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Heart and Hustle: Bulls Steal Game 1 From The Superfriends

The Bulls may have stolen Game 1 in Miami on Monday night, but they’re certainly not satisfied yet.

They fight through adversity. They never back down. They play for each other. And they have no fear. The 2012-13 Chicago Bulls are one of the greatest sports stories in recent memory whose fairy tale may end when LeBron James decides he’s had enough. But until then, what we are witnessing is a team of warriors who will give anything and everything to win basketball games, playing with an attitude and a swagger that most sports fans would die to see their teams adopt.

After Game 7 of the Brooklyn series, I couldn’t recall a prouder Chicago sports moment in my life. Jordan’s Bulls and the 2010 Blackhawks teams obviously brought joy to everyone – but those teams were great. Those teams were expected to win. This team? Forget about it. Winning just one playoff series with this roster despite Derrick Rose’s ailing ACL, Joakim Noah’s plantar fasciitis, Kirk Hinrich’s mysteriously strained calf, Nate Robinson’s and Taj Gibson’s flu and Luol Deng’s meningitis scare was an enormous accomplishment in and of itself. “Next man up” has been the recurring theme of this team, and it all starts up top. Since day one, Tom Thibodeau has brainwashed these guys into thinking that, no matter what happens, they have enough to win.

Jimmy Butler, who I felt would be something very special for our team this season, has all but earned his spot as the Bulls’ future 2 guard, playing all 48 minutes (ALL 48 MINUTES!) in each of the last three playoff games. He has been nothing short of magnificent this postseason, averaging 12 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal, nearly five trips to the free throw line and almost never turning the ball over in round one (0.7 TOs/game), all while guarding the Deron Williams/Joe Johnson combo AND never committing more than three fouls in a game. On top of that, he took on the impossible task of guarding LeBron James the entire game last night (only committed three fouls too) and was still able to post a 21-14-3 stat line, hitting 9/10 from the free throw line and 2/4 from beyond the arc (Butler’s 3% during 2012-13 season and postseason: 38.1% and 40.9% respectively; 3% during 2011-12 season: 18.2%). No moment is too big for this kid. In only his second year in the NBA, Luol Deng’s protegé has proved once and for all that hard work and a heavy heart can take you a long way in just a short amount of time in this league – and trust me, he’s not gonna slow down any time soon.

Nathaniel Robinson has been, quite frankly, Jordanesque this postseason. He may only be 5’9, but Lil’ Nate has a ridiculous amount of confidence and a monstrous sack of nuts. He’s never seen a shot he didn’t like, and although players like that can typically hurt your team more than help it, Robinson has been as clutch as I’ve ever seen anyone in a Bulls uniform since ’98. Whether it’s him putting up 34 points (23 in the 4th quarter) on 14-for-23 shooting in Game 4 against Brooklyn, 18 points in Game 6 while puking in between timeouts, or 27 points and 9 assists last night in Miami (11 of those points and 5 of those assists came in the 4th quarter as well) with 10 stitches in his upper lip, Robinson continues to thrive in big moments and show the Knicks, Celtics, and Thunder what could have been had they decided not to let the little Energizer Bunny walk for nothing.

Carlos Boozer has, well, disappointed again. Yes, he actually played well against Brooklyn, and I really do applaud him for that. But we’ve grown accustomed to Boozer laying postseason eggs the past few years, and last night was no different: 6 points on 3/11 shooting, 7 rebounds and 3 turnovers. He watched, cheered and yelled from the bench the final 16 minutes of the game, when the Bulls just so happened to outscore Miami 44-31. Coincidence? I think not. It won’t happen this summer, but until 2014, “‘Tis the season to be amnestied…”

Marco Belinelli has been freakin’ awesome the past few games, not just for his “Sam Cassell dance” in Game 7, but also for his ability to hit huge threes and get to the rim late in games. Belinelli has shot 50% from three (3-for-6), 3-for-3 from the free throw line and  has a +/- of plus-15 in 12 “clutch time” minutes (last five minutes of the game and leading or trailing by five points or less) of playoff basketball. To give you some perspective on how huge he has been, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson were a combined 0-for-10 from three, 7-for-25 from the field and a minus-16 each  in 54  clutch time minutes last round (on the other hand, Robinson, Boozer and Noah have +/- of plus-28, plus-24 and plus-20 respectively in clutch time minutes, but they’ve all played much more during those moments). I couldn’t be happier with what Belinelli has given us, as he’s effectively replaced Kyle Korver as our Chicago Hotsauce – he’s just uglier, but at least he can create for himself once in a while.

