Sometimes the truth hurts…

“It’s not disheartening. They beat us. You’re going to get beat sometimes by teams that are better than you, and they’re better than us. I can’t sit here and be like, ‘Well, they’re not better than us, I think we’re better.’ No, they’re better than us. They beat us. They smoked us once and then they beat us again today.”

Believe it or not, those words were not uttered by a member of the Chicago Bulls. That rather fatalistic statement came from the mind and mouth of Chris Bosh after his Toronto Raptors were thumped at home 111-89 by the Atlanta Hawks. But it just feels Bulls-like, doesn’t it? Which makes it kind of fitting that Bosh is one of the players on Chicago’s “Summer of 2010 Wish List.”

At any rate, Bosh certainly could have been speaking for the Bulls after what happened this weekend. It seems so obvious now, especially in light of Chicago’s 106-80 loss to the Celtics at the United Center on Saturday night: This is not the same Bulls team that pushed Boston to the brink in the first round of last year’s playoffs. Not even close.

Of course, it’s worth noting that the Celtics aren’t the same team, either. Kevin Garnett was conspicuously absent from that legendary near-upset. With a healthy KG in the lineup, Boston is a championship contender. Without him, they are not. Which goes a long way in explaining why the Bulls looked as good as they did against the Celtics once upon a time.

Don’t get me wrong. Chicago was downright plucky for the first two quarters. They were sharing the ball, playing spirited defense, and Brad Miller even thugged Rajon Rondo. (Sorry, Brad. I don’t care what you say, that shot was payback for the time he whacked you across the face in the playoffs. It’s okay, though. At least you showed some actual, honest-to-goodness fire. Bulls fans haven’t seen a lot of that this season.)

But all those good vibes gave way to the fact that, despite playing about as well as they could, Chicago was behind 54-46 at halftime. What happened in the third quarter felt downright inevitable. The Bulls — who have been losing by almost 27 PPG in the second game of back-to-backs this season — looked spent from the previous night’s overtime win against the Golden State Warriors and the first half’s rare show of emotion. The Celtics simply wore the home team down with their defense and superior execution. And the Bulls looked like a pale shadow of the team that looked so promising late last spring. And it made their prospects for playing late next spring look pretty grim.

Of course, when Chicago management let Ben Gordon — only the team’s leading scorer, one of the league’s best three-point shooters, and the only truly consistent player on the entire roster — bolt for Detroit without making a single attempt to keep him, it was a sign that they were planning for the future. Of course, it didn’t seem like they’d given up on the season at hand. After all, John Salmons had played pretty well all last season, and even more so after he arrived in Chicago via a before-the-deadline trade with the Sacramento Kings. The numbers said he could score about as well as Gordon. And with Luol Deng coming back from injury, and with Kirk Hinrich and free agent signee Jannero Pargo bolstering the backcourt depth, and with rookies James Johnson and Taj Gibson backing up an established and upcoming frontcourt of Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas…

…I mean, the Bulls were still supposed to be pretty good, even without Gordon. Right?

But some things simply look better on paper than they do in practice. With the all-out effort they showed in the first half of the Boston game, the Bulls could probably beat teams like, say, the Toronto Raptors or New Jersey Nets. Only they didn’t show that kind of fire during back-to-back losses to those very two teams last week.

After losing to the Celtics, Noah said: “We got down on ourselves a little bit when they started hitting some shots. We’re getting down on each other a little bit. We have to stick together as a group and deal with adversity a little better. But we’re not even close to being as good as they are right now. When you see the way they run their offense, the way they run their defense and the weapons that they have, they’re a totally different team from last year.”

Just like the Bulls.

