On Saturday, the Bulls open their first round playoff series against the Cavaliers in Cleveland.
Think about that. Say those words out loud. The Bulls are in the playoffs.
Feels kind of weird, doesn’t it? There were so many times early in the season and especally over the last month when a postseason berth seemed improbable…even nearly impossible. Especially when you consider all the things that went wrong — injuries, tantrums, trades, more injuries, infighting, etc. — as detailed in yesterday’s post.
But the team stuck together through all that adversity. And yet, going into these playoffs, Bulls fans have very few certainties. Those certainties, or semi-certainties, include:
1. Unless something miraculous happens, the Cavaliers — led by MVP-to-be LeBron James, who yesterday said, “It’s a different monster they’re going to be playing on Saturday” — will most likely make very short work of the Bulls. Cleveland is the best team in the league (based on wins and losses). Chicago is the worst team in the playoffs (again based on wins and losses). I probably don’t need to tell you how those situations usually end.
2. Unless something even more miraculous happens, Vinny Del Negro probably won’t be coaching the Bulls next season. Whatever the truth is — Vinny dismissed the report that he initiated physical contact with team VP John Paxson as “100 percent false” — Del Negro and Paxson seem to have irreconcilable differences. Those usually lead to a divorce of some kind. And let’s be honest, Vinny has been on shaky ground practically since Day 1.
In some ways, it’s a little unfair. As Jeff Van Gundy pointed out, the Bulls have overachieved under Del Negro. And as John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times noted, Vinny deserves a lot of credit for that. But although Del Negro hasn’t been as terrible as some of his critics have made him out to be, he’s a long way from being able to coach a potential contender. My guess is that Chicago management sees this team as a contender-in-waiting, assuming they pull off a major free agent acquisition this summer.
And if that’s the case, it’s hard to imagine Vinny returning. Even if whatever did or didn’t happen between him and Paxson never, uhm, happened.
3. This is the end of the Bulls as we know them.
I’m not trying to be dramatic. It’s just a fact. The only players under contract for next season are Derrick Rose, James Johnson, Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson. And if the Bulls could dump, say, Hinrich’s contract to improve their cap situation going into this summer’s free agent market, they’d probably do it.
Rose and Noah are the foundation of the team. Beyond that, anything is possible. The Bulls are going to be rebuilt over the summer. In the end, this season has been about developing Derrick, Joakim, and even Taj.
To that extent, the season was a success. Rose blossomed into an All-Star, Noah wasn’t far behind, and Gibson showed enough promise to convince the team to ditch Tyrus Thomas. And now those three players get to add some playoff experience to their growing resumes.
But where the team goes from here — after their playoff run ends — is anybody’s guess. But I’m done guessing for now. I just want to enjoy the playoffs…however long they last.