Not enough can be said about Joakim Noah. In fact, nothing anyone can say will do that man justice. It’s clear that he has become our bona-fide leader, emotionally and physically, and Bulls fans wouldn’t have it any other way. The way he has led this depleted team on essentially one foot, dominating the likes of another all-star center in Brook Lopez and doing everything he can possibly do to help us win has been truly inspiring. Noah is the epitome of a professional athlete. He’s the kind of player that I would have idolized as a kid, and even idolize now, giving 150% night in and night out and fighting til death’s end. It’s admirable, and I feel that all athletes around the country should strive to be as tough and as passionate as he is. Nothing gives me more pleasure than watching him play basketball, and I have no doubt that one day he, along with a fully healthy Derrick Rose, will lead the Bulls to a NBA championship.

If you follow the NBA like I do, you know damn well that these kinds of things never  happen. To predict that a team led by the guys above, along with Taj Gibson, Nazr Mohammed and even Marquis Teague, can go into Miami in front of their pathetic home crowd, steal game one and shock the basketball world? Unthinkable. But here we are, in the wake of Miami’s third loss since February 2 (yes, third loss – they’re 41-3 since then), and we, as fans, aren’t just happy to be here anymore – we’re starting to “bullieve.”

Does this mean Chicago will win this series? No, but every game will be an absolute dogfight. I don’t think the Bulls can truly win this series, but I sure as hell know they’ll leave everything they have on that court each night. Like I said, this is not a great team – Derrick Rose ain’t coming back, Kirk Hinrich is battling through a painful injury, and Luol Deng is still bedridden after a spinal tap. All we can do is pray that the latter two come back soon. But whether we realize it or not, we are all witnessing something great – something inspiring. I couldn’t be prouder to be a Bulls fan right now, and what happens from here on out will just be the cherry on top of an already accomplished and memorable season.

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To Match or Not to Match Houston’s Offer to Omer Asik

Restricted free agent Omer Asik has received a hefty offer from the Rockets. Do the Bulls love him enough to match the offer sheet?

Less than a week after striking out and getting rejected by Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey has decided to settle for Bulls’ restricted free agent Omer Asik to fill their gaping hole at center. As everyone expected, the Rockets have offered Asik a heavily backloaded 3-year deal worth $24.3 million (about $14 million in the third year). Once July 11 hits, the Bulls will have three days to match that offer sheet, or else The Turkish Hammer will be taking his talents to H-Town. For months, Gar Forman has made it very clear that re-signing Asik is a priority and that all decisions made within the organization this summer will be basketball decisions, not financial decisions. That being said, matching this offer and re-signing him will be extremely difficult and will put us right up against the luxury-tax threshold –something that Jerry Reinsdorf has never felt comfortable with.

Blogabull.com crunched the salary numbers Saturday and determined that, if the Bulls are to re-sign Asik, they will be going well over the luxury tax, meaning that Watson, Brewer, Korver AND Lucas will almost certainly be gone in order to make things more affordable for the organization. They will have to find cheaper alternatives (Jimmy Butler is already one of them) to those players, as they’ll still have very little wiggle room with nearly $70 million tied into nine players (the luxury-tax threshold is expected to be around $70.3 million, according to ESPN capologist Larry Coon). The Bulls are in an incredibly difficult situation this summer — they’ll be treading water like a scared four-year old without inflatable armbands and scrambling to find cheap replacements (some of whom I wrote about last week, some of whom Nick Friedell touched on on Saturday). That’s why it’s hard to see them bringing Asik back even after Forman’s adamant statements about keeping him. They have limited flexiblity, if any, to work with before next season tips off. Keep in mind, though, that the luxury tax is put in place at the end of the regular season, which opens up the opportunity for a midseason trade to get the Bulls back under if need be.

By bringing back Asik for this price, the $14.09 million he’s set to make in the 2014-15 season will be added to the combined $47.7 million owed to Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah that season. That would be about $61 million tied into four players, which pretty much guarantees that the amnesty clause will be used on Boozer by 2014. Unfortunately, that’s an extra two years of potential frustration and bipolar conversations/debates about Boozer’s erratic play and mysterious hairline. The popular opinion amongst Bulls fans, including myself, is that we’d be better off amnestying Boozer now instead of two years from now. That way, the Bulls will be able to re-sign Asik, allow Taj Gibson to get more minutes and even audition for a starting gig before he’s up for an extension, and bring in some better free agents (either this year or next) to surround Rose with. But everyone knows by now that there’s no chance of that happening, and in life, we can’t always get what we want.

