What a fine two games not to have watched (which is why you won't be getting much analysis of them from me). Probably the first games I've missed all season, and they both turned out to be heartbreakers.
Since the decent start of the season (henceforth referred to as 'The Era of Good Feelings'), the Bulls have gone in varying stages of bad. The big 10 game slide started off with some abysmal performances but irked towards mere close losses. Then a lineup change, an correlating 3-game win streak, and 3 more close losses.
Does it really matter whether the losses are close or not? Perhaps not, but at least losses like the Pacers and Nuggets games suggest that disaster hasn't struck yet. They're still playing hard for Skiles, and in today's NBA that's a victory in itself. There's no coaching deathwatch to feel unease over, so at least the season's goals can still be focused on. At least, that's how I feel about the situation, maybe there's something in the past couple games that you noticed that suggests things are actually worse.
Lets remember the main goals of the season:
Preserve cap flexibility - With a recent 6 game win-streak, The Knicks #1 isn't quite as enticing, but as it stands now they still own 2 lottery picks in the upcoming draft. No big-salary pickups yet to speak of, Paxson still holds all the cards. Well not all the cards, as their current record may not only cause desperation but at least give other GMs the sense that the Bulls need to be desperate. If this team was over .500 it'd be a lot easier to feign the image of not needing to make a move, in order to drive a price down. With their record as it is now, how could a 'rebuilding' team send their established players to the Bulls and sell that trade to it's fanbase with Bulls having a similar record?(Note: This goal should read 'don't do anything stupid with cap flexibility'. I'm not advocating holding on to cap space for the Free Agent market. If a trade's out there, make it)
Improvement from Gordon and Deng - Luol Deng has shown some strides in his 2nd (20-year-old) season, and looks like the one definite keeper on the whole team. Gordon however has almost regressed in terms of his consistency. I do still like the move of him to the starting 2-guard spot. If he has a future here, it is at that position, so any move that guides that process along is a good thing. The new lineup has definitely helped Kirk Hinrich by switching him to starting point guard, lets see if Ben can make it work for him as well. At the very least we won't have to hear rumors from his 'camp' griping about him not starting.
Make the Playoffs - The Bulls are sadly (for the conference's sake) only 2.5 games out of the playoffs. A whole season passing without any playoff games would be a definite step backwards. Like I stated before the season, it is not the overall record that matters as much as general improvement of the team. Gaining playoff experience is part of that, no matter what the seed. Yes, even if it means getting their asses handed to them by the Pistons.
This needs to happen this season. With the frontcourt giving them next-to-nothing, it won't.
Tyson Chandler had one of the worst lines I've ever seen on Saturday. Mike Sweetney is still foul-prone and annoyingly inconsistent. We've been told over-and-over the reasons for their slow starts: Chandler because of his wasted offseason and Sweetney because he's a big fat turd(I kid 'cause I love). They are reasons, but not excuses. Too often we're told about players reporting out of shape (or from different teams) to camp, how it sets them back, how they need to work their way back, lather, rinse, repeat. It's almost halfway through the season, so that should have all been worked out.
I still think Sweetney can be a more efficient player than Eddy Curry. I still think Tyson Chandler will earn that contract extension and become (again) the most important part of the team's defense. But it has to start now. The next stretch of games before a Western Conference road trip are as follows: Knicks, Rockets, @Pacers, @Raptors, Wizards, Hawks. Time to make a move, and it can't be all on the shoulders of the jumpshooters. As we've seen all to often, that leads to losses of all kinds, heartbreaking or not.