Category Archives: Everything else

Year in Review: Bulls stuck in crossroads, face difficult decisions moving forward

If there is one thing I will take away from this season, it is that this team is not ready to accept defeat and start over. Given the acquisition of Rondo, Wade, and Lopez, Gar Forman and John Paxson made it clear they want to remain a competitive team, despite prior indicating that they want to get younger as a team.

Being a franchise with one of the most prestigious histories in the league, these past few seasons have been strange for the Chicago Bulls. While their reemergence atop the East is in the rearview mirror, the Bulls have still been able to limp into the playoff race these past few years.

Now, however, the direction of their franchise is unclear. With Rondo, Wade, and Lopez’s best days likely gone, the front office has to decide whether to replace them with young players on the rise, players who could make the team instantly competitive, or to rid themselves of their large financial obligations (Butler, Wade, etc.) and start from a clean slate. The first question though, is whether or not Fred Hoiberg will continue to lead next year’s team.

Between having to start backup PG’s, splitting starting minutes between Mirotic and Zipser, and defensive struggles, there is a lot of growing room for Fred Hoiberg as a coach moving forward. If the front office’s biggest inclination is to remain competitive, I believe that Hoiberg should be given another year to grow this team, as he showed flashes of success with the personnel he was given.

Looking forward to next year, keeping Fred Hoiberg could offer promising improvements from many players on this team. For one thing, we saw guys like Bobby Portis and Paul Zipser show the ability to be competitive players, maybe not immediate starters albeit, but competitive nonetheless. Additionally, Hoiberg’s offensive wisdom may help Portis or Denzel Valentine develop into the scoring threat the Bulls need.

That being said, it would be foolish to expect significant improvement from the aging veteran starters that snuck this team into the postseason. It is only fair to Fred Hoiberg, or whoever else coaches this team next year, that the front office gives them more rising talent. As of right now, Rondo and Wade are on the wrong side of 30 and Lopez is approaching there as well. The Bulls, and their fans, are in dire need of players who can improve and thrive alongside Jimmy Butler. While improvements from their younger players may help keep the Bulls in the playoff picture for another year or two, this team does not have a foundation that is built to succeed in the Eastern Conference as is. Moving forward, I would expect and hope that the Bulls front office makes a bit of a splash this offseason in order to shake things up. Given the relatively low ceiling this current group has, it is probably also in Forman and Paxson’s best interest to make some significant changes.

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Note-A-Bulls: The Strive for Five comes to a halt with crushing 125-107 defeat to the Nuggets

Well, things started out well in the Bulls (30-30) quest to win their fifth straight game and move into a tie with the Indiana Pacers for sixth place in the Eastern Conference. Instead, we saw a beatdown at the hands of the Denver Nuggets (27-33) in the second half on Tuesday night as fans found out what this team looks like when Jimmy Butler has an off night. The result, a humbling 125-107 defeat at the United Center with the Nuggets outscoring the Bulls 69-48 in the second half.

Things didn’t start off terribly for the suddenly hot Bulls. Bobby Portis was hitting some shots, and the Bulls were dominating the offensive glass securing 10 offensive boards compared to the Nuggets one in the first half. While they never pulled away, the Bulls largely controlled the play in the first two stanzas with the score sitting at 59-56 in their favor. In reality, the Bulls should have had a larger lead at this point in the game. The Bulls showed signs of pulling away in this one but either a poor turnover or a clutch Denver three would pull them back within reach. Eventually this would come back to haunt the Bulls as the play shift decidedly in the final two frames of this one.

The Nuggets had balanced scoring in this one, with seven players scoring at least 12 points, but it was the play of Danilo Gallinari and Nikola Jokic that were the difference in the second half. Jokic kickstarted things doing it all by himself. Between putting back his own offensive rebounds, hitting un-assisted outside jumpers, or setting up his teammates for easy layups, the Nuggets Nikola willed his team back in front in the third quarter. Once Jokic had put the Nuggets in front, Gallinari ensured they would stay there. Danilo hit three huge long-balls in the second half and kept the Bulls defense of-balance on his way to a game high 22 points on 7/10 shooting (3/4 from deep).

On the other end of the floor, the off-ball movement was nonexistent. There was a lot of one-on-one play and very few screens to create any type of separation from the defense. There was poor shot selection, little communication, and for once, the Bulls didn’t have Jimmy Butler to bail them out. Butler ended with a pedestrian line of 8 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists. He also managed to make just three of his 13 shots from the field on the night. You could tell he wasn’t confident in his shot from the get go passing up open jumpers he would normally put up without hesitation.

