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The Bulls’ biggest task is making us care

This Week in the Bulls is back and sadder than ever.

NBA: Chicago Bulls-Media Day David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

There are two distinct ideologies of fandom in sports. It can be hard to tell the difference when things are going well, but the disparity is easy to see as soon as a beloved team starts going south.

On one side, there’s a group that consumes fandom with a sense of obligation and views their team as a reflection of themselves. These are the people who never miss a high school football game in their community, treat every perceived slight against their college alma mater like a direct insult to their family and continue to fill baseball stadiums even as a below .500 team is finishing out the September string. On the other side is the fan who watches with a more critical eye, one who’s just as passionate but 10 times as cynical while being quick to threaten to disavow loyalty if the team becomes staid or directionless.

How you view this season of Chicago Bulls basketball likely comes down to whichever mindset you are prone to adopt. These are still the Bulls in appearance, the same uniform and logo and the same starting lineup introductions that continue to inspire chills. It’s just hard to look at a roster with eight new faces and think of this team as “our” guys.

I think everyone can agree it was time for the Bulls to move on from the previous core. It’s still hard to shake the way the team quit on Tom Thibodeau against Cleveland in the 2015 playoffs or the passive-aggressive undercurrent that swallowed the team whole last year. Athletes get hurt and they get old, and often times the worst thing you can do is hold on for too long. Still, there was a reason the failures of the last two seasons felt so devastating and it was because that group had given everyone so much to root for.

Who could forget Joakim Noah single-handedly dragging the Bulls to the second round with a Game 7 performance for the ages in Brooklyn? Who could forget the way a shorthanded and broken down roster somehow eneded the Heat’s 27-game winning streak at the UC? Then there’s Derrick Rose, his cinematic rise and fall, and fleeting moments like the playoff buzzer-beater against the Cavs that momentarily made us believe again.

Those Bulls didn’t win a championship and so they will never be remembered like ‘90s dynasty or the gold standard in this city that is the ‘85 Bears. They were an imperfect bunch that was brilliant and terminally flawed at the same time. More than anything, I’ll remember those Bulls for so often making us feel something in a way that was childish and embarassing but also the whole point of following sports.

The last core won us over even as they failed. Can Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade really do it again?

NBA: Preseason-Cleveland Cavaliers at Chicago Bulls Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulls had a path in front of them this offseason that should have been easy and convenient and would have put the long-term health of the franchise first. They got halfway there. Moving Rose for Robin Lopez and Jerian Grant looks like one of the smarter trades this front office as ever made. Letting Noah and Pau Gasol walk was equally prudent.

The Bulls had a fresh start right in front of them: rebuild around Jimmy Butler, target young players who can grow with a new core in free agency and maximize the position of your own draft pick. It was there for the taking. Instead, the Bulls decided to go the other way in a manner only they could fall into.

A Jerry Reinsdorf team doesn’t rebuild, it pulls a half-baked “reload” engineered to grab another year of playoff revenue while feigning the spirit of competitiveness. This time, the Bulls fell backwards into their goal in an even more stunning way than usual: Wade felt like a jilted ex-lover in Miami and his hometown was the only other place he wanted to play. This was a classic Reinsdorfian signing in every way, one that boosts the bottom line and launches the team towards mediocrity while sacrificing every bit of foresight that was accrued.

The signing of Rondo that preceded it was infinitely more unforgivable. A terrible fit for Fred Hoiberg’s system and a player who stopped making winning plays in favor of chasing stats years ago. The same way the Bulls enabled Pau Gasol over the last two seasons, they’re now enabling Rondo and Wade. What we’re left with is a team stuck in the middle of a transition period that is ultimately wasting time by putting off a proper rebuild.

And for what? A starting five that doesn’t have a single three-point shooter? A group of veterans who will block the development of the younger half of the roster while gunning for 40 wins? Another year of sabotaging Hoiberg, who was brought in specifically for his spread system only to be handed players who don’t fit it at all? Realistically, it’s a way for John Paxson and Gar Forman to save face and spew more meaningless corporate rhetoric about making the playoffs in seven of the last eight seasons.

The Bulls should have empowered Niko Mirotic instead of marginalizing him. They should have let Jimmy Butler continue to grow as a playmaker (look at the progression of these assist rates!) instead of shoehorning him between ball dominant veterans. They should have brought back E’Twaun Moore, because he defended his ass off, hit spot-up threes and was the only goddamn enjoyable thing about last season.

Instead, this offense is going to need a miracle to even be average because of the comical disregard for shooting. The defense is reliant on two aging perimeter players who haven’t given consistent effort in the regular season in years. There is some intriguing talent here, but will it really be put in position to succeed? And who is the one defining what constitutes success?

I don’t think it’s crazy to believe the Bulls can make the playoffs. Butler is a special player in the prime of his career and Wade will win the team some games in crunch time on sheer guile. The Bulls have been under Vegas’ preseason over/under the last four years and I would still probably take over on 38.5 wins. The lethargy that defined this team the last two years will hopefully be gone and a group that at least fights won’t be as frustrating to watch.

Then you remember how the Bulls built their last great team. Rose was the first pick in the draft. Luol Deng was No. 7, Noah was No. 9. In Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis, Cristiano Felicio and Doug McDermott, the Bulls have some good-looking young players. It’s just hard to believe that any of them are studs capable of lifting the franchise into a new era of actual contention.

There’s a middle ground between shameless Hinkie-style tanking and signing past-their-prime stars to fill the stadium and reach for a middling playoff seed. The Bulls were right there before they decided to fall into bad habits at the last second.

So this is what we’re left with, a weird holdover year gunning for the middle of the East while the chance to build the next great Bulls is deferred for at least one more season. Maybe Wade’s theatrics and Rondo’s ball fakes are enough for some of you. Just don’t misinterpret the cynicism from the rest of us that comes with wanting something more.

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Give the people what they want

Doug McDermott announced he would give up No. 3, like, seconds after the Bulls signed Dwyane Wade. He didn’t have much of a choice. While McDermott was contemplating his new number, he told my friend Dan Katz to post a Twitter poll.

Nearly 25,000 votes later, these were the results:

To me, this is legally binding. Do the right thing, Doug. No. 69 is your destiny.

The case for polar bears

A beautiful story in three parts.

A) Cristiano Felicio, reserve Bulls center and also the light of this world, wanted to give away a jersey on Twitter. All you had to do was answer a simple trivia question:

What, you haven’t been to the zoo with Cristiano Felicio before? Your loss. Fortunately, someone out there has:

Where are all my polar bear heads at??? Now: how does a person from Brazil decide that the polar bear is his favorite animal? I don’t know, but we have photographic evidence.

cristiano felicio polar bears

Turns out the first polar bear appeared at a Brazilian zoo in April 2015, which would be just before Felicio signed with the Bulls. Now you know.

Rajon Rondo screaming for Big Macs

Rajon Rondo screaming for Big Macs

Media day shenanigans

A video posted by Rajon Rondo (@rajonrondo) on

Just saying

How long did it take for someone to compare Paul Zipser to Larry Bird? Just one very good preseason game!

Genuinely excited for whatever the Zip God gives us this year.

The Booz News

This has been the Booz News.