Hollinger's Fading Stars article in today's Daily Dime made me think a lot about the bulls over the years, and what they should be aiming for going forward.
I think that the Boston Celtics provide a cautionary tale about trading away all of your long-term chips for a chance at a championship. As Bulls fans, we've had to put up with a lot of bullshit over the past 10 years. Hell, after the dynasty years I didn't even pay any attention to the team until Deng and Gordon's rookie years, when the Bulls actually started to resemble a basketball team again. But since then, I have lived through the ups and downs of our team, and had a smile on my face through at least 75% of it.
Why? Even though we've never (except for maybe that ill fated '07-'08 season) had any reason to believe that our team could win the championship, we've been wholly invested in the growth of our young players. We get excited about our team's new draft picks. We get a kick out of watching things start to click for our young players. We smile when we beat bad to mediocre teams - like Gordon's 4-point play to beat the Clippers last year. And we absolutely freak out when we beat "contenders" like the Cavs, Spurs, Celtics, Hawks, and Magic (all of whom the Bulls have beaten this year).
The point is, there are a lot of opportunities to smile when your team is "young" and "growing". Not only that, but you are able to feel fully invested in their success, having watched the progression over time. But what about a team like Boston?
Nearly three years ago Boston traded away young talents like Al Jefferson in order to assemble a team of nearly-past-their-prime all-stars for a chance to win now. Two years ago, they won the title. At that time, they were able to remain healthy, and there was little doubt throughout the season that they were the best team in the league. But now? Now they deal with chronic injuries to their core, and beyond that, their core just isn't what it used to be. KG is borderline Ben Wallace-on-the-Bulls status these days. Ray Allen is nearly a full notch below what he used to be. And even Paul Pierce isn't quite what he once was. True, they have two young guys in Rondo (especially) and Perkins (to some extent) that grew up over the past 2-3 years, and likely would not have grown to the extent that they did without the winning culture instilled by KG and Ray Allen. But was it worth it?
How good can you feel about watching guys your team didn't draft - who have only been wearing your team's uniform for less than a year - win a championship? Probably pretty damn good. But not the same as seeing Michael and Scottie finally reach that elite level after years of building momentum. Not as good as if you'd had some skin in the game, watching your team fail - but grow - year after year until they finally figured it out.
Now, nearly three years later, Celtics fans have to sit through agonizing seasons where making a deep playoff run only to fall short of the championship is fully disappointing, and simply making the playoffs is no achievement at all.
Celtics fans don't cheer player development. They don't care about their draft picks because their picks aren't going to see court time anyway. They don't cheer moral victories. They don't cheer close losses against elite teams, or close wins against mediocre teams. They are devastated by all losses, but especially losses to middling and lower rung teams. In short, there is a hell of a lot less to cheer for as a Celtics fans - especially these days - than there is as a Bulls fan.
Am I advocating a moritorium on trades or free agent signings? Absolutely not! Am I hoping that our team will be forever mediocre so as to give me more to cheer about? No way! But I am realizing that despite the fact that Gar/Pax have made some questionable decisions over the years, and JR is decidedly cheap, our team has been built in the "right" way. Noah, Deng, and Rose (and the departed BG) were all drafted by the Bulls. The Bulls even drafted "lovable", but far from elite, guys like Hinrich, Taj Gibson, and Nocioni. It makes the team fun to watch when you "grow up" with the players.
I would love if the Bulls could convince Bosh to come to Chicago. He's the classic "final piece" type guy, who can come in and push us over the top without totally destroying this team's identity. But Lebron? I know I could very easily learn to love watching him play in a Bulls uniform (just not #23!), but adding Lebron just kind of seems like cheating. Like the easy way out. I like the fact that this is Derrick's team. I don't really want it to be Lebron's (or at least I say that now, because I know I would be stoked if we could pry him away from the Cavs). Wade and Johnson scare me a bit too. They're a LOT older than Derrick and Noah. Then there's STAT and Boozer. I don't really see either one pushing us over the top. As the Ben Wallace debacle showed us, adding a free agent for the sake of adding a free agent is usually never smart.
I - like most Bulls fans - am tired of 10 year all-star droughts and over-excitement over 41-41 records. I would like to see another Bulls championship. But ideally, I would like to see the construction of a team that will contend for a championship for years to come. In the mean time, I'm happy to watch Derrick and Noah tear it up.