Shockingly, the offensive hero on the night was Rajon Rondo, although he still managed a +/- of -15 on the night. But Rondo was miraculously hitting jumpers pretty consistently throughout the night shooting 8/15 from the field and even knocking down a trey. However, Rondo is long past the point of being able to carry on offense on his own, and this night received very little help. Wade ended up with a quiet 19 points, but no one else on the Bulls ended up with more than 12 points (Bobby Portis).

We all knew the Bulls winning streak wasn’t going to last forever. However, with a chance to push that streak to five at home against the Nuggets on two days rest, you expect better than this. The offense was stale, the defense showed no ability to adapt as they continuously went under screens despite Denver’s hot shooting, and no one stepped up to cover Jimmy’s off night. There were flashes of good, such as Bobby Portis finding his stroke and Cristiano Felicio

bringing his energy to go a perfect four of four from the floor. But there were too many negatives to really enjoy those, whether it was Cameron Payne going 2/10 from the field, or Portis continuing to struggle on the defensive ends to stay in front of his man or grab a rebound in traffic.

Next Up: The TNT Bulls are back to take on The Beatles, err, the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night at the UC probably sans Kevin Durant after his injury last night.

Note-A-Bulls: Bulls Win 4th Straight, Top “Kingless” Cavs 117-99

In their second game as the “new-look” Bulls, Jimmy Butler and company faced the Cleveland Cavaliers without Superstar LeBron James. With their recent trade of Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, the Bulls started Bobby Portis and Jerian Grant, alongside Butler, Wade and Lopez. Both teams got out of the gate extremely slow, missing many of their first shots from the field but the Bulls were able to keep it close and play neck and neck with Cleveland for the first half. A hot shooting night from 3pt-land and a depleted Cavaliers team allowed the Bulls to come out of Cleveland with a win, their 3rd against the Eastern Conference favorite this season.

  • The shorthanded Cavaliers looked beatable tonight without their entire Big 3, especially early on in the game.
  • 4 ½ minutes into the game the Bulls were shooting 31.3% from the field, and the Cavaliers were shooting 35.7%, prompting announcer Jeff Van Gundy to want to leave the game early.
  • The Bulls came into tonight last in 3pt field goal percentage and 3pt field goal attempts, and completed a season high tonight of 15 made 3 pointers in the game.
    • In their second game without sharp-shooter Doug McDermott, the Bulls shot a surprising 50% from behind the arc with the help of rookie Denzel Valentine, newcomer Cameron Payne and the continued great play from Jimmy Butler, who finished with a triple double (18pts, 10reb 10asts).
    • I am still trying to figure out the Bulls plan with Valentine. A month ago, Valentine was between the D-League and the NBA, and I wrote that if he couldn’t crack this version of the Bulls roster, there wasn’t really much hope for him moving forward. However, it seems with the trade of Taj Gibson, Valentine will get that consistent chance he’s been waiting for. With Portis continuing to struggle, and after a 15-point game last night, Valentine finished with 11 points from the field tonight, 3-5 from distance, including two big threes in the 4th quarter to put the game away. It was nice to see him actually given a chance out on the floor and to see him deliver efficient results.
  • It was the Bulls bench that carried them in the first half, accounting for 21/35 points at the 7:58 mark in the 2nd quarter.
    • Newly acquired guard Cameron Payne made his Bulls debut and finished with 6 points on two 3 pointers. He looked a little uncomfortable bringing the ball up the floor, but was confident shooting. It should be interesting to see how the Bulls use him moving forward, as there is a logjam at the point guard position.
  • Former Bull Kyle Korver was quick to impress again, finishing 4/7 from 3pt land and 14 points. He now is 5th all-time in NBA history for most 3 pointers made in a career, just passing Vince Carter and Jamal Crawford. Korver will be remembered as one of the premier 3-pt shooters in NBA history, yet I still look at his time with the Bulls as a disappointment, as they never were able to run plays for him effectively, never able to get the looks he got tonight from the field.
  • At the half, the Bulls, playing one of their better halves of the year besides a few defensive lapses, found themselves down 56-55.
  • The second half showed consistency for the Bulls. They were able to take advantage of a Cavaliers team that is now 0-9 when playing with only 1 of their 3 stars.
    • However, their star that did suit up, Kyrie Irving, finished the night with 34 points, an impressive showing.
  • To note:  Former Mavericks Guard Deron Williams will be signing with Cleveland for the remainder of the season, adding another scoring piece to Lebron’s arsenal.
  • A clock malfunction at the end of the 3rd quarter allowed Rajon Rondo’s buzzer beater to count, giving them an 89-76 lead and by the 9:14 mark in the 4th, they were up 20 points, 98-78.
  • New Bulls Cameron Payne, Joffrey Lauvergne and Antony Morrow (DNP) did not see the floor in the second half, as Fred Hoiberg went the rest of the half with his normal rotation.
    • Unlike last night, Hoiberg decided to stick with Nikola Mirotic down the stretch vs. Denzel Valentine, a questionable decision in my opinion. While Mirotic finished the night with 14 points, and had a big 3-pointer at the end of the game to put it away, he was still only 2/5 from 3 and chose not to box out on a missed free throw by Christiano Felicio, again giving more reason to question his on-the-court commitment that we hear about in media reports.
  • This article cannot be complete without mention of Dwyane Wade. After his “poster” of a dunk last night, he continued to turn back the clock, finishing with 20 points, including some nice slashes to the basket and vintage step-back jumpers.

