This Bulls season started under the pretense that things would be different, that management and the coaching staff would finally be on the same page, that the team would prioritize long-term goals over short-term success and that a more open-minded, player-friendly approach would permeate through the organization to make Bulls basketball fun again.
At the symbolic halfway point of the season, it's safe to say that hasn't happened. There's nothing inherently unique about this season, and that's what makes it so frustrating. The Bulls enter the All-Star break swimming in the same garbage that saturated the Thibodeau era, only this time without, uh, all of the good stuff.
Where Tom Thibodeau's Bulls prided themselves on fighting through adversity, this team always looks so damn defeated. Sadly, that might be the only difference from last year.
The ghost of Thibs lingers, but not in the way we had hoped. The defense-fueled, razor-thin margins of victory the Bulls enjoyed earlier in the year have given way to familiar problems. Namely: the entire fucking team is hurt because of circumstances that stand in direct contrast to the sensible approach Fred Hoiberg was supposed to install.
Let's start with Jimmy Butler, whose evolution from "half-ass cowboy" to perennial All-Star acted as the one ray of light in an otherwise bleak campaign. Naturally, it's all come crashing down because Butler kept playing through an assortment of injuries while leading the league minutes per game, just like last year.
the Butler injuries we know about since Jan: sprained ankle, left knee tendonitis, left knee sprain, upper thigh injury.— Stephen Noh (@hungarianjordan) February 6, 2016
Ugh. Butler played 47 mins on 2nd night of B2B. Missed next gm w/bad left knee. Then played at DEN and was carted off the floor. Sad stuff.— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) February 9, 2016
Isn't this exactly why Thibodeau was fired and ripped to shreds by ownership on his way out? The hypocrisy at play here is overwhelming. Of course, it doesn't stop at Jimmy.
Gasol is playing through a sore shoulder and Achilles: "I like to push it until the wheels fall off. Hopefully, it won't get worse."— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) January 17, 2016
I'll kick it to Jacob Bikshorn at D. Rose and Thorns, who wrote about the Bulls' usage of Gasol following the loss to the Hornets on Monday:
Fred Hoiberg continues to make Thibs-like decisions without drawing Thibs-like criticism. Pau Gasol logged 33 meaningless minutes, staying in the game until just two minutes remained. Gasol was the only source of offense for the Bulls, but Hoiberg's insistence on playing to keep the game close is not a good long-term decision. Pau filled the box score with 22 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, two steals and three blocks. A great night to be a Pau fantasy owner, a bad night to be a Bulls fan.
It also wouldn't be a Bulls season unless there was a key player rapidly dropping weight because of complications from surgery:
Hoiberg said Mirotic gets stitches out today but is "still in a lot of pain" Lost 15 pounds. No timeline but he's out weeks, not days.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) February 10, 2016
Re Niko, Hoiberg said "from the sound of things, this is the first complication this particular doctor has ever had in an appendix removal."— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) February 11, 2016
Credit to KC Johnson for calling the Bulls out on how they handle injuries as soon as it became apparent that Mirotic wouldn't be back as quickly as the team anticipated:
The Bulls have a history of releasing initial timelines that are more optimistic than realistic. The most public example, of course, followed Derrick Rose's ACL surgery, which stated Rose was expected to return sometime during the 2012-13 season. Rose actually was cleared to test his body further that season if he felt comfortable doing so but Rose declined.
More recently, the Bulls called Joakim Noah's May 2014 left knee surgery "minor" and assessed his rehabilitation time at eight to 12 weeks. Instead, Noah struggled with movement throughout the 2014-15 season and took until this past offseason, when he visited an acclaimed sports science academy, to move more naturally.
The Bulls also said Mike Dunleavy would return from his offseason back surgery in eight to 10 weeks, a timeline the veteran forward outright rejected at the team's annual media day to open training camp.
Has anything changed from last year? Well, there is one thing.
So many of the front offices' problems with Thibodeau stemmed from the coach's refusal to adhere to minutes restrictions for key players -- a mandate that has been totally dropped this year. It's easy to see why Thibs thought the minute restrictions were ridiculous -- he remembers that Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals when his Celtics lost to the Lakers in LA, and it still eats away at him.
It was supposed to be management's job to not only save the players from Thibs, but save the players from themselves. Instead, here's Jimmy Butler admitting he played in Denver despite team trainers having doubts about that decision. Here's management refusing to handcuff Hoiberg the way they did Thibodeau because suddenly it's their neck that might be on the line.
I was texting with Jason about all of this earlier this week, and he summed it up well: "It was trash last year and it's even worse trash now."
That's the sad truth the Bulls are facing at the trade deadline, that management ran a great coach out of town because it pretended it cared deeply the players' well-being, only to see the same problems arise as soon as he left because now Gar Forman's job could be in jeopardy. This leads me to believe Thibodeau was fired for, essentially, being rude. We're talking about professionals in a billion dollar business, here.
It's all so self-serving and stupid and short-sighted, and the Bulls can't overcome it. Their problems run deep and now there's not enough talent on the bench or on the court to save their ass. It's bad already and feels like it's going to keep getting worse.
Jimmy in good hands with alternate team doctor Pau Gasol. pic.twitter.com/TrLTGFapAq— jon greenberg (@jon_greenberg) February 6, 2016
An even better shot of Pau Gasol MD. pic.twitter.com/v0JIawQSxb— jon greenberg (@jon_greenberg) February 6, 2016
All trash basketball players look the same
Let's check in with Joakim Noah
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