The Bulls Post-All-Star Outlook and a Management Negligence Fixed
For playing pretty lousy, the Bulls actually aren’t in a bad position to make the play-offs, with Washington, New Jersey and Atlanta all being fairly obliging over the last month and keeping the games ahead to a minimum. Philly, on the other hand, has been greedy. Is it a case of “Don’t sleep on the Sixers” or improvement? I’m not sure. But the Bulls aren’t in too bad a position, at only a couple games out, except for one large problem: their schedule.
Of 21 games, though March, 10 teams have winning records and 7 games against sub-.500 teams with a better record than the Bulls.
2/20 @ The Nets – might be a good time to steal the game, though we don’t know how the Nets will gel, post-trade.
2/22 Denver – not likely
2/24 @ Houston – Houston’s rolling, and this could be a spanking
2/25 @ Dallas – Unless Kidd has no chemistry, they just have too many weapons
2/27 @ Pacers – This should be a maybe, but the Pacers seem to own the Bulls in Indy
2/29 Wizards – If Butler is back, this is likely a loss, but you don’t know this team’s health
3/2 @Cleveland – Probable loss
3/4 Memphis – OK, finally a game I have no problem predicting a win for
3/6 Cleveland – Again, I’m thinking loss
3/7 @Boston – Not a prayer
3/9 @Detriot – Definite maybe, just because the Bulls have owned the Pistons, this season.
3/11 Utah – Deron shows off to the Illini fans. Bulls lose.
3/14 76ers – Philly has their mojo working, and I’m on the no side of the fence, here
3/17 @Hornets – No.
3/18 Nets – No idea how the Nets will look at this point. Maybe.
3/20 Spurs – Not going to happen.
3/22 Pacers – I like the Bulls at home for this
3/25 Hawks – I might like this if it were the first game after the Bibby trade, but not with a month for him to get integrated
3/26 @76ers – I’m thinking no at Philly
3/28 Atlanta – Nope.
3/29 Bucks – I like the Bulls at home vs. the Bucks
So, 3 games I definitely think the Bulls will win, 5 they might have a shot at, 13 they should lose. That’s a best case 8-13, .381 record through March. That won’t work. If the Bulls want to get into the playoffs and out of the lottery, they need to beat up on Atlanta, Philly, and Jersey, the teams between them and a spot. And if they get to the playoffs, they better hope they draw the Pistons in the first round. Anyone else they might get with a low seed will wipe the floor with them. And if 2 out of Atlanta, Philly and Jersey go on long win streaks, could be over quickly for any post-season hopes in Chicago.
Now to be fair, the Bulls have been massively injured. Ben Gordon and Luol Deng have been out for much of the recent stretch of failure. Kirk Hinrich and Joe Smith have missed games as well. On the other hand, these mostly weren’t games you were expecting the Bulls to win, anyway. January was their cupcake period and early February was rough. Alas, the hustle you saw in the early days of the Boylan tenure (that’s days, not weeks) seems to have mostly dissipated and unless there’s a big turnaround, Reinsdorf will likely be forced to do that most dreaded activity, open his pocketbook and get a “name” coach.
The positives of late January and early February, well there are two, come to think of it. First, Paxson corrected a history of gross negligence and hired a big man coach. No more Pete Meyers, guru of the low post. Think about it. The Bulls haven’t had a big man coach since Bill Cartwright was shown the door. You have high lottery picks in Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry, Tyrus Thomas, Joakim Noah and you don’t bother to hire a big man coach? Don’t even try and tell me that’s responsible, because I’ll just point to Tyson Chandler blossoming elsewhere, and to be honest, while Curry doesn’t seem to have rebounding in him, his offensive skills have improved in New York. Was it that Scott Skiles had little regard for big men? Did Paxson not care about front court development? Did Reinsdorf just not want to pick up another staff salary? I don’t know that answer to why, but at least it’s been fixed. Mike Brown, predictably, is former Reinsdorf-era Bulls player who was a journeyman playing power forward and a little center. He’s got some Development League coaching experience. What? You thought Reinsdorf was going to shell out for somebody with NBA experience and wasn’t one of his players? Dreamer. (And this is partially why you’ll read about Stacey King getting his coaching interview in the off-season. Ex-Reinsdorf era player with CBA experience.)
The other positive was Thabo Sefolosha coming back out of his shell. Sefolosha was absolutely wretched at the beginning of the season, but with all the backcourt injuries, was starting and managed to play himself out of the funk and back into some confidence. And yes, this drastic turn-around is another sign that Skiles was not good for the long term future of the team. I’m not one of the local sycophants masquerading as journalists that think Sefolosha is all you need to jettison Ben Gordon, but I will say that if Gordon isn’t starting, the first rotation is more solid now. I consider Sefolosha more a solid back-up than a solid starter, but that could change if he continues to improve.
So what’s left for the Bulls? Well, trading Ben Wallace for something wouldn’t be a bad thing. Noah and Gray could use his minutes and everyone in Detroit will tell you what Big Ben will do if he thinks he’s getting his minutes cut, and it rhymes with “trout.”
Mike Brown needs some time to see what he can do with the youngsters. Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah with some (much) improved post skills would be a nice dividend to legitimate instruction and would take some of the sting away from the Chandler trade.
Most importantly, the Bulls need Deng and Gordon healthy and playing. It sounds like Gordon is ready to come back. Deng, the jury’s out. If those two can come back, the bench is a little stronger, Boylan is more willing to use Joe Smith as a weapon than Skiles was, and maybe Brown can get some quick results with the front line – all that, maybe they can pull out enough games to get into the playoffs and get Reinsdorf some playoff dollars. I’m sure Jerry would like that.
On the other hand, the Bulls are probably better off taking their chances in the lottery for another bench upgrade and if Deng and Gordon aren’t traded away by Thursday, its going to be a verrrry interesting summer of negotiations.