It may not be entirely (if at all) intentional, but there’s no doubt that the Chicago Bulls are currently tanking. Back-to-back double digit, but not embarrassing, losses have left the Bulls with a 9-16 record. Still, they’re also only a game out of playoff contention in the historically bad Eastern Conference.
Often, when a team is said to be “tanking”, we assume that means that they are actively trying to be worse now in order to be rewarded in the future. The reality is that many teams are incapable of producing better results and tank by default. For example, the Milwaukee Bucks and their owner, Herb Kohl, made it very clear this summer that they had no intentions of tanking because of a philosophical problem with the idea. Nearly two months into the season, the Bucks are in the driver’s seat for a top pick because they can’t even beat the other horrible Eastern Conference teams. Injuries surely haven’t helped, but this Bucks team is trying very hard and still very likely to receive a top player.
The Bulls are starting to look all too much like these Bucks. In fact, if you watched the teams split two games recently, you saw how evenly matched they are. Injuries have hit Chicago hard, and the rotation that former Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau has been left with is below-average at best. Kirk Hinrich is awful, and hurt again. Marquis Teague has the lowest PER in the entire NBA and DJ Augustin was deemed by Toronto to be worse than their other three point guards. While Augustin has shown some signs of life, that’s only exciting because of how disgustingly bad the Bulls point guards have been. Furthermore, Luol Deng is hurting pretty badly and aiming for a Christmas day return, even though it sounds like he barely made it through the games he played last week. Jimmy Butler sprained his ankle last night after just returning from a toe injury that’s not even healed yet.
The big men are a tad healthier, but who actually knows? We recently discovered Taj Gibson is nursing a sore hand and it was just last week that Joakim Noah quietly had his knee drained after Thibodeau told reporters there were no new injuries. It’s safe to assume that Gibson and Noah are pretty banged up considering how much the Bulls have had to rely on them lately with Carlos Boozer doing his infamous mid-season disappearing act.
Look, I know we just went down a rabbit hole of resentful anger, but it’s leading to a hopeful place. As soon as Derrick Rose went down once again, the Bulls ceiling for this year became a second round slaughter by Indiana or Miami. While the injuries are worrisome, the ineptitude of this roster could really pay off. First, and most obviously, the 2014 draft is supposed to be the best in a decade. As of right now, the Bulls are tied for the seventh worst record in the NBA, which would yield them a top 10 pick automatically. Not only would that pick be extremely valuable this year, but the Bulls have played much worse since Rose’s injury so it wouldn’t even be surprising to see their record get worse.
The other hidden advantage to how things are playing out involves Coach Thibs. We know there’s friction with GM Gar Forman and Thibs, so many have speculated that a front office move to benefit the tanking process would alienate Thibs, perhaps for good. However, if injuries and poor depth continue to hurt the Bulls this much on their own, Thibodeau will have no choice but to recognize that the situation is out of the team’s control. At this point, the best thing Bulls fans can root for is a lost season, a top five or seven pick, and a ’90s Spurs style rebuild in one season.