Depression sets in as Bulls lose 2001 style


Nov 20

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

I got the feeling right from the beginning that Wednesday’s Bulls game against the Portland Trailblazers was going wrong. First, it was a turnover on a drive by Dragan Tarlac, err, I mean Drew Gooden. Then Corey Benjamin, err, Ben Gordon, fired a quick jumper and missed. LaMarcus Aldridge drove right by Dalibor Bagaric, err Aaron Gray, just before Eddie Robinson, err Tyrus Thomas checked in and air balled a post up move.

It was that bad. Tim Floyd bad.

It ended up for Portland 116-74, and the absolute lack of competitiveness, fundamental play, court awareness, offensive movement and innovation, defensive help and general basketball intelligence on the Bulls part was staggering.

“It seemed like the game was over before it even started the way we came out tonight,” noted Ben Gordon.

Derrick Rose should have been wearing a name badge so his teammates knew who he was as the ball went nowhere, but in quick shots to the basket, though Portland obviously targeted Rose. Rose had his first game of fewer than 10 points and apparently in the spirit of being a good teammate, he looked ordinary and overmatched. He has six points and one assist on one of eight shooting. Portland, which isn’t that good of a team, drove the ball without resistance, and you were left shouting, “Someone, anyone, stop the ball!”

Here was the Bulls offense, typified in the third quarter with the Bulls trailing by 30: Larry Hughes runs up after Greg Oden, with 11 points and 10 rebounds, scored on a postup move and shot with just a few seconds gone on the 24-second clock. The ball caromed wildly, picked up by Brandon Roy with a game high 20, who fired to Aldridge for a lob dunk.

That’s right. No one knew the shot was going up that quickly, so even if the defense tried to get back there was no chance.

Shooting is simple basketball: Make the defense move, find an open spot and make sure your teammates are in position to get back and defend.

Bulls offense: Typified by Thomas later in the third as he grabbed a rebound and dribbled out 94 feet, falling down and throwing up a wild shot.

As Casey Stengel once said about his 1962 Mets, the losingest team in baseball history: “Can’t anybody here play this game!”

Could Luol Deng, who sat out with a leg, injury, be that valuable?

The worst loss in franchise history was at Minnesota Nov. 8, 2001 in the nadir of the Floyd era, if such a depth could even be measured. The Bulls lost in Minnesota by 53, after which Charles Oakley wondered very aloud what the heck that idiot of a coach was doing. The team fined Oakley $50,000 despite truth being the ultimate defense.

There was one outrage after another Wednesday.

Larry Hughes, starting at small forward for Deng, took an inbounds pass after the Trailblazers blew out to a 12-1 lead and quickly fired a three without anyone else touching the ball. This after the Bulls opened with three turnovers in their first five possessions, so perhaps Hughes just figured no one would catch the ball.

Thomas threw an overhand fastball pass to Noah from about three feet away that flew eight feet over Noah’s head. Andres Nocioni, team high with 13, kept losing sight of his man leading to backdoor slams several times. Look, no one is being singled out here. Bulls players backed off the three-point line despite Portland hitting their first two threes. The Bulls had just six assists with two minutes left in the third quarter.

Gordon dribbled the ball multiple times at the top of the circle and then ran into an offensive foul. Thomas followed that turning the corner and running into an offensive foul. Rose threw balls into Joel Przybilla’s underarms and dribbled the ball off himself out of bounds. Przybilla had a season high 14 points with nine rebounds and three blocks as everyone scored for Portland.

“I think it started with our defense and shadowing Derrick Rose,” said Portland coach Nate McMillan of what Rose will get from now on. “That seemed to disrupt their offense. We just came out and were all about business. From start to finish, this was our best game of the season.”

Hey, it was bad all around, and it happens, though you hate to see a team give up and play dumb. That said, the Bulls hadn’t done it much this season, basically only against Boston in the first week of the season and at 5-7 have their second best record at this point in the season in 10 years.

“They jumped on us early,” noted Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “They put a little pressure on us and got us out of it a little bit. Their big guys just controlled the paint on us. We got in foul trouble early. We had too many turnovers and we got back on our heels. The list can go on and on. It was just one of those games where we could never get anything going and give Portland a lot of credit. Their size with Oden and Pryzbilla and their length… they share the ball and get out in the open court… Aldridge… the list goes on. They did a better job with their pressure. For us, I’m curious every night how we’re going to respond. We’ve had that personality to bounce back, but we didn’t have it (Wednesday).”

The Bulls really haven’t been playing like this, but Wednesday’s blowout after Tuesday’s against the Lakers in which the Bulls never really were in the game, did emphasize some fundamental weaknesses that go beyond the individual play.

