The NBA trade deadline passed only 16 hours after our Chicago Bulls scored a thoroughly improbable 106-102 victory over the rival Miami Heat on Wednesday night at the United Center. As expected, the occasion didn't so much as cause Chicago to raise a finger. The whispers days earlier about a possible connection to Los Angeles Lakers power forward Pau Gasol never really became audible; in an age with around-the-clock news gathering and a zillion brilliant writers and reporters covering the NBA, the Bulls couldn't even force their name into another vague rumor. No, when the official deadline passed at 3 p.m., we got what we should have anticipated all along: a slew of stories from the mainstream press focusing on how Chicago likes what it has, believes it's built for sustained success, and didn't want to do anything to ruin its spellbinding chemistry.
As of this moment, these are your Chicago Bulls. A Mike James or two may be added before the games really start to count, but for all intents and purposes, the roster right now is the roster Tom Thibodeau will be trying to win an NBA championship with come this summer.
So, do they have enough?
It was either a genius piece of ingenuity or miraculous coincidence that the Bulls played Miami the night before the trade deadline. How's this for a gauge of your self-worth: battle the team you'll surely see late in the playoffs, and decide if you're good enough to beat them.
Truth be told, the outcome of Wednesday night's game had no impact on the moves Chicago and Miami chose to make or not make -- no matter what we armchair general managers believe, the decision-makers in this league are rather intelligent, well-prepared human beings (yes, Bill Simmons, even David Kahn), and a one-off hours before the deadline wasn't about to have an impact on things that have obviously been eternally debated for months. Still, knowing that the team the Bulls have today is the team they will fight for a championship with, the win over the Heat sure was reassuring.
If we can beat those motherfuckers with goddamn John Lucas III running shit, the Eastern Conference Finals should be something just short of an emotionless execution. Right?
I talk basketball on the reg with a lot of different people; nearly all of them are Bulls fans. The consensus I got coming into Wednesday was this: the Bulls and Heat will almost certainly meet in the Eastern Conference Finals, and Miami will rightfully be a heavy favorite. The Bulls have a chance, but probably not a great one. Want to put a number on it? I would guess Chicago's confidence against the Heat hovers somewhere around 40 percent. This isn't David vs. Goliath or the equivalent of bringing a knife to a gun fight, but still. Miami has the most domineering physical presence in sports today who doubles as the best basketball player alive. Their second best player is one of the ten best players in the league; their third best player is probably one of the 25 best players in the league. Is anyone on Chicago aside from Rose even in the top 30?
We can debate forever, but the point persists: Miami is clearly the team with more talent, and -- let's be honest -- they kind of kicked the Bulls' ass in the playoffs last season. Derrick Rose is a superhuman, but when LeBron switches onto him in late game situations, you wonder if the headband hiding that receding hairline is composed of kryptonite.
All of these things remain true even after Wednesday night's victory, but I don't think it's shortsighted or impractical to say beating the Heat with the b-team did a tremendous amount to raise the general confidence of the fanbase, if not the team itself.
When sports teams are destined for greatness -- ie: a championship -- they tend to provide a moment or two during the regular season that foreshadows future riches. Y'all remember the '06 Bears? A dimwit could have identified the very real flaws on that team, but after that impossible primetime comeback against the Arizona Cardinals, all bets were off. Same goes for my beloved 2005 White Sox: I can't pick out an exact moment, but I'm vaguely recalling some Joe Crede heroics in an August or September game against the then-surging Cleveland Indians that really made me believe the team could do the unthinkable and bring Chicago a World Series. The 2010 'Hawks? How about this early season game against the Sharks, a 7-2 beatdown fueled by a pair of goals from Marian Hossa in his return from injury?
These moments are important, and Wednesday night very well may have been one for our Bulls. The Bulls' victory over the Heat without Derrick Rose, was, honestly, freaking preposterous. If they played that game 100 times, I think the Bulls might win about five of them. Add in that Carlos Boozer scored two -- 2! -- points, Luol Deng only scored 11, and LeBron and Dwyane Wade combined for 71......
I'm sorry, but that's a one-in-a-million scenario. And yet, the Bulls did it. Do you believe in miracles? Ect, ect, ect.
Here's the thing: Chicago's Rose-less victory did hold some real very truths. The Bulls have a distinct front-line advantage over the Heat -- on Wednesday, they out-rebounded them 50-34. The Bulls are an excellent passing team -- Wednesday, they finished with more assists without the starting point guard.
OK, so a few things were unsustainable. Namely: the three-point shooting (10 makes!) and John Lucas III's how-is-this-real-life effort of 24 points on 12 shots. That is stuff the Bulls can't count on when they meet the Heat for all of the proverbial marbles this summer. On the other hand, they'll most likely have Rose back. Sounds like an even trade-off to me.
I scanned the comments on Alex's trade deadline wrapup yesterday and saw some eye rolling on this K.C. Johnson tweet:
Skepticism is important, maybe even healthy, but I'm not sure I agree with it in this instance. Yes, the Bulls have been beat up all season. Sure, it's difficult to remember the team's marquee free agent signing, Richard Hamilton, is even a member of the squad. In a sense, the Bulls have been pretty unlucky. But you know what? These dudes have the best record in the NBA and none of the injuries are projected to cut into the postseason. Will Hamilton be healthy enough to be a factor? Well, who knows, but at least he doesn't have a torn ACL or something we *know* would keep him out. He can still be a difference-maker. I'm not trying to start some rah-rah "you gotta believe" shit; just saying, you know, maybe the Bulls are lucky, in some strange sense, that despite all of these bumps and bruises, there is still a genuine possibility they'll be at 100 percent in time for the postseason. Can you ask for anything more?
Yes, Miami has the most talent by leaps and bounds. They are basically unfair. But shouldn't LeBron have to win a championship before we become resigned to the fact that everyone else is playing for second? I think so.
The Bulls have a chance. The Thunder have a chance. The Mavs, the Clippers, and the Lakers probably have a chance, too. These playoffs are going to be stressful, tense, and exhilarating. If the Heat wipe the floor with everyone, so be it. If Miami does win the title, they'll deserve it. But with mounting evidence that James would truly rather avoid the nerve-racking late-game situations he routinely shrinks in, it doesn't make sense to raise their banner quite yet. The Bulls can do this, and they're going to have to do it with the same faces that are on the roster at this exact moment. The trade machine is fun and all, but there's something comforting about digging your heels in and fighting with what you have. Miami can bring it on. After Wednesday night, anything is possible.