In my eyes, for the first time this season, the Bulls played a full 4 quarters. They were up for the challenge of a road-trip to Cleveland and proved that they still have some fight in them this season. While many of us are hoping they are just good enough to stay out of the playoffs and get that lottery pick, it was encouraging to see good play from young talent. While I don’t cheer often watching this team, I enjoyed seeing a Denzel Valentine 3-pointer swish through the net at a pivotal movement in the game. The rest of the season is about development and seeing what you have in young talent moving forward. While I do not think they did enough at the trade deadline, freeing up the rotation ever so slightly, to now give newcomer Cameron Payne, Jerian Grant and Denzel Valentine an actual opportunity allows the Bulls to actually be watchable. While it may not be pretty at times, these kids have to play to see how you can build for the future.

A funny ending is always nice when you can walk away with a win. Dwyane Wade was a rebound away from a triple double; when Jimmy Bulter swiped away the Cavaliers missed shot to ensure his own triple double. The next possession as the horn sounded, the Cavaliers missed again, Wade jumped to grab the rebound, all alone under the basket, and Christiano Felicio knocked it out of his hands out of bounds as time expired. All Wade could do was smile and succumbed to the fact that Felcio denied him of as he put it,  “greatness.”

  • Up Next: the Bulls look to keep their winning streak alive as they take on the Denver Nuggets at the UC on Tuesday.

Bulls flat-line at the deadline, wave goodbye to Gibson, McDermott, and a future pick

Well the trade deadline has come and gone, with no superstars swapping teams on the final day. To the delight of many Bulls fans, Gar Forman and John Paxson were able to complete a trade to avoid sitting on their hands yet another year. To the disgust of Bulls fans everywhere, this trade makes absolutely no sense. To be fair, this trade doesn’t ruin the franchise in the way Sacramento trading for 25 cents on the dollar to get rid of Demarcus Cousins, but this trade just makes you want to scratch your head. Trades are either supposed to make you better in the present or the future, ideally both. GarPax managed to somehow diminish both of these prospects with this one. While this wasn’t a blockbuster by any stretch of the imagination, there is still a lot to break down here so stick with me here.

First let’s get to the deal itself. The Bulls receive: Cameron Payne, Anthony Morrow, and Joffrey Lauvergne in exchange for Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott, and a 2018 2nd round pick. So essentially, the Bulls are giving up the best player in this group (Taj) as well as a draft pick, while also disposing of the man they gave up two first round picks for (McDermott). In exchange the Bulls received one rotation player (Payne) in their ongoing struggle to find a serviceable point guard. And while Payne is a nice player and has some upside, he has pretty much the same skill set as the other 17 point guards on the roster.

Payne hasn’t gotten much of a chance to prove himself yet playing behind Westbrook for his first season and a half in the league, but one thing is already brutally clear, he is just as bad of a shooter as the other Bulls point guards. He is making only 32 percent of his outside shots, 38 percent total. That is basically Rajon Rondo level of clogginess (yes I made up that word) you are hoping to be your future 1. Sure he’s quick and athletic with a long wing span, but somehow manages to only be a mediocre defender so far in his career.

Meanwhile the Bulls gave up their best outside threat, and their best two-way player outside of Jimmy Butler. I want to take a moment to thank Taj Gibson, as so many others have, for his time as a Bull. The dude was the consummate professional during his tenure in Chicago. The guy was benched in favor of two players who were atrocious on the defensive side of the ball because they could hit mid-range jumpers (Gasol and Boozer) for most of his time here and never said a word about it. All he did was show up, do what was asked of him, and somehow remain a consistent contributor to this team despite the madness going on all around him. He will be sorely missed in the Windy City and I wish him the best of luck in OKC.

