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By Sam Smith | 5.22.2015 | 9:15 a.m.
When a team is eliminated from the playoffs, there is both an over simplification and over reaction to what just happened. What has been simplified from Bulls Cavs is Lebron won and was always going to win. The over reaction has been Noah stinks, Derrick is no longer good enough, Jimmy is not good enough alone, Thibs has to go, etc. etc. And while game 6 was wildly disappointing (the bulls were badly outplayed and without a late run looked like they quit) the series as a whole could have easily gone the Bulls way with a few extra made shots in games 2, 4 and 5. Using numbers from your article after game 5 where Brooks was 7-27 (26%) and Mirotic was 8-28 (29%) just 2 extra made attempts each could have easily swung the series even with those two guys shooting in the low 30's. And while that too is an oversimplification, I do not share the doomed feeling over this team or the desire to blow it up. There was a point early in game 5 where everyone watching felt it was the Bulls to win. Well they did not win, but it feels much more like a shot or two, not a roster overhaul.
Sam: Sports is unforgiving; so are fans and media critics. A world of grays and subtleties is viewed in absolutes. You win makes you a winner; you lose makes you a loser. The substance to your argument, in my view, is the loss doesn’t mean there is no hope. And while emotion demands “breaking it up” as some magic elixir, I doubt the Bulls ever do that again after the disaster of the early 2000s. Sometimes it’s inevitable, but it takes years to get back from the bottom as you see with the 76ers and the Timberwolves. And while the Timberwolves have as much hope as possible now with three overall No. 1s on the roster, they’re still several years away from the playoffs and they’re already into their second decade without being in the playoffs. Rebuilding is that old line about laws and sausages: You don’t want to watch them being made.
The negative about the series with the Cavs is the Bulls were beaten basically by LeBron James and four role players. No Love; Irving limited and the rest discarded pieces from other teams. There wasn’t a game the Bulls didn’t have more talent on the floor, though the injury to Gasol evened the playing field some on talent. As an aside, I thought David Blatt did a good job in that series; much maligned when you coach LeBron because he gets credit for wins and you take the losses, Blatt was bold going to his bench, realized players who weren’t contributing like Shawn Marion and benched them and maneuvered his rotations nicely around the injuries. He doesn’t get much credit in Cleveland since media likes to fawn over LeBron. OK, bad timeout call. But he had a good series. Meanwhile, I agree you don’t give up when you still have that level of talent and have a chance looking at a full season with Derrick Rose off a full summer of work without surgery rehabilitation. LeBron is great, though not unbeatable. The Bulls need a bit more efficiency and shooting, some more dynamism in their offense. There’s another good chance next season, though the run with this group is coming to a close before there are some major changes. I suspect they’re more likely to occur after next season with another run with Butler established and not a surprise, Rose not being asked about his health every day, perhaps Noah healthier, Gasol paced better and a nice boost from players not used much injecting some youth and shooting into the lineup. Change this summer should mostly be from within and that should be enough to give it another serious run.
I've heard some speculation about maybe moving Noah this summer. Since the Knicks apparently want to move their #4 pick, would a Noah for #4 swap help both teams? If the Knicks are intent on running the triangle, Noah's skill set (especially on a one-year trial) would seem to be a good match. Also, if I understand the rules right, a trade like that where the Knicks basically absorb the contract value would give the Bulls a multi-million dollar trade exception that they might be able to use to pursue Omer Asik to bring back as Noah's replacement. That keeps them competitive yet gets them fresh prospects. Is that a possibility?
Sam: Who ever thought the Boozer trade suggestions would turn into Noah. But that’s what it’s come to this post season as a year after most of my mail suggested Noah was the most important Bull, the heart of the team and the only true untouchable, the majority of the trade suggestions I’ve gotten since the end of the season involve Noah. Yes, thanks for the support. Noah is not being traded. So cut it out! There are myriad reasons, though many reflecting the latest what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sentiment. Noah clearly had physical problems this season and needs the summer to try to work through it. So no one is taking on physical uncertainty. Plus, Noah is entering the final season of his contract and expiring contracts are basically worthless now with the salary cap about to explode, thus giving everyone cap room. Plus, with no assurance of resigning him with a year left and no options, no team can afford the risk to give up even a little used backup, let alone a lottery pick. Plus, the Bulls aren’t running away from Noah as some of his previous admirers are. Noah’s role might change given how he looks on a return, but he remains an important part of the team.
