Thursday, October 9, 2008

Hardwood Paroxysm's 2008-2009 Season Preview: Chicago Bulls

Ah, them Baby Bulls. Last year was like bringing home the newest NES game, unwrapping the package, shoving the cartridge in, turning on the power, and just getting that black screen with the single flicker. Crushing. So much hope, evaporated. We stuck up for the Bulls a lot last year. We think Noah got a bad wrap with the "vaunted veteran leadership" that now finds itself "leading" in Cleveland and OKC. We (okay, I) lobbied for more playing time for Tyrus Thomas, and he didn't disappoint if not set the world on fire with his opportunity. But on the whole, they'll go down as one of the greatest "What the hell happened?" teams in NBA history. Now they've got that Rose bud and Deng's healthy with a new contract. But don't let me tell you. Here's Trey Kerby to let you know how deep the blade goes when it's someone you love.

The Bulls kinda ruined a lot of people's lives last year. Mine, Kelly Dwyer, Scott Skiles, Ben Wallace, anyone who picked them to do good, many others. Universally regarded as the most disappointing team in the League, last year's Bulls will be a punch line for years to come. Fun times.

More troubling, however, was the loss of momentum that the Bulls had been riding since the 04-05 season. After some historically bad years, the Bulls were finally good again1. No longer would the Bulls be a cakewalk for other teams. No longer could a team waltz in to Chicago and expect a win. No longer would I be forced to root for a Nets team that I hadn't actually cared about since the loss of Keith Van Horn and Kerry Kittles2. This was a new era. Seemingly modeled after the New Pistons, the Bulls had turned a corner and were assumed to be the next "elite" team in the East3. Joining a staunch defense, deep and talented backcourt, and a unusually effective drive-and-kick offense the Bulls had succeeded through what now seems to be a great deal of trickery. The defense faltered, the guards were exposed, and the offense vanished. Scott Skiles had to go4, and he was glad to be gone. This is no way to live.

In a strange turn of events, the final nail in the coffin of the Bulls resurgence was winning the Draft Lottery. While we had rejoiced at being in the Lottery thanks to Isiah, surely the team wouldn't be there again for a long time – save, of course, for miraculous circumstances5.Yes, winning the Lottery was terrific happy fun time, but in reality, this was not a team that should have been in the Lottery. We have seen the Lottery before and it's not the best place.

That's all the past now, I suppose, but it's impossible to not feel like we were sold a bill of goods. The young talent now seems maximized6, underutilized7, or overrated8. The contracts of Hinrich, Nocioni, and Hughes are laughably bad. The coach is unknown. This is a team and franchise that is at a crossroads that no one knows how to approach, probably including John Paxson9.

However, hope still remains in Chicago. There are still good pieces. The guards may not be top-notch but there are enough of them that a solid rotation is impossible to avoid. If you could take the best parts of each of the big guys and make a frontcourt Frankenstein, you'd have a very good player. Tyrus Thomas supposedly cares this year. The coach has a predilection towards mustaches. These are the positives. The Bulls certainly won't be imagined as contenders this year10, but they also won't be as disappointing as last year. That's the thing with lowered expectations11 – if you exceed them, people are happy.

1- Good is relative. Playing in the Eastern Conference distorts perception.
2- Seriously. I fully bought in to a Van Horn/Kittles/Marbury nucleus. I've been wrong so many times.
3- Ironically, replacing the Pistons they had emulated in many people's minds.
4- I said as much prior to the season.
5- Meaning via trade, not via horrendous season.
6- Hinrich, Gordon.
7- Sefolosha, Thomas.
8- Deng, Hinrich.
9- It is far easier to build a team from nothing to something. It is a far different task to repair the missteps that lead to a meltdown.
10- Or next. Or probably the year after that.
11- I'm hoping for the eight seed, that Rose is shown to be legit, no Larry Hughes, that Thomas emerges, and that Sefolosha makes Gordon expendable.

