You won't find a coach or a player to go on record and say that any loss is good. So you can imagine what the Bulls were thinking when they dropped the final game of the 2006-07 season to the New Jersey Nets, 106-97. Not only did the Bulls fall short of the 50-win plateau, they fell from the No. 2 seed and a First Round match up with the decimated-by-injury Washington Wizards to the No. 5 seed and a match up with the defending champion Miami Heat.
What would you expect? Screaming? Shouting? Pouting? Petulance? Kirk Hinrich, you're young. Show us how it's done.
"We still had a solid year and came a long ways," Kirk Hinrich said after the defeat. "We can't hang our heads about not getting the two seed. We have to try to shake this off and stay in positive spirits."
Whoa. Such a well-reasoned, mature response from the Bulls' young leader. And, less than 10 days later, Hinrich proved himself a sage when the Bulls went out and swept the Heat, the first time in half-a-century the defending champs got such an early heave-ho. In beating the Heat, the Baby Bulls showed they were no longer taking baby steps but making a huge leap in the maturation process.
Granted the Bulls season ended in the next round against division rival Detroit, but the future looks bright. They are deep and talented at nearly every position. Instead of making one of those glitzy, oft-reported (wished for?) trades bandied about on the intertubes, the Bulls decided to keep their cornerstones -- Hinrich, Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas -- and build around them by re-signing Andres Nocioni, bringing in veteran Joe Smith and drafting Joakim Noah. Those moves may not sell papers or get you the top story on SportsCenter, but they will help you win games.
In Kirk Hinrich, the Bulls have one the league's steadiest point guards. His numbers over his first four seasons have been incredibly consistent
with the exception of his scoring, which Hinrich has increased each season. On defense, Hinrich, a member of the All-Defensive second team last season, is a thorn in the side of opponents.
While Hinrich may be a pain to opposing guards, Ben Gordon is a pain to guard. Gordon averaged a career-best 21.4 points per game last season as well as shooting .413 from three-point range, which was down from .435 the year before. Where Gordon is deficient is ball handling. It was nice to see his assists per game rise to 3.6, but his turnovers were up as well (3.04). Chris Duhon and Thabo Sefolosha hope to fill in the backcourt off the bench.
Chicago's frontcourt could be the deepest in the East, if not the NBA.
Four-time Defensive Player of the Year, Ben Wallace anchors the post. As
important as Wallaces' defense is to the Bulls, they could be concerned
about the 33-year old breaking down. Wallace grabbed 10.7 boards per game
and rejected 2.0 shots per game. Those may be great numbers for someone
else, but those numbers represented a seven-year low.
As for the other members of the frontcourt, it's an intriguing mix of
veterans (Wallace and Joe Smith) and youth. Luol Deng locks down sweet
shooting swingmen on the perimeter and Tyrus Thomas comes flying in from
the weakside to block shots. Then there's Nocioni, the Bull who most plays
like a bull and Noah, a high-energy rookie who will probably block more
shots than make them.
-- Rob Peterson
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It may be a stretch to put 22-year-old Luol Deng on the spot, but the time
has come. In his third season last year, Deng posted career highs in points,
rebounds, assists, steals, shooting percentage and free throw percentage.
And there's no question that he can, and will be called upon, to improve
those digits. His stellar post-season (22.2 points per game, 8.0 boards)
showed that he can achieve more.
On a team where what you see is what you get with most of the players, Deng
has the potential to be one of the more versatile small forwards in the game,
and the focal point for the Bulls on both ends of the floor. At 6-9,
he could also develop into the low post offensive threat everyone thinks
the Bulls need to reach The Finals.
Will it happen this season? The Bulls sure hope so.
-- Rob Peterson
||The Bulls playoff winning percentage, third-best in NBA history.
Eighth Season, Fifth with Chicago
Career Record: 272-237 (.534)
Playoff Record: Five times, 15-20 (.429)
Scott Skiles is tough. Even his name has a hard edge to it. Basically,
Skiles is Frank Martin, "The Transporter" of the NBA. (He even
looks like Jason Statham.) Skiles' job, like Martin's, is to transport
his charges from A (tipoff) to B (the final horn) with as little fuss and
as much disciplined action as possible. His teams play a hustling, hard-nosed
defense (was second in the league in defensive field goal percentage .435)
and under control and smart on offense.
He's also not above crackin' a skull every now and then, even if it is
Ben Wallace, the team's highly touted free-agent acquisition, for wearing
a headband. Letting the youngsters know that even the four-time NBA Defensive
Player of the Year is subject to the same rules may seem silly to some
of us, but it sets the tone in the lockerroom: Skiles is the boss, performance
-- Rob Peterson
KNOW YOUR BULLS
Joe Smith portrayed Connie Hawkins in the movie Rebound
They are a good team. They helped themselves. They resigned Nocioni, they drafted Noah. They will probably be better than they were last year, a
definite playoff team.
They have no real inside scoring. So, they rely a lot on perimeter stuff and key basketball which is all good. But a lot of times you need to find a
way to get an easy basket. I don't think they get that. That is probably
their number one weakness.
The other thing is as good as Hinrich and Ben Gordon are, point guard wise
Hinirch's a point guard but he is not a true point guard. Sometimes I think
creativity is lacking at times. But both those guys are really good
Scott Skiles is a very good coach. I would say they are excellent on the
defensive end. They are physical, they are solid and they are ready to play
hard every night. They are tough.
-- Eastern Conference Scout