I'm hearing a lot of talk that the Bulls are fishing Taj Gibson in trade talks. In my opinion they should keep all four of their big men, just better define their roles. I would start Gibson and Gasol and have Mirotic and Noah come off the bench. My question is, which do you think is more likely, Gibson traded or Noah coming off the bench?
Sam: I’ve weighed in on Noah, and the Bulls are not fishing, as you suggest. But it’s understandable that Gibson’s name comes up in speculation—which is what it is—given his reasonable (by NBA standards) contract with two years left at close to $9 million and potential to be a starter. Plus, it does make sense to speculate the Bulls want to give Nikola Mirotic more playing time at power forward and have had somewhat a traffic jam there. But trading Gibson as you note is a big risk given Noah’s health and Gasol’s age. Plus, you aren’t getting a useable big man in the draft. So I’m guessing Taj returns.
The interesting part is the role of Noah. It was apparent that the Gasol/Noah combination wasn’t great, and especially for Noah chasing shooting forwards. Noah’s the ultimate teammate. It wouldn’t be ridiculous next season to have Noah come off the bench as the center, cutting Gasol’s playing time, which was way too much this season in playing the most minutes on the team. Maybe it would have happened anyway, but the player who played the most broke down in the playoffs when he was most needed. Gibson has the maneuverability to play shooting forwards and Noah could go beautifully with Mirotic since Noah is such a good passer and Mirotic can cut off the ball and also is a better shooter than he’s shown playing with so many different players. Unless the Bulls could get one of the elite three-point shooters in the league, it certainly would be a big risk to make a deal involving Gibson. And those players aren’t generally available.
Do you think there is any truth to the rumors of a Rose/Butler feud? To me it seems like made up media hog wash.
Sam: I don’t usually like to dignify these media fabrications with explanations as then it leads to answering the Anthony Davis for Nazr Mohammed trade suggestions since the Pelicans may need a center if Omer Asik leaves. But this one got some legs last week in the wake of the conference finals starting late and the matchups not that compelling with the Clippers out and the Hawks still without an all-league player. I know facts are troublesome when you have a good conspiracy theory, but this one is way off the wall. Rose and Butler aren’t close, but more because both don’t socialize much around the team and stay to their own groups. Jimmy often travels with brothers and Rose has a buddy and sometimes his son with him. That’s not uncommon in the NBA these days as you rarely see players out in groups anymore. I remember Ben Gordon having a guy around to keep his car running in winter so he didn’t have to sit in a cold car after practice.
But Derrick did have Jimmy out to Los Angeles in the summer to work out with him, hardly the indication of a feud. I’ve also heard Rose over the years talk about the measures of him he considers most important as winning and helping teammates do better. It’s led to his scoring two points in a high school title game to enable teammates to get credit and not being the lead scorer on his college team so teammates could get a better crack at the NBA. It’s no coincidence Butler became an All-Star this season with Rose’s return. If there was an issue between them, Rose would have pushed himself out front early in the season to make the All-Star team to prove he’s back and all that. Instead, even to criticism, Rose eased into the season, often deferring to Butler’s big games to the point Butler emerged and became an All-Star in his contract year after he rejected the Bulls offer last fall and thus increased his market value. If Rose were trying to keep Butler down, would he have backed off like that with Butler poised to cash in? Rose thus became more facilitator and Jimmy profited.
