Do the Bulls want to make the playoffs?


Mar 3

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We begin to find out now whether the Bulls players want to make the playoffs.

Oh, everyone says they want to make it, and they basically mean it. But with Joakim Noah now out probably until April and several other players feeling the effects of a long season and short rotation and with three weeks of games against only winning teams, the temptation is to accept your fate and play it out.

After all, nine of the 15 players on the roster likely won’t return next season, or, at least, aren’t under contract. It is the risk all teams take that are doing what the Bulls are doing, pursuing a 2010 free agent strategy.

Which is why you see all of those teams having issues and the Bulls in relatively good position because they have more regulars—Noah, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson—committed to return.

The Knicks and Miami, for example, have basically their entire rosters comprised of players who are not wanted after this season. You can say that should motivate them to have good seasons so they can get a contract for next season. But it’s awfully difficult if you are selling yourself for the future to be an unselfish teammate. Why give up the ball to someone else when you know the team doesn’t want you back and having the better statistics will help you?

The Bulls, like the Heat, Knicks, Nets and several others, have to pursue the 2010 strategy because if gives the team a chance to get a star. And we know in the NBA you win with stars. But it’s also no coincidence all of these teams have had inconsistent seasons.

I’m not a big believer of the big motivational speech or team meetings. The last big team meeting I remember on the Bulls was when Fletcher Christian and Seaman Mills, er, mutineers Ben Wallace and Adrian Griffin, increased Noah’s suspension in his rookie season. This Bulls group for the last decade rarely has had a player who wanted to take on the vocal responsibility in a productive way.

But about now someone needs to stand up and take inventory on what this team wants to do.

With Rose, Deng, however battered he may be, Gibson, Hinrich and Brad Miller this Bulls team is good enough to make the playoffs in the East. They haven’t played like they are capable the last few games, dominated by both Indiana and Atlanta. Right now, they look like they’ll fight Charlotte for the last playoff spot with the Raptors, Heat and Bucks seemingly in better position, physically and mentally.

It’s easy for the Bulls to say to themselves they are injured and short handed and most of the guys won’t be around anyway. Or maybe get into the playoffs and maybe get Noah back and who knows.

It seems after Noah played 27 minutes in the overtime win over Portland last Friday, management decided to take the decision making out of coach Vinny Del Negro’s hands and just sat down Noah. Hinrich has been struggling trying to play huge guards, and it seems to be wearing him out. Deng’s knee is puffy, stiff and doesn’t flex well. Rose is getting banged around like a pin ball. Hardly anyone is even trying to practice.

It will take work and effort and sacrifice and maybe that’s too much. Though it’s probably time someone stands up and takes a roll call of who wants to finish it out the right way. It won’t be easy and it won’t mean particularly anymore money, or much more. But maybe it’s also a test to find out whether these are the players the Bulls thought they were.

Del Negro isn’t the conflict oriented kind, but likely most are playing for their jobs. So maybe a speech of that kind is in order. Vinny doesn’t tend to be confrontational, but maybe it is time to challenge this group. Not that they haven’t tried hard. They have. They’ve won big games and had good streaks. Now we get a good look at how badly they want it.

It starts with Memphis Thursday. They’ve had a good season, but are fading some and falling out of the playoff race in the West and are coming to Chicago in the second of a back to back after holding on to win in New Orleans Wednesday night. After Memphis, it’s still home for the Bulls against two very good teams, Dallas and Utah, and then on the road to Orlando, Miami, Memphis and Dallas and home to face Cleveland. Tough run.

But those teams all aren’t the ’96 Bulls.

If you compete, play aggressively on defense, push the ball and don’t let the opponents relax, you can get some wins, just like those five straight on the Western Conference road trip when the Bulls weren’t favored once.

Maybe throw some zones at the Grizzlies, who dominate on the interior as Marc Gasol runs a nice pick and roll with Mike Conley, but don’t shoot well. Make those big guys run the court. Move the ball, play for your teammates, attack the boards.

I know it’s easier to say, especially 60 games in. Which is why a player should say it.

It’s 22 games to the playoffs. The Bulls should show they still can have almost a full tank of gas with a bit more than a half roster. It’s dark and they’re not wearing sunglasses.

Hit it!

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