A day later, and I still cannot bring myself to look at the final score from the Blazers game. That was one of the worst performances I have ever witnessed. I could not turn away until VDN mercifully pulled Rose out late in the third. That must be what it looks like when I try to play a basketball video game really drunk. I have no idea what I am doing on the offensive end and it just keeps turning into easy buckets for the other team. When you play that poorly, the momentum is all on your opponent and there is nothing you can do to make a run.
After that debacle, it is very easy to give in and say "this team's screwed as presently constructed." I took Matt's advice, though, and treated the game like it never happened. Doing so, I remembered how excited I was about this team's development before the game started. The reason we are all so upset about that loss was not just because of how garish it was. When the Bulls got whipped by the Celtics, most around here seemed willing to accept that that was just the way it was supposed to be. The Blazers game, though, presented a chance for the Bulls to grab a victory on the Circus Trip. (Did anyone else catch Jon Barry saying "they affectionately refer to it as the Circus Trip". There is absolutely no affection for that trip by the organization or its fans. This is not like the Spurs' annual rejuvenating "Rodeo Trip" tour.) At the very least, it should have been a competitive game.
While much of the blame for what happened should be heaped on VDN, I think there are still plenty of positives to take away from his young tenure. Certainly, some of these are only positives if you hold up as comparisons to his predecessors or his own previous decisions. However, I am still very optimistic that the quality of this team, even if as presently constituted, will be much greater by March. Anyways, here are some reminders of things to like so far.
- This is already Rose's team. While his talent is so obvious that even Skiles likely would have handed him the reigns, it is nice to know the head coach does not feel he has to put a rookie point god in his place.
- Ben Gordon is starting. It took some time and Hinrich's injury for this to develop, but it seems VDN realizes Gordon is the best fit in the backcourt next to Rose.
- VDN keeps looking for answers in the frontcourt. Some of these answers have been horribly wrong. Unfortunately, Tyrus's shaken confidence and Noah's lack of conditioning have forced VDN to look elsewhere. Until those 2 get their stuff together, we all are going to have to accept that right now Deng, Gooden, and Noc are the best frontcourt players.
- Tyrus and Noah keep getting chances to play. Again, it is on the two of them to force VDN to give them consistent minutes. At this point, neither deserves more than the cursory looks VDN gives them each game. At least he is willing to put them out there early and stick with them through a few mistakes. When he has pulled the plug on either one for a game, it has been disappointing yet feels different than when it happened under Skiles or the other guy.
- The team is currently 12th in defensive efficiency after playing the toughest opening schedule in the NBA. Of their 12 games, 9 have come against teams currently in the top 12 of Hollinger's Daily Rankings. With almost no interior defensive presence, they still are producing on that end. The offense is mired near the bottom at 26th. As the schedule begins to even out, we should see the team rise in both rankings.
- They found a way to get Deng involved. There was plenty of concern, and rightfully so, that Deng did not fit Rose and/or this offense. Either the offense was adapted to Deng or the coaches helped him adapt to it. Either way, this is probably my greatest source of optimism.
There are plenty of things I want to see done differently. I want to see a lot more out of Tyrus and Noah. I want to see a lot less of Hughes. This season was supposed to be a work in progress.
The team is already much further along than I thought they would be at this point in the season. Much of that is attributable to the way Rose has busted out of the gates. I think the team's other rookie, though, has shown some flashes of promise himself. If Rose had been struggling with turnovers, we all would have been calling for patience, let him learn how to not make those mistakes. VDN deserves the same patience. Let him work through the mistakes he is bound to make in terms of rotation. Let him get a chance to work with a confident Tyrus and a played-into-shape Noah. Let him realize that Hughes is a succubus. VDN was given a team with plenty of questions and a ridiculous opening schedule. All things considered, this season could be going a lot worst.