Rather than the normal rapid reaction, this one will just be a few quick thoughts.
First, a lot of credit to this Bulls team. They were shorthanded the entire season, but never used that as an excuse. They had their nights that they faltered and fell flat, but it’s games like tonight that show you how much fight and effort this team put in every time they went out on the court. When I look back in a few years, that’s what I will remember. That and Game 4 against the Nets.
The effort was always there from the players on this team. From the new guys like Nate Robinson (who when he was signed I thought he was just an overconfident shooter, but actually bought into Tom Thibodeau’s system pretty well—and provided much needed scoring), to Jimmy Butler (taking a huge step forward into a starting role, developing a reliable three-point shot and shutting down perimeter players), to Joakim Noah (who has been giving the effort his entire career but emerged as Chicago’s MVP this season, often facilitating the offense and leading the defense). Even guys who were planted on the bench for long stretches of the season like Marco Belinelli and Nazr Mohammed stepped up into huge roles at times, including the playoffs.
This Bulls team wasn’t always the most exciting team, but they had their moments, and all you can ask of a team is that they fight until the very end. Chicago did that.
A long, injury-riddled season with tons of off-the-court news has finally ended for the Bulls. Here’s to a better 2013-2014.
Feel free to leave your thoughts on the season below in the comments
The Bulls haven’t been thrilled by the officiating so far in their second-round playoff match-up with the Miami Heat. After losing the fiercely contested Game 3, Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau spoke out about it.
Said Thibs: “When you play this team you have to have a lot of mental, physical and emotional toughness. Things aren’t going to go your way. That’s the way it is. You’re not going to get calls. That’s reality. We still have to find a way to get it done and we can.”
Thibodeau was particularly irked about the Three Stooges-style dive LeBron James took after a reactionary shove from Nazr Mohammed in the first half. Probably because it resulted in Mohammed’s ejection.
Said Thibs: “From my angle, I saw a guy basically flop. I don’t think it warranted an ejection. I understand a flagrant foul, I understand that, but ejection, no, nope.”
Added Nate Robinson: “You see LeBron in a lot of commercials, a lot of good acting.”
Of course LeBron flopped. He’s the most imposing physical specimen in the NBA…you’re telling me Nazr shoved him hard enough to send him sprawling at least 10 feet? If you believe that, I know a Nigerian prince who would like to give you bags and bags of free money.
Said Mohammed: “It was a soft foul; it’s not like a fouled him hard. It was a stop-the-break foul. I thought it was a cheap shot throwing me down when all I was doing was trying to stop the break. … I’m disappointed in myself because I let my teammates down. And I’m also disappointed because my son probably was watching the game and I don’t want him to see that type of behavior on the court. I’m also disappointed that it warranted an ejection for a push — when I got pushed down first.”
Added Taj Gibson: “[Michael Jordan] would get fouled and he would just keep playing. That’s old-school basketball.”
Yes, but LeBron is not MJ, and today’s league is not the NBA of the 1990s. That’s just the way it is. The Bulls have to realize that and play on.
Said Joakim Noah: ”I expect the physical nature to continue [in Game 4]. It’s our only chance. … I think it’s very normal. You look at playoff basketball, it’s always physical. You look at every series, it’s physical. It’s just when you have somebody like LeBron James coming at you full speed, yeah, there’s a lot of contact. It’s just part of the game.”
Added Jimmy Butler: “We’re a hard-nosed, tough guy team. That’s what we label ourselves as. That’s what we pride ourselves on. We’re going to come out swinging. We’ll come out fighting. … Don’t give up any layups. I feel like when they get into the paint, we’ve got to make them earn it from the free throw line. If we do foul, we’ve got to make sure it’s not an ‘and one.’ I feel like they’ve been getting into the paint entirely too easy.”
Maybe. Although, according to Hoopdata, the Heat only 13-for-21 at the rim in Game 3. That 62 percent conversion rate is nearly 10 percentage points below Miami’s regular season average of 71.5. But limiting the Heat even further would obviously help.
Said Deng: ”I did some individual work (Saturday) and I started throwing up a little bit. I couldn’t finish the workout.I tried to practice (Sunday) and the same thing. I just warmed up and couldn’t get through practice. My body, my system is not reacting well to anything I’m doing right now. It’s not as bad as it was before,” Deng said. “But I can’t even get through a regular warm-up.
