At this time last year, the Bulls were plodding along without Derrick Rose, an inconsistent yet somewhat entertaining team that was managing to stay above water without their superstar. 2012 ended with a truly dreadful performance against the Bobcats on New Year's Eve, but there was still some hope heading into 2013.
What followed was yet another difficult year marred by injuries and #TheReturn that didn't happen as initially envisioned. And when it finally did happen, it was a disaster. Championship dreams transformed into lottery dreams with the latest season-ending knee surgery to Rose, and now there are major questions about his viability as an NBA superstar capable of leading the Bulls to a title.
There were some bright spots in 2013. Nate Robinson provided a roller coaster ride of thrills. The Jimmymergence happened. Marco Belinelli showed off his big balls. Taj Gibson is still dunking all over people. And Joakim Noah continues to entertain while also being a bit of a lightning rod.
So although this may be a bit rough at times, let's take a look back at the year that was 2013 in Chicago Bulls Basketball.
It wouldn't be tough to argue that January 2013 was the most enjoyable month of the calendar year as a Bulls fan. Following the New Year's Eve disaster, the Bulls went on a bit of a tear, winning three games in a row that included a 96-89 win AT Miami. The strong play continued on for the rest of the month, with Carlos Boozer looking like a bona fide All-Star, the Jimmymergence kicking into full gear and Nate shooting the lights out. This also happened:
The Bulls went 12-4 in January and wrapped up the month with a season record of 28-17. With a possible Rose return on the horizon, things were looking up.
As awesome as January was, February was just about the exact opposite. Kirk Hinrich was stuck in the well and the Bulls were blown out on multiple occasions. A 32-point loss in Denver. A 14-point loss against San Antonio. A 19-point loss against Miami. A 30-point loss in Oklahoma City. Not to mention a dreadful 71-69 loss at the hands of the Celtics that made eyes bleed. Oh, and Dr. Reggie made some comments that got just a little play in the media. So yeah, let's never speak of February 2013 ever again.
While January may have been the most enjoyable month of the year, March may have been the most eventful. March is of course when #TheReturn circus really swung into high gear, with the report that Rose had been cleared to return from his ACL injury providing the impetus. From that point on, we received Rose non-updates almost daily, and debate raged whether he was right to listen to his gut (and Dr. Reggie) as opposed to the doctors that actually treated him. It was frustrating, aggravating and tiresome, and yet, I couldn't stay away from it.
On the court, the Bulls were a model of inconsistency. One night they would lose by 42 points to the Kings, and the next they would destroy a good Warriors squad. It was quite fitting that the Bulls would go 7-7 in March, perfectly encapsulating their mediocrity.
March did provide the single biggest highlight of the regular season. On March 27, the Heat came into the United Center riding a 27-game winning streak. The Bulls were without Noah, Belinelli and Richard Hamilton (yawn), but none of that mattered, as the short-handed Bulls pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the year to end the streak. There were plenty of great individual moments in the game, but this will always be my favorite:
The first half of April was kind of blah as the regular season wound down. Noah battled plantar fasciitis nearly the whole month and the Bulls once again battled inconsistency. But before the regular season was up, they delivered one last streak-busting performance, ending the Knicks' 13-game winning streak on the back of Nate.
Then came the postseason and the Nets, who I and others quickly deemed to be a fraudulent bunch. The Nets made us eat our words after a Game 1 blowout, but the Bulls would come back and go up 3-1 in the series after one of the most incredible games and performances I've ever seen:
Nate's performance in that game was truly one for the ages, and one that I'll never forget.
May began with a spinal tap and guys puking on the bench, and it ended with a heartbreaking loss to Miami to end the season. But there was plenty of stuff that happened in between. Noah delivered a gutsy performance on one leg in a Game 7 against Brooklyn. In that same game, Belinelli showed off his aforementioned big balls to help the Bulls advance:
In the next round against the Heat, Nate played hero again:
Meanwhile, Noah was an excellent antagonist to both the Heat players and fans:
Although the season ended as expected against the Heat, it was hard not to be proud of the effort the ailing Bulls put together in the postseason. What could have turned ugly amid the Rose return crap didn't, which was a testament to the character of all those guys.
Watching the Heat win a second straight championship was brutal, and after seeing the Spurs nearly shoot their way to a title, it seemed clear the Bulls needed to improve their own shooting. Hence the selections of Tony Snell and Erik Murphy in the draft.
Rose was deemed to finally be himself again by Thibs, a positive sign heading into next season. But not everything was hunky-dory. At the end of the month, the Bulls strangely cut ties with Ron Adams, Thibs' lead assistant. This move led to rumors of a rift between Thibs and Gar Forman that haven't gone away. Go Bulls!
