Bulls aren't championship contenders yet, and it's OK


Oct 28

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Do you want a coach who tells you what you want to hear, says what is politically correct and generally misleads you about the fate of his team? Or do you want a coach who tells you the truth?

Can you handle the truth?

That was the Bulls story of the day Tuesday, in part, because there is no story of the day.

This preseason has gone on way, way too long. One sign is I’m writing about this.

Derrick Rose probably is OK. So is everyone else. So let’s play some games already. The NBA did begin Tuesday night, and in the featured game the Boston Celtics fairly easily outplayed the Cavaliers in Cleveland with the Big Experiment not looking so good to start. With Shaquille O’Neal, the Cavs now are 23 games behind their pace of last season when they won their first 23 games at home. They’re now 0-1 at home.

The Bulls don’t open until Thursday. And how many times can you ask Rose about his ankle? We may be two days from asking Lindsey Hunter…something.

So coach Vinny Del Negro went on ESPN-1000 radio Tuesday morning and was working his way through his list of clichés when co host Marc Silverman blurted out one of those media non questions that was sort of an indictment regarding playing Derrick Rose down the stretch in games.

Actually, Vinny did just about all the time with a rare exception or two last season, and certainly in the playoffs. But one of the second guesses about Vinny last season involved who was taking last shots–though the Bulls missed just about all of them until the playoffs–and timeouts.

NBA coaches tend to have thin skin regarding being second guessed. Mike Fratello once screamed at me for 10 minutes while I was writing on deadline after I’d questioned his use of John Battle, whoever that was. So maybe Vinny is officially a veteran NBA coach now.

Anyway, the exchange became a bit abrupt as Del Negro explained: “He’s my best player, but he’s still young. He’s still growing. Confidence is a big thing in this game. Statistically at the end of games last year, Derrick wasn’t our best player.”

Asked about Rose being on the floor late so he can prepare for playing for a championship, Del Negro responded: “Well, I agree with that, but do you think we’re ready to win a championship with all these young guys?”

No, obviously.

But this also set off a mini frenzy of concern that Del Negro was saying the Bulls can’t win the championship this season.

And the issue would be?

Oh, right, you’re not supposed to say that! Even if everyone knows. Where’s your sense of competition? Don’t dribble out the clock trailing by 20 with seven seconds left. You never know. The felony is giving up.

I got a bunch of emails from fans suggesting the coach wasn’t showing the proper faith in his team and there was radio discussion about how this was violating the unwritten rule—don’t you wish someone would write them down—about promoting your team to properly motivate them.

Later at practice, Del Negro sought to diffuse the issue—if it was actually one—by explaining he never said the team didn’t have a chance to win a title, that the Bulls have the players to do so. But you have to work every day and blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda….

Oh, where was I?

Of course, the Bulls don’t have a chance to win the NBA title this season. It’s ludicrous to suggest they do. Neither do about 20 some other teams. I have yet to get one email even from the guys who send me emails with Bulls logos and declare themselves the biggest fans ever that predicts the Bulls will win the 2010 championship.

They aren’t good enough. It’s OK.

We all learn we aren’t good enough for something. So then we try to get better. That’s what the Bulls are trying to do. Did anyone say the goal was to win the championship this season? I know, I know. You try to win all the games. You are only limited by your doubts. I wish I’d say that. Oh, I did.

But how about trying to get to the second round of the playoffs first?

The Bulls don’t have good enough players yet to win the championship.

Basically, no one’s ever won a championship without an All-Star, and the Bulls don’t have one yet. Rose could be. He’s certainly answered enough bad ankle questions to be on the all-ankle ouchie team.

There was one aberrant season, 1978-79, when the Seattle Supersonics without an All-Star went to the Finals. But that was probably the worst era of the NBA with the recent merger of the ABA and the ABA talent, generally more star oriented than the NBA in that time, working its way on to various teams.

The 44-win Washington Bullets won the championship that season. Only three of 22 teams that season won more than 50 games.

This could be a great NBA season. There are several teams that could win 60 games and led by future Hall of Famers, like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan. The other one has Dwight Howard and Vince Carter. You aren’t about to get to the Finals and win a championship this season on some fluke.

So good for Vinny. He thought you could handle the truth. He may have given some too much credit.

Fans and media types always are wishin’ and hopin’ for the real story, for their favorite sports figures to be straight and honest with them, to tell them what they really think.

Or do they really want that? From the way Del Negro’s comments were disseminated, it suggests many media types and fans would rather live in a fantasy world and assume everything is always going to work out as they hope. Perhaps it’s appropriate to remain optimistic as much and as long as you can.

I guess you can live that way.

Sometimes there is too much truth, and I understand why the Bulls weren’t thrilled when Scott Skiles a few years back wondered aloud if Tyrus Thomas ever would try. Sometimes there’s better ways of putting things, I agree. But I’d rather hear it the way I believe Vinny meant it. There’s no shame in acknowledging the obvious.

There’s a process to this. It doesn’t happen from wishing and hoping and pretending there’s a tooth fairy. It happens when you gain experience, when you work harder, when you learn from your mistakes and when you build your talent base. It doesn’t happen because we want it. It happens when you earn it.

This Bulls team isn’t at that level yet. But they have the chance to be pretty good before too long. The players also ought to know that and know they’ve got a lot of work to do.

I’m proud of Vinny for telling it like it really is. Howard Cosell would be as well. And Jack Nicholson (are you missing all my ’60s and ’80s references)? Maybe the truth is just overrated.


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