Sadness, Anger, Bull
Sports fandom is a bizarre phenomenon, one that comes in many forms. You may love a team or hate a team, love a player or hate a player. When it comes to the NBA, I love the Chicago Bulls. My all-time favorite player, Kirk Hinrich, was traded away by the Bulls on Thursday. This disappointing event prompted me to take my fury at the Bulls and put it into the written word.
It’s important as a journalist, and as a writer in general, to acknowledge and be aware of your biases. I’m a Bulls fan and a Kansas Jayhawks fan, Kirk Hinrich is a Jayhawk and has been a Bull for most of his career. As hard as I may try, I know that I’m going to be partial to Kirk’s cause. But this isn’t just a problem with what is happening with my favorite player, it’s got to do with the team as a whole.
It’s been said many times before and will be said many times in the future, but the biggest problem with the Bulls is the front office tandem of John Paxson and Gar Forman. Bad move after bad move has soured a large portion of the fanbase, myself included. Was it the right decision to part ways with Tom Thibodeau? I still think so. I still think that Fred Hoiberg needs to be given more time before he’s declared a bust of a hire. But when it comes to personnel, GarPax has made more than their fair share of bad moves.
Should we start with the draft? Everyone knows that drafting is a crapshoot, it’s hard to pick good college (or potentially international) players who will turn into good NBA players. However, after numerous bad picks, you have to wonder at what point it becomes a trend and a major flaw of the front office. Who could ever forget drafting Marquis Teague? Or current roster member Tony Snell, the man with no confidence in his shot and no dribbling ability to speak of. There’s also Doug McDermott, who was acquired in 2014 in exchange for two first round picks and has been a disappointment so far. The jury is out on current rookie Bobby Portis, who I personally like and will reserve judgment on. And second round picks often don’t turn out, but keeping Cameron Bairstow on the roster is a baffling decision to this day.
Does the GarPax regime get credit for drafting Jimmy Butler? Sure, they can have that. In fact, they’re incredibly lucky that Butler has turned into an all-star player, because they really couldn’t afford another drafting failure.
It’s not just the draft where the front office has failed however. To be fair, there’s only so much you can do in free agency when salary cap rules are so wild and players command all of your attention and can then step all over your heart and soul at the drop of a hat, but missing out on the biggest names several times is not a good look. Then there’s this year’s trade deadline. Kirk Hinrich, a fan favorite (more or less), is shipped away for a second round pick that is likely going to turn into nothing of value. Pau Gasol was not traded, despite alleged interest around the league. Pau can still contribute scoring-wise and will block a decent number of shots, but as an aging player who will likely walk in free agency, was there really no urgency to move him? Because now the team isn’t going to get anything in return for him when he inevitably leaves over the summer for a better team, one that can maybe contend for a title.
There were reports on Wednesday about a potential deal with the Sacramento Kings, one that would send Gasol and Snell to Sac-town for Ben McLemore, Kosta Koufos and lowered protection on a first round pick that the Bulls own of the Kings’. Again, bias alert, because I’m a McLemore supporter thanks to his status as a former KU player. Even so, I find it hard to believe that dumping an old, defensive black hole of a big and a wing who loses value each day due to poor play for even a better chance at a lottery pick is worthwhile, let alone when a younger big and an equal-at-worst young wing is in the mix. Locker room cancer Markieff Morris netted a first round pick at the deadline, Pau Gasol couldn’t?
Am I being too harsh on the Bulls and their front office? Maybe. Am I projecting general anger at the team’s relative failure this season on an easy scapegoat? Maybe. But the team is not as good as it should be and morale is down (just ask Taj Gibson) and someone has to be blamed. The players deserve some blame, the coaching staff deserves some blame, the front office deserves some blame.
Maybe someone else deserves a share of the blame too. Maybe one of the worst owners in sports deserves some blame too. Maybe the owner who cares more about his failing baseball team than his (formerly) contending basketball team deserves a share of the blame for the Bulls’ relative failure in 2016. Is Jerry Reinsdorf the one truly calling the shots for GarPax? We don’t know but I wouldn’t doubt it. There’s a history of rumors surrounding Reinsdorf claiming that he’s cheap. At what point do rumors become accepted reality?
The Bulls are over the NBA luxury tax threshold. Trading Hinrich was an obvious salary dump for the franchise, yet even with the move they won’t be beneath the threshold, which just makes you scratch your head even more. Of course there’s justification for this move, even if it’s made up out of thin air by the front office. Some fans will probably defend it because there really are still Garpax defenders out there (as absurd as that sounds). Despite playing better in fewer minutes this year, some people certainly will cite last season’s poor performance from Hinrich as a good reason to let him go. Probably the same people who, when a player they do like gets shipped away, will invoke “it’s a ‘what have you done for me lately?’ league!” in the opposite fashion. Such is life as a biased sports fan.
My good friend Mike and I disagree about where this Bulls team currently is in regards to contention. Sports debate is a great thing. We agree that the NBA Finals winner will be coming from the Western Conference this year. However, he believes that the Bulls still have a chance to be the best in the East (at least I believe he thinks so), while I think they don’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell at that mark. With that belief, I have no problem moving on from Pau Gasol and probably several other players on the current roster. At the trade deadline, when you can get value for what few assets you do have, you’ve got to do something about it when you consider the position you’re currently in when it comes to the standings. Dumping a player with little to no trade value in order to make a negligible change in luxury tax owed. It’s a head-scratching decision. Pau Gasol has real trade value and is leaving anyway at season’s end, why not get something for him when you’re all but guaranteed to not contend this year?
I’m well aware that this post is reactionary in nature, I know it’s a rant and it likely comes off as much less sophisticated than what I usually try to write, and if my favorite player wasn’t the one traded away then I probably wouldn’t have felt the need to put my anger into writing. But my displeasure with the team has been building ever since the 2014-15 season began, when rumors started swirling about letting Thibs go at season’s end. A badly run team with more questions than answers and a whirlwind of personnel challenges incoming. The angriest I’ve ever been when it comes to the game of basketball was the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season, when the Bulls didn’t even bother to show up in Game 6 versus Cleveland. Aside from rare moments of excitement and pleasure this season (shout out to you, Kirk, Jimmy, Portis and E’Twaun Moore), that anger never completely subsided. Good luck in Atlanta, Kirk, I hope you have a good run with a good team, one that may have some semblance of direction.
Oh Captain, my Captain.
For more of my views on the world of sports, follow me on Twitter. Featured image courtesy of ESPN.