The Bulls said goodbye to Nate and Marco and said hello to Mike Dunleavy. The use of the full mini-MLE was a pleasant surprise, and at the time, the Dunleavy signing looked like a steal. The veteran forward was coming off a great season and looked to be a perfect complement to Rose. Almost a hybrid between the departed Belinelli and Kyle Korver, whose trade exception expired in July.
Around this time, there was also some increased speculation that the Bulls and Blazers were somewhat seriously discussing the possibility of a blockbuster trade involving Noah, LaMarcus Aldridge and possibly Butler. The Aldridge rumors started to pop up at the end of June, but things really started to "heat up" at the start of July. Nothing happened of course, although I must admit LMA would look good in a Bulls uniform about now.
In other news, Marquis Teague played well in Summer League. Needless to say, that didn't translate to this season.
August is usually the most boring month in NBA, and it was no different this year. We got sweet stories about interest in Anthony Tolliver, and the Bulls wound up inviting Dexter Pittman to camp. Really exciting stuff.
The Luol Deng contract saga kicked off with the Bulls bailing on extension talks. To this day, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times maintains the two sides are around $5 million apart, which doesn't seem to bode well for a new deal.
Meanwhile, the Rose hype machine was starting up again in preparation for the opening of training camp, with a new adidas commercial being released to the public:
The Bulls kicked off training camp at the end of the month, with a generally positive vibe around the team. I know I was as excited as I've ever been going into a new season.
After nearly 18 months away from the court, Rose finally returned. The preseason results were better than anybody could have imagined, with the Bulls star looking as good as ever. Rose put up ridiculous numbers in the preseason and delivered a vintage performance in a win over Indiana.
The actual #Return didn't go well at all, with the Heat blitzing the Bulls on Opening Night. Rose had issues dealing with the aggressive Heat defense, which should have been predictable but was a little disappointing given his dominant preseason.
The following game against the Knicks, Rose struggled for much of the game, but came up big when it mattered most:
This seems so long ago.
The Bulls lost the first two games of November, but then things started to pick up, even as Rose struggled to find his rhythm. The Bulls won five games in a row following the two straight losses to start the month, and one of those victories was a dominant home victory over Indiana. Rose buried six threes in the game and the Bulls appeared to be on the verge of putting it all together.
Then the Circus Trip happened...
The Bulls went out west and not only lost games, but lost their superstar for the season yet again, which in turn busted their championship hopes. When Rose tore his meniscus, I didn't even realize he had hurt himself. It seemed like such an innocent play. The shot of Rose being carried to the locker made me sick to my stomach, hammering home the realization that this was likely yet another serious injury.
I spent the entire next day refreshing Twitter and just praying the injury was a ligament sprain or a meniscus injury. But when it was revealed to be "just" a meniscus tear, I still felt absolutely awful because I knew another lost season was looming ahead.
The Bulls looked like a beaten team following the Rose injury, with a turf toe injury to Butler not helping matters. Deng stepped up in a big way in Rose's absence as trade rumors around the forward began to reach a fever pitch, but then he started to deal with injury problems as well. Losses piled up and a shot at the lottery seemed possible (and ideal), even in the laughably pathetic Eastern Conference.
This was in addition to losses in late November to the Cavaliers and Jazz. And not only were the Bulls losing games to bad teams, but they were just an incredible bore to watch. Embarrassing point guard play, a rough stretch from Boozer and a slew of injuries made the Bulls an unwatchable product.
Things haven't been quite as awful of late thanks to the signing of D.J. Augustin and the return of several players from injury, so for the anti-tanking crowd, there's that.
Looking ahead to 2014
The latest Rose injury has just sucked the life out of me as a Bulls fan. I entered the season super excited to watch as much Bulls as I could, and now it's hard for me to drum up much interest in some of these games. I didn't even realize there was a game tonight until yesterday, and I have little intention of watching, instead opting to go out and actually enjoy myself while ringing in the New Year.
As bad as the Bulls have looked, they'll probably still reach the playoffs in the terrible East. There are still solid parts in place, and there's still a miniscule chance Rose returns this year, although I have to imagine he looks at Russell Westbrook's latest setback and says no thanks.
Management could make it more likely for the Bulls to reach the lottery by moving some of the more important pieces in place. Injuries could also continue to pile up, which is obviously a possibility given the previous track record. I personally am rooting for the lottery and perhaps another 1.7 percent chance to nab a star.
In any case, 2014 is going to be an interesting year. Will Deng remain a Bull? Will Boozer be amnestied? Will Mirotic come over and be good right away? Will Rose return to form? These are all huge questions about the Bulls' future, and the answers will help shape what this team is like going forward. Obviously the biggie is Rose, and if he can't stay healthy or return to superstar form, the Bulls are probably screwed no matter what happens with the other guys.
So on that feel-good note, Happy New Year from all of us at Blog a Bull. Let's hope 2014 brings much more good fortune than 2013. Feel free to share your favorite moment(s) from 2013 in the comments.