Like the Lakers, the Trailblazers are huge up front, especially with Oden returning. The Bulls front line is no match in these types of games, so perhaps Friday in Golden State will be a better test. Against Don Nelson’s Warriors, it’s a small ball, open court, penetration game in which the Bulls should compete. If they cannot compete in that kind of game, even if they do not win, then there will be more serious questions.

Aaron Gray, who started, is too slow, though a decent backup second round pick. Joakim Noah was more active this time compared with Tuesday’s game, though much too skinny as he fouled out in just 17 minutes and spent way too much time again complaining about calls, which usually just gets you more.

“I don’t even know what to say,” Noah offered after the game. “It’s a long season and we’ve got a lot of growing to do. You’ve got to work harder. I feel like sometimes you can’t make excuses for yourself. You need to put things in perspective and realize individually we’ll have to play harder. Basketball is a game of runs, but at the same time you can’t be down all the time. You just have to play hard and play possession by possession. I feel like we were giving up so many easy plays around the basket.”

Last season, Noah complained about the team play and eventually-and extraordinarily-had a suspension extended by request of his teammates. At this point, his teammates probably are thinking he should be at least in better condition before complaining much.

Thomas? He had seven points, though four in the last two minutes when he seemed to be enjoying the garbage time scoring chances.

One of the big story lines for Wednesday was Thomas’ play against Aldridge. It wasn’t one of Aldridge’s better efforts, four of 13 for 11 points with a pair of blocks. Not that anyone didn’t know, but he is way more advanced and effective than Thomas and clearly a further source of Thomas’ frustration playing against him.

Aldridge isn’t a beast inside, but clearly plays in more control than Thomas and has a better feel for the game. He likes to pop out and shoot, but has some nice moves around the basket and one of the few times they were faced up against one another, Aldridge with the Trailblazers ahead 53-28, spun around Thomas for a layup. The next time Thomas had the ball, he missed with a quick shot 16 footer.

Will Thomas become Tyson Chandler?

That’s the question the Bulls still have to answer.

It’s easy to forget, but Chandler was the quivering wreck Thomas is now, being booed at home, literally in tears after games, throwing up shots so wild they were giving out body armor in the expensive seats. Chicago cheered when he was traded. Now, fans wonder how the Bulls could have done such a thing. Where was the patience? How could they think about replacing Chandler with a veteran like Ben Wallace? Perhaps, like Chandler, Thomas just needs a change of scenery and new team. Chandler once here seemed hopelessly lost.

Which brings up the question of moves, and if this trip continues badly—it’s now 6-54 in the so called November circus trip. These players weren’t there for them all, though it probably feels like it after Wednesday-it becomes how long can the team wait.

Which leads back to Portland again.

The rumors all season have been that Portland has been one of the teams most anxious to acquire Kirk Hinrich. And perhaps even while he is hurt. The thinking in Portland has to be that Steve Blake, though he played reasonably well Wednesday with 10 points, five assists and three turnovers, isn’t a point guard for the playoffs and Hinrich should be back in February, perhaps just in time for a playoff run and the playoffs.

Portland looked awfully good Wednesday, though they haven’t much of this season. They came into the game 24th in rebounding, 17th in blocks, 22nd in steals, 28th in opponent’s shooting, one of the key measures of defense, and 13th in points allowed. They certainly looked like a playoff team Wednesday, and the thinking is with Oden getting into shape they can make a run of some kind.

There’s been talk of importing Oden’s buddy Mike Conley from Memphis, but, for the Bulls, it comes down to deciding on a direction.

One is to accept that Rose is the future to build around, which they apparently have, and though not completely giving up now, aim for the free agent market of the next few years.

Look, I don’t think LeBron James wants to come to Chicago, but Chicago has plenty to sell to free agents with a championship basketball tradition, championship baseball history on the South Side, big city marketplace and home of the incoming U.S. President and perhaps an Olympics. The rumored deal you hear about has Hinrich going to the Trailblazers for someone like Channing Frye, whose name comes up often, and Raef LaFrentz and his $12.7 million expiring contract. Maybe you throw something in and get one of those many low first rounders the Trailblazers have hoarded. All they seem to need is an experienced point guard who can make a shot, like Hinrich.

Then after the season you let go of Gooden and Gordon and eventually make a move with Nocioni, who draws interest and essentially is a backup, and you’re so far under the salary cap you can bring in two big time free agents. And you’ve got the guy who already looks to me like the best point guard in the Eastern Conference.

I know. It’s a lot of ifs and buts and maybes, and it could make it painful until then and we’ve seen that story before in 2000 and it failed miserably. But the idea is to build a champion, and to do that you need stars. More than one. Like the U.S. economy, we have to hope Wednesday was the bottom.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors.

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