“Just because you get a spinal tap doesn’t mean (the flu) goes away.I had that and then the reaction to (the spinal tap). It just sucks, man. It’s not like an injury where you can just play through it and it slows you down a little bit. It’s just one of those things where, not even basketball-wise, just doing regular stuff is hard.”
As for Hinrich, ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell reports that Captain Kirk has been limited to shooting and exercise bike work in practice. Which doesn’t make it seem as though his injured calf is ready for game action.
MVP (Most Valuable Player): In a game where LeBron James (6-17 field goals) didn’t shoot great and Dwyane Wade (ten points) disappeared for stretches, Chris Bosh picked up the slack. He had an enormous double-double with 20 points, 19 rebounds and added two blocks and four assists for good measure.
LVP (Least Valuable Player): Carlos Boozer finally showed up and got himself out of the LVP spot. But it was quickly overtaken by Nazr Mohammed. And I mean quickly. Nazr got himself tossed after playing just 2:31 in Game 3. He committed an odd foul on LeBron at mid-court, and then when LeBron was about to get a technical, Nazr decided it would be best to push James down. Nazr got tossed and it did the Bulls no good.
X factor: Going into the series, the Bulls’ biggest worries were Bosh, James and Wade. Well, add Norris Cole to that list because he hasn’t missed from three yet. Cole is averaging 14.3 points per game and is shooting 80 percent from the field. When you’re over-compensating for LeBron James, someone is going to be open and it shouldn’t be Ray Allen. But if Cole keeps knocking down shots, the Bulls’ will have to make an adjustment.
X factor 2: The Bulls held Miami to 52.4 percent at the rim, which is 7.5 percent worse than the league average (and the Heat have a guy named LeBron James). That is a huge win for the Bulls and the focus of their defense. However, Miami hit 50 percent (13-26) from midrange, nearly 10 percent better than the league average. The Bulls executed their defensive scheme, but Miami, led by Bosh, was hitting the shots they were given. If a team is connecting at that rate from midrange, it’s going to be tough to beat them. When that team is the Miami Heat, it’s even tougher.
That was … better: Heading into the fourth quarter, the game was tied. But Chicago got outscored by ten in the final frame, which has to do, at least partly, with rest. Following Game 2’s blowout loss, the Bulls responded well and even though they didn’t get it done, they stuck right with the defending champs. If Miami hadn’t been hitting so well from midrange, the Bulls could be the ones with a 2-1 series lead.
The Bulls were embarrassed and humbled by their blowout loss in Game 1 of this first round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets. But under coach Tom Thibodeau, this has never been a group to hang its head and meekly accept defeat. Despite the ongoing absence of Derrick Rose and a variety of guys playing through pain, Bulls fans had to know their team was going have a much better showing in Game 2.
And they did.
As usual, the Bulls did it with their defense, which is usually rock solid but utterly failed them in Game 1. Last night, Chicago’s D limited the Nets to 35.4 percent shooting — including 4-for-21 on three-pointers — and a scoring rate of only 91.4 points per 100 possessions (per Basketball-Reference).
Deron Williams, who was a one-man wrecking crew on Saturday, scored only 8 points on 1-for-9 shooting and missed all five of this three-point attempts. After their Game 1 revival, Gerald Wallace (2 points, 1-for-7, 3 rebounds) and Joe Johnson (6-for-18) came back down to earth. And Andray Blatche (8 points on 4-for-9 shooting) and C.J. Watson (10 points on identical 4-for-9 shooting) were unable to find the hot hands they had over the weekend.
Aggressive hands in the face will do that.
Then too, the Bulls forced the Nets into much tougher shots. After scoring 56 points in the paint in Game 1, Brooklyn finished Game 3 with only 30.
Now let’s talk about the third quarter.
After a slow start that saw them shoot 6-for-18 in the first quarter, the Nets caught fire in the second, scoring 29 points on 12-for-21 shooting to pull to within one point (47-46) by halftime. The Bulls made a series of defensive mistakes in that second quarter, like repeatedly leaving Brook Lopez open for long jumpers instead of rotating and contesting them. As a result, Lopez burned them with a trio of 20-footers. And after Lopez stole a careless pass from Luol Deng in the closing seconds of the quarter, Williams found Watson on the fast break, and Nate Robinson didn’t close out quickly enough. Thus the Nets ended the half with what felt like a momentum-building three-ball.
