventually come around with that stuff,’ Del Negro said. ‘But he’s got to continually attack, get body contact, not try to jump over guys or around guys or whatever.’”
Brian Hanley of the Chicago Sun-Times: “The Bulls might be close to trading veteran guard Larry Hughes to the New Jersey Nets for former DePaul forward Bobby Simmons. A league source confirmed a report in the Bergen (N.J.) Record that the teams have had serious trade talks. It’s up to the Nets to sign off, and the deal will get done. ‘That’s fine,’ Hughes said before the Bulls hosted the Atlanta Hawks at United Center. ‘I’m ready to play, whether it’s here or somewhere else.’”
The result: The Hawks (25-16) beat the Bulls (18-25) in Chicago by the score of 105-102.
The good: The Bulls pounded the glass like they were Ivan Drago and the poor ball was Apollo Creed (“What are you guys doing?! This is supposed to be an exhibition!!”): They won the rebounding battle 48-34 and ripped down 20 offensive boards. They also shot fairly well as a team (48.2 percent) while keeping the Hawks pretty cold (43.5 percent). Ben Gordon bounced back from that cringe-inducing game against the Knicks to score 21 points (6-for-11 from the field, 8-for-10 from the line) to go along with 4 rebounds and 4 assists. Luol Deng had a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) and Joakim Noah came close (9 points, 11 boards). Captain Kirk’s phaser has been set to “kill ‘em off the bench” since his return, and he had another solid outing against Atlanta with 13 points, 4 rebounds and a team-high 8 assists. Andres Nocioni was even more deadly off the pine, going for 15 points (5-for-10), 8 rebounds, 2 steals and the best plus-minus score on the team (+18). And at times, Aaron Gray (9 points, 4-for-4, 5 rebounds) looked like a legitimate backup center. (Say it with me everybody: “Now if only he could do that every game…”)
The bad: Tyrus Thomas pulled one of his patented “I played well yesterday so I’m taking tonight off” disappearing acts, grabbing a measely 1 rebound, shooting 2-for-7 and finishing with almost as many fouls (5) as points (6) in 19 minutes of “action.” It took Luol Deng 16 shots to score his 12 points. Chicago’s interior defenders were once again exploited by a mediocre (at best) big man, as Zaza Pachulia scored a season-high 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting. The defense failed to adjust to Mike Bibby once he caught fire, and Bibs finished with season-high 31 points on 12-for-21 shooting, including several clutch fourth-quarter hoops.
The ugly: The biggest problem, though, was the team’s case of the slipperydigititis: The Bulls committed 18 turnovers – led by Gordon (5), Hinrich (4) and Rose (3) – which turned into 22 points for the Hawks. And since they only forced 11 for 13, they finished -9 in points off turnovers. And yeah, that probably matters in a 3-point loss.
The other biggest problem – yes, there were two biggest problems – was their continuing inability to finish games. They actually took a 96-93 lead off of Derrick Rose’s driving layup with 5:19 remaining. Here’s a recap of their final 11 possession: Missed three-pointer by Gordon; missed layup by Deng; layup by Gordon; turnover by Rose; missed three-pointer by Hinrich; missed jump shot by Deng; Gordon hit two (out of three) free throws; turnover by Gordon; missed three-pointer by Gordon; desperation three-ball by Rose; Gordon hit one of two foul shots (with the second being an intentional miss so that the Bulls could try and get the ball back before time expired).
That closing sequence – which has become pretty familiar in the Windy City – is indicative of a team without a go-to guy or a coach who can get his key players high-percentage shots in crunch time. Oh, and when Gordon missed the second of those three freebies with 1:09 left, he blew a chance to pull his team to within one possession. That was a huge miss, as was his turnover with 40 seconds and the forced three-pointer he missed with six ticks left. And Medium Ben is Chicago’s clutchiest player? Yeah. Problem.
Meaningless stat of the night: By my unofficial count, Bibby and Pachulia are the 11th and 12th players this season to set a new season-high in scoring against the Bulls.