There’s no denying how phenomenal Omer Asik is on the defensive end of the court. If we don’t keep him, his 7’1″ presence will be severely missed. Take a look at the impact he made last season while anchoring the paint (according to Hardwood Paroxysm):

Of the Bulls’ top 50 most played 5-man lineups this past season (via NBA.com), Asik was in six of the top seven in points allowed per 100 possessions (pts/100). Without Asik on the court, Chicago allowed just 97.6 pts/100, which would have place 5th in the league over the course of a full season. But when Asik was on the court, that number dropped all the way down to 89.7 pts/100, which would have led the league 5.6 pts/100. He ranked in the 96th percentile in individual points allowed per possession, via mySynergySports, as well as 84th percentile against pick-and-roll ball-handlers and 77th percentile against isolations. (h/t Matt Moore) He’s an elite rebounder (h/t Zach Lowe), an excellent help defender and a good shot-blocker.

Take that all in for a second and think about this: the Bulls were a ridiculous eight points better defensively with Asik on the court. But as great as that sounds, we all know about the train wreck that is Asik’s offense. He has bricks for hands, has absolutely no range outside of an inch from the basket (meaning he can’t do anything but dunk), and watching him shoot free throws is more painful than jamming a finger or stubbing a toe. Asik may be as valuable to the Bulls’ defense as anyone (especially the second unit), but I’m not convinced that matching this fat offer would be the smartest decision. NBA players (especially centers) get overpaid all the time — I know that. But given the situation the Bulls are in, someone who has literally no offensive ability whatsoever, regardless of how good he is defensively, doesn’t deserve a contract that averages $4 million per year, let alone $8 million. I fully expect the Bulls to immediately start negotiating a sign-and-trade with Houston if they feel they can’t match this offer in order to get something in return for Asik’s services. It may sound unrealistic if Asik and/or the Rockets are unwilling to work out a new contract, but it’s definitely a possibility.

As much as I like Asik and would be devastated to see him go, I don’t think this deal is worth it. His future his bright, and he will continue to improve, but to pay a backup center an average of $8 million a year who only played 14.7 minutes per game last season is just too much. Big men are always tough to find, and this summer is no exception. The best low-cost options are guys like Joel Przybilla, Rony Turiaf, Troy Murphy, Nazr Mohammed, Greg Stiemsma, and Eddy Curry (just kidding, chill out), among many others (I’m not sure what kind of money Marcus Camby will demand, but he’s an unrestricted free agent as well). As unappealing as that list is, the Bulls would have to bring in someone cheap to fill the 5-spot in the second unit, plus they’ll have the money not used on Asik (about $5 million next year) to bring in whomever else (or bring back Watson/Korver) they feel will help keep this team afloat until Rose and Deng (Thibs actually said Deng won’t have wrist surgery and will be ready to go by training camp, so who knows with him) come back. It’s not ideal, that’s for sure, but we have to believe that Thibs and his hardworking mentality will find a way to make it work. Over the next week and a half or so, we’ll see how madly in love Gar Forman and John Paxson still are with Omer Asik.

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Game 6: CJ Watson and the Crucial Mistake

CJ Watson made a huge mistake at the end of Game 6, and it ended up costing the Bulls their season.

What a sad, depressing night for Bulls fans. Everyone knows that if we won Game 6, we were 100% winning Game 7. The momentum, the UC crowd backing us – there was just no way we would lose that game. After holding Philadelphia to a grand total of 15 points in the 3rd quarter, the Bulls finally were playing with some life. They played some of the best half-court defense I’ve ever seen, smothering every player and refusing to let anyone into the paint. It was honestly masterful to watch that defense work for the final 23 minutes and 55 seconds. This game was all but won. And then one crucial mistake and two missed free throws later, the Philadelphia 76ers ripped our hearts out of our chests and eliminated our beloved Bulls. But before I get into that crucial mistake, exactly who or what else led to the brutal end of our 2011-12 season?

