Wednesday, January 30, 2008. The Chicago Bulls enter the Target Center in Minnesota a 18-26 team, 1 game out of the 7 seed in a horrid Eastern Conference.
Although the season has been a major disappointment, there was still a glimmer of hope that this notoriously slow starting team would turn it on in February, March, and April, and provide some excitement heading into the playoffs. Maybe the healthy return of Luol Deng and Ben Gordon would come soon, and the Bulls would gel into a team which could scare Boston or Detroit a bit in the first round. It wasn’t likely…..at all……but at least it was something.
Again, I wasn’t expecting much. My hopes for this team have been dashed for quite a while. In October, I bought an 11-game season ticket package because I thought one of two things were sure to happen: One, the Bulls would remain intact as they were and would contend for the top spot in the conference. This would ensure me of seeing at least 3 or 4 playoff games, and perhaps even allow me to see a NBA Finals game, should it go that far. Two, the early season rumors of a trade with the L.A. Lakers to bring Kobe Bryant to Chicago would be reason enough to go to the United Center 11 times this winter.
Well, neither of those things happened. The team has stuggled all season, highlighted by the firing of coach Scott Skiles and the injuries to just about everyone on the team. Kirk Hinrich is being exposed as severely overrated during his first few seasons. The players voted to extend the suspension of first round pick Joakim Noah last month for an outburst against his assistant coach, showing that neither the interim coach, Jim Boylan, or John Paxson, general manager, had any control over this team. Ben Wallace has turned out to be one of the worst free agent signings in Chicago sports history. Tyrus Thomas continues to show bursts of awesome athletic ability and little else, especially in the areas of effort and basketball intelligence. Without the injured Deng and Gordon, the team has lacked offensive firepower and shown little heart.
Then came Wednesday night. The Minnesota Timberwolves were 8-36, and outside of beast Al Jefferson, had easily the worst roster in the league. Sebastian Telfair and Rashad McCants are the starting guards. A very young team, the Wolves are in the bottom five in the league of every category. In other words, there is no reason the Bulls should lose to this team.
The Bulls led 14-8 after the first quarter. 22 total points in the quarter, and only 8 by the Wolves. Then the potent Wolves blew up. 25 points in the 2nd quarter. 30 points in the third. At the end of the third quarter, the worst team in basketball led the Bulls 63-52. Did the Bulls get fired up and lead a charge in the last 12 minutes? Did they wake up and realize they were about to blow a great opportunity at a victory and play inspired basketball in the last quarter?
No. They scored 15 points in the final 12 minutes. They shot 4-of-17 in the quarter from the field. The Bulls turned it over 6 times in the quarter, giving them a season-high 23 for the game. By the way, coming into the game, Minnesota averaged about 14 forced turnovers a game, good for 20th in the league. Their opponents field goal percentage was near 49 percent, good for 28th in the NBA. So we’re looking at one of the five worst defensive teams in the league, as well. And the Bulls scored 67 points on them, losing by 15.
So, I’ve officially had it. I’ll still go to the games I have tickets for, but only because the money is already spent and its a good way to see decent players and teams from outside Chicago. But I no longer have hope. Not just for this season, but for this regime. John Paxson has proven to me that he is not a strong general manager. Whether he could of made the trade for Kobe is debatable; however, Paxson himself has admitted the Bulls were a major player for both Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol, but for one reason or another, the deals were not made. Many feel its because Paxson didn’t want to deal ‘his guys’, the players like Gordon and Deng who he scouted and eventually, overvalued. The nucleus of this team has already peaked. Luol Deng, when healthy, is a solid player. But he’ll never be the number one option on a great team. Ben Gordon is a nice player to have. You can bring him off the bench to fill up the scoresheet or if your team needs an offensive boost. But he can’t handle the ball or play defense, so he’s very limited. Hinrich is a mediocre NBA point guard, at best.
There have been a few brightspots this year. Thabo Sefolosha has come on of late and could be the big guard the team has needed. Joakim Noah has had some off-court issues, but his play on-court has been a surprise, as he has provided energy and effort. And veteran Joe Smith is having a career year. But none of these players will ever be the impact guy an NBA team needs to make a serious title run. They are bit players on a championship team.
Its time to blow it up, kids. From the general manager on down, I’d be happy if the only remnants left from this year’s team going into the 2008-09 season were Deng, Noah, Sefolosha, and possibly Gordon and bit players like rookie Aaron Gray. But for a lot of reasons, that isn’t very likely. I guess we’ll just have to struggle through.