Back to the Bulls plan, and I use that word loosely. As far as I can tell, GarPax are trying to clear up cap space for this Summer in an attempt to build around Jimmy. I am only speculating because the majority of insiders and experts are just as confused about what the end goal is here as anyone else. The Bulls have stock-piled four point guards (MCW, Rondo, Grant, and Payne) hoping that one of them can stick with the team as a mainstay. Wade and Rondo are signed through next year but that is still up in the air as Wade has a player option and who knows with Rondo. The only asset the Bulls have at this point is Jimmy Butler as their draft pick this summer won’t even be anything to brag about.

At this point I think all Bulls fans can do is wait and see. Personally, I have lost all patience with Forman and Paxson as they have shown no direction at all with this franchise since it was clear Rose would never be the same after his ACL injury. This trade is no exception to the theme of these last handful of years. But hey, the Bulls are in the playoffs if the season ended today so we have that to look forward to.

Note-A-Bulls: Bulls end the first half on a high note with gritty win over the Celtics

17. That’s how many Thursday night home games the Bulls have won in a row on TNT. That’s incredible. Is that an obscure stat? Perhaps. Is it an explainable fact? Absolutely not. What makes this streak even more incredible is almost every game in that stretch has come against a very good basketball team. You don’t play the Jazz on TNT, you play the likes of the Celtics, the Cavs, the Raptors. Like I said it defies explanation, which is also a phrase that could be uttered to describe the ending of the Bulls (28-29) 104-103 win over the Celtics (37-20) last night.

With one minute and twenty seconds left in the fourth quarter, Doug McDermott had just hit his second consecutive free throw to pull the Bulls within one at a score of 103-102. Over the next three combined possessions that included two consecutive Bulls offensive rebounds, both teams could not add to their tally. So with eight seconds remaining and Bulls trailing by one, it came down to Jimmy to decide things.

Butler took his time setting up his move insuring his shot would be the last. From the right wing Jimmy awkwardly pulled up for a game-winning attempt while falling off-balance, the shot did not go. But after a dejected Bulls began heading toward their bench, they had realized a somewhat questionable foul had been called. Objectively, Marcus Smart played some pretty great D and may have grazed Jimmy’s elbow on the shot, but that’s not a call you make in that circumstance. As he has done so many times this year, Jimmy came through to knock down the ensuing two free throws to take a one point advantage. A last ditched effort from Al Hereford careened off the rim and the Bulls were heading into the All-Star break on a winning streak after back-to-back impressive wins over the Raptors and Celtics and within a game of the six-seed in the East.

My unsung hero of the night goes to the oft-maligned Bobby Portis. The reserve forward had a career high 19 points to go with eight rebounds on 8/13 shooting from the floor. 13 of those points came in the first-half when the Celtics were threatening to run away with this one as they shot 53 percent in the half. Portis was hitting jump shots from all over, including one from deep, and displayed the type of hustle the Bulls had dreamed about when they drafted the 2nd year pro number 20 overall in the 2015 draft. Portis still struggled a bit on the defensive end and turned the ball over twice from traveling, but the Arkansas grad showed something the Bulls hadn’t seen out of him in a long time, potential.

Another reason the Bulls won this game was due to their dominance on the glass. The Bulls out-rebounded the Celts 51-31 on the game including a staggering 15-4 edge on the offensive boards. This allowed the Bulls to win thanks to shooting noticeably worse than the Celtics thanks to the 13 extra shots they attempted compared to their opponents. This also resulted in a decided edge in second chance points, 22-4 in the Bulls favor.

Not everything went right for the Bulls, as they continued to stink up the joint from behind the arc. They shot 6/25 on the night (24 percent), lowering their league worse average from 31.8 percent. The lack of spacing in the Bulls offense often creates a log jam in the paint which makes it much more difficult to drive with any sort of efficiency. Doug has been hit or miss, while Niko got a DNP coach’s decision leaving the Bulls ammo-less. The Bulls will never be the Warriors in terms of shooting, but you have to at least make your opponent respect your shooting ability to free up space.

Isaiah Thomas continued his recent hot-stretch going for 29 points on 8/18 shooting while going an impressive 9/9 from the charity stripe and dishing out seven assists. The diminutive guard didn’t have his usual 4th quarter heroics, often forcing up shots in the final frame, but his ability to manipulate his body to get shots off in the lane against bigger defenders is extraordinary. Thomas is a worthy all-star, and I hope he doesn’t get overlooked (no pun intended) for his stature as his game speaks volumes.

Up Next: The Bulls get a reprieve for awhile as Jimmy Butler heads to New Orleans for the All-Star game this Sunday in the annual East vs. West clash.