It has become quite clear how badly the loss of Gordon has affected Chicago’s offense. It’s not even Gordon’s 20 PPG the Bulls miss, per se. It’s the threat of him. I mentioned last week that NBA basketball is a game of split-seconds. Gordon provided everybody on the Bulls extra split seconds they can’t get on their own. When he was running around helter-skelter trying to get open, players on the opposing team knew it. Sometimes they only glanced, sometimes they were forced to turn their heads or jump out to show a little help. Gordon never racked up gaudy assist numbers, which led many people to conclude he didn’t create for his teammates. But, as it turns out, he did. Just not in a way that is measured by box scores.

Players aren’t turning their heads against these Bulls players. And the offense — which always relied a little too heavily on contested two-point jumpers — is even more reliant on two-point jumpers that are even more hotly contested. It’s no wonder the Bulls are one of the worst shooting teams in the league…and they showed that in depressing fashion against Boston, hitting season-low 32.6 percent (30-for-92) of their shots, including 1-for-9 from three-point range.

So what’s next for the Bulls? Besides an almost inevitable home beatdown by the Lakers on Tuesday night? I don’t know. But don’t expect a quick turnaround, even when Tyrus returns from injury, which could be soon. A midseason trade might bring the team back to life the same way it did last season. It might not. Maybe Chicago management can lure a big-time free agent into what has become a losing situation next summer. Dwyane Wade didn’t look too happy when his Heat got blown out at home by the Memphis Grizzlies this weekend. The Heat are now 6-7 when playing in Miami. Playing alongside Derrick Rose back in your hometown would be better than that, right, Dwyane?

Sorry. I’m just following the lead of Chicago’s front office. I’m thinking about the future.

13 Responses to Sometimes the truth hurts…

    Greg December 14, 2009 at 3:03 pm #

    Nice write up. I got to watch that abomination the other night and have a few thoughts…

    1) Call me a reforming Taj hater. He may fumble some passes here and there, but the guy gives 110% on every possession. He’s not a starter at this point, but I’m glad we grabbed him.

    2) D. Rose is the most depressing aspect of this team. Let me explain. All the other moving parts that are squeaking and grinding are frustrating. Really frustrating. But I know a lot will be gone in a few years. This is the guy we’re supposedly building a franchise around.

    He has about as much hustle in him as TT. Watching him sprint to catch up with Rondo and then casually trail him on a break is infuriating. The next time this guy plays D will be the first.

    Also, aside from the lack of effort, the other reason he’s awful on D is his utter fear of contact. Previously I’d only noticed this on offense as he settled for tear drop after tear drop to avoid contact, but watch. This guys flinches at the mere hint of a screen on D.

    The sad thing is…we ruined this kid (and maybe Vinny too). I seem to remember last year Vinny was benching Rose in the 4th b/c of defensive failures and it created such an uproar that the front office stepped in. So much for defensive accountability. Now I just get to watch as DRose fire up his usual 20 shots for 17 points and gets torched by the opposing PG.

    That’s the depressing part about this team. We’re destined to build a franchise around a guy who’s afraid to get hit.

    Thank you for indulging this Rondo inspired rant.

    Pharaoh December 14, 2009 at 4:57 pm #

    The fact that we didn’t keep Gordon is really highlighting some glaring misteps in whatever this organization call themselves running.

    Can someone please explain to me why we didn’t put JR Smith in uniform and give him a chance here. The Bulls made the trade for Chandler(Krause’s ultimate undoing) brung this dude in with PJ Brown and then they just release him. We don’t want him. No particular reason or explanation given as to why not, we just didn’t want him.

    Really? Well, look how bad this thing is stinking now. Sure looks like we could use a scorer to replace Ben now.

    Terrible moves by our upper management, and further still our Player Development overall has been horindous. Until the bar is raised with this organization, nothing is going to change around here.

    Mahmoud December 14, 2009 at 5:18 pm #

    I mean, we say this now while we’re losing, but in all reality, resigning BG means that we can’t play in the Free Agent bonanza next year. And then we’ll feel even stupider next year when Wade and Joe Johnson and all those guys go to different teams and then we’re stuck with the team we had last year, which, let’s be honest, wasn’t going to win a championship. This is a huge risk by Bulls management, to essentially hope these guys could be passable enough to keep the fans happy until the got a chance to sign one of these top tier free agents. It’s like what the Knicks did, except for one year instead of three or four. I mean, if we resign Ben, then you’re complaining in three years because we don’t have a superstar. Every move affects moves in the future, you can’t just sign everyone.

