Finding Things To Play For In Chicago

VIDEO: How the Bulls survive without Rose

CHICAGO – Defeat upon defeat has led rapidly to despair, and a Chicago Bulls team already demoralized by another season-ending injury to star point guard Derrick Rose soon might find itself on the verge of depression. Angry at the basketball gods, feeling sorry for themselves – that’s certainly no way to slog through the five long months that remain in the NBA regular season, months made tough enough in these parts by wind chills and salt trucks.

But a 1-6 stretch since Nov. 18, an exhausting triple-overtime home loss to New Orleans and a no-mercy NBA schedule that brings the two-time champion Miami Heat to town Thursday had the Bulls slumped in chairs and dead on their feet late Monday night. They had left town nearly two weeks earlier, eager to bond, Rose “close” to his pre-ACL surgery form, on their daunting annual “circus trip” (when United Center welcomes the clowns and elephants, sending the Bulls and the NHL Blackhawks on the road each November).

They didn’t come home with even a lousy T-shirt. Rose is gone again, done in by a torn meniscus in his right (other) knee this time. What remains, while a lot, was built to welcome and maximize his return, without alternate shot creators such as Nate Robinson or Marco Belinelli. Mike Dunleavy was signed to spread the floor, his deep threat opening lanes for Rose.

This time, there’d been no time to prepare the roster, never mind the Bulls’ psyches, for such an outrageous loss of star power, confidence, swagger and ambition. Pluck? Overachievement? Chicago got its bellyful of that last time around, when the Bulls at least had the carrot of a Rose return dangled through the season’s second half.

This one was gonna hurt, and it has. The Bulls lost in Portland the night Rose went down, got blown out two days later by the Clippers in L.A., and – aside from a character victory in Detroit last Wednesday – has dropped overtime games to Utah and New Orleans and lost in the final seconds at Cleveland.

“In this league, you start feeling bad for yourself and the wolves come,” forward Taj Gibson said after the Pelicans loss. “The wolves aren’t going to feel sorry for you. Every team is going to come in smelling blood and feel like they need to get a win.”

“We’re showing a lot of fight,” coach Tom Thibodeau said, “and don’t have much to show for it.”

Clearly, that can’t continue. If the Bulls hope to make this season bearable not just for the customers and the TV cameras but for themselves – entertaining and successful are pretty much off the board – here are five targets toward which they can strive:

1. Develop your young players. Bulls VP John Paxson said that, whether by design or not, player development invariably looms larger for teams that suffer manpower outages. For Chicago, that means plumbing the skills and potential of rookies Tony Snell and Erik Murphy. Snell already has been tested more than expected, moving into the starting lineup when Jimmy Butler – who benefited from last season’s talent drain, especially late – went out with turf toe. Thibodeau likes Snell’s attitude and effort, and his high-arcing 3-pointers are a welcome variation on Butler’s clothesline attempts.

Developing players also means learning what’s not there, which has been the case so far with point guard Marquis Teague. The team’s first-round pick in 2012, Teague had a typical Bulls redshirt season as a rookie. But he hasn’t earned anyone’s confidence now in his second try and has fallen behind 38-year-old Mike James in the rotation. On Tuesday, Teague was assigned to the Iowa Energy of the NBA Development League.

2. Remember who you are. Everyone figured the Bulls would struggle offensively without Rose, both throughout the game and particularly at closing time. The other side of the ball didn’t figure to suffer as much, and yet Chicago’s defense has been way too Thibodeau-vexing through the first five weeks. Rebounding hasn’t been reliable and so far, teams have pelted them from 3-point range (the Bulls rank 29th in opponents’ percentage from there, .399). Prior to Monday’s marathon, Thibodeau recited the three tenets of staying close/winning games: Defense, rebounds and low turnovers. It’s who they’ve been, even through Rose absences, and it’s who they need to be again.

3. Lean on the front office. This means more than the obvious keep-him-or-trade him decision on two-time All-Star Luol Deng, who will hit free agency this summer. That one’s been getting the attention from Chicago’s fan base – Lose Deng for nothing? Get something now or take the cap space in July? – but Paxson and GM Gar Forman face other challenges.

Dunleavy, who signed a reasonable two-year, $6.5 million mid-level deal, could attract offers as the February trade deadline approaches. The frontcourt needed more size back when the Bulls were chasing a Larry O’Brien trophy, but the most pressing position now is point guard, where Kirk Hinrich is starting again and almost certain to break down from overuse. Teague and James make some sort of move imperative, whether it’s from the waiver wire, the D-League or off the street.

Longer term, Paxson and Forman face the harsh reality of building around a one-time MVP who will have played only 50 games in three years by the time he’s back on an NBA court. Gibson, Butler, Snell, center Joakim Noah and, if he’s back, Deng still would form a young-enough, talented-enough core. But the Bulls would need their Nikola Mirotic import plan to pan out, put to stellar use the future No. 1 they hold from Charlotte and get Rose back as undiminished as possible as a franchise guy. That’s a lot. And they can’t just rely on the lottery luck that delivered Rose.

