Friday, March 27, 2009

Top Ten challenges the Bulls have faced this season

No team, from the eventual NBA champs to the ones praying on lottery ping-pong balls, has a smooth trip through an 82 game NBA season. It seems though that the Bulls have faced more hurdles than normal. Here are the ten toughest of those challenges.

10: Fan expectations

After the failures of 2007-08, when the Bulls were picked by many to win the Eastern Conference and ended up winning only 33 games, the expectations were lowered this year. Yet there’s always pressure on millionaires playing a game, especially ones for a team that is second in the NBA in home attendance. Add in call-in radio shows, newspaper columnists and blogs like this one, and it’s no surprise fans have affected the team’s play.

9: Inconsistent inside play

Outside of Eddy Curry’s 16 points per game in 2004-05, the Bulls haven’t been able to find consistent points in the paint since Scottie and Mike were finishing at the rim in the late ‘90s. That trend continued for much of this season, as Ty-Rise Thomas, Joakim Noah, Drew Gooden and Aaron Gray struggled to put the ball in the hoop. Winning games is hard enough with the other nine of these challenges, but even tougher when the supposed strength of your team- scoring points- has long stretches of ineffectiveness.

8: Tougher Eastern Conference

It’s still not as good as it’s Western counterpart, but the Eastern Conference continues to get stronger. Cleveland has the league’s best record, Orlando is a legit threat, D-Wade is having an amazing year in Miami, Atlanta has the league’s best collection of young talent, and oh yeah, Boston has a nice championship ring on its finger. The Bulls are somewhere in the middle of the pack, but will have a long climb to the top.

7: Larry Hughes

Hughes was so disruptive that he essentially became the 2009 version of Tim Thomas, who in 2005 was told by the Bulls to stay at home and not disturb the team. Eventually GM John Paxson found a team to take Hughes, trading him to the New York Knicks for, of course, Tim Thomas.

6: Limited depth

The short bench the Bulls have used for much of the season is connected to another entry on the list- see #2- but also due to a lack of quality players. Guards Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon each rank among the top 14 in the league in minutes played, which could be an issue down the stretch of the season if they begin to fatigue.

5: Major roster shakeup mid-season

On February 18, the Bulls swapped Andres Nocioni and Drew Gooden to the Sacramento Kings for Brad Miller and John Salmons. The next day, Hughes was sent to the Knicks for Thomas and two injured bodies, while Thabo Sefelosha moved to Oklahoma City for a draft pick. Those deals could have caused big problems for the Bulls, but Miller and Salmons have been great additions and the team is 12-8 since the trades were made.

4: GM rumors

In the days following the trades, reports came out that Paxson was planning on resigning from his role as GM following the season. The rumors, which did not come from a Chicago reporter, claimed that Pax was stressed out from the job and wanted to spend more time with his family. Paxson denied that he was on his way out, saying he’s committed to bringing another title to the Bulls. But it’s hard to imagine that the talk didn’t disrupt the team’s concentration.

3: Rookie point guard

Even the best of rookie points, and that’s exactly what #1 pick Derrick Rose is, struggle with the transition to the NBA. Rose has done quite well, but he’s still committing nearly three turnovers a game and is completely clueless on defense. Nobody else on the roster could have done a better job running the team, and it’s clear Rose is going to be an All-Star for the next decade. Still, there is room for improvement.
2: Injuries

First it was Hughes, who before he was banished was out with a dislocated shoulder. Then Kirk Hinrich missed three months and 31 games after surgery on his thumb. Now Loul Deng is riding the bench in street clothes because of a stress fracture in his leg. There hasn’t been too many games this season that the Bulls have had a full compliment of players to work with.

1: Vinny Del Negro

Not only is Del Negro a rookie head coach, but he’s a rookie coach in any capacity. VDN has never called plays or motivated players or filed a scouting report or done anything a coach has to do. He’s gotten better as the season has moved along, but silly things like removing Rose and having Thabo Sefelosha throw an last second in-bounds pass in a February game versus Miami and benching Tyrus early in the year without a viable backup has cost the Bulls games. It’s strange to say that a team’s own head coach has been the biggest challenge to overcome, but that’s exactly the case for the 2008-09 Bulls.


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