    On a side note, even though I really want us to make the playoffs, I can’t help but think about the draft a little bit. This is a really solid draft class with great big guys in Aldrich and Monroe. If we hit the lottery, one of those guys might fall to us, or hell, we might get the first pick again, and because we already have a stud PG, people would be willing to give up a lot to get at Mr. John Wall.

    Tony C. December 14, 2009 at 6:00 pm #

    Matt –

    While I believe that much too much is being made (by many) about the Bulls’ having let Gordon go, you do make an important and subtle point. It isn’t so much about losing his scoring, but the threat of his scoring!

    So yes, especially with Hinrich and Salmons having shot poorly, it makes it easy for the Bulls’ opponents to defend effectively.

    But having said that, poor coaching (and management) remains at the core of the Bulls’ problems. It’s fantasy to imagine that the addition of one star (or had they kept Gordon), will (or would have been) the road to salvation. The fact is that they were very lucky to have gelled at the right time, and met a badly weakened Celtics team last year in the playoffs. Expectations beyond another first round loss for this season would have been silly in any case.

    It was a big mistake to hire VDN, as he is incompetent. And every day that he remains the coach will further degrade the team on a number of levels. He should be replaced ASAP. Otherwise, the young players’ development will continue to be stunted, and his poor coaching will lead to further underachievement and loss of morale. Keeping him around would also mean that he will be involved in crucial trade/draft decisions when there is no evidence that he has any skills in those areas.

    Vic De Zen December 14, 2009 at 6:05 pm #

    I don’t think you can say Rose is ruined yet. He’s still young. There’s still time to get him some good coaching. But it needs to be done soon.

    Wanna Fanta December 14, 2009 at 8:40 pm #

    I would never say that VDN is a good coach, but I wouldn’t say that he’s the reason the Bulls aren’t doing well this season. At least not the whole reason (just like I wouldn’t say that Phil Jackson is the only reason the Lakers are doing so well). The current Bulls team has potential to make it into the first round of the playoffs again, but they just aren’t living up to their ability.
    If you look up the Chicago Bulls in Wikipedia, the title of the 08-present section on the team is ROSE ARRIVES. Apparently, Wikipedia thinks that Rose is the best thing for the Bulls since hot coffee. I admit he’s a great player, and he was an outstanding rookie, but he is definitely not playing up to his potential.
    Luol Deng is probably playing the tightest defense on the team, and I like outstanding defense better than outstanding offense in a player. Deng is also leading the team in points right now, but I think he can do better offensively, as well.
    Noah, well just Noah. Kudos to him, because I think he has made superhuman progress from last year. He impresses me more often than any other player on the Bulls this year. Joakim Noah is probably the only player on the team who is playing to his potential.
    Salmons is a big disappointment for me, because I was hoping he would pick up the point-scoring slack that Gordon left (with the help from Deng). Apparently, he has not.

    I could go on more, but the point is that I hate to see it when people think the solution to the Bulls’ problem this season is to fire VDN. He’s not THAT bad of a coach. Even so, a bad coach doesn’t necessarily mean a bad team. I mean, look at the Celtics. I find Doc Rivers to be a terrible coach, but the Celtics are doing AMAZING this year!

    Anyway, I pretty much hope that the Bulls at least improve their scoring to average in the 90s each game, and keep their energy up. For a free agent like D Wade to come to Chicago in 2010, he needs to see dedication, teamwork, and energy on the court. Wade will not care that much about how many points the Bulls score, because he can pull that up a lot with 27 ppg. What he wants to see is energy, dedication, and teamwork as I said before. I also know that if Wade came to Chicago, Rose would definitely see Wade as a mentor and learn from him.


