Post-playoff numbness

Numbness

I’ve given myself more than a day to recover from that Game 7 loss to the Celtics in Boston, and it still feels like my emotions are packed in a block of ice, Encino Man-style. I probably will always remember that game not for the poor shooting, the turnovers, the many botched defensive assignments/rotations, or even for how badly the Bulls were manhandled in the paint. No, what’s going to play over and over in my mind all summer and well into next season is the 24 points scored by Eddie House and Brian Scalabrine, particularly House’s perfect 5-for-5 shooting (which included four three-pointers). I mean, if you think about it, despite all the things Chicago did wrong, they very well could have won the game — and the series — if the Celtics hadn’t gotten 20+ points out of the House/Scals combo in that final game. That’s like realizing you would have won the lottery…if only you hadn’t thrown away the winning ticket.

It’s funny, isn’t it? Back in January, I felt the same kind of numbness but for an entirely different reason. The Bulls had just kicked off a seven-game Western Conference road trip with an overtime heartbreaker to the lottery-bound Minnesota Timberwolves. That loss — the team’s fifth straight defeat — dropped Chicago to nine games below .500, and I honest-to-God thought the season was over. In fact, I pretty much expected them to return from that trip with an 11-game losing streak. Mentally, I had given up.

Fortunately for me and the rest of the city, the Bulls didn’t.

You know the rest of the story. Despite a season-ending injury to Luol Deng, an angry owner and rumors that John Paxson wanted to take the last lifeboat off the Titanic, the Bulls survived that road trip (going a shocking 4-3) and — thanks primarily to that before-the-deadline trade for Brad Miller and John Salmons — made the playoffs and pushed the defending NBA champions (however injury-riddled and depleted) to the brink of elimination. And the mere fact that I’m disappointed they weren’t able to pull off the upset — as opposed to just being happy they didn’t get blown to smithereens — should illustrate how much my expectations for this team have changed in four-plus months.

Now I look toward the team’s future with a mingling of cautious optimism and nagging concerns. I mean, all things being equal, the Bulls should be even better next season. Derrick Rose should be able to graduate from Padawan to Jedi. Luol Deng should be back and healthy, and I’m really keeping my fingers crossed that he can return to his “almost” All-Star form of 2006-07. John Salmons’ grumpy groin should have time to heal. Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas should be able to beef up and add a few inside moves. And, barring any other unforeseen injuries, the team should be able to build on both the chemistry that has developed since the trade and the experience they gained by making the playoffs and pushing Boston to the brink.

Notice there are a lot of “shoulds” in there.

The fact is, there are just as many reasons to be nervous. What’s going to happen with Ben Gordon? Will Pax re-sign him or let him walk? And if he keeps Gordon, does that mean he’ll have to dump Kirk Hinrich’s contract? And if that happens, who besides John Salmons is going to play defense in the backcourt? Will Vinny Del Negro advance from bumbling, mistake-prone rookie head coach to a slightly less mistake-prone sophomore head coach? Will we discover that the team’s closing push was just fool’s gold, that they were playing a little over their heads and got a very lucky draw by facing a paper champion with an iffy (at best) bench and no Kevin Garnett?

Look, there’s no doubt that it was a fun season and an an exciting (if somewhat unexpected) turnaround from the previous season’s 33-win campaign. And I would say that the pieces certainly are in place for continued improvement (especially if my plan to lock Vinny and Phil Jackson in a room together until, say, October works out). But right now, all I can feel…is nothing.

14 Responses to Post-playoff numbness

  1. justinbelize@gmail.com'
    Belize May 4, 2009 at 1:41 pm #

    Not a big fan of Deng (shoot me), but if comes back next year and somehow realizes that he can drive and dunk; slash and dash and figure out how to hit a 3 consistently…were gonna be deadly. IMO..we need a big trade big trade big trade (hey! I said that 3 times and I didnt get my wish..dammit!)

