After Monday night’s colossal collapse against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Chicago Bulls look to be in a heap of trouble. We all knew the theme for this season was “hang around until Derrick Rose returns,” but thus far this season, the Bulls have done little to prove that Rose’s presence can significantly alter this team’s dynamic.
Since the Miami Heat’s magical free-agent signing summer of 2010, it’s been understandably difficult to consider the Bulls as any more than a potential Cinderella story in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. The Heat have three top-tier stars; the Bulls just one. Quite simply, the only way the Bulls have ever been believed to be capable of unseating the reigning NBA champion Heat is with a suffocating defensive scheme, stellar bench play and the level of hustle a 1970s version of Pete Rose would envy.
Until recently, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau had a group of players capable of performing in such a way night after night.
Don’t get me wrong, the Bulls are still a respectable team. But Monday night’s loss was an experience modern Bulls fans aren’t too familiar with. Leading by as much as 27 points at one point in the second half, it seemed as if the Bulls would cruise to an easy victory over the Bucks. Even when Milwaukee narrowed the deficit to 10 with just a little over five minutes to play, it felt far-fetched to think Thibodeau’s squad could allow Milwaukee a chance to tie the game.
But that’s exactly what happened.
In the fourth quarter of Monday’s game, the Bulls couldn’t do anything. They couldn’t shoot, pass, rebound, or get to the free throw line. The last few minutes were so bad Carlos Boozer couldn’t snag a rebound from the block on a missed free throw attempt with 10.8 seconds left and the Bulls trailing by just a single point. If not for an errant inbounds pass by the Bucks, the Bulls might not have even been in position to have the final possession of the game.
It was ugly.
The scariest thing about the entire season thus far is how mediocre almost everyone on the squad appears to be. There’s no complimentary scorer waiting to lighten the load on Derrick Rose when he and his reconstructed knee return. Luol Deng, Boozer, Kirk Hinrich—not a one of them looks to be anything but older this year. Sure, Joakim Noah looks to be a little improved, shooting with greater accuracy and avoiding foul trouble for the most part this season, but the improvement of Noah has practically been negated by the lowest points-per-game average and shooting percentage of Carlos Boozer’s Chicago tenure.
In nearly every aspect of the game, the Bulls look to be on the verge of a serious decline. The once prominent “bench mob” is no more, replaced by players Thibodeau barely trusts enough to play significant minutes; in Monday night’s game, Deng played all but one minute. Also Monday, for the first time in quite possibly Thibodeau’s reign as Bulls head coach, the sense of urgency on defense and tenacity that have been staples in the Bulls’ culture went AWOL.
It will be interesting to see how this Bulls team plays down the stretch. Of course, Monday night’s buckling may be nothing more than an isolated incident.
Of course, it could also spell trouble for an already reeling team.