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.
Ultimately, the Bulls playoff series with Boston was a microcosm of their season. Enthusiastic, smart overachievement at the start followed by, a long, desultory reality check. That the Boston Celtics struggled against a Bulls team with all of its starters healthy tells you more about the Eastern Conference this season and about this Bulls team than it does any particular weakness in the Celtics. Yes, the Celtics are a subpar rebounding team, but a casual glance at http://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/NBA_2017.html would reveal that.
Yes, a better constructed team would be able to weather the loss of a player like Rajon Rondo, and maybe a better constructed team would be able to handle Jimmy Butler’s injury, but these Bulls were a miserably constructed outfit. There was no three point shooting for much of the season. The inability to establish rotations hurt the defense and by Game 4 and 5 of this series, coach Fred Hoiberg was forced to grasp at straws grabbing guys from the far end of the bench and hoping for the best.
During the fourth quarter of Game 6, chants of “Fire Fred Hoiberg” rained down from the fans who stayed despite a deficit that swelled to 29 points by the end of the third quarter. Hoiberg is part of the problem. He has failed to control the locker room, establish good rotations and develop young players. He was known as an offensive wizard at Iowa State, but in his two seasons with the Bulls, the team has finished 20th and 23rd in Offensive Rating. But the failure goes deeper. The Bulls front office duo of Gar Forman and John Paxson show few signs of savvy in building another championship contender. The fact that they haven’t squelched the Jimmy Butler trade rumors is probably all you need to know.
I started writing this blog in October because I thought it would be interesting to follow this team, and it was. But I also hated this team more than almost any other Bulls team I’ve followed in the 48 years I’ve been a fan. The team had talent—albeit often mismatched—and potential, but the players often seemed to not care. How else do you explain losing to the Nets when a win would have clinched the seventh seed on the final Saturday of the season. The hiring of Hoiberg was supposed to cleanse the team of the malaise that set in during the final season under Tom Thibodeau. It didn’t. With the exception of Butler and Robin Lopez, the players looked like they were just punching a clock far too often.
I didn’t see much of Game 6. It was a busy night at the store for craft beer sales. By the time I left the deficit was 25. A coworker asked why I was racing home to see it. I’m sure he expected that I might have some agenda for seeing Bobby Portis, Joffrey Lauvergne, Jerian Grant, Michael Carter Williams and Denzel Valentine play garbage time. I didn’t. I told him that there wasn’t going to be anymore Bulls basketball till October. That was reason enough and I rushed off into the New York night.