  2. Alec May 4, 2009 at 2:02 pm #

    I can’t imagine after this playoff appearance, where Kirk made ever (defensive) play he needed to, getting key steals, and almost putting the bulls within 3 stealing the in-bounds in the 4th, that the Lake-show would be salivating over him. However, if this is Phil’s last year….who gets the coaching job? The coaching situation (which is highly underrated, although the Lakers for the most part are a veteran team) is not good. Tex Winter’s health is failing, I know he mentioned he has constant shingles, which is pretty painful, and a stroke. Phil Jackson has taken games off a la Shaqtus. IF the Lakers win, and Phil retires…uh…what happens? Most interesting possible storyline: Red Auerbach retired as coach, and instead of hiring another coach, he turned the team over to then veteran star Bill Russell. Coach Kobe anyone? I know, it will never happen, and its a terrible idea anyway, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting.

  3. frofroman@gmail.com'
    Jake May 4, 2009 at 3:49 pm #

    I have been talking to everybody I know about the Bulls’ future since Saturday (and actually all during the series), and I think we definitely have more reason to be optimistic than we do to worry. You talked about Joakim and Tyrus, and while Tyrus disappeared for stretches during this series, Joakim emerged as a great presence for the Bulls. If he can bulk up and defend those bigger guys, he’s going to be a great player for Chicago. I’m not going to get into the BG debate (because the arguments are obvious for both sides and they’ve already been talked about everywhere by people a lot smarter than me), but even with questions in the backcourt, I think we’re still going to be better just because of Derrick Rose. You saw his jumper improve this year, and you know he’s going to be working like crazy over the off-season. Add a shot to his game, and he’s really going to be hard to stop. I think the main variable is, how Luol Deng fit into the scheme? Now, I think that with another year together, the Bulls will have much better chemistry, and the Deng-Salmons combo gives them really good versatility at the three. At the end of the day, they might actually be better off with the loss to Boston than with a loss to Orlando. Would it be better to get edged out in Game 7 by the champs or bruised and beaten (probably in less games) by Orlando? I say the prior. I can definitely empathize on the numbness front, but there’s much to be optimistic about.

  4. APaschen@gmail.com'
    Loop May 4, 2009 at 4:15 pm #

    Matt,

    Although you continue to keep your emotions comatose I hope you can answer me a quick question/offer your opinion.

    I haven’t heard much written/said about what could have been if Luol Deng had played in the series. Certainly John Salmons lifted the scoring burden that the Bulls occasionally missed without Deng, but I wonder if defensively the loss of Deng hurt much more than the Bulls realized. Deng on Pierce isn’t a bad defensive pairing from the bulls perspective, is it not? Also, isn’t Luol one of the Bulls more disciplined defenders? I get the feeling Chicago fans dismissed how valuable Deng can be on the defensive side because of the offense Salmons put forth.

    Is this right? Wrong? Irrelevant?

    Regards,
    Loop

  5. bullsbythehorns@gmail.com'
    Matt McHale May 4, 2009 at 4:33 pm #

    Belize — BANG!! I keed. I’m not sold on Deng, either. It’s like he reached his ceiling in Year Three and then, once teams started scouting him, regressed. If he can come back and do all the things you mentioned, he will indeed make the team better. But at what cost? Who gives up the minutes Deng will need to become effective? Honestly, with Deng back and, presumably, healthy, I can’t see the need for Ben Gordon.

    Alec — I, for one, would love to see Kobe as Player/Coach. That would be high comedy.

    Jake — Agreed. Joakim’s development really, really made me happy. In addition to beefing up a big, he really needs to add one or two go-to post moves (jump hook?) and a little chipshot jumper (from 12-15 feet) that will keep the defenses honest. Seriously, if he did those three things, and keep doing the other things he was doing, his value would jump off the charts.