IMAGE NATION by Rob Mahoney:

When talking about the Bulls, of course MJ, Pippen and Co. come to mind. While there have been some dark days for Chi-town fans, there are still things to get hyped about as regular season nears. New coach, new direction. With Del Negro holding the reins, it will be interesting to see how the guys respond and how they deal with both; the winning and losing that will come this year. With Larry "HeyLarryHughesPleaseStopTakingSoManyBadShots" Hughes looking for the ball at all costs, Joakim Noah trying his best to stay out of trouble and Tyrus Thomas trying to finally get on track, there is lots to watch unfold. Darius Washington from Memphis is currently on the roster and anyone who loves the game can relate to his mini-meltdown in college after missing those free throws. My eye never strays too far from DWash and what he's doing. Throw in Ben Gordon after the summer of his contract saga and pick your story to watch. Elton Brown, D-League standout is looking to make the squad. If ever there is a guy you'd like to see make it, he would be it. It's okay to like Thabo Sefolosha because of his name. It's fun to say. With Derrick Rose getting his initiation to the NBA (and it looking like he will do it from the starting point guard position), the Bulls are must see NBA action.


Well, it will only take me 4 previews in order to make Moore cry this year. Beat my old record by 7 teams! The best, most basic and easiest way to hate the Bulls is to swiftly and surely realize that Tyrus Thomas is the anti-christ. Thomas is a truly unique case in hate. It's not just that Matt adores him or that I think he is a bad player. I mean, there are certainly bigger busts... quite a few are getting a lot more cash than Ty will in a year to play. He is a unique case in hate because he is exactly NOT like Kwame Brown, Adam Morrion, Skita or the like. He is actually a good, freakishly athletic, talented player. But all the hops, sprints and cuts won't get you anywhere if you don't have the confidence in yourself to get it done. Thomas knows he is a good basketball player (well, he might think so, if he reads this blog on any regular basis). But, he is infinitely hate-able because he is actually good and yet utterly incapable of being productive or of use to his team. He is not a defensive liability like Morrison, possessor of Tinkerbell hands and softness like Kwame or Eastern European like Skita. He is a freak, a force of nature. But, rather than a hurricane, he's a lite drizzle... with the occasional flash of lightning off in the far distance. And that is a forecast that Bulls haters will love (MEMEMEMEME) and Bulls lovers will loathe.
I have now been officially dismissed from this blog.
(My projections for Thomas's #s this year: 14ppg, 6.5rpg, 58%FG and 1.2bpg, or ALL ZEROS. There is no inbetween).

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Tyrus Thomas is a Saint, do you hear me? A Saint! Just for that, I'm making him the divider for this entire preview! How do you like that, Duke boy?)


What's that? An entirely too long song by a band that is terrific in small doses but mind-numbingly annoying in mass consumption? A rambling, directionless jam that still features a refrain that somehow convinces you to yell along? Yes, please. And much like Tyrus Thomas, even though I try and convince myself I don't like it, I have too many memories of drunken poker players yelling this at me as they left the bar to ever be truly rid of it.

Ridiculous Notes:

PLAYER TO WATCH: So tempting. Must. Not. Say. Ty... Okay, how about Ben Gordon? Fresh off that new qualifying offer... Gordon is still in a logjam in the backcourt. Only now he hasn't gotten paid. Gordon could come out, have a Vince Carter contract year, destroy everyone, and earn all that money he thinks he deserves. Or he could detonate like a depth charge in a sea of ink. Get excited, Bulls fans!

MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: Derrick Rose. Luol Deng is the best player on roster right now. But here's a little imaginary conversation I could have with a Bulls fan:

MM: Luol Deng will get hit by a bus and it will end his career.
BF: Oh, man! That's terrible! That's the worst thing ever!
MM: BUT, he will be saving Derrick Rose who will come out uninjured.

WORST PLAYER: Gotta be Hughes, right? Just for inefficiency? Contract? Buckets per dollar? Number of websites begging him to stop shooting?

This Bulls team is certainly capable of making my ears perk up like a German Shepherd. Beyond my Tyrus Thomas man-crush, I've been a big Hinrich supporter since he smoked my Tigers his senior year. I had to hate him in college but I've loved him in the pros. The amount of heat he's taken for having a down year is just absurd. I'm not sold on Deng's offense being versatile enough to consistently be the guy, and of course, I think Ben Gordon is out of his bloody mind. But Noah gives them a ton of effort, Nocioni, though drastically overpaid, at least is coachable and willing to do whatever he needs to. If the team needs a bucket, he'll shoot. He may not make it, but he'll take the shot. I think Rose is in a tenuous situation, as I've mentioned before. But if he is as good as reports indicate, that's huge for Chicago. And it means that they have to move Hinrich. Now. No hesitation. Get it done while teams are still freaking out over their lack of a point guard. Otherwise, you have an $11 million combo guard coming off the bench for you. And that's just awkward.

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