1) Carlos Boozer. Wow. How many times has this name been brought up in my posts over the last few days? I can’t go more than two blog posts without ripping this man apart. By now, I would assume most of you know how I feel about Boozer, and as long as you saw him play just 5 minutes last night, there’s no way you’d disagree with me. So there’s no point in me restating why I dislike him so much. His performance last night, though, cannot go unnoticed. I want him out of Chicago, and I want him out RIGHT NOW. I felt like screaming “SERENITY NOW” multiple times last night just to calm myself down (Seinfeld reference for all you non-Seinfeld people). Amnesty, please! Anyways, Boozer finished with 3 points on 1/11 shooting and 1 free throw attempt in 27 minutes, none of which – and I repeat, NONE – came in the 4th quarter. Coach Thibs went back to his old ways and decided that, despite Boozer’s $75 million contract, it wasn’t worth it to have him in the game during the most important 12 minutes of the season. And I am perfectly fine with that. The 5-man-unit of Watson-Hamilton-Deng-Gibson-Asik was working extremely well, and we had to ride it. Just to reiterate how truly bad Boozer has been, I updated Boozer’s 2012 playoff stats from my previous post on my own and found that, after tonight’s game, his scoring average per 48 minutes dropped from 21.6 to 19.4, and his field goal percentage dropped from 46.8% to 42.2%. Absolutely awful. If Boozer remains a Bull next season and magically becomes good again, I will be the first to admit I was wrong about him. But I don’t see it happening.

2) 3-Point Shooting. No one could hit the backside of a barn from beyond the arc last night. Nothing was falling for us. Obviously, every team has nights like these. Unfortunately for the Bulls, this night came at the worst time. They shot 38.1% in games 1-5. They shot 15.4% (2/13) in Game 6. Although Luol Deng played a really good game, he is a very streaky three point shooter. He made big shot after big shot on Tuesday night. Ended up 0/5 from distance last night. It happens. I won’t lose sleep over this aspect of the game at all, but it would have been nice to at least see… wait, what’s that guy’s name? People think he looks like Ashton Kutcher but he really doesn’t? Oh yeah, Kyle Korver. Where the hell was this dude all series long? Between games 3-6, he scored – get this – 5 POINTS! He shot 1/7 from three in games 3-5 and didn’t even bother attempting a single shot in 5 minutes during Game 6. What a joke. If he wasn’t completely in Thibodeau’s doghouse before this series, he’s now farther back than… well, I can’t really think of a comparison, but it’s as far back as you can possibly go. It will probably take longer than the year Korver has left on his contract for Thibodeau to actually take him off his leash. Don’t be surprised if the Bulls try shopping him or finding a replacement for him all summer long.

3) Did you know: last night’s result is the first time a team has been out-rebounded by 23+ in a playoff game and won since 1986, when Washington beat Philadelphia in Game 1 of the first round (Bulls won the rebound battle 56-33)? This has nothing to do with why the Bulls lost in any way, shape or form. I just found it to be an astonishing stat, and I also feel that making three points instead of two is way more legit. Good things come in threes. Someone should tell Kyle Korver that, by the way.

Now on to the main inspiration for this post – CJ Watson and the Crucial Mistake (If anyone writes a book about this disastrous series, you’re welcome to use this title. Just make sure you compensate me for it. Thanks). Watching the end of last night’s game was painful. CJ Watson should be flat-out disgusted with himself. He made one of the worst decisions I’ve ever seen a point guard make in a professional basketball game. His poor shot selection throughout the series was one thing (he shot 23% in six games), and his inability to create any offense whatsoever was another thing. But when you’re a career 80% free throw shooter, and your team’s up 1 with 5 seconds left in the most important game of the season, why the dickens (I heard someone say this once and it sounded funny, so what the hell?) would you dish the ball off to a career 48% free throw shooter and make him win the game for you? I went INSANE when this play transpired because right then and there, I had a terrible feeling that it was over for us, even with a 1 point lead. Forget the fact that, a) a blatant flagrant foul on Omer was not called and b) no one got back on defense after the second missed free throw to stop the one-man freight train that is Andre Iguodala. We should have NEVER been in that position in the first place. All CJ had to do was hold the ball, let them foul him, and sink at least one free throw. That would have made it a two point game, and at the very least forced Philly, who had no time outs remaining, mind you, to go coast to coast and get a quick two off to send it into OT or throw up a contested/low-percentage three to try and win it (this is the worst case scenario, because I have a hard time believing CJ would’ve missed both free throws, but who knows).