    Tony C. December 14, 2009 at 11:17 pm #

    WF –

    I didn’t say, nor did I imply that VDN is the “whole” problem. The point is that he is a big reason why the Bulls are underachieving, and developing a young team is precisely the wrong task to entrust to a poor coach. His weaknesses will continue to drag the team down, and make the job of any subsequent coach that much harder.

    I’m disappointed with Salmons as well, and blame him, not VDN for his weak season thus far. But the multiple disappointments surrounding Rose are a different story, as he is still immature, and badly needs the guidance that a good coach could provide. Thomas is a another who could benefit greatly from better coaching.

    The central point is that the Bulls are in a longish rebuilding process, and attempting to do that with a demonstrably bad coach is the height of ignorance. It’s teams like the Bulls that will benefit the most from a good coach, and suffer the most from a bad one.

    BigWay December 15, 2009 at 11:03 am #

    FYI, anyone notice that the Pistons immediately won 3 or 4 straight when that lock of an MVP candidate and sure fire first ballot hall of famer Ben Gordon went down with an injury.

    Everyone who thinks that still having Gordon would make one iota of difference in this seasons record simply chooses to ingnor how much damage(that would be the bad kind) he did when not scoring.

    Gordon was not, is not currently, and never will be a complete NBA player qualified to start for a championship contender., he is nothing more than a circus act. I say that he should have been a Globetrotter, but I think that they require every player to dribble the entire length of the court without tripping over his own feet and dribbling the ball off his knee.

    rocky December 15, 2009 at 3:34 pm #

    Sometimes you have to take a step back first assess the future and then run forward. Thats what the bulls did when they didn’t re-sign ben. Yeah ben is a tremoundous scorer, but he did very little of anything else. Is that worth 11mil/yr. I don’t think so. Detroit overpaid for his one skill. The bulls have played there cards this year in deciding to wait for 2010 Free Agency. They will probably end up in the lottery which I think they should make a strong play for shooting guard Xavier Henry. He’s a catch and shoot guard with an extremely smooth stroke. He’s 6’6″ 220lbs. In 9gms so far he’s averaging 18ppg/4rpg….24/45 on 3’s….53%. I’d take him over evan turner because turner can’t shoot three’s at all. The bulls don’t need wings that dominate the ball ala wade next season who dominates the ball. They need to surround rose with knock down shooters like a Azubuike or Joe Johnson who spread the floor for Rose to have a much less crowded lane to drive into. Rose would be able to score more easily and consistently and his assist numbers would go up because he would have somebody that can knock the perimeter shot consistently whenever he drives and defenses decide to collapse. Gordon was a great shooter, but he put the ball on ground far too much and dominated most of the possessions not allowing for rose to create. Gordon would of probably shot even better for us last year if he allowed rose to create and him just be a spot shooter and just catch and shoot all day. When Ben wasn’t open and got the ball he never would give the ball back to Rose to reset the offense.

    andres Lopez December 21, 2009 at 4:41 am #

    I totally agree with your comment their rocky


  1. The Mid-Afternoon Milk Mustache, featuring Zach Randolph Fan Fiction | Stacheketball, an NBA Blog - December 14, 2009

    […] The Painter’s Brush: Matt McHale is understandably disheartened following the Bulls’ embarrassing loss to the Celtics last night. [By the Horns] […]

  2. This Week In The NBA: Dec. 14-20 - December 21, 2009

    […] “Sometimes the truth hurts…” – Matt McHale of By The Horns takes an honest look at his team. _ […]

  3. Three in a row: Bulls 98, Pistons 87 » By The Horns - January 1, 2010

    […] a conga line to the hoop. Since then, Chicago has allowed 100 points only twice in 10 games: once to the Boston Celtics (who are pretty good) and once (quite infamously) to the […]

Designed by Anthony Bain