Same old Bulls.
That's all I could think about during Saturday's 100-90 loss at Indiana.
Sure, there were plenty of reasons for the Bulls to lose -- Joakim Noah was out, it was the second game of a back-to-back and the eighth in 12 days, Joe Alexander was inadvertently inactive -- but all of them are just excuses. Good teams find a way to take care of business against the bad, and the Bulls squandered any potential momentum from what could have been a huge win on Friday against Portland.
Instead, the Bulls once again failed to take a winnable game against a crappy team. Stop me if you've heard this before.
After an inspired performance the night before, the Bulls came out flat and disinterested versus the Pacers. They never even made a run in what was by far their worst effort since the All-Star break -- their last lead was 17-15, and they never got closer than eight points (with 2:11 left) in the fourth quarter. It just was not a playoff-caliber performance.
And let's be honest: the Bulls hold on a postseason berth is becoming rather tenuous, even without what are hopefully minor injuries to Luol Deng and Derrick Rose. There are still five teams battling for four playoff spots; from a few different sources, the playoff odds currently look like this:
So even though the Bulls have roughly a 3-in-4 chance of making the playoffs, they are still the team most likely to be left out. Looking at those five teams* it's hard not to think that the Bulls are in the worst position. Not only is their best big man out indefinitely, but their schedule for the next three weeks is a fucking nightmare.
* Seeing Milwaukee at the top of the heap is unsettling, but spurred by high-energy newcomer Tim Thomas -- excuse me, that's John Salmons -- the Bucks had won six in a row before falling in Atlanta on Sunday. Salmons has led the Bucks in scoring in five of his seven games; in fact, he's playing a lot like he did last year after the Bulls acquired him. So maybe that's the Salmons' Secret™: If you want him to not suck ass, acquire him at midseason.
The Heat look to be the most vulnerable, given their current ninth-place standing, Dwyane Wade's injury problems, and their uneven play even when Wade does suit up. But their upcoming slate is the polar opposite of the Chicago's. They play nine of their next 10 at home, so even though they're now 2 1/2 games behind the Bulls, they could easily move ahead of them by the first day of spring.
Tough as the opponents may be over the next four games -- every team is over .500, and all but the Grizzlies are in the top-4 in their respective conferences -- the Bulls have to establish some momentum on this homestand. With a difficult four-game trip to immediately follow, they simply cannot afford to be the same old Bulls.
And here's how they can break the cycle:
1. Stop giving Jannero Pargo minutes
If you're wondering how the Bulls could lose to the Pacers, here's all you need to know:
Jannero Pargo, 16 field goal attempts; Derrick Rose, 14.
I'm going to say that any time the guy who's arguably your least-effective offensive player (Pargo currently sports .341 field goal percentage) puts the ball up more than your best, you're probably not going to win a whole lot of basketball games.
And from here on out, Pargo needs to stay glued to the bench.
Vinny Del Negro's love of the the three-guard lineup notwithstanding, Pargo has no business being on the floor anymore. If the Bulls think they have to run with three guards at times, it should exclusively be Rose, Kirk Hinrich, and Flip Murray. The Hinrich-Murray-Pargo arrangement they trotted out there a few times against the Pacers is a total abomination.
2. Give Pargo's minutes to Acie Law
Since Pargo does play some in traditional two-guard sets, those six-or-so minutes per game should immediately go to Law. I was one of the people that supported the Pargo signing, thinking he'd provide some instant offense off the bench, and essentially be a cheaper (albeit lesser) alternative to Ben Gordon. I could not have been more wrong, and now the Bulls should find out what they have in Law.
Pargo is an unconscionable jacker, shooting way too often and far too early in most possessions. On the other hand, Law, possibly because he's not very good at it, is somewhat reluctant to shoot, averaging 10.8 FGA per 36 minutes to Pargo's 17.6.
Pargo's 8.93 PER is the 70th-best mark among NBA point guards. Wait, I don't even need to bother with the stats; everyone can see that Pargo has been utterly atrocious. Because of that, there's absolutely no harm in playing Law instead. Law would provide more size, and there is a chance -- a small chance, but at least a chance -- that he might actually be serviceable. How many more games does Vinny need until he realizes that Pargo is not?
3. Try something new in the frontcourt
One game after LaMarcus Aldridge removed Taj Gibson's hard hat and repeatedly bludgeoned him over the head with his lunch pail to the tune of 32 points, the Bulls front line was again exposed by Troy Murphy and Roy Hibbert. I'm probably one of Hibbert's biggest fans -- when it seemed like the Bulls would be picking in the 10-range in the 2008 draft, I was hoping that if Kevin Love didn't fall to them, they'd pick Roy Hibbert -- but come on. He is not the irresistible force the Bulls' front court of movable objects made him appear to be.
Meanwhile, like in Wednesday's 120-110 win over the Pacers, the Bulls' also had trouble keeping tabs on Murphy. Might Joe Alexander have helped? Unfortunately, we'll never know. From the Daily Herald's Mike McGraw (and confirmed by K.C. Johnson):
The Indiana game offered a chance for the Bulls to get a look at forward Joe Alexander, who was acquired from Milwaukee with Hakim Warrick on Feb. 18.
But there was a mistake made while filling out the pregame roster. The same lineup was copied from the day before, with Noah active and Alexander inactive. So the second-year forward had to remain in street clothes on the bench.
How was a bigger deal not made of this? This was a huge, underreported mistake. For one, given the complete lack of front-court depth, Alexander really needs to be active. But more importantly, when staggering incompetence becomes a non-story, that speaks volumes about the current state of the organization.
Speaking of mistakes, the Bulls should rectify one they made 10 days ago and immediately re-sign Chris Richard, who never should have let go in the wake of their deadline deals. Richard is by no means a star, but he is a big body who showed himself to be a willing defender and solid rebounder. They cut the wrong guy.
Sure, given the trades someone had to go. And the obvious candidate would have been Jerome James, who hasn't played a game since the Bulls acquired him last season and never will. The suspicion, however, is that the Bulls' insurers are paying James' freight, which means he must remain on the roster or the responsibility for payment reverts back to the team.
Does that make any sense to you? If I total my car, the insurance company doesn't make cutting me a check contingent on me keeping the wreckage in my garage.
I understand the need to prevent teams from collecting insurance money on players they'd just prefer not to pay. But James is legitimately hurt. Not being able to play elsewhere would prove that he really is injured, and if he could play for another team, that would make a hell of a case of insurance fraud against the Bulls. I would think an insurance company would have significant interest in sussing out fraud, but I guess not. If anything, they should require that teams cut players once they begin collecting on a policy, just to confirm that the claims are actually legit.
Nevertheless, the result is that cutting James was out. Which left four candidates: Richards, Pargo, Devin Brown, and Lindsey Hunter.
As terrible as Pargo has been, he's shown some value in the past as a 3-point shooter in those we're-down-by-12-with-2:30-to-go rally attempts. And given that Brown is 6-foot-5, "only" 31, and can play the 2 or the 3, I would've cut Hunter's 39-year-old keister.
But because of Hunter's incomparable leadership -- which has propelled the Bulls to the two-games-over-.500 mountaintop -- the Bulls opted to continue wasting a roster spot on him and cast Richards aside. But that simply cannot be the final verdict. The Bulls are woefully thin up front, and someone needs to sit Hunter down and tell him that in order to re-sign Richards, he needs to go.
And I'm just the S.O.B. to do it: Lindsey, GTFO.