At times, it’s burdensome to be an optimist for professional teams. After building their winning culture with Michael Jordan, the Chicago Bulls fell back down to the bottom of the barrel in the first few years of the 2000’s.
One of the three or four most athletic point guards in NBA history fell into their laps in 2008, when the city fell in love with Derrick Rose. After the marriage to their new, young star, the honeymoon resulted in wins … a ton of wins. But, all things can’t stay ideal for a franchise. We all know what transpired, with the injuries ruining a team’s title hopes.
Now, with everything seemingly back on track for Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls, the ceiling has exploded. There’s no telling how impressive this 2014-15 Chicago roster can appear early on, and no predicting how deep of a playoff run stands in their future.
To get a grasp on how we should view these Bulls during the offseason, I was thankfully joined by Caleb Nordgren to discuss the basics of the roster. Nordgren is a special basketball writing personality, who contributes to Hardwood Paroxysm. He’s also one of the main guys over at Bulls By The Horns. Yes, not hard to figure out how well he knows the Chicago atmosphere.
You can follow Caleb on Twitter, @ChiSportsGuy41. Here was our conversation:
Young: Ecstatic to have you Caleb,
I understand you’re a Managing Editor for Bulls By The Horns. Needless to say, the past three calendar years as a Bulls writer have likely been the most irregular, inconsistent times of one’s life.
From being on top of the Eastern Conference mountain in April 2011 (Chicago’s East-leading 62 wins), to 2012’s devastating knee injury with Derrick Rose in the first round. Then, with Joakim Noah carrying the team all through 2012-13, all the media attention was focused on Rose’s decision to sit out the whole year.
Fast forward to 2013-14, and you have Rose attempting to make his comeback, eventually being shot down due to the meniscus tear. That injury vs. Portland had to be the most harrowing of them all.
Is the luck finally turning to some brighter lights for Chicago?
Nordgren: God, I hope so. I never want to go through the last two years again. In point of fact, I never wanted to go through 2012-13 again, and then we got to run it back last year, but I’ll settle for not doing it a third time. But, all indications out of Team USA camp are that D-Rose is ready to go, so we’re hopeful.
I was at Team USA practice Thursday afternoon, and while I didn’t see all that much of Rose, he looked fine and everyone I talked to says he’s doing great. Fingers crossed.
Young: Yeah, it’s been sketchy with Rose playing full speed in these USA practices and scrimmages. On the positive side, watching him lift off the ground with ferocity and cut through the defense gives nothing but great signals. But, on the horribly negative end … there’s always that chance of something going awry, and someone going through the agony Paul George had to endure two weeks ago.
The team I’ve covered for years missed out on re-signing Pau Gasol, and it’s going to awkward without the Spaniard in Staples Center. But, on your end, the Bulls are getting a 34-year-old veteran that can shoot from 18-20 feet if needed, pass just as well out of the post as Noah, and someone that always genuinely has a great attitude. How much does Gasol help the case for a No. 1 seed out East? Or, on the contrary, does he hurt the chances due to his slow defense?
Nordgren: Here’s what Tom Thibodeau had to say this afternoon when asked about the concern that Rose could get hurt again:
“You know, injuries, unfortunately, are part of the game and, you know, you hate to see anyone get injured. Could happen in the regular season, could happen in the offseason, could happen in practice, could happen in a game. Basically, the only way you can guarantee a guy not getting hurt is don’t play at all. So, you never play in a game, never practice, never play in the offseason, you won’t get hurt. But, that’s not the way you play this game, you know?”
Anyway, I think Pau will be fine. He’s a massive upgrade on Carlos Boozer, who was pretty well terrible on both ends. If absolutely nothing else, the fact that Pau’s a legit 7-footer compared to Boozer’s 6’8″ means that he can stand by the rim and just be tall.
Gasol’s versatile enough to play down low when he’s paired with Noah and in the high post when he’s paired with Taj Gibson. I was/am down on the Pau signing because I felt like the priority should’ve been a wing. They had Gibson and Noah in place, Nikola Mirotic was coming over, and they had the very underrated Greg Smith, who they traded for nothing in order to sign Pau and Mirotic. But, a Noah/Pau/Taj/Mirotic big man rotation is probably the best in the league.
Young: Totally agree on Gasol, and he’s the much better pick-and-roll option with Rose since he can put the ball on the floor if needed.
Since you thought they needed a wing, perhaps Gar Forman and Thibodeau are believing Tony Snell is that wing answer, although he had a relatively down rookie season. With a PER of 8.02 his first year and shooting 38.4 percent from the field, Snell apparently has used this offseason to improve immensely, and that helps.