I cannot believe the stupidity on Watson’s part, and I will never forget that decision to give up the ball for the rest of my life. It proved that, once and for all, CJ Watson is not the answer to our backup point guard of the future (neither is Lucas). There are a number of mediocre point guards that we can grab late in the first round of the draft if necessary (Marquis Teague, Tony Wroten) or middle of the second round (Scott Machado) to breed throughout the offseason. Free agency and trading are other options as well (dare I ask, Kirk Hinrich, anyone?). Maybe I’m just being hard on Watson because I’m angry. I probably am. We all know he’s likely going to be on our roster next season because the Bulls will probably pick up his team option. But it does not hurt to explore other point guard options (I will get into free agents and draft analysis at a later date).

I can live with another regular season with Watson as our starter while Rose is out. And I think that next year, the Bulls will come back stronger from this. But if, god forbid, Rose is not healthy for the start of the playoffs next season, it may very well be the same old story for Bulls fans. Sad and depressing.

Carlos Boozer: A Tale of 2 Cities

Carlos Boozer: What’s more disappointing? Your time as a Bull or your spray-painted hair?

Earlier tonight, one of my friends asked me to look at the discrepancy between Carlos Boozer’s numbers in Utah and Chicago. He happens to be a big fan of Boozer, while I and many others are not. He wanted me to determine the differences in his minutes and how that has affected Boozer’s statistics. No opinionated talk – just facts. He’s sick of hearing me talk bad about Boozer because a) he has been putting up solid numbers since Rose went down, and b) we, as fans, should never root against or doubt players of our own teams. I beg to differ with the latter. When you’re the highest paid player not named Derrick Rose on the team, fans expect you to carry the load and step up big in the fourth quarter instead of disappearing, turning it over in key moments or, god forbid, getting benched altogether (does last year’s playoffs ring a bell?). With all that said, I gladly decided to honor my friend’s wishes and did a little digging.

Considering the fact that Boozer missed 80 out of his first 162 games in Utah, I completely disregarded his first two seasons and started with the 2006-07 season. The four most logical statistics to look at were points, rebounds, field goal percentage, and free throws attempted (these four aspects of Boozer’s game are what help him make a living as a professional basketball player – nothing else whatsoever). Using the season averages, I calculated what his numbers would have been, during both the regular season and post-season, per 48 minutes of playing time. Below are his regular season numbers and averages.

Clearly, Boozer’s numbers have been worse in every major Boozer category since he has worn a Bulls uniform, which is why they are highlighted in red. You may be thinking, “Well there’s not thaaaat big of discrepancy. I’m not buying this argument.” That’s fine. Get ready to look at these playoff numbers (I threw turnovers in there too, just because I can’t stop thinking about the ball slipping out of his hands and rolling out of bounds near the end of Game 4):

Doesn’t it make you want to break someone’s face looking at these numbers? Not only are Boozer’s stats as a Bull inferior in every category to those during his time in Utah, but his numbers (besides rebounds) have proven to be significantly worse during the last two playoff runs than the regular season. Simply put, Carlos Boozer has been a disappointment as a Bull, and this doesn’t even include his inability to stop anyone on the defensive end. Now, the argument can be made that Utah ran a much more uptempo offense than Chicago (which they did), so obviously Boozer’s numbers were more inflated. Think again. Boozer actually attempted 21 field goals per 48 minutes in those four regular seasons with Utah, as opposed to 21.2 field goals attempted in his two regular seasons with Chicago. Shocking. I was happy when we signed him during the Summer of Lebron, but I expected way more than what he’s given us. This is one of the reasons why I posted that “Amnesty Boozer” piece in the first place. Too bad it will probably never happen.

But despite all this, don’t be surprised if Boozer wins the game for the Bulls tomorrow night. Seriously.

The Summer of Gar: What the Bulls should do this summer

Eric Gordon would be a perfect fit in Chicago.

Look, I’m as diehard a Bulls fan as there is. I understand that it’s not technically over for us. But for all you unrealistic fans out there, here’s the harsh reality: we are absolutely not winning the championship this year. It’s just not our year. I’ve been watching basketball for as long as I can remember, so trust me when I tell you that you cannot win without a superstar. Over the last 30 years, only one team has won without a “superstar”, and that’s the 2004 Detroit Pistons, who still happened to have 3 all-star caliber players in Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Ben Wallace, and Tayshaun Prince thrown in as well. The Bulls don’t have that without Rose, and now they’re even more screwed without Noah.

