Pardon the preponderance of Chicago Bulls posts over the last few days, but the team is in such a unique and odd situation that we can't help but stay fascinated over a franchise gone completely batty. Less than 100 days ago it was working with the league's best record and reigning NBA MVP. Now the group is taking on criticism from all comers for its skinflint ways, despite being on pace to pay the luxury tax this season for a team that might not even make the playoffs. Not just the Finals or second round (a place the Bulls have been to just twice since 1998), but the playoff bracket altogether. With Derrick Rose out until possibly March or even April, and the real Derrick Rose probably over a year away from showing up, it's worth considering.
Actually, if you're Jeff Van Gundy speaking his mind on Chicago-area radio station ESPN 1000, you're done considering. The Chicago Bulls, who had the best record in the NBA in 2010-11 and tied for the best record in 2012, are going to have "a heck of a year" if the Bulls even churn out a .500 record. A record that, if 2012 was any indication, would leave them out of the playoffs. Here's JVG's take:
"To lose Rose by itself is going to cost you -- even if you thought they were a 55-win team with Rose -- that costs you 12-15 games right there," Van Gundy said. "And then all the other guys I think people are overlooking. C.J. Watson even with his poor play to Asik in that sixth game, listen, he was a very valuable back-up through all of Rose's injuries last year. He played well, and now, who's their backup, they have Hinrich and who? (Marquis Teague) No, no, he's not ... did you watch him in summer league? "Struggled" is being kind. That's not a knock. The 29th pick in the draft is such a hit-and-miss selection anyway. You have to give him time to grow and mature. But to think he's going to come in and play behind Hinrich next year ..."
Van Gundy — when he's talking about the NBA and not off on some tangent during ABC broadcasts — makes a spot on point as usual. The trickle down in production from Rose to Hinrich, compounded by the fact that Teague is essentially stepping into C.J. Watson's minutes, will cost the Bulls heaps of victories. Nate Robinson can help in that regard, as well, but we're not entirely convinced Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau will be playing Nate tons of minutes. Unless Richard Hamilton misses over half the season again, like he did in 2011-12, which means Hinrich and Robinson will see plenty of time together.
Which we'll have to leave you to see, sober, because we'll be on our ninth beer before those two play their ninth minute together.
Of course, Van Gundy doesn't mention the thread that held it all together last year when Hamilton, Watson, Rose, and Luol Deng missed a combined 94 games: Jeff Van Gundy disciple Tom Thibodeau.
He's pulled off miracles before. The Bulls were a formidable outfit heading into 2010-11, but it's hard to see "62 wins" while looking at that roster on paper. And it's certainly nigh on impossible to think ".758 winning percentage" while looking at last year's roster. Besides that, who thinks ".758 winning percentage?" Pretty specific, pal.
This is the point ESPN Chicago scribe Nick Friedell is trying to make, and it's hard to disagree. Thibodeau has been masterful with rosters we severely underrated. Then again, Nick covers the Bulls and I'm from Chicago, so our glasses are pretty rosy. Even if the Bulls aren't.
(Yes, I hate myself for writing that.)
There's another point, that few are making, that might shoot Nick's idea and my hopes all to hell, though. And it concerns the relative health of Carlos Boozer, and Joakim Noah. If history is any indication, they'll miss far more than the two combined games they sat out in all of 2011-12.
I'd like to think I've beaten the Fluke Injury vs. Injury Prone-horse to a deserved death by now, and none of Boozer and Noah's recent injuries have come from overuse or decaying dangly parts. It's been all fluke injuries for these guys over the last few years. Still, a huge reason the Bulls stayed on top of things in 2011-12 despite injuries to perimeter players was the healthy play of Boozer and Noah. And a big reason the Bulls stayed afloat in 2010-11 despite Boozer and Noah missing a combined 57 games was the play of Taj Gibson, Omer Asik, and (especially) Kurt Thomas. Only Gibson remains, with Asik in Houston and Thomas having shuffled off this mortal coil in New York. And we'd be very surprised if Boozer and Noah combined to play in all but two of Chicago's games next season.
It's always been about the replacement parts, the core of this team, and Chicago just doesn't boast the players it used to. We respect new addition Nazr Mohammed (who has been underrated in his last few years in Charlotte and Oklahoma City) and will always be fans of Hinrich's, but they just don't bring the same skill set as Asik and Watson and they certainly don't bring as much production. Tom Thibodeau might be the NBA's best coach, but he had horses to replace his starting horses with in 2011 and 2012. This year, with Rose unavailable for most of the season and Luol Deng bound to miss some time following post-Olympic surgery, he might be stuck walking the cow.
All while leaving Jeff Van Gundy with a pretty fair point. Damn.