From my perspective, every rookie is entitled to some growing pains if they’re not with the right system. With Chicago, they had no offensive identity, so it was understandable.
And, holy crap, McDermott had a summer league for the ages. But, I’m not the type of person to overreact about a summer league infested with one & two-year players. It’s time for Thibodeau to get creative with this offense and propel them into a balanced team, you know? The clock isn’t ticking, per say, but they’ve been on the brink for too long.
Nordgren: I’m really high on Snell. I think he’s going to be solid this year. But, after Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy Jr., the Bulls have two totally unproven commodities and that concerns me a little. I’m hoping they’ll pick up Rose’s former college teammate Chris Douglas-Roberts, who quietly had a very good season in Charlotte. But we’ll see.
As to the offense, the last time Rose was healthy, 2011-12, the Bulls finished 5th in points scored per 100 possessions. In 2010-11, they finished 12th. So, I don’t think offense is as much of a concern as it might seem on its face.
The Bulls leading scorer last season was D.J. Augustin, because he was the only regular rotation player besides Noah who could actually do things with the ball once he got it. This year, the Bulls will have Pau, Rose, Noah, Aaron Brooks (though it’s not clear how much he’ll play) and Snell/McDermott.
If absolutely nothing else, both Snell and McDermott can stand in the corner and shoot threes capably, as can Mirotic. As long as Rose is healthy most of the year, they should be at least competent on that end.
Young: Absolutely, the only four teams ahead of Chicago in Offensive Efficiency in 2011-12 were the Nuggets, Thunder, Clippers, and Spurs — all either very high-paced teams, or incredibly smart in what they run. It’s another reason why I made the leap to picking Chicago to reach the No. 1 seed (over Cleveland) and make it to their first NBA Finals since 1998. But, baby steps. Baby steps.
Since you’ve been covering some of the Team USA practices (Thursday and Friday), how was the sentiment today when DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins went down with knee pain? Obviously he’ll be fine now, but this gave us a horrible feeling for a few hours. Personally, I believe guys need to think long and hard before they risk their season and career playing in the FIBA games.
I understand it’s for the pride of America, but talents such as LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, and Kevin Love aren’t going to have to worry about losing a season off their careers by sitting out. Maybe I’m out of line for saying that … I’m not sure.
Nordgren: The sentiment was basically “We hope he’s OK, but that’s life, you know?” They all know the risks, they know it could be them next, but they’re pros. They’re not thinking about that when they’re out there. I think, in general, guys aren’t going to be scared off by a freak injury.
Young: Yeah, and they also know it’s not their faults the goal’s stanchion was extremely close to the court. Thus, they’re aware that’s probably going to be fixed and won’t be a concern when they begin playing games.
Have you given any thought to how the Pacers will feel the effects of losing their two best players? Most people are pulling the statement of “They can still reach the playoffs built around defense alone.” I can’t help but to think that’s an horrendous view, since the East is no longer the Leastern Conference. Playoffs or 35-win stratosphere for Indiana?
Nordgren: I wouldn’t be entirely shocked if they made the playoffs. It’s basically them, Brooklyn or Detroit for that last spot.
But good god, their offense is going to be brutal. When your best play-maker is probably Rodney Stuckey, well, your best play-maker is Rodney Stuckey. There’s just so little offensive talent. Their defense will be good, but probably not great without Stephenson and George.
Honestly, there’s something to be said for tanking this year and seeing if you can get a decent pick. I don’t think they will, and I don’t blame them for hoping they can still contend in 2015-16 when George comes back, but there’s something to be said for it.
Young: Contending in 2015-16 seems plausible in the eyes of Larry Bird and Vogel, but there’s something that I fear with that method: Cleveland & Chicago will have already built such strong momentum and experience that taking down Rose or LeBron will be nearly impossible for George and company.
But, tanking is a strong consideration. Bird won’t admit it, but pulling the trigger mid-way through the year is possible. There are so many 2015 draft options that sound lucrative and ideal, so I would do it (honestly).
You graduated from Michigan State and now you’re just enjoying all sports in the Windy City? Haven’t been there yet, but once I make it there this season to cover a few Bulls games, maybe we could talk more hoops! Would be an interesting time, and hopefully the words “knee” or “injuries” aren’t in our discussions.
Nordgren: We can but only hope. I would be perfectly happy to never speak of knees again in my life.
Young: It’s a sickening feeling, comparable to the Ferguson crisis on hand at the moment. But, have a good weekend Caleb, and enjoy your White Sox Friday evening! Peace.
Nordgren: Thanks man, you too. Peace.