Even with the 2013-14 season ending for the Chicago Bulls with a sixth consecutive home playoff loss, fans should be proud and hopeful for this team going forward. No, they will never be title contenders without Derrick Rose on the floor, but what the team has accomplished over the past two seasons without him is simply remarkable.
In a league where teams with multiple superstars/gifted scorers dominate the title contenders’ pool, Chicago has quietly secured a top five position in the Eastern Conference standings in each of the past four seasons and made 10 straight playoff appearances. Sure, playing in the weaker of the two conferences helps, but the Bulls organization and system has prevailed nonetheless.
Much of that success can be attributed to coach Tom Thibodeau and his staff. Coach Thibodeau’s defensive system of coaching, along with his sideline demeanor and energy, has created a “win tough” attitude within the organization. Players like Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler have thrived in this system that flaunts their defensive prowess. Other players like Omer Asik, and even Kyle Korver, have received big contracts after playing in Thibodeau’s system. Considering how drastically coach Thibodeau improved Korver’s defensive skills, imagine how much he could help a player like Jimmer Fredette or in a fantasy world, Carmelo Anthony.
But as everyone knows, scoring buckets was the area that Chicago struggled with the most this season. The Bulls ranked last in PPG (93.2) this season and second to last in points per possession (1.14). Those numbers make sense when considering the teams two top scorers were D.J. Augustin (14.9 PPG), a player who was cut by the Toronto Raptors earlier in the season, and Carlos Boozer (13.7 PPG). With other Eastern Conference teams having multiple 20-plus scorers, that is a pretty dismal scoring threat for a warranted playoff contender. And yet, many thought the suffocating defense and aggressive play of Chicago would propel them into the second round of the postseason.
It was the same story during the 2012-13 season for this Bulls team. Even without Rose, this team willed itself to the NBA Playoffs and advanced past Brooklyn in a seven game series. But there is a key difference between that team and the group this season. Last year’s team was built to operate without Rose; this year’s roster was not. And yet after all the “tanking” chatter and the trading of Luol Deng, the Bulls rattled off the best record in the Eastern Conference after Jan. 1,securing the fourth seed in this year’s playoffs.
The Bulls overachieved once again. This team is resilient, competitive and portrays the mindset and mentality of their head coach more so than any other team in the NBA. They are just a player or two short from becoming a legitimate NBA Title contender.
This offseason is critical for the Bulls, and management must make crucial large-scale decisions to push this team to the next level. Although I am against the trend of compiling superstars to create a “super team”, there are some big names out there that have been rumored to be interested in joining the Bulls. The addition of a player like Anthony or Kevin Love would immediately propel Chicago to a top contender in the East. With addition of one of those players, along with a healthy Rose, Noah, coach Thibodeau and a roster that statistically is the best defensive unit in the league, the Bulls could make some serious noise.
Whether or not the Bulls are willing to put themselves in that position, where they would have to pay a higher luxury tax, is a whole other issue entirely.
I know Chicago fans have been waiting for over a decade for another run to the finals and the impatience is growing. However, the injuries to Rose over the past two seasons have stunted that process, not the overall play of the team. With him back, and the addition of another wing player who can create his own shot, the Bulls could be a sneaky pick to make a deep run next season.
The Bulls are good. Plain and simple.
They haven’t had a player average over 20 PPG in the last two seasons. The current roster and offensive system in place is based around a player who only saw the court in 10 games this season. And yet, Chicago shared the third best record in the Eastern Conference with Toronto.
Like I said, the Bulls are good.