I eagerly awaited this season. Finally a healthy Rose. Playoff Jimmy. Noah’s expanded game. 62 regular season victories seemed assured and an Eastern Conference finals beat down of Miami appeared on the horizon. The perfect preseason blew expectations through the roof.
There were some rough games early on (the collapse in Philadelphia stands out) and those games were extra frustrating. The Midwestern juggernaut was supposed to rise off the lake, not out of the cornfield. Instead Rose was awful and a couple of teammates seemed to join him every game. The whole team looked out of sync. But that did not diminish expectations. In fact, stomping Indiana reinforced them.
Then Rose went down again, the Clippers destroyed them and even pre-Burke Utah could beat them. I joined the tanking crowd. Started reading about the draft, thinking about places to send Deng, Hinrich and Dunleavy and even considering whether it was time to trade Gibson; everything Bulls except actually watching games. I hoped for losses and worried whether management was serious about not trading Deng. I cheered the Deng trade. I thought it might be the first of several roster weakening trades that would put the Bulls into the draft’s top 5.
Noah and Thibs had other ideas. Suddenly the Bulls were playing well and their enthusiasm and passion infected me, drawing me back in. Without Rose and Deng, they weren’t as aesthetically pleasing, but they were fun.
Actually, they are more fun than before. Losses and wins don’t matter. Victories are fun and with their flair for the dramatic, exciting. The losses don’t frustrate anymore. The Bulls won’t catch Miami and whether they finish third or sixth won’t matter much. In fact, the extra home playoff game might not be worth as much as drafting a little higher in June. The agony of defeat has been removed.
It’s left a lot more room for appreciation. Jimmy Butler is shooting terribly, he can’t buy a bucket. But instead of the bricks I can focus on his ability to jump passing lanes and his selfless work tapping offensive rebounds towards a bigger teammate. D.J. Augustin still doesn’t defend well and his passes often seem a little off, but that shot is beautiful. Even Carlos Boozer’s bull fighting defense doesn’t seem that bad. Instead it’s the nice little fifteen foot jumper that so often bails out a hapless offense that I’ll remember from this season.
And Joakim Noah. I didn’t need a lack of expectations to appreciate Noah. I love Noah. But not having Deng and Rose has certainly highlighted just how awesome Noah is and how many skills he brings to the table. (How is someone so awkward so successful?) We are so blessed to root for a player who not only puts his heart and soul into every point, but has continued to improve well after many players have plateaued. Thanks for making Bulls basketball fun again, Joakim.