But events didn’t unfold according to Brooklyn’s script.
The Bulls played lock down defense in that third quarter, limiting the Nets to just 11 points on 2-for-19 shooting. Chicago forced Brooklyn into a steady stream of long, contested jumpers. And when the Nets did dare to attack the basket, a Bulls defender was there to intimidate or block the shot.
Here’s the breakdown, with scoring plays in bold:
11:38: Joe Johnson missed 19-footer
11:11: Brook Lopez missed 17-footer
10:29: Deron Williams missed 20-footer
9:56: Deron Williams missed layup 9:55: Brook Lopez 2-for-2 from the foul line
9:33: Gerald Wallace turnover
9:00: Joe Johnson missed 18-footer
8:25: Brook Lopez missed layup (blocked by Luol Deng) 7:56: Deron Williams 2-for-2 from the foul line
7:09: Deron Williams missed 25-foot three-pointer 6:35: Deron Williams made 7-footer 6:09: Brook Lopez 1-for-2 at the foul line 5:45: Reggie Evans dunk
4:52: Joe Johnson turnover
4:31: Joe Johnson missed 24-foot three-pointer
3:47: Brook Lopez missed layup
3:46: Gerald Wallace missed tip shot
3:00: Joe Johnson missed 11-footer (blocked by Jimmy Butler)
2:58: Brook Lopez offensive rebound and turnover
2:42: Gerald Wallace missed layup (blocked by Jimmy Butler) 1:58: Brook Lopez 2-for-2 from the line
1:22: Gerald Wallace missed 22-footer
0:50: C.J. Watson missed 11-footer
0:25: Deron Williams missed 26-foot three-pointer
0:24: Andray Blatch missed layup (blocked by Nazr Mohammed)
0:01: Andray Blatch missed 17-footer
The Bulls didn’t just shut down the Nets in the third quarter, they also executed their own offense, shooting 9-for-17 from the field and building a 71-57 lead heading into the fourth.
That’s when Joakim Noah took the Bulls home.
Noah — who was clearly hobbled and struggled with early foul trouble — had 9 points, 6 rebounds and a blocked shots over the final 12 minutes to finish with a double-double (11 points, 4-for-8, 10 rebounds).
The Nets had actually trimmed a 14-point Bulls lead (73-59) to only five (73-68) with 7:39 remaining when Thibodeau subbed Noah back into the game. Less than a minute later, this happened:
Then, after Chris Humphries blew a layup on the other end, Carlos Boozer missed a 17-footer…but Noah ripped down the offensive rebound. Five seconds later, Robinson drilled a three-pointer that pushed the lead back to 10 points (78-68). Less than a minute later, there was Noah again, scoring on a layup that put Chicago ahead by an even dozen.
Even in the final minute, as the Nets were making their desperate (and doomed) ralley, Noah was there to shut them down. And let loose a primal scream.
This is a man who will never, ever, ever give up.
Said Thibodeau: ”I thought overall, I thought Jo was very rusty in the first game but willed it, and I thought he willed it again tonight and we needed every bit of it. To me, it’s obvious we’re a much better team with him on the floor.”
Added Boozer: ”Gutsy. Come on man, you know what he’s going through. Every game is a tough game for him. I went through the same thing two years ago with my little turf toe. I’m just proud of him. He’s going out there gutting it for us every night.”
That’s for sure.
Speaking of gutting it out, Kirk Hinrich shook off the effects of his bruised thigh to score 13 points, dish out 5 assists, and play fantastic defense on Williams.
Let’s face it. Noah was the heart and soul of this win, to be sure, but it was still a total team effort. The Bulls got double-doubles from both Boozer (13 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists) and Deng (15 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists). Robinson (11 points, 2 assists, 2 steals) provided some timely baskets off the bench. And Nazr Mohammed (8 points, 4-for-5, 2 rebounds) provided a big lift when Noah was struggling with rust and foul problems.
And just like that, the Bulls stole homecourt advantage from the Nets.
With a 90-82 win over Brooklyn in Game 2, the Bulls head back to Chicago tied 1-1 in the series.
MVP (Most Valuable Player): I’m going to give it to two guys who really stepped up: Joakim Noah and Nazr Mohammed. Noah tallied 11 points, ten rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 26 minutes…and all of that on one foot. Seriously, what Noah did was amazing. His 25-minute limit turned into a little 25:29, but his nine points, six rebounds (three offensive) and one block in the fourth were enormous when the Bulls were trying to hold onto the lead. Mohammed did a great job filling in for Noah when he was resting. Nazr hit 4-5 from the field for eight points. It doesn’t sound like much, but he scored more than eight points just five times during the regular season.
