Ball Don't Lie - NBA

As the NBA preseason marches on, Ball Don't Lie looks at all 30 teams, outlining off-season transactions, projecting win totals, spinning tracks, and much, much more. It's a fun, hot mess. Today, the Chicago Bulls.

Last Season: 33-49; ouch!

Key Players Added: Derrick Rose (draft, first overall), Elton Brown (free agent, photosynthesis), Roger Powell Jr. (free agent, God), Darius Washington (out of thin air)

Key Players Lost: Chris Duhon (free agent, signed a two-year deal with Pringles), Shannon Brown (free agent, signed a one-year deal with Cats), JamesOn Curry (waived, went French)

Kelly Dwyer's Endless Grey Ribbon: The Chicago Bulls are a hard team to figure out, and that in itself is a hard thing to figure out, because I’m kind of a freak about these guys.

On the surface, going off of what we’ve learned from just about every NBA team in existence as it grows from year to year, all indications point to 2007-08 as being an absolute fluke year for Chicago. The first version of this crew roared out of the gate with 45 wins in 2004-05, fell back a few wins after trading a significant starter for draft picks the year after, and then ratcheted up to 49 wins in 2006-07. Every sane prediction would have the Bulls, a team mostly full of young players working their way up to their respective primes, tacking a few wins on top of that number as they all get better in the year that followed.

Instead, they faltered. And not with the benefit of massive team-wide injury spells or a penny-foolish/pound-wise deal as was seen before 2005-06. No, instead, Chicago’s rotation just essentially decided to all have off years, all at the same time. Across the board. Throw in some misguided and stubborn leadership (Scott Skiles) and some downright lousy coaching (his overwhelmed replacement, Jim Boylan), and you get a 33-49 record.

It would seem that all the off-year guys would bounce back in 2008-09 — these players are still all short of their primes and due to get better year by year, after all — the addition of first overall draft pick Derrick Rose would help, and that any semblance of not-horrible coaching would result in Chicago either returning to its 2006-07 stature. So why is nobody working under that assumption? Why am I slotting them as a .500 team?

Well, I can’t speak for the other pundits, but I’m doing it because I have absolutely no idea as to how well this team will play.

There’s just no rhyme or reason with these guys, and when you toss in the rookie coach and payroll issues, this really does feel like a feeling-out year. And I say this knowing that an empty suit on the sideline is a definite improvement over the decision-making thrown out by the last pair that ran the team in 2007-08.

One reason to be optimistic? This team’s depth is astounding. The Bulls have enviable talent at every position, an incredible embarrassment of riches that should truly be making a difference, but is instead somehow working against Chicago.

Kirk Hinrich and Rose can play the point. Off guards Ben Gordon (his numbers as a PG over the years are quite good), Thabo Sefolosha, and Larry Hughes all have point and shooting guard skills. Luol Deng is a legitimate 40 minutes a night guy at small forward, but he has Andres Nocioni to back him up just in case. Nocioni can also play power forward, alongside Tyrus Thomas (when at his best, he’s nearly the team’s best player at the moment) and Drew Gooden (leading the team in scoring during the preseason). Joakim Noah had the best per-minute stats of any rookie center last year, and Aaron Gray (stop laughing) is among the best backup centers in the NBA already.

The Bulls really have a rotation for all seasons, but somehow this has turned into a bad thing. Thomas can’t get the minutes he needs to play well. No team can be expected to compete in the NBA with Larry Hughes (shooting 9 of 31 in the preseason, 29 percent) playing any more than two or three minutes per game. I mean that. He’s toast. Nocioni keeps getting entitlement minutes because it seems as if that next low-percentage 20-footer is going in ("I mean, the last one was halfway down!"). Gordon will probably be jerked around, sacrificing scoring as a way to make a point.

It’s all so frustrating, for Bulls fans and fans of good basketball alike. It’s akin to moping while driving a 500 horsepower car, crashing it on the first turn you take, crawling from the wreckage, pointing to the motor and yelling "see? SEE?!?" Don’t blame the riches, take advantage of them. Make tough decisions. Utilize perspective and smarts and don’t try to have it both ways. Don’t turn a big mess of an engine into a big mess of a car; rather, turn it into something special.