Meaningful stat of the night: Rose attempted zero free throws, marking the fifth time this season he’s “failed” to make it to the line. I used quotations marks there because he missed three layups against the Hawks on which there was, in my opinion, enough contact to justify a whistle. I know it’s generally frowned upon to constantly gripe about how a particular player is officiated, but Rose goes hard to the bucket a lot. According to 82games.com, he attempts 43 percent of his shots “inside.” That’s a higher percentage than Amare Stoudemire (42), LeBron James (40), Tim Duncan (39), Tony Parker (37), Carmelo Anthony (36), Chris Bosh (35), Dwyane Wade (32), Kevin Garnett (32), Chris Paul (28), Paul Pierce (26), Kobe Bryant (22)…see where I’m going with this? Those guys seem to earn their fair share of freebies. (For example, Kobe’s been fouled 310 times to Derrick’s 60.) Why not Rose? Yeah, okay, he’s a rookie. But a foul’s a foul, right?
Fake quote of the night: Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro (didn’t but probably would have) said: “We rebounded really well and did a good job shooting the ball. But we had too many turnovers and couldn’t get a stop down the stretch. I liked the effort. Our guys played with energy. But they have to learn how to finish games.”
Extras: Recap, Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.
January 20, 2009
There are certain things in life you can’t wait to be rid of. In-laws. The flu. Hangovers (also known as flu-like symptoms). The nasty “rash” you “picked up” during your freshman year of college. For the Bulls and their fans, Larry Hughes is that rash. He’s already dropped rock-like out of Vinny Del Negro’s rotation, and, frankly, it says something about Hughes’ character that Jud Buechler could average 10 minutes per game for a 72-win Bulls team and yet ”Big Shot Larry” is riding the pine for a Chicago squad destined for around 35 wins and another trip to the NBA draft lottery.
So, yeah, the John Paxson is trying to trade him.
Not surprisingly, there isn’t exactly a healthy market for delusional shooting guards who are best known for taking too many bad shots while earning a cap-killing salary (Hughes is on the books for $12,827,676 this season and $13,655,268 the next). Fortunately for Paxson and the Bulls, those suckers in New Jersey are giving Hughes a serious look:
“The Nets and Bulls have discussed a deal that would bring veteran shooting guard Larry Hughes to New Jersey for Bobby Simmons and Maurice Ager, league sources said. Sean Williams was offered instead of Ager, but Chicago wasn’t interested. Both sides are considering it, although the Bulls are talking to many teams about Hughes, who is signed through next season. The Nets are weighing whether the deal makes them that much better and if it’s financially smart. The additional salary next season would be more than $3 million.”
Wow. Can you imagine a team paying extra to trade for a cranky volume shooter with a history of alienating his teammates and coaches? Of course, the Nets are the same bunch who signed Vince Carter to that $62 million contract a couple summers ago. So there you go.
Would the trade help the Bulls? Sure, insomuch as it would dispose of The Larry Hughes Distraction (which, itself, was acquired to eradicate The Ben Wallace Mistake). But Bobby Simmons…in a best case scenario, he would provide streaky shooting and stubborn defense in limited minutes. So, what, he’s basically a slightly taller version of Thabo Sefolosha? Be still my heart. He might be useful, I guess, if Vinny D decided to go with a small lineup. But I don’t see that happening, and so therefore I don’t see much of a role for Simmons in Chicago. And Ager? He’s a throw-in. The trade is nothing more or less than a salary dump with the hope that the incoming players will sit quietly at the end of the bench, hand out Gatorade during timeouts, and be prepared to contribute if and when they’re called upon. (Unless this is simply the first part of some masterstroke by John Paxson to land the frontcourt player the Bulls so desperately need. Which is doubtful.)
Will the trade help the Nets? If only you could hear my snorts of laughter. Let’s face it: If trading for Larry Hughes would actually help anybody, the Bulls probably wouldn’t be so ready and frantically willing to deal him.