By Chris Pennant (@kwandarykitten)
Are you tired, Chicago Bulls fans? Are you exhausted? Are you drained?
Are you not entertained?
Well, too damn bad. We’re only at the All-Star Break. To paraphrase this fantastic scene from “The Wire,” you have more s**t left in the bowl to eat, and I suggest you hold your nose and prepare yourself to continue eating.
Oh, this isn’t just a bitterly triumphant columnist reveling in the oh-so-pyrrhic victory of another Bulls season lost to the tanks. I’ve never been a proponent of tanking, that’s true. If the season goes down early, like when the ‘97 Spurs lost David Robinson to an injury and cashed in their chips to get Tim Duncan, there’s something to be said for that.
No, this is different. This is an organization that very much high on their own supply of hubris, and them tanking shouldn’t have had any other expected outcome. The circus may be no more, but the Bulls franchise has firmly embraced P.T. Barnum’s axiom in their current approach to basketball operations, and as long as fans keep paying for tickets, things will not change.
“Look at all the bull***t you’ve been through…”
The Chicago Bulls have reached the “halfway point” of their NBA season. Yeah, it’s well past the 42-game mark, but since the All-Star Break traditionally defines the midway point of the season, let’s play along.
This would typically be the time to evaluate the state of a team, whether they’re ensconced in the playoff picture, trying to push for the postseason or preparing themselves for future seasons. The Bulls aren’t really in any of these positions, however, not even the last.
They have a core forming in Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., and Zach LaVine, but there’s still some uncertainty about the overall effectiveness of Markkanen and LaVine. Carter’s thumb injury could rule him out for the remainder of the season. New acquisition Otto Porter hasn’t missed a step, but his onerous contract could mean he’ll be trade bait down the line instead of an integral piece for a contender.
Worse still, the Bulls are sticking with Jim Boylen. Never mind his record as head coach, which is only slightly worse than Fred Hoiberg’s from this season. Never mind the statistical inefficiencies of the team in his tenure. It’s the front office immediately ordaining him head coach only a few days after he took over. Why buck the trend of allowing an interim coach to prove themselves worthy of the job, especially when that coach’s only other top gig was in college?
The History of Hubris
A couple of months ago, Chicago sports historian Jack Silverstein created one of his always-interesting Twitter threads centering on the end of the Bulls dynasty. He detailed the exact ways the franchise screwed up life after Jordan, including links to Sun-Times and Tribune articles from 1998, 1999 and 2000.
The thread is obviously more thorough, but let me give you the distilled version, in case you forgot or are too young: the Bulls ran Phil Jackson out in favor of Tim Floyd (which meant Michael was also leaving), traded Scottie for a cowboy namesake and a second-round pick, and got back nearly nothing in any deals for the rest of the core (Rodman, Kukoc, Longley), save for a pick that became Ron Artest and Bruce Bowen, whom they promptly waived while keeping John Starks. If your stomach didn’t turn after reading all that, read the whole thread here.
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This isn’t a surprise to most Bulls fans. Who can forget the famous Jerry Krause (mis)quote, “Organizations win championships?” Krause understood that scouting and player development was only part of the puzzle, but the Bulls seem to have taken that particular idea and stubbornly held to it, at the expense of their two best stretches in team history, countless players and a nasty reputation throughout the league. Anthony Davis, arguably the best Chicagoan in the NBA right now, does not want to play here. There is nothing more than needs to be said on that front.
Hit Them Where it Hurts
In hindsight, this season could be forgiven for the potentially life-altering talent of Zion Williamson and the quality consolation prizes of Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett, Ja Morant and at least three other current NCAA ballplayers.
It’s possible that if the Bulls had gone about it in a better way, they could have erased several years of sticking a thumb in the eye of players and fans alike.
They, of course, did not tank in the most forgivable way possible.
The Bulls have scorched the earth of their franchise like they were planning on relocating and are stubbornly clinging to the notion they can rebuild their team and their reputation with one draft pick. After all, the team coffers have stayed full since 1985 and the turnstiles continue to turn – the Bulls are third in the league in attendance per game, trailing only the Sixers and Mavericks.
The only real response to this intentional ignorance has been more calls from the media for GarPax to step down and for ownership to do better. No less than four different outlets wrote variations of that message. But there’s no teeth behind those words if the fans agree and then put their money up to watch them play in person or buy the merchandise.
This is a capitalist society. There are some constraints in place so that teams don’t spend enough on player salaries, but otherwise, there isn’t much the Association can do about ownership unless they violate social protocols a la Donald Sterling (after those violations marinate for 25 years). The Reinsdorfs aren’t social assholes, their only crime is being committed to the bottom line, and that’s a virtue in the economy we have set up.
Money still talks, and in this case, asking ownership to sell the team walks a marathon. So as long as the stadium stays full, Bulls fans must not be as dissatisfied with the product as they say.
This is what you wanted, Bulls fans. Are you not entertained?
Beast of the Week: I was going to use this space to show love to Bobby Portis, aka (B)P Is Still Free, but Otto Porter said to hell with all that. Over his first three games with the Bulls, Porter averaged just under 18 points (five points higher than his season average) on 52.6% field-goal shooting and 57% three-point shooting.
Then on Wednesday, Porter put up a career-high 37 points with an astounding 88% effective field goal percentage (16-20 FG, 3-5 3P). Porter might not ever live up to being the No. 3 pick in the 2013 draft, but he has the potential to be a more reliable three-point shooter from the power forward spot than Portis.
Predictions and Predilections: Another week, another slate of potential losses on the plate for the Bulls. Carter and Hutchison’s absences mean more playing time for Lopez, Cristiano Felicio and Wayne Selden, with some run allotted for Brandon Sampson as well (I hope). The tank is on full overdrive, folks! Are you not entertained?
Feb. 22 at Magic – L
Feb. 23 vs. Celtics – L
Feb. 25 vs. Bucks – L
One Last Thing: Very clever of the league to move the All-Star Game to MJ’s birthday, seeing as February 17 fell on Sunday this season. As I made one of the worst decisions in my life last February 17, I won’t be as celebratory as the G.O.A.T.
As always, stand up to bullies. Don’t give them your money.
Chris Pennant covers the Chicago Bulls and basketball in general for WARR