So, in case I’ve thoroughly depressed you by this point, understand that Chicago product Derrick Rose is the motherflippin’ business.

And once he figures out that these Bulls aren’t going to chide him for looking for his own shot, or looking to take over games (as any smart rookie would be wary of), things are going to turn around. This is a pretty mopey, dour team full of slumped shoulders and exasperated expressions, but Rose can change all that. I know what I’ve seen, and what I’ve seen from this kid is powerful.

At the very least, should it all fall apart again, Chicago has this local hero to build around. It may take a year or longer to figure that out, or the team as presently constructed could do something special. We don’t know.

Rose? That’s one thing we’re certain about.

Expected Record: 41-41


Benny The Bull's Rap Sheet:

July 2, 2006: Arrested by an off-duty police officer while zipping around on his miniature motorcycle at the Taste of Chicago. When the officer, who was providing security at the event, identified himself as a cop and ordered Benny to stop, Benny took off. The officer pursued on foot and (amazingly) caught up to Benny, who then punched him in the face, knocking off the officer's glasses and breaking his watch. Benny was charged with two offenses: Misdemeanor battery and driving within the parkway. Charges were later dropped.

February 12, 2008: Sued for high-fiving an oral surgeon. Dr. Don Kalant, a Chicago-area dentist claims that one of Benny's powerful high-fives hyperextended his arm. The injury prevented Kalant from performing dental work for four months and he is currently seeking unspecified damages for medical bills, physical pain, and lost earnings.

March, 2008: Fought his back-stabbin' cousin on The Jerry Springer Show. (Watch the video.)

April 1, 2008: Sniped Kevin Garnett and James Posey from behind with a t-shirt cannon during the closing minutes of the Celtics/Bulls game. According to the Boston Herald report: "Garnett initially had to be restrained by a member of the officiating crew as Benny stood a safe distance away."

(Gracias, Basketbawful)

Real Talk, Blog Talk (aka excerpts from other blogger team previews):

Blog-a-Bull: "One major goal [for the Bulls] is to get the team's defense back to what it before last season, a top-5 unit that thrived on hassling opponents into bad shots and turnovers. With the personnel mostly constant from those happier times, the onus is on Del Negro to get the team motivated on that end of the floor. Likely years away from being a great offense, the return to a top defensive team is imperative if they hope to challenge for a playoff spot, which is the ultimate aspiration for the team this season. That playoff goal should be pursued with emphasizing the development of the younger players on the team, specifically Rose, Thomas and Noah. Even veterans Luol Deng and Ben Gordon are at the ages where they should still be seeing progressions in their games, as opposed to the regression that occurred last season."

Give Me The Rock: "What are the team’s biggest strengths? Playing 5 players at a time? I’m not sure here ... I mean, with Ben Gordon resigned, the offense shouldn’t be terrible. I hear that Tyrus Thomas has taken a liking mid-range jumpshots, which can’t be a good thing. Transition offense should be a good thing. The Bulls have a young roster, and this Point Guard who’s supposed to be pretty good, so I think running will benefit them and be an instant offensive catalyst."

Hardwood Paroxysm: "... hope still remains in Chicago. There are still good pieces. The guards may not be top-notch but there are enough of them that a solid rotation is impossible to avoid. If you could take the best parts of each of the big guys and make a frontcourt Frankenstein, you'd have a very good player. Tyrus Thomas supposedly cares this year. The coach has a predilection towards mustaches. These are the positives. The Bulls certainly won't be imagined as contenders this year, but they also won't be as disappointing as last year. That's the thing with lowered expectations — if you exceed them, people are happy."

Associated Wax: Mark Knopfler, Local Hero

Michael Bay's Twitter Season Projection:

michael_bay: I'm optimistic the Bulls can turn things around and challenge for the playoffs. I'm also optimistic about rollerblading. On ice.
about 7 hours ago from web

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