The Chicago Bulls are currently sitting a top of the Eastern Conference with a nice foundation for the future, and presently are in the discussion to represent the East in the 2011 NBA Finals.
People are beginning to take notice, and for good reason.
This was not the case several years ago.
Just three seasons ago, the 2007-2008 Chicago Bulls had a poor bounce back season, winning 33 games, a 16 game drop off from the previous season, as veterans like Kirk Hinrich and Ben Wallace failed to live up to how they would change the franchise at this point.
The team was clearly missing that main facilitator who could help piece the unit back together, and return the Bulls to the glory days of the past.
As we know now, the team got extremely lucky on draft night (considering they had the 9th worst record) and ended up with the number one overall pick, a pick they used on current MVP front-runner, Derrick Rose.
The following season, the Bulls improved by 8 games (41 wins) led by Derrick Rose and fellow youngster, Joakim Noah. They made the playoffs as the 7th seed, and nearly toppled the Garnett-less Boston Celtics, losing in a hard-fought 7 games.
That off-season, the team lost leading scorer and 6th man Ben Gordon, but still managed to maintain a 41 win team as they once again reached the post season last year.
Luol Deng was healthy again, and Joakim Noah had a breakout season, averaging 11 rebounds per game.
Still, the team needed several more tweaks to truly achieve the status they have today. How then, with a similar team to last year, have the Bulls played to win a projected 59 wins by season's end, an 18 game improvement from last year?
Many will immediately credit the success to three factors:
1. The hiring of coach Tom Thibodeau
2. The Carlos Boozer signing
3. The emergence of Derrick Rose
These three factors are undoubtedly major reasons why the Bulls could win the East this season.
In general, though, the credit could be given to the patience of Chicago management and the notion of building a strong young core and ensuring they build on their overall chemistry and team unity together.
What exactly did Chicago management do that was so special?
It was also more of what they did not do.
At the end of the 2008-2009 season, as mentioned above, the Chicago Bulls improved by a solid 9 games and made the playoffs almost shocking the defending Champion Boston Celtics in the first round.
Many executives, following a similar season, would have ensured that their entire roster remain intact, especially those younger players, regardless of the costs. Especially if that player led the team in scoring and was only 25 years young.
I am speaking of course of Ben Gordon.
The Detroit Pistons ended up offering the former 6th man of the year a lucrative 5-year 55 million dollar contract.
Many pundits in Chicago believed Ben Gordon should be matched for such an offer, that it would be difficult for the team to find scoring options and build on their recent playoff experience.
Bulls management knew better.
Chicago executives knew that although they'd be losing a 20 point scorer, they could spend that cap space more efficiently in the future, and in the interim spend those field goal attempts that were previously used by Ben Gordon, perhaps on other players with higher percentages.
The following season, the Bulls scored roughly 4 points less a game, going from scoring 105.1 points to 100.8 in 2009-2010. They did, however, defend a lot better, allowing 102.6 points in 2010 as opposed to 105.8 in 2009.
Losing their number one scorer did not faze the Bulls, as Chicago would eventually use that cap space this past off-season to sign Carlos Boozer. They also made some key signings, such as strengthening their wing rotation by adding Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver.
Okay, so how does all of this relate to the Washington Wizards?
John Wall is currently averaging roughly 16 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds while playing a hefty 37.7 minutes per contest. He has been compared to Derrick Rose since his days as a Memphis Tiger, but is looking slightly further along in his development than Rose was as a Rookie.
Joakim Noah and JaVale McGee have also drawn some comparisons. Both are rather slender bigs, who have an uncanny ability to block shots and can run in transition with the aforementioned point guards. Noah is the better player now, with the better rebounding ability and overall higher basketball IQ. McGee has shown signs, however, of some untapped potential which can place him in the same category as his Chicago counterpart.
As for the rest of Washington's squad, well, it is a work in progress.
The Wiz have a nice establishment of youth in several areas. Trevor Booker could emerge along with Kevin Seraphin similarly to the Davis boys in Indiana (Antonio and Dale). Both are rugged athletes who could be lunch money stealing bullies in this league for years to come.
Jordan Crawford is looking more like Jamal Crawford as the games go on. Maybe it's an Atlanta thing, or a Crawford thing, but Jordan should be a future candidate for several 6th men of the year.
The wildcard will be the draft.
Pending on where the ping pong balls fall, Washington could end up with a nice piece to add to that core, placing them closer to the Chicago Bulls than many expect.
If the Wizards are wise, they could seek two players to fill their voids.
Many are not high on this draft, particularly with question marks of Harrison Barnes and Jarred Sullinger staying at least one more year in college.
Currently, Washington will likely be selecting in the top 6.
The hope is someone like Derrick Williams could fall in their laps, or possibly Harrison Barnes.
If not, then even an Enes Kanter or Terrence Jones could help the future scope of the team. Couple that pick by drafting accomplished, less risky, seniors like Dukies Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler with their Atlanta 1st rounder, and their own 2nd round pick, and the Wiz could be well on their way to a bright future.
Washington already has an image of the Bulls blueprint at their home offices. The players need to develop accordingly, and Ernie Grunfield needs to draft well.
Given these things, the Wizards time should come.
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