The NBA trade deadline passed yesterday with nary a move by the Bulls. Management apparently took Tom Thibodeau at his word that the team has more than enough to win…no matter who’s playing and who isn’t.
In all seriousness, though, making a blockbuster trade for a star player isn’t all that easy and such moves don’t always work out as expected. The front office is being as cautious in building for the future as they are in managing Derrick Rose’s eventual return from knee surgery.
Speaking of which, Derrick’s brother and manager, Reggie Rose, freaked out a little over Chicago’s lack of player movement. And even better — excuse the sarcasm — he aired his frustrations publicly.
Said Reggie: “What have you pieced together? Have you made any moves? Have you made any trades to get better? You know all roads to the championship lead through Miami. What pieces have you put together for the physical playoffs?
“Joakim Noah is a great player. Luol Deng is a great player. But you need more than that. You have to put together pieces to your main piece. The players can only do so much. It’s up to the organization to make them better. … It’s frustrating to see my brother play his heart and soul out for the team and them not put anything around him.”
Those are some strong words. And they got stronger.
Reggie continued: “Everyone is expecting Derrick to come back. If Derrick comes back, they’re going to sell more tickets. Is the reason for Derrick to come back to win a championship or make money? Right now, I don’t believe a championship. Everything in the NBA is financial.”
For what it’s worth, I feel like Reggie’s comments were poorly timed given that Rose isn’t playing his heart and soul out at the moment. In fact, he isn’t playing at all, and has further stated that he won’t play at all this season if he’s not feeling up to it. That has been made clear. Rose should not be rushed back. Nor should the Bulls be rushed to make a move unless it is absolutely in the team’s best interests. Which, as I said earlier, isn’t always simple.
As Bulls vice-president John Paxson said last month: “In order for us to do something, we’re not in a position to take on any real salary, so we’re kind of limited in what we can do. I think our team has grown. It’s not always pretty. Let’s face it, we’ve had some ugly games this year, and that’s kind of who we are right now. But we do grind it out and play hard. You’re always on the lookout to do certain things, but I think our move hopefully will be bringing Derrick back into the fold.”
Translation: The Bulls aren’t going anywhere without Rose. So don’t expect any major shakeups until he’s playing again. Whenever that is.
With all that drama as the backdrop, the Bulls faced off against the Heat last night.
Privately, my prediction to a friend who asked was that “the Bulls are going to get their butts kicked.”
My friend scoffed a little. After all, the Heat have had occasional struggles against Eastern Conference teams, losing twice each to the Pacers (by double digits no less) and Knicks (again by double digits both times). They dropped a double-overtime decision to the Celtics in Boston’s first game without Rajon Rondo. They’ve also lost to castoffs like the Bucks, Pistons and Wizards. And, of course, the Bulls beat them in Miami in early January.
That said, while the Heat haven’t been sleeping on the season exactly, I would label them a “sleepy giant.” Check out their schedule. Many of their losses have that “championship team going through the season on cruise control” feel to them. But when properly motivated — such as in their two games against the Oklahoma City Thunder — the Heat have shown the ability to lay the smack down.
They did so last night as well.
First of all, let’s get something straight up front: The idea of theoretically defending LeBron James is laughable right now. God Mode has been unlocked and he is unstoppable. Chicago’s defense — and Luol Deng in particular — were really going after him. He still shot 11-for-15 and submitted a near triple-double (26 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals). The Bulls did their best to force him to shoot jumpers..and he went 5-for-5 from 16-23 feet. The only blight on LeBron’s night was his 1-for-4 performance from downtown, but one of those attempts was a left-handed “I’m just messing around at this point” buzzer-beater to end the third quarter.
Seeing LeBron play the way he’s been playing, I can’t help but wonder whether the Bulls have a chance to dethrone the Heat with or without D-Rose. Or, with all due respect to Reggie Rose, regardless of what roster moves they make, since I’m guessing adding someone like Kevin Durant or LeBron himself is out of the question.
LeBron’s brilliance aside, the Bulls sure didn’t do themselves any favors last night. Their carelessness with the ball cost them any shot of making this game respectable. How bad was it? I’ll let ESPN Stats and Information tell you:
The Bulls turned the ball over 27 times against the Heat, the most for the franchise since turning the ball over 29 times against the Wizards on December 4, 2004.
The Bulls recorded 17 turnovers and made 15 field goals in the first half Thursday against the Heat. This marked just the eighth time this season a team recorded more turnovers than field goals in the first half of a game this season. The last time it occurred was on February 2 when the Hornets committed 13 turnovers to just 10 made field goals in the first half against the Timberwolves.
The Bulls committed 17 turnovers in the first half Thursday against the Heat, by far their most in ANY half this season. Their previous high for a half was 13 turnovers in the second half on November 28 against the Mavericks.
The turnover bug was so bad in the first half I half-seriously wondered whether somebody had greased the ball. Miami’s defense was good, but it wasn’t that good. There were many instances where the mere threat of the Heat D caused turnovers or missed shots. The Bulls were repeatedly guilty of over-passing, with some possessions looking like a game of hot potato. One turnover happened when no fewer than three Bulls passed to a teammate rather than attempt a layup. Another happened when Carlos Boozer pulled down an offensive rebound, rushed his putback attempt, and then tried to tip in his miss before it came off the rim.
The Bulls often seemed skittish and even intimidated around the hoop. All told, they missed 10 layups and went 1-for-5 from 3-9 feet. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Bulls were playing scared. But they were playing nervous. And it’s hard to compete in professional basketball when you’re looking over your shoulder the whole game.
Even when the Bulls got good shots — and they did get them, when they weren’t bobbling the ball away — they couldn’t knock them down. They ended up shooting 37 percent from the field, including a dismal 2-for-10 from three-point range. It certainly would have helped to have Kirk Hinrich, who another game due to his ongoing elbow injury, but I’m not sure any one player would have made much of a difference last night, unless Rose was back in MVP form, or somebody conjured the 1991 Michael Jordan from the mists of time.
The Bulls were terrible. And they know it.
Said Taj Gibson: “It’s one of those nights you just want to forget.”
Added Luol Deng: “It was terrible.”
Right on both counts.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau tried to take a little of the blame on himself: “The turnovers were a problem. Also the type of passes we were making. They have great quickness. You have to give them credit, they were into us and we didn’t move the ball. That part, to me, I have to make our team understand the type of plays we have to make to give ourselves a chance. When you turn the ball over like that, that part is on me.”
As for Joakim Noah — who was Chicago’s player of the game with 11 points, 8 boards, 8 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks — he put it in the simplest of terms: “They shot the ball great, they played very well, you got to give credit when credit is due. They kicked our (butt), but we’ll be back.”
No doubt the Bulls will be back. But will it matter? You never want to put too much weight on the outcome of a single game. But with a healthy and transcendent LeBron teamed with Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade, can the Bulls realistically hope to compete with Miami on even footing any time in the next couple seasons?
Time will tell.