Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Chicago Bulls are a Wailing Pit of Despair

The Chicago Bulls have nothing at stake this season and yet they remain the most infuriating team in basketball outside Sacramento.  They had virtually no chance of contending for a title this season; LeBron James cruelly lords over the Eastern Conference like a surly Prohibition-era bouncer who no longer recognizes the password "Derrick Rose," and the Western Conference superpowers loom on the horizon like mythical creatures from medieval map. But they have had reasons to hope for a good season.  Jimmy Butler has improbably blossomed into an All-Star.  After years in the wilderness, Pau Gasol has become a stalwart.  Yet, with all of this good fortune, the Bulls remain wracked by injuries, haunted by the ghost of a spurned coach, sunk into the fringes of playoff contention, and constantly mired in a never-ending saga of ludicrous intrigue that has made following this team an exhausting slog.

The Bulls are a professional basketball team that pays millions of dollars to find tall people to violently slam a basketball into a hoop more often than the other team of tall people and they are attempting to do this by going about their business like a coterie of Holy Roman burgraves making hushed midnight plans to assassinate someone with a poisonous reptile or otherwise disrupt the nuptials of the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg to the daughter of a fossilized Spanish count.

Many mediocre teams play in the NBA.  The Bulls operate with operatic levels of dysfunction, backbiting, reporter-assisted character assassination, and Shakespearean press conference statements delivered from a windswept cliff imported to Chicago at great expense.

Reinsdorf's press release announcing the firing of coach Tom Thibodeau was unusually venomous

The Bulls front office has a history of feuding with coaches.  Jerry Krause drove off Phil Jackson and then hired Iowa State head coach Tim Floyd.  John Paxson literally attacked Vinny Del Negro over a dispute over Joakim Noah's minutes. 


The Bulls then fired Del Negro and hired Tom Thibodeau, a basketball monomaniac who spent most of his time screaming ICE at the top of his lungs at a slightly less frequent clip than Arnold Schwarzenegger in that terrible Batman movie.  Thibodeau built the Bulls into an East contender until Rose began tearing his knee ligaments on an annual basis.  Even without Rose, the Bulls had an enjoyable never-say-die team that remained a pain in the ass for the East.  The Thibs Bulls reached their zenith in the 2013 playoffs when Joakim Noah and a vomiting Nate Robinson led them past the Brooklyn Nets.  The Nets were so aghast that they traded away all of their drafts to bring in some aging veterans and now are left a smoldering wreck.  After that triumph, Thibodeau began to feud with the front office over minutes.  At one point last year, Adrian Wojnarowski reported that a Bulls' assistant coach had been using fans in his office to drown out conversations because he was worried the room had been bugged and he was apparently using the Moscow Rules.

Thibodeau was fired in order to hire another coach from Iowa State.  Fred Hoiberg's first season has not gone smoothly.  Hoiberg removed Joakim Noah from the starting rotation and claimed it was his idea.  Noah disagreed.  Jimmy Butler criticized Hoiberg in the press.  The Bulls' offense, which Hoiberg was supposed to revolutionize, has languished.  It's not fair to write off a rookie coach in his first half-season, but it appears possible that the only person who wasted more money in Iowa this century than Jerry Reinsdorf is Jeb Bush, he blogged almost topically.

Following a sports team is silly; following a sports team through the bizarre edifice of interviews, statements, leaks to beat reporters, bloviation by local sports radio bloviators and calls from and endless number of Stans from Glen Ellyn, blog posts attacking beat reporters for being allied with various configurations of agents and front office sources and the Soviet Union, and players cryptically tweeting emojis is so profoundly stupid that it is irresistible.  I suppose it is possible for a smarter and more well-adjusted fan to follow the Bulls without falling victim to the miniature tempests of dysfunction that infect everything the Bulls do, but I don't know how.

Storylines from the Bulls' thrilling season have included: is this the year Derrick Rose is back; is this Jimmy Butler's team; is Derrick Rose jealous of Jimmy Butler; Derrick Rose buys Jimmy Butler a watch; Noah is coming off the bench by request; Noah denies asking to come off the bench; who elbowed Derrick Rose in the face; when is Derrick Rose back; Jimmy criticizes Hoiberg publicly; is Derrick Rose the worst player in the NBA; does Hoiberg know the NBA rules; is Derrick Rose back now that he no longer has a mask; is this Jimmy Butler's team; is Niko Mirotic being operated on with Bulgakov instruments; Derrick Rose-- is he back.

Is Derrick Rose back

I have no idea how a sports front office works.  They control a multi-million dollar business based on the skills and health of a dozen players and a group of coaches and support staff. They are constantly assailed by thousands of fans who literally boo and cheer them and are covered by an absurd network of reporters, bloggers, television personalities, and interested amateurs who delve into the workings of the team with the tenacity of a Nicholas Cage character splitting the Declaration of Independence in half to reveal a Secret Declaration of Independence written in a code that can only be solved by stealing the Liberty Bell and aligning it with the moon on a secret panel hidden underneath Monticello. Yet, the Bulls have decided that they should be portrayed in the media as an organization that runs by smashing goblets against walls, by hurrying rumors out to the press by their swiftest courier, by publicly telling employees they have failed them for the last time and then paying them millions to go away only because it is not currently legal in the United States for basketball teams to operate trap doors that open into a bottomless pit.

The Bulls are no longer in contention for anything.  Joakim Noah is injured and has probably played his last game as a Bull.  Jimmy Butler hurt his knee and plans to return this season before inevitably succumbing to the endless cycle of back and not back.  Derrick Rose has become an albatross.  Niko Mirotic lies languishing on in a hospital.  Pau Gasol may or may not be traded in the next several hours.  Kirk Hinrich is now more compression sleeve than man.  The fate of the Bulls remains in the hands of their Brains Trust: John Paxson, the Latrell Sprewell of General Managers, and Gar Forman, a dead-eyed human iguana.  The Bulls may look radically different by the time you read this, but the endless Bulls soap opera will continue until a long-lost twin Derrick Rose with amnesia is discovered with two healthy knees and the picks the Bulls traded for Doug McDermott.

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