The Other Side: Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls hadn't been to the White House since the Clinton administration, but they didn't need to win a championship to make a return visit. They only needed a Bulls fan to get elected president. President Obama, a longtime Bulls fan, invited his favorite team to his new home on Thursday and even received a jersey with "Obama" and No. 44 on the back. Obama joked with the team, telling the White House photographer before taking a picture that he wanted to stand next to guard Ben Gordon because ''Ben's not that tall.''
No one can question Obama's loyalty to his team, since the Bulls have struggled for most of this season. The Bulls are 26-32, but since they are in the Eastern Conference, they are only one game behind Milwaukee for the eighth spot. Chicago has won three of five since the all-star break and is 2-2 since General Manager John Paxson made several trades before the deadline that yielded Brad Miller, John Salmons, Tim Thomas and the ghost of Jerome James. Oddly enough, the two wins have come against winning teams Denver and Orlando, with the losses coming to losing teams Indiana and New Jersey.
The Bulls are looking for their third win against the Wizards. They won the first two games in Chicago -- 117-110 on Dec. 6 and 98-86 on Jan. 9 -- and they have won two in a row in Washington. For anyone who can't make to the game tonight, the Bulls will be back on March 23, in case President Obama wants to come back. Who knows, he might even see Gilbert Arenas by then.
Here is what you should know about the Bulls heading into the tonight's game at Verizon Center:
1. Bulls Nation Has a Heavy Heart
The Bulls had the honor of meeting President Obama in Washington on Thursday, but there was sadness in Chicago as the franchise lost two of its most popular and legendary figures in Stormin' Norman Van Lier and Johnny "Red" Kerr. Van Lier was a fiercely competitive three-time all-star who shared the same backcourt as Jerry Sloan. He was found dead in his home at age 61 and the cause of death was unknown. Kerr was a former NBA champion and all-star player as well as a coach, front-office executive and broadcaster the past 33 years. He died at age 76 after a long battle with prostate cancer. The Bulls honored Kerr on Feb. 10, with Michael Jordan clapping talcum powder in Kerr's face for old-time's sake. Kerr coached the Bulls to the playoffs in their inaugural season and a statue in his likeness graces the Madison Street concourse at United Center.
2. Derrick Rose -- ROY ... Defensive Liability?
Rose has been the front-runner for rookie of the year for most of the season, but he still has some room to improve -- especially on the defensive end. Since Rose won the Skills Challenge during all-star weekend in Phoenix (capping the victory with an impressive reverse dunk), Coach Vinny Del Negro has made it a routine to bench Rose late and rely on Kirk Hinrich to defend explosive opposing guards. Del Negro first pulled Rose at odd times against Indiana on Sunday, then he sat Rose until garbage time against Orlando on Tuesday, even as he led the team with 22 points. Is it working? Maybe not yet, given how Devin Harris kept running through screen-and-rolls to the tune of 42 points.
3. John Paxson Is Not Going Anywhere
The big Bulls news from all-star weekend had nothing to do with Rose. But the New York Post's Peter Vecsey reported that John Paxson was going to leave the organization after the trade deadline, then Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, who coached Paxson in Chicago gave the reasons why Paxson would consider stepping down. Since making three consecutive trips to the playoffs from 2005-07, the Bulls had a rough season last year, when they were unable to pull off trades for Kevin Garnett, Pau Gasol or Kobe Bryant (although the likelihood of those deals was minimal). Though Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf described this season as a "disaster," he had to convince Paxson to stay. And after being one of the more active general managers at the trade deadline, Paxson announced that he was going to stay with the team.
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