The Chicago Bulls before Michael Jordan is similar to the history of the world before the introduction of language; we know it was there, but we have no clue what actually happened (except Jerry Sloan, which might make him a cave drawing). Once Jordan hit Chicago, the franchise was transformed from a so-so team into one of the greatest of all time. Jordan, the greatest of all time (don’t try to deny it), led the Bulls to some of the greatest moments in the history of the league.
After some mighty struggles with the Pistons and Celtics in the 1980s, the Bulls brought in the still unproven coach Phil Jackson to coach the young Bulls that had the infamous Jordan and a young up-and-comer Scottie Pippen. The Bulls would go on to win three championships in a row (the first threepeat for Jackson) from the 91-93 seasons. Jordan retired, shocking the world (kind of like Barry Sanders, only a lot bigger) and the Bulls dropped from Champions to near champions with Pippen leading the charge. Jordan came back (the first time) and the Bulls went on to post another threepeat. One of those seasons, the Bulls posted a 70-12 record, the most wins in NBA history.
Since then, the Bulls have been lucky to be mediocre. Jerry Krause blew up the team after Jordan’s second retirement, letting Jackson leave for LA, and Pippen to multiple places (Houston, Portland, back to Chicago). They have almost annually been in the draft lottery, scoring notables like Elton Brand, Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry, Jay Williams, and Ron Artest. However, all of those picks led to practically nothing in the grand scheme of things, as all of those players would leave the team with hardly anything being accomplished. Recently, expectations have been rising with young stud Derrick Rose leading a team with youngsters like Luol Deng, Tyrus Thomas, and Joakim Noah.
2008-2009 Record: 41-41 (3-4 in playoffs), 2nd place in Central Division, 7th place in the Eastern Conference
Coach: Vinny Del Negro
- PG: Derrick Rose – What can be said about Rose that hasn’t already been said? He is probably the best young point guard (I mean up-and-coming) in the league with limitless potential. He has more weight on his shoulders now with his partner in crime Ben Gordon leaving for the rival Detroit Pistons.
- SG: John Salmons – He is hardly discussed despite his critical role in the Bulls’ success after being traded over from Sacramento. He is a significant scorer for Chicago, averaging 18.3 PPG over the last part of the season. He will have to step up his game with the recently departed Ben Gordon no longer available to provide a scoring spark.
- SF: Luol Deng – After struggling through injury last year, his role is somewhat in doubt. He was very talented coming out of Duke and being drafted by the Phoenix Suns, and has materialized into season averages of nearly 19 PPG. This season could be a make or break year for Deng, as he is more critical than ever to the Bulls.
- PF: Tyrus Thomas – Thomas will be sharing the role of power forward with fellow young man Joakim Noah. While supremely athletic and powerful, Thomas is still very much unrefined in most aspects of the game. His recent average of 10.8 PPG is a significant improvement over the other seasons in his short career; however, his talent is large enough to mean he can be near dominant on the offensive end (like a smaller Amar’e).
- C: Brad Miller – Miller is one of those centers that prefer to operate outside of the paint instead of in the thick of things in the post. He is a nice player, but not seemingly not part of the Bulls long term plans, which given his age, is probably the smart thing to do.
- James Johnson – An athletic, fairly large forward who may be able to play either the 3 or 4 given his strength and athleticism. He is another in a long list of athletic wing players that play on the Bulls.
- Taj Gibson – What’s this? Another young, athletic forward who might play some power forward and small forward? The Bulls really had a plan going into the draft, which was to continue building a team that will give the Celtics fits whenever they match up.
- Ben Gordon – He was the gunner who came off of the bench and provided an instant spark on offense (like a microwave). The Detroit Pistons heavily pursued the slightly undersized 2, taking away one of the most critical pieces to the Bulls.
The fate of the Bulls’ season lies in the capable hands of the young Derrick Rose. Letting Ben Gordon go means a few things: 1) They have faith that Derrick Rose can carry a team at his young age, and 2) they are saving cap space to make a run at a free agent in the upcoming 2010 season (hometown superstar Dwyane Wade comes to mind, Amar’e and Bosh are spectacular second options). It is important to not underestimate the importance of Gordon to the Bulls and their success last season, and even with him they struggled to get into the playoffs.
Rose will surely expand his game to new levels, dominating even more so with new found knowledge of how the rest of the teams in the NBA will play against him. But is it enough? Can he lead the Bulls further into the playoffs with a very young nucleus around him? The Bulls have steadily crafted one of the most athletic teams in the league, employing a plethora of athletic guards and forwards who give the powers of the league headaches, like a curious bee around a group of people.
But pestering the giants isn’t the point of building a team. The point is to win and win late in the season, specifically in the playoffs. With seemingly all of the other East teams improving their rosters (Cleveland, Boston, Toronto, Orlando), Chicago hasn’t added any glaring upgrades. They have added depth through the draft, but the loss of Ben Gordon is very significant to the Bulls and their chances. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bulls missed the playoffs this year, then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if they ended up with the sixth seed in the East. My prediction is that they will fight their way into the playoffs and bring fans of the top seeded team to a nervous panic, but will ultimately fall short. Then again, the Bulls are primed to be a very surprising team.
“I guess they’re looking to the future … Ben is a great player, one of the best players I’ve ever played with, a good guy. It was a business move, him going to Detroit.”
– Derrick Rose (regarding Ben Gordon signing with Detroit)