LVP (Least Valuable Player): Deron Williams looked like his second-half-of-the-season, former All-Star self in Game 1. In Game 2, he looked like—well I’m not sure, but I could sure get on board with it. Deron hit just 1-9 from the field, including 0-5 from three, and finished with eight points. If Nazr Mohammed is matching Deron Williams in scoring, that is the best news the Bulls can get. Joe Johnson also has a poor game, scoring 17 points on 18 shots.
Defining Moment: Fighting that plantar fasciitis, Joakim Noah made a diving save off of a Bulls’ miss and tossed it to Kirk Hinrich. Hinrich made a touch pass to Nate Robinson who drilled a three. That pushed the Bulls lead to ten (78-68) with 6:15 remaining. It was the epitome of Joakim Noah. Playing through an awful injury and still giving his all, making an important hustle play when the Bulls needed one.
X factor: The Nets shot 2-of-19 in the third quarter and missed their last 10 shots in the frame. That helped the Bulls turn a one-point halftime lead into a 12-point advantage heading into the fourth. Another important stat: Brooklyn was 14-30 at the rim in Game 2, after shooting 22-27 in the opening game (Chicago hit 20-35 at the rim Monday). The Bulls made necessary adjustments to protect the paint, and it paid off with a win.
That Was … better, but still not there: Chicago got the win, but it was far from convincing. Although the Bulls’ defense was much improved from Game 1, the Nets missed a bunch of easy shots, and as noted above, went 2-19 in a quarter. The win is all that matters, but I’m not sure Brooklyn is going to miss that many open looks in another game in this series.
The Bulls will open the playoffs on Saturday against the Nets. Chicago is 3-1 this season against Brooklyn, including 1-1 at the Barclays Center.
MVP (Most Valuable Player): This one goes to Nazr Mohammed, because why not? He scored a season-high 17 points (7-12 FG), grabbed seven rebounds and threw down a solid dunk. He recorded a game-best +/-, which gave him the edge over Carlos Boozer (19 points, 15 rebounds) and Kirk Hinrich (18 points). Alright fine. I just really wanted to give it to Nazr.
LVP (Least Valuable Player): It’s hard to say Joakim Noah, because he’s playing through injuries…and luckily I won’t have to, because Marco Belinelli went 2-8 from the field and scored a forgettable four points. Belinelli has scored in single digits in seven of his last eight games. That is not good news heading into the playoffs.
Defining Moment: When the Hawks lost to the Knicks. Atlanta’s loss to New York meant that whatever the result in the Bulls game was, it wouldn’t matter one bit, as the Hawks’ loss had given the Bulls the fifth seed. Well tanked, Atlanta. Good luck with Indiana.
X factor: It has to be the Bulls’ awesome first quarter. They took a 31-15 lead after one, as they held the Wizards to 25.0 percent from the field. The rest of the game was downhill, but Chicago rode that big first frame and did just enough to get the win.
That Was …fitting: In a season filled with close games—and losses to—lottery teams, the Bulls almost blew a big first quarter lead to the Wizards. Chicago pulled out a four-point win, but this is how it has been all season: the Bulls struggling with everyone from the best teams in the league to the worst.
The Bulls on Tuesday officially will announce they have declined to match Omer Asik’s three-year, $25.1 million offer sheet from the Rockets, sources said, paving the way for multiple signings that began Monday with Kirk Hinrich.
This isn’t too surprising. The structure of Asik’s offer — which included a “poison pill” third-year salary of just under $15 million — was both ridiculous (considering he struggled to average 3.1 PPG last season) and prohibitive (because it would have pushed the Bulls into the luxury tax and limited their ability to sign free agents down the road).
I know some fans have interpreted this move as a further sign that Bulls management and ownership are a bunch of miserly, tightfisted, penny-pinching cheapskates. And it has opened GM Gar Forman to some mockery for his statement that: “Our decisions this summer will be basketball decisions, not financial decisions.”
But you know what? This was both a financial and a basketball decision.
Sometimes they’re the same thing.
Did Omer Asik make the team better (if primarily on the defensive end)? Absolutely.
