A lot of fans are confusing and/or conflating some basic issues during these trying times for the Bulls. While every fan hopes for his or her team to make the playoffs, that goal is not necessarily consistent with the objectives of team management and owners. That’s not to say that they don’t want the team to go as far as possible this year, but rather that their prime objective has, for some time, been to acquire a top free-agent during the off-season, and to build a stronger contender in 2011.
So, for example, when fans gripe about the Bulls having traded Thomas and Salmons, they are really missing the main point, as reaching the playoffs was not management’s primary consideration. Also, as Matt has pointed out repeatedly, the Bulls have little chance of beating elite teams with Noah out, and other key players slowed by injuries. Had those trades not been made, the slide might not have been quite as precipitous as it threatens to be, but their presence would not have been able to prevent it.
What I believe has been somewhat overlooked through all the consternation about the trades is the overarching problem facing the team: VDN. When the team was healthy and playing well, and more recently, when the Noah-less Bulls beat some bad teams, del Negro’s weaknesses were overlooked by many. But now, as the Bulls are being exposed by better teams, his weaknesses have (again) become glaring.
Rather than review Vinny’s many faults, let’s look at one aspect of the Dallas game as an example that dovetails nicely with the above point about the Bulls (theoretically) being molded to be more formidable next year.
During a second-half stretch in which they had a realistic chance of reeling in the Mavericks, Vinny chose not only to use Pargo, but to rely on him heavily! Shouldn’t it be obvious to del Negro, as it has become to any alert observer, that Pargo is barely competent as a spot up shooter, let alone an all-around player? (As an aside, in stark contrast to the Pistons’ legendary Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson, I’d submit that Pargo should be nicknamed “Two Sticks”, given how long it takes him to heat up enough to make two shots in a row.)
What was so incongruous (and further damning) about VDN’s use of Pargo, was how little he used James Johnson (FOUR minutes!). Johnson, as any half-serious observer will have noticed, is gaining confidence, and improving fairly rapidly with added playing time. Johnson played well enough in a brief stint during the first half of the game, and was precisely the sort of (healthy) athlete who could have been of defensive service against the likes of Butler and Marion, who were torching the Bulls with easy baskets. And yet VDN chose to rely heavily on a three-guard lineup, including a bad streak shooter who — God forbid — will play no part in the Bulls future, rather than continuing to develop a promising young player who might very well become a valuable contributor.
The Bulls’ management deserves criticism for many moves that they have made in recent years, but even more than any player personnel decisions that have been made, hiring and retaining VDN has been their most insidious and damaging recent blunder. Therefore, more than any draft pick that may result from what is likely to prove to be an otherwise disappointing season, the true silver lining could be — hopefully will be — the hiring of a new coach.
About the author:
Tony C. grew up in Evanston, and cut his teeth on the exciting, early ’70’s Walker-Love-Sloan-Van Lier Bulls. As a pick-up player, he admits to having stuck too long with low-top shoes (Puma Baskets, for the detail oriented), but did belatedly make the switch when the sprained ankles became tedious. Tony’s professional life revolves mainly around buying, selling and managing Thoroughbred racehorses. While he now resides outside of Chicago, he remains an interested, enthusiastic, and at times critical Bulls fan.