The Bulls have suffered two frustrating losses at home and are a mere 2-3 in their last 5. Fans are abuzz and frustrated with this team. I wrote about them a few weeks ago calling them the unbearabulls and voiced many of the same frustrations. Last night against Phoenix, the Bulls carried a double digit lead into the fourth quarter and squandered it away with a pathetic defensive effort that allowed Phoenix to score 42 points in the final quarter. 42 POINTS! Just unbelievable.
If you listened to Bulls management this past summer, they were telling us that Thibs had to go as he wasn’t consistent with their culture of communication and cooperation. They replaced Thibodeau, a top five coach in this league, with an unproven coach from the college ranks who lost in the second round (or first if you don’t count the play in games) of the NCAA Tournament despite being a 3-seed and gave him a roster that was A) built for Thibs style and B) was supposed to be ready to win now. Hoiberg was supposed to revolutionize their offense at the expense of their defense and make this team like the Golden State’s and San Antonio’s of the NBA. That hasn’t happened and granted it’s 18 games in, but many of the same issues that plagued Thibodeau’s Bulls last year – who were essentially the exact same team – are plaguing Hoiberg’s Bulls: Lack of intensity, lack of focus, sluggishness, no energy, sloppy play.
Maybe Tom Thibodeau wasn’t the problem. Obviously, somebody had to go because of the toxic nature of the Bulls organization. Gar/Pax and Thibs had such a poor relationship, rumors started leaking in January or February. Maybe the problem with the “culture” of this team that included no real contention for over 13 years before Tom Thibodeau’s arrival, management attacking coaches (both in the media and physically), and having a bad reputation of refusing to spend money is John Paxson and Gar Forman. Maybe Jerry Reinsdorf should’ve put his loyalty aside, looked at it objectively, and said, “We have a top 5 coach in this league. Maybe I should support him and shake up the front office.” Because maybe, just maybe, it was the roster. Forman and Paxson have said they like this roster so don’t be expecting any blockbuster trades. But the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Every year, we have this same group, whom management says can win the title, vying for a title. This team wasn’t healthy enough, good enough, etc when they were at their peaks much less now. Going this same course has created this current mess which could fix itself with a slew of expiring contracts in the next couple of years: Noah’s contract is up this season, Pau Gasol has a player option and expressed desire to opt out, Rose, Taj Gibson, and Kirk Hinrich expire next year, and the cap rises. Paxson and Forman are also as good as it gets at drafting and will provide Fred Hoiberg some young prospects that fit his system in the near future. The Bulls could easily turn this around in the next few years.
But they have one major obstacle before they can do that: They have to make a decision who they’re building this team around. For years, it’s been Derrick Rose and as long as he’s on this team, there’s the perception that it’s his. It clearly isn’t and he hasn’t been the best player on the roster since 2012. While the shadow of Derrick Rose hovers above this team, the shell of Derrick Rose continues to take the court and disappoint. 13.7 points per game, 35% shooting, 9.9 PER. He’s so far removed from the MVP he was that it’s depressing. Now, he’s saying stuff like this:
“I can dunk, yeah,” Rose said. “I just choose not to no more.”
But dunk to the point where you almost hit your head on the bottom of the backboard?
“I’m telling you I can dunk still,” Rose said with a bit of a smile. “It’s just that I got brighter. I got brighter.” – Looking Back At The Game Derrick Rose Went Upstairs, Nick Friedell
Now, he talks about his contract expiring next year at media day, his kid’s graduation, and being brighter and not dunking, not playing through injuries? That warrior mentality is gone and it has infected the team. This team doesn’t play with urgency. They don’t play every night with intensity and bring it. They show up for national TV games and major matchups hoping to flip the switch when they need to. They don’t close out games – like last night – and instead squander leads.
Before the season, I wrote about how this team has become Jimmy Butler’s team and how he was the best player and set the tone for this team. It seems I was wrong. This team still follows D-Rose’s lead for better or worse. I still called D-Rose the key to a Bulls championship run in my NBA season preview. He’s not bringing it every night. He’s “brighter.” And the Bulls are suffering as a result.
What will the Bulls do? Will management be bold and try to make some trades to improve this roster? Will someone pull Rose aside and push him to play with effort? The short answer is they will stay the same and stay the same course until contracts expire and the Bulls can start somewhat fresh. Until then, this is the kind of product you can expect on the court and these are the kinds of frustrations you will experience watching this team.
This can’t be the kind of culture that Gar/Pax was expecting.