The Chicago Bulls are officially done with a quarter of their 2013-2014 season and needless to say things haven’t exactly gone to according to plan. Rather than fighting for a top spot in the Eastern Conference, the Bulls currently find themselves fluctuating between excellent play against teams like the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers and playing miserable basketball against the dredges of the NBA. As of now the team sits as the eighth seed in the playoffs with a record of 9-13. Some of the Bulls by the Horns staff takes a stab at answering some questions about Chicago’s play thus far, what to expect moving forward, and a recent rumor that popped up amidst the chaos that is this season.
Obviously injuries to four of the five starters have played a major role. But other than injuries, what do you believe is most to blame for Chicago’s poor form thus far?
Braedan Ritter- Injuries have played a part in this too, but I will go broad and say the Bulls offense. A terrible offense is expected when your team’s only playmaker goes down after ten games, but it’s turning out to be really hard to win games when you can’t put the ball in the basket (shocking, I know). It starts at the point guard spot with Kirk Hinrich (95), Marquis Teague (64) and Mike James (53) all having depressing offensive ratings and it’s hard to find a bright spot. Where’s Nate Robinson at?
Kevin Ferrigan- They haven’t been playing the same high level defense they have traditionally under Thibodeau. A lot of that stems from injuries, particularly the injuries to Joakim, so it’s hard to disentangle it totally. They also have no dynamism or playmaking from the PG spot. So far, the Bulls have had the worst point guard play in the entire league. I don’t expect D.J. Augustin to change that much.
Peter Owen- It’s hard to look past those injuries, but the construction of this roster was never supposed to withstand another season-ending injury to a former MVP. Last season, management had a summer to prepare for life without Derrick and brought in adequate shot-creators in Robinson and Belinelli. This year, the moves were made to supplement Rose, not replace. The roster is thus horribly imbalanced without its sole elite shot-creator and the team is struggling hugely to generate consistently good offense.
Trenton Jocz- Bad roster decisions. The Bulls were too cheap to keep a fantastic role player like Kyle Korver, but are paying $4 million to Kirk Hinrich when point guards who could fill his role with varying degrees of success such as Shaun Livingston, Darren Collison, Toney Douglas, Beno Udrih, Jordan Farmar, Mo Williams and former Bull C.J. Watson all play for significantly less, some for as little as the veteran’s minimum. Inking Omer Asik to just a two year deal when he came into the league led to him hitting restricted free agency rather early, Chicago getting nothing for him, and settling for Nazr Mohammed playing rotation minutes since his departure. The blame isn’t so much on Kirk and Nazr as it is on the front office. Teams can succeed when being cheap, but poor choices made in the face of their self-imposed frugality, while often saving them money, has cost them wins.
Trey Adell- Point guard play. This is sort of a factor of the injuries but the Bulls are getting absolutely abysmal play from the guard rotation. Kirk has been terrible, Teague has been terrible, and DJ Augustin is far from a solution or savior to the Bulls’ point guard woes.
If you could fix one thing with this roster to get the team back into form, what would it be and why?
Braedan- Besides finding the legitimate scorer that Chicago has been looking for what feels like forever, I’d fix Joakim Noah. He has played in almost every game this season, but has only looked like the Noah we were accustomed to seeing in a handful of those games. He’s battling a thigh injury now, and though he his best game in a while against Milwaukee, I’m still not sure he is fully healthy. I don’t want to see Nazr Mohammed on the floor either, but it seems like this would be the season to be extra careful with Jo and his injuries. That won’t happen though, so stay tuned for the return of his plantar fasciitis.
Kevin- I don’t know what you could fix realistically. Guys just need to get healthy. Ideally, Derrick Rose would never have torn his meniscus and that would fix a lot of things. But in terms of things they can fix going forward, I don’t expect them to return to form. They just don’t have the pieces or any ability to stay healthy.
Peter- Can we restart the season or is that against the rules? The Bulls look like they could do with a week or so without a game to gather their thoughts and rally the troops. Cracks are beginning to show in Thibodeau’s “more than enough to win with” mantra. Normally we see the Bulls use hard work and intensity to get back into games when behind, now we’re seeing heads go down and an overall lack of confidence in the system. That needs to change.
Trenton- Let players take more time to heal. The players want to get back quickly to support their teammates, which in a vacuum is great, but the organization has shortsightedly allowed them to return too early on a number of occasions. For this team to maximize what’s left of its potential, a guy like Luol Deng needs to sit when he’s sore, rather than play hurt, have the injury flare up even worse, and then miss three weeks instead of three games.
Trey- I would get a magical elixir that cures all injuries/ailments. In all seriousness, there might not be a single fix for this team outside of getting guys completely healthy. There’s not much out there for guys to pick up off waivers or impact guys in the d-league. What you see is probably what you’re going to get for the Bulls.
Fact or Fiction: The Bulls will bounce back into the form we’re used to seeing.