To me, this means one thing: start thinking about next season. I’m already obsessing over the future. And that future doesn’t involve a certain someone. I’ll give you a hint: he’s getting paid $15 million a year and sucks. Here’s my genius plan for this summer:

1) Amnesty Carlos Boozer. If you read my previous post, I don’t have to explain to you why this is a necessary move to make. Throw in the fact that he has 3 years remaining on his contract, hasn’t improved a lick of his defense and has severely regressed on offense during his time as a Bull. Quite frankly, he’s awful. I can’t stand him. Get him out. Right now.

2) This is where it gets interesting. Sign Eric Gordon. Yeah, yeah, I know. Easier said than done. He’s a restricted free agent, and he’s injury prone. Doesn’t matter. The absolutely ideal player for the Bulls would be James Harden. He’s a great shooter, gets to the rim and has a knack for finishing. We have 0 players that can get to the rim outside of Derrick Rose. Hence why we looked so awful in games 2 and 3, and hence why Lucas and Watson continuously run out the shot clock or settle for bad jumpers. Unfortunately, James Harden is under contract with the Thunder and continues to be their glue-guy.

That’s where Gordon comes in. He is a very similar player to Harden, but a more athletic version. I watched this kid play during his freshman year at IU, and I’ve followed him since he got drafted in 2008. He’s the exact type of player we need. Before the Hornets decided to tank their season away and sit Gordon with a “knee bruise” for 57 out of 66 games, he had begun to turn into the player everyone hoped he would turn into – a future all-star. In his third season with the Clippers, he increased his scoring average by nearly 6 points (from 16.9 to 22.3) and was getting to the free throw line 6.2 times a game (while making 5.1, good for over 80%). Most importantly, he had become one of the most clutch players in the game (defined as 4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points). According to 82games.com, Gordon was ranked 12th overall in production per 48 minutes of crunch time. In clutch situations, he was averaging 38.4 ppg and shooting 55.6% from the field, 55.3% from three point range, and 93% from the line. Think about what I and everyone else has been saying about the Bulls the past week: no go-to-scorer, no one to attack the basket, no one to keep us afloat in the fourth quarter. Eric Gordon certainly fits the bill and then some.

As I said, he’s a RFA, and he’s up for a qualifying offer of $5.1M. That’s chump change once Boozer’s awful contract is off the books. If Gar Forman and John Paxson make a godfather-like offer to Gordon, are the Hornets really going to match it? If he was so injured all season long, why would they trust him to stay healthy and overpay him? I don’t care how much the Bulls offer him. Just get him to Chicago. His approach to the game will certainly change once he plays for a hardass coach like Tom Thibodeau, as opposed to a dumbass coach like Vinny del Awful. That may be all the push he needs to stay motivated and healthy. Gordon’s the real deal, and he’s exactly what the Bulls need. And screw his hometown Pacers. No one in that state cares about Pacer basketball whatsoever anyways. As a Bulls fan, I will certainly welcome him with open arms.

3) After amnestying Boozer’s sorry ass, the Bulls will need to make up for a lack of frontcourt depth. That’s when you sign one of 6 free agent power forwards: Brandon Bass (if he declines his player option with the Celtics); Carl Landry (although he’s extremely overpaid so may not be worth it to even make an offer); JJ Hickson (averaged 14-9 in his 2010-11 with Cleveland; averaged 15-8 with 54% FG in 19 games with Portland this season; would only cost roughly $3.5M); Jason Thompson (last resort and probably overpaid, but very capable of playing 25-28 minutes a night and putting up 13-8 with over 50% FG); Ersan Ilysasova (averaged 16-9 post all-star break this season with 55-51-80 splits; averaged 14-9 as a starter); and just so I can dream, Kris Humphries, who will demand a big contract after another huge season with the Nets by averaging 14-11. If the Bulls have to dump some salaries in order to make all of this happen, such as CJ Watson’s or Ronnie Brewer’s, I’ll live.

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Placing blame for Game 3’s meltdown

Losing Joakim Noah is not the only reason we lost Game 2.