I know some of this stemmed from Rose having two points and four shots in the Game 6 loss. But if you watched that game, it’s understandable. Rose was brilliant to start with 10 first quarter points and nine shots in knowing the Bulls needed a fast start, which the Bulls got. Their defense failed them once again. The Cavs jumped on the Bulls late in that second quarter with Rose shooting, though missing. Then coming out to start the second half with the Cavs trapping Rose, Thibodeau called most of the plays to start the half for Mike Dunleavy. He happened to be off and missed, one of five in the first few minutes of the quarter. Butler then had a hot close to get the Bulls within 13, not a ridiculous deficit, if bad. Then for some reason Rose sat out the first five minutes of the fourth quarter as the Cavs lead went to 24. At that point, there was no reason to be firing up shots, so he was just zero for one in the fourth quarter. He played fewer than five minutes in the fourth quarter. But that wasn’t as interesting a story. Glad you didn’t fall for it.
Looking at Derrick's season as a whole, he struggled with some inconsistency and some nagging injuries as he re-adjusted to the NBA game over the Bulls first 38 games. Then he strung together 16 straight games heading into the AS break. He averaged 22.3 points on 44% shooting in those games. Not that far off the kind of numbers he was putting up in his MVP campaign. The story line was now about his play rather than his injuries for the first time in over 2 years. Then of course the meniscus relapse happens and he misses 20 games. I didn't think it was realistic to expect as much as we actually got from him in the playoffs. He was brilliant at times, but still it felt somewhat forced in my opinion. He knew his team needed him to perform at the highest level.
So what do we expect from Derrick Rose in 2015-2016? He'll now have an off-season to build on his game from the season prior instead of rehabbing for the first time in 4 years. I think he showed in those 16 games before the AS break that when he stays healthy and has the proper preparation he's still an All-NBA caliber player. In the playoffs he demonstrated that he can still play, and survive, a lane attacking style of game. Could he tear his meniscus again? Sure, but he's shown he can come back from it. Could he suffer another catastrophic ACL injury? Yes, though the doctors say the chances are no more than they are for anybody else. I see no reason to think an All-Star appearance and an election to an All-NBA team isn't in the cards for him next season. The fact that the #1 Derrick Rose story right now is about some farcical feud with Jimmy Butler instead of another rehab is really the best news of 2015.
Sam: As I’ve noted many times, the level of vitriol and second guessing locally directed at Rose is almost unprecedented, especially for a top player. But I see it much the same way. I thought his playoffs were amazing given the circumstances of coming back for just five games before the playoffs. He was trapped and doubled more than anyone on the team, telling you what the opposing coaches felt about him. Rose is as confident on the basketball court and about his basketball as anyone I’ve ever been around. No, not as talented as Jordan, but as self assured. It’s enabled him to block out what Thibodeau likes to call the noise. The narrative about being an MVP or bust is ludicrous because Rose is about winning the game. I’ve written it enough and he’s always shown that in his career. He was MVP because he needed to be for that team. He doesn’t with Butler, Gasol, Gibson, Noah. All Star is a realistic notion, but you saw last winter when the All-Stars were announced he wasn’t the least bit bitter about not being named and happy for Butler and Gasol. There was no “I’ll show you” games for the coaches who skipped him. If anything, he was too relaxed that week and came back not at his best and then came the surgery a week later.
Though I see these crazy stats of percentage of Rose drives to the basket being down, it still was substantial, close to where he was a few years ago and you can’t recall anyone on the Bulls weaving their way around in the paint against multiple defenders in the playoffs as much as Rose. And even when he was MVP he wasn’t getting calls. Unfortunately, like Thibs noted, he doesn’t complain enough. Rose averaged 20.3 in the playoffs and a team high 21.7 against the Cavs; that still remains one of the most remarkable stories of the playoffs. Seeing Rose walk out of the last game was surely the one highlight for management.
There has been some discussion online about what the Bulls could do with Jeremy Lin. Granted, not a great defender. But assuming we don't resign Aaron Brooks, could you see him playing behind Rose/Butler? He can score and distribute but is turnover prone.
Sam: I like Lin for what he can do, but the Bulls tend to be in the market for veterans who’ll get the minimum at that spot and I don’t see Lin at that place yet. But you never know.
