The Chicago Bulls have been a piece or two away from being a contender, seemingly for years. Since the draft of the prodigal son of Chicago, Derrick Rose, the Bulls have been an elite team in the Eastern Conference. However, they have failed to be able to get over the hump that is LeBron James. Two years ago Rose and company lost in five games to the Lebron-led Cavs. Last season, the Bulls once again could muster just one win against another James-led squad in Miami, that time in the Eastern Conference Finals . The goal this off-season, which has been the goal each off-season for Chicago, is finding a shooting guard who is willing and able to play in the shadow of Michael Jordan.
For years, fourteen to be exact, the Bulls have been searching desperately for a shooting guard to play in the Chicago system. A guy who is selfless, but knows when to takeover a game offensively. A player who wants to play defense and asks for the opposing team’s best player on a nightly basis. A player who fears nobody, including a #23 banner that rests hundreds of feet above the United Center court.
Any shooting guard who wants to play for the Chicago Bulls realizes that he is going to be constantly scrutinized and compared to Jordan. This is the reason the Bulls haven’t had a legitimate shooting guard since the 1998 season when MJ retired. The Bulls are looking for a player who doesn’t care about the comparisons, and realizes all he can do is play his game. While at the same time, the player isn’t afraid of gaining the approval of fans, coaches and media alike. The Bulls are looking for a basketball player who isn’t worried about the past and just wants to win with Derrick Rose now! It has become much easier said than done, over time for the Bulls and their front office.
Let’s take a look at a few names who the Bulls have played at the shooting guard position for them since Michael Jordan retired. Of course, there is Ron Mercer. The once Kentucky legend who failed miserably once he became a professional. How can anyone in Chicago forget the name Eddie Robinson? Well…that’s the problem, a lot of people forgot about Eddie Robinson…justifiably. How about Jalen Rose? This Rose was mediocre at best, as he tried to lead a horrific Bulls unit at the time. The best shooting guard to play for the Bulls since Michael Jordan left was Ben Gordon. The diminutive UConn alum was a pure scorer for the Bulls when he was at his best. As much as Gordon could fill it up, he was a one-dimensional player. He didn’t play defense and he didn’t hide that fact from anyone in Chicago. Gordon could not handle the ball either, creating problems for the team when he was running the point guard spot. For as great and thrilling an offensive player as Ben Gordon was, he just did not fit in the Bulls system. People will always remember the gutsy shots he hit, especially in that epic Boston-Chicago 1st round playoff match-up. But, if you need any further evidence to why Gordon is no longer a Bull, just look at his current numbers with the Pistons. Enough said.
Now let’s take a look at two shooting guards who the Bulls actually had their hands on, but let slip away. Shannon Brown was a Bull for short period of time during the pre-season a few years ago. It was right after he was released from Cleveland, after he was drafted by them out of Michigan State. The Chicago native has become a dynamic offensive player with the Lakers in a back-up role. The fact that the Bulls didn’t even give the kid an extended look, considering of how widely known he is in the Chicago area, baffled me. He has obviously taken flight with the help of Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson, but that doesn’t take away the fact that he possesses explosive NBA talent. Brown would of been a perfect compliment to Derrick Rose, as they would undoubtedly of run the show together. Can you imagine the highlight reel dunks those two would of put together on a nightly basis? Either way, Brown’s humble nature and defensive eagerness would of made him a fan and coaches favorite in a hurry. The Bulls had their chance with Shannon, but they let him escape. Sadly, Chicago Bulls fans won’t get the chance to see that lethal combo of Rose and Brown.
J.R. Smith was actually on a flight to Chicago after being traded to the Bulls when the Bulls traded him away. Stop me from laughing. The Bulls literally did not even give Smith a legitimate chance to play. It saddens me when teams just throw away players they need down the road, because at the time, it seemed like the right thing to do. Smith is an ultra-talented shooting guard with a limitless ceiling. Sure, he has had some off-the-court issues in the past. His coach, George Karl, was so fed up with him last season that he would bench him for entire games. Whatever the case may be off the court, Smith would of been a perfect compliment to Derrick Rose on the court. Not only does Smith have explosive game around the rim, but he can light it up from beyond the arc as well. He would of drawn just enough attention away from Rose, to let Derrick have some freedom around the rim. Regardless of the Smith’s situation in 2011, he won’t fit anywhere better, than he would of fit in with the Chicago Bulls.
Now, I want to touch real quickly on a player the Bulls should of had last off-season, but instead put all their efforts into the James and Wade sweepstakes. Joe Johnson may be the most underrated shooting guard in the game today. Last season, he was a free agent for the almighty NBA free agent class of 2010. The Hawks re-signed their star extremely fast, barely allowing other teams to speak with the all-star. The Bulls, like many other NBA teams, had their eyes set on LeBron, Bosh and Wade. When the three pulled their signing-stunt with Miami, the Bulls were left standing there with just Carlos Boozer’s hefty contract. Chicago actually should have put all their time and energy into Joe Johnson. The big guard would of added a dimension the team hadn’t seen since Jordan. Joe Johnson gives his team’s the ability to defend the best shooting guard’s and small forward’s of the league. Meanwhile, on the offensive end he lays down the law. He can shoot like the best of them from the outside, but also has an inside touch. If the Bulls had Johnson, alongside the Boozer signing, people would have been talking about a Mavs-Bulls 2010 NBA Finals, not the Heat. Johnson would of provided a much-needed dimension where the Bulls have been lacking for years. Nevertheless, he is a Hawk now and for the foreseeable future.
Whether or not the lockout continues into the season, Chicago is still desperate for the final pieces to their puzzle. The shooting guard position has been obsolete for the Bulls since the late 90’s. Chicago’s window of opportunity is now with Derrick Rose already seizing his first MVP award this past season. He is primed and ready, at 23-years old, to start another basketball revolution in Chicago like Jordan and his team’s in the 1990’s. If the Bulls want to contend with LeBron James, they need a shooting guard who is willing to defend NBA stars. The Bulls simply need a shooting guard who is willing to go up against the biggest and baddest without a hesitation in his game. The Bulls need a player who is not afraid to play in the looming shadow of Michael Jordan.