Braedan- With DJ Augustin anything is possible. But seriously, fiction. I don’t think the Bulls will get back to what they were last season, let alone the top-of-the-East seasons they had before that. It’s hard for me to make an argument that the Bulls will win 45 or more games when I look at their roster.
Kevin- Fiction. They don’t have anyone who can create well off the bounce. Kirk Hinrich and Marquis Teague have been trainwrecks, which is not unexpected or particularly likely to change. D.J. Augustin is also not good at NBA level basketball.
Peter- Partially fact: The Bulls, barring a trade for a quality point guard, will struggle to manufacture points for the foreseeable future. Unless the defense gets back to the elite level it has been at for the last three years, the Bulls are in a spot of bother. That said, with players like Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler on the roster and healthy, the Bulls have too many professionals to maintain this level of torrid form for too much longer, some sort of uptick is inevitable.
Trenton- Fiction. We know players will continue to re-aggravate nagging injuries they attempt to play through because we have an extensive history of it. We know they simply are devoid of shot creators because they are always designed for Derrick Rose to bear that responsibility, a flaw dating so far back that it’s inexcusable. The glass-half-full answer is to say all they need to do is focus and get back to world class defense, but that ignores that teams don’t go very far on just effort and that these players are human beings who know and may be understandably resigned to their fate in the wake of Rose’s injury.
Trey- Fiction. I wouldn’t say that they’re tanking but they just don’t seem to have the talent or the health to be anywhere near the Chicago Bulls we are used to seeing. If Rose were healthy and they were still playing like this then maybe I’d have faith that they could somehow elevate their play but he’s not and their chances of competing went along with him.
What do you expect from the Bulls in this next quarter of the season?
Braedan- More of the same. Their defense is one of the best in the league, and as long as Thibodeau is in charge and they are relatively healthy, that won’t change. But I still don’t see where sustainable offense is going to come from, so I don’t think they’ll be able to string too many wins together. The Eastern Conference is laughable though, so a playoff spot is within reach…even the second round if they can avoid a first round matchup with Miami or Indiana.
Kevin- A relative return to health, more mediocre, ugly basketball, and probably barely more wins than losses.
Peter- A beginning of a return to form. The hurt of losing Rose is receding but the players have yet to figure out how to play without him again. Expect the offense to improve slightly and hope the injury bug goes away. Should the injuries persist and the offense continue to look like a car wreck, the group of fans calling for the team to tank will only grow in size.
Trenton- More of the same. I expect they’ll play well against the Miamis and Indianas because it’s easier to focus against significant opponents with whom they have a history. It’s the games against the Orlandos and Charlottes of the world, with young players hungry for minutes and to establish themselves, especially when the Bulls are on the second end of a back-to-back or their third game in four nights where we’ll see them just not be able to muster the necessary mental commitment they need to overcome their lack of punch and creativity on offense.
Trey- Much of the same that we’re seeing. Hopefully they can clean up some of the injury woes but I don’t expect much improvement.
What do you make of the Thibodeau to the Knicks rumors?
Braedan- I’m not sure that it’s a great fit for Thibs, but with the rocky relationship he has with Chicago’s front office, I would not be surprised if he is gone sooner rather than later. He would have to want out, considering he just signed a contract extension and on top of that the Knicks don’t really have any assets to give the Bulls in return (all of their trade-able first round draft picks are gone until 2018). It will be unfortunate if Thibodeau does go, because he’s an amazing defensive coach and what he got out of the 2012-13 roster could only have been done by two or three other coaches.
Kevin- I wouldn’t rule anything out with Gar and Reinsdorf at the helm, frankly. But I don’t see it as particularly likely. I’ll be very mad if it does.
Peter- They hold very little water, if any. The Knicks would need to give up a compensatory draft pick unless Thibodeau is fired or leaves by mutual consent. The relationship between him and the front office is frayed, but it’s not at that stage yet. Also, Thibodeau would probably have a heart-attack after six minutes of watching the Knicks play ‘defense’.
Trenton- Not a whole lot. We already know of the feud between Thibs and Gar Forman, so the idea of Thibodeau not being Chicago’s coach long-term isn’t that foreign. It also means little because, unlike the Clippers sending a 2015 pick for Doc Rivers, a first rounder from New York wouldn’t be conveyed until after the end of the Obama administration. If Chicago really is willing to listen, what it does do is open the discussion to finding teams that have the talent to win now, yet have assets to spare. A more feasible idea would be a team like Oklahoma City, should they come to the conclusion that they need to move on from Scott Brooks, as they could spare one of their own first round picks knowing that they’re owed a future pick from Dallas.
Trey- I don’t put much stock into them. There is a possibility that at some point in the future that Thibs might not be the coach of Bulls but I can hardly see him going to the Knicks. That might just be my own personal bias in thinking that New York isn’t that appealing for a head coach but I don’t think many coaches are jumping at the heels for the chance to take one of the most scrutinized jobs in pro sports.