Is Omer Asik going to be worth $15 million three seasons from now? Absolutely not.
In the short term, losing Asik will hurt and make the Bulls a little worse. But management won’t have to work around that $15 million cap-killer when shopping for free agents prior to the 2014-15 season…and that will make the Bulls a little better. Maybe a lot better depending on how things turn out.
Now let’s look ahead.
According to Johnson, Hinrich will be signing a two-year deal worth about $8 million, and his signing will be officially announced today during a 2 p.m. press conference at the Berto Center.
Hinrich said (via a statement): ”I’m very excited to be back in Chicago and to wear a Bulls uniform once again. I look forward to getting back out on the court as a Bull, and contributing to the team in any way I can.”
Bulls GM Gar Forman said (also by way of statement): ”We are pleased to be able to bring Kirk back to Chicago. His ability to play both spots in the backcourt will help us immensely this season. Kirk’s tenacity and passion for the game complement our style of play, and we look forward to seeing him back in a Bulls uniform.”
Expect Kirk to be the team’s starting point guard until Derrick Rose returns from injury. After that, he’ll likely back up both Rose and shooting guard Richard Hamilton.
Furthermore, Chicago native Nazr Mohammed will be signing for the veteran’s minimum ($1.3 million) and free agent shooting guard Marco Belinelli is expected to sign for the bi-annual exception (a bit less than $2 million).
By using the bi-annual exception, the Bulls hard cap themselves at $74 million for the season. As ESPN salary cap expert Larry Coon has stated, the hard cap may preclude the Bulls from making any major in-season acquisitions. They will have to add minimum salaried players to fill out the roster.
While the organization hasn’t come out and said they are in a holding pattern for the next couple seasons, it appears they are building towards making a push at the free agency class two summers from now. At that point, Luol Deng’s contract comes off the books and Carlos Boozer figures to be amnestied. Those two moves would give the Bulls $30 million of free cap space as the team tries to go after another major star to pair with Rose either via trade or free agency. Aside from Rose, the only other players on the Bulls roster then figure to be Joakim Noah, who signed a five-year, $60 million dollar extension which kicked in last season; Gibson, who is already in the process of discussing an extension with the Bulls which figures to earn him close to $8 million a year; and Butler and Teague, both of whom will still be under rookie contracts. The Bulls could also decide to bring foreign import Nikola Mirotic over to the NBA if both sides feel he is ready, or package some of those assets, along with a Charlotte Bobcats first-round pick from the Tyrus Thomas deal, to acquire another star.
This fits with what I’ve been saying for the past few weeks. The Bulls are about to embark on a couple “placeholder” seasons. They will be competitive and well-coached but won’t have the firepower necessary to compete with the league’s elite teams (Celtics, Heat, Lakers, Spurs, Thunder, etc.). They are taking steps backward in hopes of a brighter future down the road after Rose is back and fully recovered.
A league source confirmed late Saturday night that the Bulls are on the verge of signing veteran center Nazr Mohammed.
While the deal hasn’t become official yet, the New York Post reported early Sunday that Mohammed has decided to sign with the Bulls over the Brooklyn Nets and both teams have been notified about the decision.
As Friedell goes on to point out, this signing-to-be likely means “Buh bye, Omer.”
Asik signed a three-year, $25.1 million offer sheet with the Houston Rockets that has a “poison pill” salary of nearly $15 million for the final year. And all signs — in the form of other possible free agent signings — are pointing to the fact that it’s a pill that Bulls management apparently can’t swallow.
The Bulls continued discussions with guard Marco Belinelli, who has shot 39.3 percent from 3-point land in five seasons with three teams. And WEEI.com in Boston reported E’Twaun Moore, who is expected to be waived by the Rockets after his recent trade from the Celtics, will wind up in Bulls’ training camp to try to win the third point guard slot. Marshall product Patrick Beverley is another possibility there.
If the Bulls use the bi-annual exception to land Belinelli and sign Kirk Hinrich to any portion of the $5 million mid-level exception, the Bulls couldn’t exceed a payroll of $74.3 million. Given they have roughly $65 million committed to eight players and still need to sign first-round pick Marquis Teague at his rookie deal of just more than $1 million, that could be another sign the Bulls are leaning against matching Asik’s offer.
This is the end of the Bulls as we have known them. The Bench Mob of Asik, C.J. Watson, John Lucas III, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson will seemingly be reduced to Gibson.