I awoke from my 2nd consecutive night of nightmarish Bulls dreams to a Sam Smith article entitled, “The State of the Bulls is sound.” It’s quite interesting the word “sound” is not in proper title case, and I thought perhaps Smith was at his peak playoff prose performance in defining it is “errant noise” rather than than that of being “sturdy and strong.”
Unfortunately, I think instead he is as deluded as our current President who – with record poverty, record REAL underemployment/unemployment and record debt, deficits and fear of America’s financial future also characterized the state of the nation the same way.
Granted, I think the Bulls are better off than the nation as a whole. But c’mon. The Bulls are “sound”? If you believe that you may be the same guy who thought signing Carlos Zambrano or Soriano would singularly set up a World Series run. Like the delusion we Cub fans have had for years, I’m not so sure we are a player away from our playoff fantasies. In fact, I think Thibodeau may need to go to the Theo school of rebuilding a number of things about our Bulls.
Let’s start with everyone’s #1 Bulls issue. Derek “the thorny” Rose. Clearly Bulls aren’t playoff competitive without him. So the two salient questions are:
1. Will he ever be healthy and have sustainable basketball brilliance?; and,
2. Is his surrounding cast truly sufficient for championship contention?
Of course no one knows the answer to the first. Everyone assumes he can return given his age and drive. Smith references Bernard King and Zydrunas Ilgauskas as examples of why this is likely. However, it is more likely that Rose is probably more similar to Tiger Woods in the enormous torque and stress he places his body under to accomplish his acrobatic feats. He’s never been a pure shooter or (yet) developed the Jordan/Kobe (and even Ray Allen) dynamics that rely more on basketball IQ than physicality, so CAN he be an All Star premier player without his unreal speed and creative contortions? Doubtful. The 2 games just prior to his latest injury showed signs that he could be the original Rose. But I think we are deluding ourselves to think that the long term proposition for Rose being “Rose” beyond even a year or two is 50/50. Athleticism will fade and he won’t get any taller. Truth be told he looked old against the young guns like Wall in the beginning of the year.
And what of that supporting cast? We know OKC can survive without Westbrook (and Hardin) and suspect that Pacers might not be any better with all of their talent at full speed. Are we REALLY just a Rose away from greatness? Noah’s standout year was wonderful, but at the end of the day – he couldn’t do squat against the Wizard’s big men. Butler still hasn’t come of age offensively (and may never do so) but clearly Taj showed sustainable greatness even in the playoffs. Dunleavy, Boozer and Snell are all expendable. Do YOU think a Noah/Gibson/Butler/(Hinrick or Augstin) platoon equals the offensive firepower that Miami, Washington, OKC, Houston or the Clippers have? The “bench mob” was profound because it showed just how important a second unit was to long term winning. Like my beloved Cubbies, you can have an MBL leading starting rotation but without a stellar bullpen you will continue to be…well.. the Cubs. I’m not sure the Bulls can sustain any prolonged San Antonio caliber offensive or defensive threat at a championship level with our mix of players.
And the addition of a star like Carmelo Anthony seems to bring the Bulls to (perhaps) a 2nd round contender but not a Championship team if you add up all the numbers. The brilliant article by Kelly Scaletta shows, a ‘Melo addition is a diminishing one in more ways than one. (Kevin Love on the other hand isn’t.)
I actually believe the Bulls position is much better than the Bears and slightly better than the Cubs. The addition of the “Real Madrid MJ” AND someone like Kevin Love would make the Bulls uber-competitive with or without the re-blooming of Rose and the current cast. But Rose’s unknowns and an aging selfish shooter like Carmelo doesn’t give me much confidence.
On one hand it is remarkable that any coach could motivate professional prima donnas to the playoffs after the triple sucker punch of loosing your MVP twice and your only other All Star leader. I truly can’t understand how Thibs only came in 4th in Coach of the Year voting after what he accomplished this year.
On the other hand you have to ask, “how is it that you couldn’t make significant enough STRATEGIC adjustments (not just tactical ones) to the Wizards after barely eeking out 1 win in 4 tries?” The whole “we just have to play harder” mantra is great time-out tutelage but doesn’t address the key fact that your “defense wins all” strategy …doesn’t. Or at least it didn’t last year or this year.
All the Wizards had to do was swarm Dunleavy to dampen his deviate scoring display and use an Ariza antidote on Augustin and waala – no O. Thibs seems to think that scoring is merely a nuisance for the NBA pansies who won’t work at defense. It might shock him to know that James Naismith create a game that focused on giving points for putting a ball in a basket and didn’t reward any points to the opposing team for deny them.
Don’t get me wrong. I still love Thibs, but it turns out he is perhaps the best REGULAR season coach in the NBA and the worst playoff coach. The whisper that he overworks players during the regular season to overperform (and that the Bulls have no 2nd gear come the playoffs) is now louder and more persistent than Boozer’s mouth. They have yet to show they DO have a different – more competitive gear – to match the intensity of their playoff opponents. All that “practicing top effort” for an entire season hasn’t paid off TWO YEARS IN A ROW. (Yes, the Heat were beatable last year.)
Clearly, Tom T overvalues defense and despises offense. His first year success came more from merely delegating offense to Rose than any ingenuity in embracing and creating it in his other players. Didn’t Phil focus his players on defensive excellence despite his offensive calling card?
One of the greatest things Phil Jackson and Pat Riley did was to create entirely different “looks” both offensively AND defensively against their opponents to keep them off guard in the playoffs. (Tex Winter was a big part of that). Outside of tweaking spacing or – as in Dunleavy’s 35 point extravaganza – merely running plays for one guy, Thibodeau seems out matched when it comes to creating scoring. Mentioning the best pure shooter the team was worse than saying “Tea Party” in the oval office. “Jimmer” who proved he was the most productive scorer in his limited minutes wasn’t even allowed to take his sweats off even in second platoon relief. Imagine where the Rockets would be if they were afraid to put Troy Daniels in?
Someone needs to spend his summer learning how to be just as ingenious at offense as he does D. And with his knowledge of the game, who knows he doesn’t come up with something rivaling Phil’s “triangle” offense to match his defensive brilliance?
My guess is not only is the current coaching approach not “sound” for the future of the Bulls, it will never create a dynasty we all long for.