4. Spoil other teams’ nights. That never gets old. Remember the satisfaction that came from ending Miami’s 27-game winning streak — without Rose available — at United Center last March? (Of course, payback might pinch a little Thursday.)

5. Remember, someone always is watching. That means possible trade partners and future employers. If Chicago can’t realistically hope to reach The Finals, its players and coaches can find ways to redefine and reinvent themselves. Find the next Butler, in Snell or whomever, who can provide the roster with a bonus player. Discover a closer in Rose’s absence so he has more help when he does come back.

For Deng – a machine since Rose went down – there is a market to make. Maybe for Carlos Boozer, too, if the Bulls finally pull the amnesty trigger next summer and he wants to keep playing. For Noah, it’s the mental chore of soldiering on without “Pooh” (Rose’s nickname). For Thibodeau, add wrinkles offensively (the Bulls already were doing that before Rose’s injury) and somehow manage minutes in a way that doesn’t grind guys to nubbins.

There’s much to be done and accomplished. It’s just … different now.


VIDEO: Pelicans battle past Bulls in triple OT

35 Comments

  1. tapk69 says:

    Dont worry guys .. Miami will not 3 peat , even though i think the Heat have the best team/players in the league , this year the Pacers can beat them . The only problem is that no other team in the east can beat Miami , right now Boston is 4th on the standings and i think that just proves how bad the east is.

  2. jay says:

    It’s dumb calling people bandwagoners because they like a top team or a team from a city different from their own. You don’t have to “love and respect” the team whatever city you’re from or live near. I liked the Wizard when they had Gilbert Arenas. Didn’t make me a bandwagoner. I liked them because I was a fan of a particular player and I liked their style of play. It’s natural that the best teams have the most fans. They’re good, so you like them and like watching them.

  3. gggggg says:

    Deng is gonna make the allstar team this year aswell because of rose injury, Deng is underated, he is an terrific player. Maybe the best defensive forward in the league.

  4. Jp says:

    Im actually from Miami and I even hate the bandwagons here.

  5. chichi says:

    I’m a chi town fan, I love how other teams are doing but basically, I will root for the Bulls.

    To Chinus, just because the Bulls are physical doesn’t mean they’re bad. They are just the type of team who plays that way. They grind games after games. Basketball is a contact sport, so why can’t they be physical? And Noah is ONE of the TOP/BEST centers there is right now, so why can’t he act like one?

  6. okc2014 says:

    I can’t say if when Rose does return, he won’t be good. But I can say we are living in the present and the Bulls have a lot to be discouraged about. They have a lot of re-arranging to do, and possibly some trades. I felt this way when Westbrook got hurt-its very discouraging. But the Bulls can look on the bright side: they are not Utah or Milwakee, yet.

  7. Shaan says:

    CHI CITY

    i hate heat bandwagoners

    • Knowledge says:

      All of those bandwagoners are laughing at you since you take the time to hate them. Do you think it somehow makes you respectable that you don’t like fans of the team who is now working on a three-peat? Please go out and get yourself a clue.

    • miguelamor22 says:

      Get rid of that “H” word homie. It exposes you as insecure and jealous. Be in control of your own emotional state of mind, or let someone else dictate it for you, it’s up to you… but nobody cares who you hate.

  8. Art says:

    Bulls shouldn’t trade Deng or let him go. He is not a superstar but definitely the best Bulls player and leader.

    Rose will return but he will never play like he did in 2011. The problem is that he still wants to be the best but his body can’t stand his movements any more. How many injuries he had in 2011/12 before ACL? The best for Bulls if he could be good combo guard from the bench.

    Bulls need to find reliable PG. If they don’t make playoff and could draft Smart it would be perfect. If not they can draft the best available PG or trade Dunleavy, Teague and 2015 1st for somebody like Dragic.

    Lineup: Dragic-Butler-Deng-Mirotic-Noah
    with bench: Hinrich-Rose-Snell-Gibson-(2014 Rookie) are as good as anybody.

    (BTW if amnesty Boozer and sign Deng for 4 years – 45ml, the 2014 salary for these 10 players is less than 70ml, so Bulls would be under penalty & have room for 3-4 minimum salary/2nd round rookies)

    • Jim says:

      That’s a nice plan actually,Rose should play 20-25 mins per game tops and let someone else lead the team.2 years of abscence can’t make him be the bulls leader anymore.A very important cog yes but leader no.

  9. ak says:

    He meant Deng and you know it, That was a well said statement, one the Tib’s should head.

  10. chinus says:

    i call that i Karma. why? because their players play too much physical. and noah’s behavior is not too good to see. he reacts like he is the best center..

