COMMENTARY | As we all know by now, the calendar has been flipped. The year 2013 has come to a close, and 2014 is upon us.
For the Chicago Bulls, that certainly isn't a particularly bad thing.
The year 2013 didn't exactly go the way that the proud franchise hoped it would. Last season, superstar Derrick Rose never returned to the court as was expected. The rest of the team, though battered, fought their way into playoffs and battled past the Brooklyn Nets before finally succumbing to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Getting that far was no small feat, yet at the same time nowhere close to their lofty expectations.
This season, they were picked to be among the league's best before they were hit with yet another demoralizing round of injuries and finished the year with a record of 12-18. But all of that is over now! The Bulls are free to put it all behind them, for it is a glorious new year!
And guess what: It appears that they have. In 2014, the Chicago Bulls are a robust 2-0. First, they knocked off the not-good-but-still-entertaining Boston Celtics. Then they were victorious over the fairly decent Atlanta Hawks (they're only a single game over .500, but they're still third in the East). After a seriously gloomy spell in which they were on the outside looking in, the Bulls have climbed back into the playoff picture, currently slotting in at the 6-seed.
Don't look now but here come the Chicago Bulls! Right?
Well, perhaps, but not so fast. Yes, things have gone well so far in this oh-so young year; however, that doesn't change that this team still has plenty of issues to sort out. Maybe the Chicago Bulls need to do what everyone else has been doing this time of year: make New Year's resolutions.
1. Resolve the feud between Tom Thibodeau and the front office
OK, so this might be a big one to start with, but New Year's resolutions are supposed to be ambitious, aren't they? For those of you who aren't aware of this feud, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau and the Chicago front office reportedly haven't been seeing eye to eye for a while now.
The complaints began last season that Thibodeau was overextending his players, particularly talented energy guys, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah. On one hand, the front office has a point -- both players have injury-riddled histories, Deng led the league in minutes (38.7 minutes per game), and Noah wasn't too far behind him (36.8 minutes per game). Yet on the other, it's hard to argue with a coach who has the unique ability of being able to squeeze the absolute best out of his players. In November, rumors spread that the front office was dictating to the head coach how the minutes would be distributed, and he reportedly (and understandably) took exception to it.
The two sides have both publicly stated that there is no feud, that it's all been overblown by the media. Could that be the case? Sure, but it seems unlikely. Either way, Thibodeau and the front office need to resolve to get on the same page, because even if there isn't a feud, there are still decisions to be made…
2. Decide what to do with Luol Deng
Like this one, for example. Oh, wait..
The Bulls have traded Luol Deng to the (desperate) Cleveland Cavaliers for oft-injured center Andrew Bynum (who will be waived) and three draft picks. Thibodeau can't be thrilled about it, (and who knows, it might put resolution #1 in jeopardy) but you have to hand it to them. The front office took care of one of its resolutions before the list was even published. Are these Chicago Bulls on the ball in 2014 or what?
Anyway, moving on…
3. Improve offense
Finally, we have our first resolution that deals with actual on-court action. You don't have to look at the numbers to know that the 2013-2014 Chicago Bulls are not good at offense. Watch one game and you know they can't shoot, can't score, struggle from three-point range, but are generally reliable at the line.
Unsurprisingly, the numbers completely back this up: The Bulls rank 30th in points per game (91.3), 29th in field-goal percentage (.422), 29th in three-point percentage (.322) and 6th in free-throw percentage (.776). Overall, the team ranks 29th (which is second to last, just to be clear) in offensive rating with 99.4 points per 100 possessions.
Obviously, something has to change. Attack the paint and get to the line more. Pick up the pace (the Bulls are currently ranked 28th in this category). Make a trade for a little offensive firepower. Adopt a new offensive scheme. Thibodeau has a reputation for being a defensive mastermind and a solid play-caller, but maybe it's time he thinks outside the box, studies some film and does something that blows all of our minds. He's too proud, smart and obsessive of a coach to let the offense continue to stagnate like this.
Besides, they are going to have to consistently put a handful more points on the board if they are going to…
4a. Gun for the fourth playoff seed
Yes, it was just a couple weeks ago that the Bulls looked hopeless, and, yes, they are currently four games below .500, but this is the abysmal Eastern Conference that we're talking about, after all. Although the Miami Heat are still big and bad, and the Indiana Pacers are tough as nails, what are we really looking at after that? The Toronto Raptors? The Washington Wizards? Please, the Bulls are stubborn, relentless and have the second-highest defensive rating in the league. Believe it or not, the fourth playoff seed is in reach. It sure would be nice to kick off the postseason at home.
4b. Or, since, you know, they just traded their leading scorer/do-everything guy, they could just bottom out and free fall to the lottery. Either way, let's not settle for 6th place.
5. Start planning for the offseason
In the NBA -- or, really, in any sports league, for that matter -- it's never too early to start thinking about next season. The Bulls need to decide if they are going to pay an aging Carlos Boozer $16.8 million next season, or if they are going to cut him loose via the amnesty clause.
Also, there's a star-studded NBA free agency class coming up. Could the Bulls make a splash? With their current salary cap situation, probably not, but it's still worth investigating. Maybe, the front office just needs to do something as simple as figuring out how to avoid signing past-their-prime old guys like Rip Hamilton or how to avoid drafting not-ready young guys like Marquis Teague. Whatever it entails, it needs to start soon. The future is always just right around the corner.
It's certainly possible that with these resolutions, the Bulls are biting off more than they can chew. They, like so many others out there, might fall short. But (one more time) it is a new year! It is a time for optimism; it is a time for new beginnings. The Chicago Bulls could use one as much anyone.
Blake Baxter has been following the NBA his entire life. Previously, he has written about sports and more for ESPN Louisville, The College Fix, Football.com and an assortment of other websites and newspapers.
- Sports & Recreation
- Chicago Bulls
- Tom Thibodeau