I'm not even really able to dig into what a debacle that game was last night. Had a lot of scenarios in mind going into it, but that result was not in the top 40 of speculated possibilities. Another solid start helped by Pau Gasol coming back, with Kyrie Irving hurt (yes, I cheered) and then...a total freefall.
It became so bad, you could say Thibs coached a bad game AND it wouldn't have mattered anyway. This team ultimately didn't matter: they weren't talented enough, weren't healthy enough, and whatever they had left wasn't playing well enough together to make a run. This Cavaliers team was not very good, and not only failing to beat them, but losing in 6 games, and with the final two games being more-or-less dominated, that's a real indictment. The only reason the Bulls ever look like contenders is because they play in the junior varsity conference, and if they were the 4th seed this year they'd would've been bounced in round one.
So top-5 stories of the week instead now points to the offseason:
- The Org. successfully undermined Tom Thibodeau all season to the point where the players quit too. Congratulations to everyone. This season ended on such a poor note that the 'mutual parting of ways' will probably have more urgency than the previous mere inevitability. The question now is how it plays out, with Thibs under contract, but a contract the Bulls don't want to pay a coach they no longer want, and so you can squint and see 'leverage' from all sides. It'll likely take time, plenty of time to discuss Thibs's merits as a coach and the rationale for moving on, and whether it's the right thing to do or not. As stated, last night was not a good night, but it was so bad it's an indictment on the Org. as well.
- A lot was made of the Bulls finally being healthy headed into a playoff run. However: a) Derrick Rose was playing but was coming off of knee surgery and b) Noah, Gibson, Gasol, and Mirotic all were either hurting already and/or suffered more injuries in the postseason. The grand minutes-restrictions experiment was well-intentioned but poorly-executed and didn't quite work regardless. We'll just have to watch into the offseason for quiet news stories of 'minor' procedures, a la Noah last summer, to get a gauge of who can really be counted on going forward. Would it surprise anybody if we find out in 2 weeks that Rose needs another knee scope, or had a bad back causing the 'stingers'?
- The former point will dictate a lot of exactly how many holes this offseason should try to fill. Will one of the frontcourt foursome be moved, thus requiring another big man to be signed? Backup PG and/or a combo-guard is the biggest need, with the wing spots being dicey as well with Mike Dunleavy an unrestricted free agent (entering his age-35 season) and a mere hope that Tony Snell and Doug McDermott are playoff-rotation-caliber players. Last offseason lauded the depth of the team, but having 'guys' in spots 9-12 is far less important than having fewer, better players you know can handle a role. The Bulls held on to their many pieces this past trade deadline instead of packaging and upgrading, and their entire bench was terrible this whole series.
- The Bulls have valued flexibility over all else, but that ended this past offseason after their Melo plan failed. Or, more accurately, will end when Jimmy Butler signs a maximum contract, after which (this will be a long, fun, separate post) the Bulls are creeping towards the luxury tax line even before factoring in additions. As a reminder, Thibodeau can't be 'traded' with or for players, and I wouldn't be too excited over the compensation being that great or immediately helpful. If the Bulls want to really shake up this roster, they'll have to be creative. Not their strong suit.
- These past few years have really sucked. The Rose injuries have sapped aspirations, and then when he finally came back this season it was ultimately a broken-down, inconsistent group that would tease and fail not only over the course of games but within the same game. The defensive identity has eroded and with a new coach will be gone. A new style may be forged, led by an All-Star backcourt and a stretch four (Mirotic's good weeks were one of the few true joys of the season, but his playoffs - and especially final game, what the hell was that foul on Shumpert for? - were terrible) but a lot of other things need to change for that to take hold, and next year may be a slight-step-back-before-two-steps-forward type of deal. Luckily the Bulls play in the East, and thus the playoffs is all but assured. There aren't even really other teams you can project making a big improvement to the top tier of the conference, outside of the Cavaliers simply 'gelling' more. So speculating over a Bulls run next year isn't exactly lying to ourselves, but it is a bit naive. We should really know better be now.
(expect these posts every Friday morning through the end of the month)
6. Heck, given this is a season-ender of a post, I should probably discuss the blog as well as the team, right? I think it was BaB's best year ever (my, um, 12th 'covering' the Bulls), and that's thanks to all the great contributors. Jason, Ricky, Chris, Alex, Kevin, and the guys at The Bulls Show were all huge this year and not only gave this site more, but better content. And thanks to the commenters, FanPost/Fanshotters, game previewers, lurkers, readers, the whole community. June and July are even bigger months than April and May in some respects, so there's little rest for us all and we'll be plugging away at this gig ASAP for you all.