Bullish is an attempt to parse the narrative of the Chicago Bulls season. In most seasons, it’s pretty obvious (recently the narrative centered on the health and ability of Derrick Rose), this season is much more complicated. I used to write about NBA for the New York Sun and The Root. I found then that distance was often an asset, so while I’d rather patrol the sideline and press box of the United Center, there’s insight to be had from the vantage point of my tiny Manhattan apartment too.
I spent the holidays thankful that I *wasn’t* a beat writer covering the Chicago Bulls. Sportswriters, bloggers, podcasters and the like were up in arms about the team, and my only response would have been to suggest that they calm the fuck down. Seriously. Let’s look at the charges.
The Team is Mediocre
This isn’t news. Vegas put the Bulls over/under to start the season at 38 wins, i.e. a 38-44 season. Many prognosticators took the under. Nate Silver’s 538 site picked the Bulls for 45 wins, which Electoral College jokes aside, still isn’t a formidable record. The Bulls have hovered at or just below .500 lately. Why is this a surprise?
The Rajon Rondo Signing Isn’t Working Out
Rondo was once a leading NBA point guard but in the last three seasons, he’s worn out his welcome in Boston, Dallas and Sacramento. He can’t shoot from distance; 29.2% for his career from behind the arc, which makes him an especially bad fit in the pace and space offense that Fred Hoiberg was hired to implement. He’s a clubhouse cancer as illustrated by his recent itinerary. Only Bulls GM Gar Forman thought this was a good idea. That Rondo wouldn’t last half a season as the Bulls starting point guard was one of the safest bets in the NBA.
That led to this aggravating conclusion
It’s time to blow it up!
This is code word for its time to trade emerging superstar Jimmy Butler, which would be idiotic. First of all why trust a rebuild to Forman, a personnel executive, who thought contrary to all conventional wisdom that signing Rondo was a good idea. Secondly, the point of rebuild is to find a young superstar to anchor the team. Butler is 27. In other words they have a cornerstone already.
Thirdly, and this is the most important point, the Bulls won’t tank as they have done that and it didn’t end well. From 1999 until 2005, the team drafted in the upper echelons of the lottery, and those picks didn’t turn out too well. Here are a few highlights
Admittedly, some of these guys had honorable NBA careers and were stellar role players, but that’s the low end of what you want from a high lottery pick. Meanwhile the team suffered through six of the worst seasons in franchise history. Most key members of the front office remember that era and have no stomach to risk repeating it.
So Where Does That Leave Us?
At the end of last season’s 42-40 campaign, the Bulls were an aging and broken down roster in decline. I thought the goal was to maintain some relevance in the standings while transitioning toward a younger core of players. The signing of Dwyane Wade helped maintain the relevance but the Rondo signing didn’t. It takes minutes away from Jerian Grant, Denzel Valentine and the recently added Michael Carter-Willliams. Their development as well as that of frontcourt players Bobby Portis, Niko MIrotic, Paul Zipser and Doug McDermott is the barometer of the team’s success. The sooner the team begins making that clear the better. The games since “the crisis” especially the 101-99 loss to the Wizards on January 10, show that narrative taking hold. The success of the season will be its sustainability.