The NBA All-Star break is completed and now the teams in the Association can return to their usual order of business. This includes the Chicago Bulls, who have plenty of things to sort out. The Bulls begin the post All-Star break a game-and-a-half behind the Central Division leading Indiana Pacers.
The All-Star break could not have come at a better time.
The Bulls, losers of their last two games, winners of only four out of the last 10, appeared to be tiring out as the break approached. Once they take the basketball court again—this Tuesday (Feb. 19) in New Orleans to face the Hornets—the Bulls should resemble a rested team.
With the much-needed rest, comes a reset in focus.
In the two weeks leading up to the All-Star break, the Bulls withstood first, a Carlos Boozer-to-the-Toronto Raptors trade rumor. That was followed by the news that superstar guard Derrick Rose may not return at all this season.
Whether either situation happens is irrelevant. The Bulls have 30 games remaining on their schedule. Some things may change, just as some things will remain the same.
It is tough to deny the job that Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has done this season. The Bulls are playing good basketball without their best player, but they have two All-Stars this season. The other strike against Thibodeau is there are two candidates who have done a better job with their teams.
In San Antonio, Gregg Popovich has coached the Spurs to the NBA’s best overall record. He has taken an older team, mixed in a few mid to late first-round draft picks and added a couple of players nobody wanted and created a contender.
The other worthy candidate is former Bulls coach, current coach of the Los Angeles Clippers Vinny Del Negro.
Del Negro is developing into one of the NBA’s better coaches. Del Negro has the Clippers playing loose and carefree. He has the team on pace to win the first division title in the history of the Clipper franchise. That says it all.
Popovich or Del Negro will edge out Thibodeau for the NBA Coach of the Year Award.
Getting the acknowledgement as one of the best in your field provides a boon to your confidence. For Joakim Noah, the selection as an All-Star was the best thing that could have happened to his career.
Not only did Noah have one of his typical performances in the All-Star Game, he was on the basketball court in its closing minutes. Noah played with the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony and scored eight points, while hauling down 10 rebounds.
That is further proof that he belongs.
Going forward, I see Noah developing the swagger needed to push his team through hard times. He earned his place as an elite NBA player. Noah will follow up his play in the All-Star Game by leading the Bulls to playoffs.
The rumored Carlos Boozer-for-Andrea Bargnani deal would signal a shift in philosophy for the Bulls. Forget about everything that you have heard or read thus far, if the Bulls make such a trade, they are looking at the future and not the present.
As presently constituted, the Bulls are no closer to winning an NBA title than the sacrificial lamb that plays the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs. The only advantage the Bulls have is size. Trading for Bargnani adds a different element to the team. They would have a player who can stretch opposing defenses. He just happens to be a seven-footer.
Can he defend and rebound?
The answer is no on both questions.
On the plus side, defending and rebounding is all about effort. All Bargnani has to do is work hard. Besides, the Bulls have plenty of offensive-minded players playing the best defense of their lives. They have bought in to what head coach Tom Thibodeau is selling.
He will get another one of those players, as I see the trade for Bargnani happening.
Despite trailing the Pacers in the standings, the Bulls will bounce back and win the division. The division race will come down to the wire and might include the Milwaukee Bucks as well. How will the Bulls take first place? It will come down to the schedule.
For the Bulls, 14 of their remaining 30 games are against teams that are over .500. Adversely, the Pacers have 16 out of 29 games versus teams with winning records. The Bulls and Pacers go head-to-head twice, while Pacers play the Buck once.
The toughest games left on the schedule also favor the Bulls. They play the Miami Heat (three games), the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs. The Pacers have the New York Knicks (twice), the Los Angeles Clippers (twice), the Heat and Thunder.
In the end, the Bulls will overtake the Pacers, while seizing the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
Last week Derrick Rose told reporters that he was “far away” from his first NBA action since he tore his ACL in May. Although the news hit Bulls’ fans hard, there is a glimmer of hope: There is still just short of two months to go in the season.
Here is Rose on a possible return to the basketball court (per USA Today):
I don't have a set date. I'm not coming back until I'm 110%. Who knows when that can be? It can be within a couple of weeks. It could be next year. It could be any day. It could be any time. It's just that I'm not coming back until I'm ready.
If it was April 1 and Rose came out to declare he was “far away”, you would have the permission to panic. It would signal that the return of Rose would wait until next season. It is still February. Less than nine months removed from a surgery that takes 8-12 months to recover from, Rose is right on schedule. He is entitled to take his time in rehab.
Predicting a return date for Rose is something that should not take a toll on us. It is also something that his teammates cannot allow as a distraction.
The truth is, Rose will come back in due time. When he does, he will be at full strength and the Bulls will become instant contenders for the NBA title. That will happen before the season comes to a close.