Hate not making the Bulls stronger

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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.)

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9 Responses to Hate not making the Bulls stronger

  1. watkinscbw@gmail.com'
    Cameron Watkins January 23, 2009 at 3:35 pm #

    The thing that is more frustrating about the current Bulls than the post-Jordan Bulls is that there appears to be no specific strategy for how to improve the team. Krause, whether he was wrong or right, had a strategy. Cut payroll and suffer through a horrible team for a couple of seasons in order to stockpile draft picks and create salary room for big name free agents. Yeah, it didn’t work out, but it was a plan. Now, what is Paxson doing? High character guys from winning programs didn’t work quite well enough. Now the team is stuck between really young guys like Rose, Thomas and Noah and in their prime/borderline on the decline guys Hinrich, Hughes and Gooden. Sow what happens next? Get bad and add more young players with a hope of sniping guys in 2010? It seems a bit risky for me, plus NBA players seem to be inordinately obsessed with playing in warm weather cities. I don’t have the answer. I’m just saying I feel worse about this team than any other since I’ve been watching because it’s in a bad place and I have nothing to cling to.

  2. macalo07@gmail.com'
    Mike C. January 23, 2009 at 3:52 pm #

    i appreciate what you are trying to do here (and personally, i think a lot of the “ben gordon is so selfish! hate is wrong– along with rose he’s really the only scorer on the team; he has to take a lot of shots for them to score any points), but the hawks on the road without horford and williams are not a clearly better team than the bulls. yes the bulls got a little unlucky that game as bibby pulled shot after shot out of his ass, but letting zaza go off and us closing the game with the super tiny ball lineup are inexcusable.

  3. ftalaga@yahoo.com'
    Frank the Tank January 23, 2009 at 5:26 pm #

    Cameron is spot-on – there’s no discernible strategy for this team. The Bulls had a ridiculous stroke of luck in the lottery last summer that culminated in drafting Derrick Rose, but it’s almost as if the organization couldn’t deal with the shock of its good fortune and then didn’t try to improve its situation any further. How could a organization that knew that its first priority was to develop a rookie point guard actually hire someone with absolutely no head coaching experience at any level? Are the Bulls really going to end up allowing Ben Gordon leave the team as a free agent without getting anything in return? Is saving cap space for the free agent class of 2010 going to realistically bear fruit for the Bulls?

    From a personal standpoint, I came into this season with a renewed sense of energy with Derrick Rose on the floor. This club actually was in decent shape after the annual Circus Trip, which has put almost every Bulls team since the MJ era in a hole that few have been ever able to dig out of. The regression of this team over the past month or so, though, has been horrendous and, frankly, soul-crushing. I’m more than willing to take some lumps if there is a plan in place to develop Rose, but when the players around him are clearly not playing to their potential, the rookie head coach is completely in over his head, and the organization seems to be squandering a great opportunity to get back into the upper echelon of the NBA, it definitely is more frustrating than those horrific Tim Floyd teams because we all knew those teams were going to be terrible from the get-go, while this year’s team was at least supposed to give us some hope for the future (and they’ve done everything possible to crush that hope).

  4. gal.dagon@gmail.com'
    Czernobog January 23, 2009 at 5:37 pm #

    Hey, B’awful/BHB, if we beat you tonight (which I think we will, O’neil may be a whole lot of dead weight, but he’s still a hell of an improvement off the bench over Voskuhl) I expect you to put yourself in the WotN.

  5. gal.dagon@gmail.com'
    Czernobog January 23, 2009 at 6:32 pm #

    Re-reading my comment it looks a bit petty. I meant to say that you should write yourself up for the jinx/stat curse.

  6. bullsbythehorns@gmail.com'
    Matt McHale January 24, 2009 at 12:10 am #

    Cameron — I get what you’re saying, but I think that, similar to Ainge in Boston, Paxson has at least compiled a roster full of young talent. A lot of these guys could be valuable roleplayers for this team, if it improved, or other teams on the cusp. Jerry slashed the roster, Pax has filled it with borderline talent that needs another really good player, or better coaching, to bring out its best. I’m not sure what his plan is…other than to get rid of Hughes. But as long as the players are trying, in their own way, I’ll keep tagging along.

    Mike C. — I agree. Zaza’s big game was inexusable, and I would hope that the team’s interior defense will be addressed. Honestly, at this point, I’d just scrap Gray and keep Tyrus and Noah in 40+ minutes and say “I don’t care what you do as long as you block shots, bang bodies, and knock people around in the paint. Don’t worry about fouling out.”

    Frank The Tank — I know what you’re saying. I do! However, we knew there would be growing pains with a rookie coach. And I would guess, based on Pax’s bland statements (or, rather, non-statements) about Vinny that he’ll be toast if things don’t shape up by the end of the season. Also, don’t understate the injuries to Hinrich, Deng and Gooden. Not just in terms of missing talent, but also the lack of continuity. Chemistry only develops when guys are able to play together. I think there’s still a chance for this team to put together a streak of better (if not winning) basketball. Although, sadly, probably not until after this road trip…

    Czernobog — No need to explain, buddy. I know you! I knew where you were coming from. :)

  7. Lord Henry January 24, 2009 at 2:10 am #

    Wow. How can you actually make me care about the bulls? I gave up after MJ left, because I didn’t think management would be able to catch lightning in a bottle again. It’s sad, this franchise is still trying to bounce back from Michael, and it just can’t. After more than ten years, it’s getting hard to watch. Meant to post here sooner, we need all the bawful people to show support for the great one. And Czernobog’s right, if the bulls lose, you totally stat-cursed them. BTW, are you a masochist? The sheer amount of material you’ve put together in such a short time is amazing.

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