There's something wrong with the business model, where the best athletes – potentially the greatest assets to the league, are sent to teams that are perennially bad and don't develop talent. This is very sad. I wish they would change it. Also, Minnesota is less deserving than almost anyone after their ridiculously bad track record of ownership and the current and former basketball presidents.
Sam:Now, now; here’s the purest form of socialism actually working. Well, sort of. Yes, you can get a lot better if you get LeBron. But the draft isn’t such a great equalizer anymore. After all, how many lottery years for Minnesota now, 10, 12? Part of the problem is the freshman leaving. They generally are the top picks because they project to have the most talent. But how many seriously contribute in their first five years? Then they can be free agents and leave places like Minnesota. So it’s really not such a terrific system for losing teams.
Look at Orlando, who has a history of competent management, for the most part, anyway. Yes, they did basically destroy one of the great dynasties never to be when they let Shaq leave because they were insulted he wanted a lot of money that they had, anyway. And Dwight Howard, too. OK, maybe they weren’t so great. But the current management group is conservative, drafting judiciously with high picks these last three years, making smart trades. And it’s still hard to see them getting into the playoffs. And now young players they’ve added like Tobias Harris are looking to bolt.
That’s the other issue with the draft/blow it up scenario: You get a lot of young talent not ready and they’re all fighting for time and shots to get to that first big contract and it’s tough to figure a pecking order, which all good teams need. Every sport basically does it this way and it’s the right way as sports operate best—like the NFL does—when more teams have a chance to compete. The best way to achieve that without assigning players is to give the least the chance at the best. There’ll be exceptions trying to game the process at times, like the 76ers. But it’s not like they’re a competitive threat these next few years. Perhaps in 2018. But like the Bulls of the early 2000s, who wants to watch five or six years of that with no assurance you’ll ever be a serious title contender. Good for the Timberwolves. But they’re hardly playoff contenders. And, after all, at least the 76ers didn’t get the No. 1 pick.
How much does it sting for the Knicks to see Iman Shumpert, JR Smith and Pablo Prigioni playing well in the playoffs and playing the roles they were supposed to play along side Carmelo? As a Bulls fan I believe if the Cavs didn't have Shumpert and JR they don't get past the Bulls.
Sam: It’s interesting to hear the classic second guess logic of how the Knicks messed up by trading such great talents. It’s true they were terrific for the Cavs and played big roles in their victory. Maybe blame the Bulls more for that. Though it does suggest Phil Jackson was right that he had a team with a healthy Carmelo Anthony that he said should have made the playoffs. So it was a mistake for the Knicks to get rid of them for cap room? They’d obviously quit on the Knicks for whatever reason and it was time for a change. Good for them. But once you realize it’s not working you have to try something different, so for all the cheap shots Phil Jackson takes in New York for trading these “core” pieces, he made the right moves in unloading salary to go after free agents. To do so you have to give up players as the Bulls did in basically giving away Kirk Hinrich and John Salmons in 2010. Falling to No. 4 in the lottery was the bad break for the Knicks, so there is going to be a lot of discussion about trading that pick. But since there’s a lot of resentment/jealousy toward Jackson for his success, my guess is everyone tries to make him look bad in a deal so he ends up using the pick.
As I’ve mentioned, it’s tough to build from zero. He’s not quite there as he has Anthony, and for all the criticism, the Bulls sure wanted him. He’s a great scorer, which is a start. Success in sports is more luck than planning. Like sitting there and having Portland take Greg Oden and you get Kevin Durant, or with the third best odds jumping to No. 1 to get Tim Duncan. Or having Portland take Sam Bowie. Then it’s up to you. But until you get really lucky you can’t get really good. I doubt Jackson laments the loss of Shumpert, Smith or Prigioni. He had an Eastern Conference playoff team if those guys tried to play; they didn’t, so he pursued the correct plan B. He hasn’t had the luck yet.
My god, compared to the Clipper's exit the Bulls' loss looks a lot less cruel. To lose three games in a row, that puts basketball things in perspective in the basketball world!
Sam: Feels a lot better when someone else is worse, eh? How’s that go about whether it feels better to succeed or see someone else fail? Hey, at least there are 28 other losers.