    I like the idea of starting Salmons at the 2 and Deng at the 3, because that would give the starting unit good size and defensive ability on the perimeter. Then, if Jo and Tyrus can protect the paint and D-Rose can learn to stay in front of his man, we could have a crack defensive squad. Ah, if only Scott Skiles was here to coach the defense…

    As for me, I’m optimistic but wary. Sometimes when teams do really well in the first round and it’s unexpected, they can become overwhelmed and fail to live up to those expectations the next season. Check out last year’s Warriors team, which failed to even make the postseason after upsetting best-in-the-league Dallas.

    Loop — I think the main reason Chicago fans and the media dismissed how valuable Deng might have been is because he was having a really bad season. There was one short stretch in January where he started to look like his old self…and then he developed that stress fracture. So even if he’d made it back, his value would have been a big question mark, not only in terms of what he could have done (because he would have been really rusty), but how his presence would have affected minutes and chemistry. The team had developed a pretty solid groove without him…and dumping a 35 MPG guy into the mix, especially when he hadn’t played in months, and especially-especially when he hadn’t been very good when he WAS playing, might have been like garnishing a yummy pizza with some mustard. Mustard is good stuff under the right circumstances, but…

  6. davidpaulroosa@yahoo.com'
    AK Dave May 4, 2009 at 5:05 pm #

    Watching Tyrus Thomas play, I worry that he is going the route of so many bigs and is having a love affair with his jumpshot. It would be nice to see him in the paint, playing with his back to the basket; but I don’t see it happening. He wants to be the guy who hits 18-footers facing up; not the guy who pounds it down low and gets fouled.

    Is it too late for the Bulls to get “takebacks” on that LaMarcus Aldridge trade? It is? Crap.

  7. aoctwpunk@yahoo.com'
    Joe May 4, 2009 at 5:30 pm #

    Although Tyrus’ jumper is a nightmare right now, his best chance for success in this league is to continue to develop it. He has zero post moves and is too small to consistently bang down low. If he can just establish a consistent 15-18 footer to keep the defenses honest, he will be a solid 4 in a rose-run offense.

    RE: Deng, I think he will be back to his old self once Chicago lets Gordon walk. Deng strikes me as a Shawn Marion type that can’t really create for himself, but is very effective when he’s able to play off of a creator like Rose is. If you notice, Deng was bad in the early portion of the season when Hinrich was mostly injured. Then he and Kirk both came back at the same time in January and Deng started playing really well again. To me, that looks like he works best in a motion offense, which Chicago runs with Hinrich and Rose in the game at the same time. Carry that over to next season and Deng should return to form.

    As for Gordon, I think the biggest factor for letting him walk ties into the previous point. The offense is more fluid when he’s not in the game (no way Chicago wins game 6 if Gordon doesn’t foul out, he would have shot them out of the game like he did in game 7). And considering that Rose, Hinrich, Salmons, and Deng are all under contract and Gordon isn’t, I think you let Gordon go. The aforementioned 4 are a very solid rotation between the 1, 2, and 3, there’s no reason to compromise that for a player of Gordon’s caliber.

  8. torch02@gmail.com'
    Torch May 4, 2009 at 5:42 pm #

    @AK Dave

    People need to stop being enamoured with Aldridge. According to 82games.com, only 34% of his points were scored from “inside” (tips + dunks + close). Contrast that with Tyrus, who scores 53% of his points from “inside.” Aldridge is just the always greener grass.

  9. lipseylc@hotmail.com'
    Buena May 4, 2009 at 5:51 pm #

    I’ve followed this site because I liked Basketbawful and I followed the series from the start because I followed this site. Thanks for getting me in early to a good one! I’m now becoming a Bulls fan; they have a young and exciting team with a lot of interesting angles.

    As a (formerly) neutral fan, I was most struck by the awe and admiration Gordon drew from Bulls fans and the media. I get that he made some heroic shots and the last-minute assassin is an attractive archtype, but I just don’t see his value. The ball dies in his hands on offense. He constantly gets burned on defense. The heroic shots seem more heroic because they are BAD shots, the kind any conscionable coaching staff would discourage. And you have THREE other very talented guards who are playing very well (and two of whom actually play defense).