What the hell happened last night? How did our Bulls blow that 14 point lead? The easy answer: Joakim Noah left the game with a severe ankle injury with 7:57 to go in the 3rd quarter. The actual answer: a combination of shockingly horrendous coaching and a lack of heart. The Bulls stopped playing to win and instead began playing not to lose. There was no doubt in my mind that when Philly cut the lead to 9, they were going to win. It was the same feeling I had when Tebow stepped onto the field against the Bears in the 4th quarter down 10. Chairs were thrown, and tables were nearly broken as I walked out of the room after Matt Prater’s OT field goal that night. But I digress. Here are my main reasons (other than losing Noah) that the Bulls lost last night’s game:

1) Coaching

  • I have no idea why in God’s name Thibodeau decided to put Noah back into the game in the 4th quarter. The dude’s limp was worse than Leapin’ Larry’s in Seinfeld. Thibodeau was quoted saying,  “I’m relying on (trainer) Fred (Tedeschi). The game is going on. I ask him if he can go or not go. That’s usually how it works.” Whether that’s the case or not, isn’t it ultimately Thibs’ decision to put Noah in the game? I don’t know one Bulls fan who agreed with the decision to put him in last night because within 1 minute of putting him in, he had tweaked the ankle again.
  • Ronnie Brewer has missed 1 game in the past 2 seasons. He’s a high energy guy who plays great defense and knows his role on offense. Can someone tell me why in the world he rode pine for all 48 minutes last night? I don’t understand it. Korver finished the game with a goose egg, and Hamilton couldn’t hit the side of a barn. I’m not saying he would have been the difference between winning the game and losing it, but he most definitely could have made an impact in one way or another.
  • Anyone who knows anything about basketball should be able to say, with confidence, that John Lucas is a terrible point guard. Now, I’m not saying I don’t like him – he has had some big moments for us this season, and he plays with absolutely no fear – but when was the last time he didn’t dribble out the shot clock in the half court to under 5 seconds before a) launching up a 35 footer or b) making a legitimate pass? I felt like I was watching an atrocious pickup game at the gym the way Lucas was “running the offense” last night. There’s a reason he has never found a home in the NBA besides the fact that he’s so small, and it’s because he can’t actually run an offense. Unfortunately, that happens to be the most important thing for a point guard to do. What does this have to do with coaching? Oh, I don’t know, maybe the fact that, after watching Lucas continuously run the shot clock down to 3, Thibodeau still decided to stick with him the entire 4th quarter. You’re probably thinking “but Watson was playing horrible, Thibs had no choice.” Wrong. Mike James, anyone? In the 3 games that he played 17+ minutes this season, he averaged 7 assists. The journeyman actually has a track record. He’s played about 12 seasons in the NBA, including nearly 2 full seasons as a starter in Toronto and Minnesota. He’s no rookie. He obviously wouldn’t be the difference between winning this series and not, but could it really have hurt to put him in when the lead was slowly disintegrating? He can run an offense better than Lucas, and clearly no one could trust Watson and his shot selection last night. I just don’t understand why he didn’t get a chance.

2) Carlos Boozer

  • There’s no one I dislike more in Chicago sports than Carlos Boozer and Alfonso Soriano. For the sake of this post, I will limit the text to only obliterating Boozer. For me, there has never been a more frustrating Bulls player than Boozer. Everyone knows there are players that rise to the occasion at the end of games, the guys who simply want the ball in their hands with the game on the line. Then there are the players who disappear when it matters most (think Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Chris Webber, etc.), the guys who would rather pick out some schmucky fan from the stands to take a big shot than their own damn selves. Carlos Boozer, my friends, is the epitome of the latter. There isn’t a softer player than him on this roster. We’re paying him $15 million a year to average 12-14 ppg in the postseason and disappear at the end of games? What a joke. There was no Derrick Rose, there was no Joakim Noah. We need this man to step up his game when it matters most. Going 1-6 in the 4th quarter and constantly settling for his rocking chair jump shot when he should be banging in the post and finding ways to score like he used to in Utah? He should be ashamed of himself. And don’t even get me started on his defense…

3) Luol Deng

  • Luol: what happened bro? I understand that Iguodala is one of the best perimeter defenders in the game, but there’s no excuse for 5 points on 2-7 shooting in game 3 and 8 points on 3-12 shooting in game 2. None whatsoever. I don’t even know what else to say. But Luol Deng is much better than this.

I will now stop talking before I murder someone. Game 4 tomorrow.

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