  11. #dwade#flash says:

    Luel DING!!! the guy from Staples, that was easy!

  12. emong says:

    i guess DRose need some kicks changin’…

  13. Nick says:

    Read a lot about bulls and here’s the facts Rose is not a player to bank on anymore if he comes back and plays as well as he did TWO YEARS ago would be a surprise not a certainty if he was in college he wouldn’t be a 1st round pick and probably not a 2nd rounder either, Butler is no we’re near all star status , we have Noah deng and taj that’s it ( no way bulls pay boozer ) we need to build around those three and maybe draft a pg in 1st round

  14. Tony C says:

    Okay, I am from Chicago, but am a Miami Heat fan because of the Big 3. That being said, I have some advice for the Bulls coach, so here it is. Ask one of your players to be the closer of games and it will happen (Luel Ding). That player will be the one each night to attempt closure and will have the ball in his hands. This means plays will be drawn for him or let him do it one-on-one. This will get other team mates spirits up and they will rally around someone and it will take the burdon off of the “others” at the end of the games. To me, it looks like everyone is taking it upon themselves, which is a bad approach becauuse you end up getting a bunch of individual play. A team needs to rally around a leader who they want to succeed.

    • alex says:

      who is this Luel Ding u speak of?

      • Trevor Lewis says:

        I’ve always been a huge Luel Ding fan.

      • Heat bandwagon hater says:

        so you’re another bandwagon fan because of the big three where everything is spoon-fed to them by Lebron James and the rerst. Unlike us bulls fans who stick with their team during the tough times.

      • Dustin says:

        Lmao. Coach Tom Thibodeau got a coaching advice from a kid who doesn’t know how to spell. Brilliant

      • Eaham says:

        What is a liengo dyeng ?

      • Tony C says:

        Sorry for the incorrect spelling. I was referring to Luol Deng. Does anyone agree with my point about selecting a closer for the Bulls? I think they can go far even without Rose.

    • kobe bryant says:

      you’re not a heat fan, you’re just trying to make heat fans look bad.

    • Bulls fan from Lithuania says:

      Man you are from Chicago and yore a fan of Miami, you must be crazy! How can you be a fan of other towns team over youre own? How can you be a fan of Lebron who left his own town, Wade who was talking bullsh… about his owns team that other players wouldint go there… ?

      • Tony C says:

        Simply put – Lebron.

      • Tony C says:

        In Lebron’s last season with the Cavs, I read that they misled him regarding the severity of his elbow injury in order to keep James in the lineup so that they could get the best regular season record in the NBA. After that infamous game where james couldn’t make a free throw, I heard that James had tests done by his own doctors who informed him when they saw his earlier xrays that he had a bigger problem than what the cavs led him to believe. Meaning, the cavs were willing to risk James’ health and future in order to get regular season wins, which they did. Now, imagine the discust that you would feel if you found this out if you were James. I wouldn’t want to ever wear a cavs uniform as long as the ownership was the same.

    • Dan says:

      @Tony C
      Alright so let me tell you a couple of things old boy, being a fan of a team because they have the proverbial “BIG 3″ and they basically bought their way a trip to the finals for the next 5 years and nothing else is inexcusable. You should like a “TEAM” and not a player(s) because that team represents where you came from and even if you weren’t from that city, you should like them because you believe in the city and respect that city nothing more, nothing less. Now last but not the least, spell check the disaster which is your grammar and spelling because it is just messing with my OCD… And I believe that I just schooled you. Thank you.
      CHI CITY ALL THE WAY… from Dan of Jacksonville, FL

      • Tony C says:

        LOL…LOL. Guilty as charged. I would respond more but the Miami Heat game is on right now.. bye bye…

      • Knowledge says:

        I will never understand people who feel like they can tell other people would they SHOULD like. It’s just so completely absurd, borderline developmentally-challenged. Self-righteous arrogance will get you no where, and it certainly won’t make people listen to you.

      • sports fan says:

        @Dan
        There’s nothing wrong with liking a team because of one or more players. It’s ok to enjoy watching ANY team if they’re exciting to watch. To only like a team that represents where you came from is absurd. What about all of the NBA fans that are not from the U.S.? They’re going to like a team that is exciting to watch. The NBA now has more global fans than ever. Also, due to free agency teams have less of an identity. Aside from a few exceptions none of the players are from the city that they play for and the majority of athletes aren’t loyal to a city, they will go where the money is and/or go where they can keep playing. So, to like a team made up of players who are not from YOUR city is actually kind of silly when you think about it. How about rooting for players who are from your city but play for another team? There’s nothing wrong with that too.

  15. Bill Breidenthal says:

    Although crushing, Rose’s injury now is better than if it had happened again in April.

    The Bulls will be written off by fans and GMs, which will create trade opportunities that teams would be leery of before. Basically the Bulls are the Pelicans now, a mid-level team that is well coached.