For all the problems you read with the Chicago Bulls between their front office and head coach, the team on the court has turned itself into what should be the fan favorite remaining in the NBA playoffs. Not the young and exciting Warriors. Not LeBron James and the Cavaliers Part II. Not the upstart Atlanta Hawks.
The Chicago Bulls are the team you should be rooting for.
There are other great storylines out there, no doubt.
The Warriors have the MVP in Steph Curry and the fresh new coach in Steve Kerr. They’re the best team and probably the most fun to watch. But with Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Co., the Warriors could be around for a while.
The Atlanta Hawks are new like the Warriors, even if they aren’t as shiny. They’ve been called by many the “Spurs of the East”, but if we (incorrectly) thought the Spurs were boring for all of those years, why would we feel any different about the Hawks?
The Cavaliers? Let’s face it, unless you were a Heat fan last season, you probably aren’t rooting for the Cavaliers this season.
The Clippers, Grizzlies, Rockets and Wizards can make compelling arguments I suppose, but if you’re team isn’t in it, root for the Bulls.
The Bulls were a team that was on the path towards becoming the bad guy in the Eastern Conference, the team that kept winning every year and we were sick of seeing. It’s a stretch (understatement) to say that team would become like the Bulls of the 90’s, especially with LeBron James in the way. A team like that we probably wouldn’t be rooting for. The general public wants to see something new.
Well, this is new for the Bulls. And as new as it is, it’s far less guaranteed than any other team remaining.
What’s new? How about being healthy for one. Take away the bumps and bruises that accumulate over the 82-game season, and this is the healthiest the Bulls have been since they lost to the LeBron-led Miami Heat in 2011. While it may not be the best that the team could’ve been, we’re possibly seeing the best that this Bulls team can be.
It starts with head coach Tom Thibodeau. Bulls fans have a love/hate relationship with him, while the front office feels mostly hate, but perhaps that’s a strong word in this matter. Since I’m assuming those looking for a team to root for aren’t Bulls fans, we don’t have to worry about the part about Thibs running his players into the ground, leaving Niko Mirotic at the end of the bench for little-to-no apparent reason and thinking Kirk Hinrich 2015 is still Kansas Kirk Hinrich.
In that case, we can just love the good part about Thibodeau. We can love that his players are the hardest working group on the floor. How many times do NBA fans complain about effort, or that players don’t try until the 4th quarter? Not on Tom Thibodeau’s watch, for better or worse. In this case, as adoptive Bulls fans, it’s for the better.
As great as Jimmy Butler is on defense, you have to give a lot of the credit to Thiodeau, if only because defense has been the staple anywhere he’s been. Would Butler be able to check LeBron for the majority of the night were it not for Thibodeau? Debatable, but I’ll give the coach the benefit of the doubt.
It’s more than clear this will be Thibodeau’s last season in Chicago. I don’t want to say Thibodeau deserves to win a championship before “mutually parting ways”, because I generally believe you get what you deserve. But if there’s anyone I’d like to see roll off into the sunset that is New Orleans, Los Angeles or Orlando (among any other job that would become available when Thibodeau does) it’d be Thibodeau. I don’t know that I’d want him to coach my team, but watching from afar, I want him to walk off with middle fingers in the air to Bulls management, regardless who’s right and who’s wrong. Really, they’re both right and both wrong, but that’s a story for another day.
There are plenty of reasons to believe the Bulls will have plenty of chances after this season to compete. Fred Hoiberg could be a better coach than the previous Iowa State product Tim Floyd. Derrick Rose could stay healthy and Jimmy Butler can keep getting better. To the front office’s credit, they’ve done a really good job of building a team.
But there’s far more uncertainty, which is why you read so many headlines calling this the last dance for the Bulls.
Thibodeau’s future is all but certain–he’s gone. Far less certain is the case of Derrick Rose and what he’ll ultimately be. How long will his body hold up? How effective can he be over the course of an 82-game season? Can he ever find a consistent jumpshot if his body doesn’t allow him to be the player he once was? The best Derrick Rose may be behind us, but there’s a chance that he’ll still be really good moving forward. For how long? That’s the unknown.
Joakim Noah was the leader of the Bulls on and off the court last season. But he’s worn down and hardly even a shell of the player he was last season. His knees and ankle problems haven’t done him any favors, but he’s nowhere close to the Defensive Player of the Year he was last season. His points, rebounds, assists and field goal percentages all tumbled this season compared to last. Noah looks more 39 than 29.
Speaking of 29 going on 39, Jimmy Butler is fantastic, but he is headed down the advanced-aging route that Luol Deng took under Thibodeau? Again, reason to be mad as a Bulls fan. But for the rest of this postseason, and with no fandom invested in the Bulls, I want to see Butler go toe-to-toe with LeBron James for 44 minutes a game and be that scorer on the wing that the Bulls have longed for to place next to Rose.
Then there’s Pau Gasol, who’s been mostly great this season for the Bulls but will also be 35 in July. That’s 35 with a lot of mileage.
What exactly is the core moving forward? Jimmy Butler feels like the only certainty on the eve of his restricted free agency that will surely see him receive a max-contract. Rose will be there, but which Rose we see we don’t know. Is Noah in that core? Will Mirotic even get the chance to be in that core? Who else can you count on for more than this postseason? Has a title contender–it’s not that much of a stretch to say that for the Bulls–ever had so much going against them, yet have so much of a chance?
Beat the Kevin Love-less Cavs and get a date with the Atlanta Hawks or Washington Wizards. That’s easier than beating the Cavaliers. Get past that? We finally get to see this Chicago Bulls group get a chance at that post-Jordan title. After that? Who knows.
If I have to root for someone, I’ll root for that. It might be my last chance for some time.