    Gordon is like the hostess cupcake of NBA guards. The last-second crazy shots taste so sweet they can send fans into a sugar-induced swoon. But he’s terrible for your health.

    The guy I thought didn’t get credit enough was Salmons. His defense is every bit as good as Hinrich’s, maybe better. He was playing hurt. And every time he had the ball he seemed to make a good decision with it. I’d have liked to see him get more touches in crunch time; I trust him to pass to an open man (unlike Gordon) and not to turn it over (unlike Rose).

    The worst thing about letting Gordon walk would be that it leaves you down a shooter. Rose can’t hit threes, neither can Deng. Unless Salmons and Hinrich are both in together, you have ONE guy who can shoot threes on the floor at a time. This is going to be hell on your spacing. Maybe you can use Miller as a kind of Okur-lite, putting him on the perimeter all the time. But outside shooting wins games in today’s NBA, and I think “spot-up shooter” is the true #1 priority for the offseason. More so than big men; Noah, Thomas, Miller is actually quite a solid frontcourt rotation.

  10. davidpaulroosa@yahoo.com'
    AK Dave May 4, 2009 at 7:51 pm #

    Torch-

    The difference is that Aldridge *can* hit that jumpshot; Tyrus’ shot is improving, but not as good as LA’s, no matter how you slice it. I realize that Tyrus’ jumper won game 1 for the Bulls. I also realize that Eddie House went 5-5 in game 7. Good games happen to streaky players. But you are correct, that trade is well over and old news. My bad.

    Joe-

    “Small” players can still play in the post if they so choose. There used to be this one guy, Charles Barker? Charles Barfly? Anyway, he was 6-4 and played PF and was a pretty good post player. The Bulls have plenty of jumpshooters and not enough post players. We all remember the Miami sweep, right? Remember who was HUGE in that series? Mike Sweetney- the only post player the Bulls had on their roster. Sweets was huge, because he gave you a few possessions where you could just throw him the ball and spot up while he does his thing down low. That’s what’s missing, and Tyrus *could* be that guy, but alas, he’s fallen in love with the jumper :(

    Think Boston would trade Perkins for Gordon, straight up? :D

  11. weirdscience@mac.com'
    Dunc May 4, 2009 at 8:33 pm #

    Tyrus has an energy factor as well…when they oop him when they’re down by 8, 5, whatever, thats either gonna shut the opposing crowd up, or get the UC going…

    My friend thinks we can get Carmelo in 2010, but I can’t hold my breath on that…right now it’s D-Rose’s team and we need guys that complement him, and I feel like BG might see the benefits of having a guy at the point who can set him up like that (Rose should also be credited for getting both Salmons and BG so many looks w/o it becoming an issue).

    I think that Luol is gonna be able to create for Rose to get into the paint more, and depending on what happens to Kirk, whose trade value went sky high during this series, I think that we can get whatever the ‘it’ factor might be easy.

    just please not Bosh, I feel like dude has kind of an ego and is a bit of a non clutch player

  12. Ekim407@comcast.net'
    Mike May 4, 2009 at 8:36 pm #

    AK Dave – Sweetney was inactive and didn’t play in the miami sweep series

  13. aoctwpunk@yahoo.com'
    Joe May 5, 2009 at 2:56 am #

    RE: AK Dave

    When I say Tyrus is a small 4, I mean his weight, not his height. 6’9″ is fine for a power forward. But isn’t Tyrus something like 220 pounds? That is tiny for a power forward. If he can bulk up to around 250 by the time he’s 24 or 25, he should be fine. At the moment, though, that really is too small to bang down low against opposing 4′s, his best chance is to develop a mid-range jumper so he can hit open shots and give himself opportunities for drives to the basket.

  14. davidpaulroosa@yahoo.com'
    AK Dave May 5, 2009 at 5:34 pm #

    Mike-

    Agh!! Thanks for setting that straight. Sweets was big in the previous Miami series, when the Bulls got tooled by the refs and lost in 6 (the same year that Wade was given MJ treatment by the refs).

    I miss Sweetney.

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