The Other Side: Chicago Bulls

I figured you guys weren't going to win a championship any time soon, so this is the only way I was going to meet you. (White House Photo)

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.

By Michael Lee |  February 27, 2009; 10:37 AM ET
Previous: Long Practice, Arenas Participates | Next: Wizards (13-44) vs. Bulls (26-32)


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"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."

Yep, Rose needs help on defense. But Kirk Hinrich is no penetrator, either, so if you put him out there running the offense, you lose a good ten points a contest.

I'm not convinced Del Negro is the right coach for this team. They need somebody older and more mature, to calm them down a little. The combative, feisty, my way or the highway type doesn't seem to work.

Posted by: Samson151 | February 27, 2009 11:11 AM

"They need somebody older and more mature, to calm them down a little. The combative, feisty, my way or the highway type doesn't seem to work. "

I don't get the impression that Del Negro is a real dictatorial type. In fact, he may be a bit too pliant for such a young team. Skiles was a real Napoleon, but he got them to play well, hard, and got them into the playoffs. I agree a guy like that can usually only take a team so far. Their problem was that they waited too long to fire him.

The Bulls are a bit of a mess right now. They have lots of talent, but look directionless. They don't really have an identity, their best on-court leader is a rookie and the coach seems a bit lost. And remaking their roster at the deadline just threw more change into the mix.

Posted by: kalo_rama | February 27, 2009 11:27 AM

Good point. I hadn't checked their roster, but looks like they have 5 players with 3 years or less; 4 with 4 to 8 years, ordinarily considered prime time; and several older guys (Lindsey Hunter has 15 years, Tim Thomas 11, Brad Miller 10...). I'm electing not to count Jerome James, who appears to have passed away in his sleep at some point.

The four guys in their prime period would be John Salmons (6 years), Hinrich (5), and Deng and Gordon, both 4 years.

Everybody else is, in NBA terms at least, a geezer or a kid.

That would be a problem, all right. Outside of Deng, the prime-time guys all appear to have severe limitations. Gordon's a scorer, Hinrich a passer. Salmons was probably a good acquisition, given these circumstances.

I figure if a coach resorts to putting Hinrich in as a defensive replacement, slow as he is, then things are worse than we thought.

Posted by: Samson151 | February 27, 2009 12:54 PM

Ivan keeps peddling Taps’ quote on McGee: “A flashy dunk is not necessarily playing well. You have to look at what is being given up on the other end”.

And he likes to pepper it with Jamison’s quote: "It's a time when certain guys have to be professional and treat it as their job and be mentally and physically prepared when they're out there on the court."

But exactly who is giving up what on the “other end”? When you isolate scoring of the opposing teams when a player is on versus off the court (normalized to 48 minutes), here are the facts for the two veteran all-star captains versus the unprepared rook:

Butler - opposition scores 7 more points when on court

Jamison – opposition scores 5 more points when on court

McGee – opposition scores 5 more points when on court

If somewhere there has been a change and the “other end” of the court is now the focus for the Wiz, McGee should play alongside Blatche rather than Jamison. McGee/Blatche play evenly against the competition when they are on the floor together.

Conversely, Jamison needs somebody like Haywood who stays home and is not very active on the defensive end (so pairing Jamison with McGee isn’t a good idea if defense is now paramount).

In any event, the team’s objectives for the remainder of the year should include player development.

In that regard, McGee is widely recognized around the league as having large upside potential, particularly given that his biggest handicap is defensive positioning (which is correctable with good coaching).

On the other hand, McGuire can’t reasonably be expected to become a star player. For example, if you look at the per-minute stats of offensively-impaired players such as Shane Battier or Tyrus Thomas, they don’t improve much over time with play.

Given these factors, why are the Wiz focusing so much of their developmental efforts on McGuire and so little on McGee? To try to win one or two more games this year? If that is case, as Obama would say, that would just be silly.

Posted by: Izman | February 27, 2009 1:21 PM

Izman, I like your thought process.

The way the team is playing is a reflection of the rotations that are devised by a totally inexperienced head coach. He doesn't seem to have a clue about the advantages/disadvantages of playing certain players with other players. Furthermore, I don't believe that anyone on that staff thinks about those things beyond "gut feel".

Posted by: getabigboyoffense | February 27, 2009 1:52 PM

"Outside of Deng, the prime-time guys all appear to have severe limitations.",/i>

Even Deng, as good as he is, is still a bit of a tweener: not really big or strong enough for the 4, but not really quick enough or a good enough shooter/ballhandler for the three. he's really a younger, more athletic version of Jamison.

"I'm electing not to count Jerome James, who appears to have passed away in his sleep at some point."

I think he may have dropped dead of shock after realizing how easy it was to fleece the Knicks out of all that money.

Posted by: kalo_rama | February 27, 2009 2:03 PM

"I figure if a coach resorts to putting Hinrich in as a defensive replacement, slow as he is, then things are worse than we thought."

Believe it or not, Hinrich was actually 2nd team All NBA defensive team one year. Yeah, I was surprised, too.

Posted by: disgruntledfan | February 27, 2009 2:33 PM

Good comments, Izman. A guy like McGuire who does the dirty work and defers to the star players is always going to be more favorably viewed by the stars. I like what McGuire is doing, and I'm sure Jamison likes it too, because McGuire makes life easier for him by shouldering some of his load.

As for your question about why the team is giving McGuire so much of an opportunity -- the team has decided to give Butler defensive help to help cover his shortcomings. You'll remember that McGuire
hardly played when Stevenson was getting major minutes at the beginning of the season. When Stevenson went down, McGuire started getting big minutes. Why? Because if Nick Young got those minutes instead, then Caron Butler may have had to guard the opposing team's best wing player. Caron can't or doesn't want to do that, so the team inserted McGuire to do Caron's dirty work.

Posted by: disgruntledfan | February 27, 2009 2:34 PM

It's really simple, when Stevenson went down Tapscott felt he needed defense in the spot so he moved Caron to the shooting guard spot and McGuire to the wing position. This would allow Caron to score more, esp outside and McGuire can guard the forwards. it's similar to when Jefferies was inserted into the lineup and Caron played the shooting guard. I don't like the move because that's not Caron's natural position, it moves him away from the basket and causes him to fall in love with the three point, which he is not the very best at (I'm not thrilled with jamison shooting a lot of three points shot either but at least Jamison is a little better at it).

Young situation, he doesn't play defense very well; esp when he's missing shots. When Young misses his shots he doesn't provide much on the floor at all he's too focused on jump shots instead of penetration, rebounding, defense, etc other part of the game.

McGuire is a nice player, but to me he's more of a role player who gets a few minutes in each game. until McGuire learns how to improve his free throws, and develop a jump shot I see him as a player who needs to develop his game in the d-league.

Posted by: rcnasa | February 27, 2009 3:29 PM

You folks can draw comparisons to Bruce Bowen or point out Ben Wallace when he was with the Pistons if you like but the fact is, the Wizards are the Spurs or Pistons, they can't hold teams under 100 pts therefore they need scoring along with defense and with McGurie in the starting lineup, or off the bench, for him to be effective on this team, this year and in the future, he'll have to provide at least 10 ppg and shoot at least 75% from the foul line.

Posted by: rcnasa | February 27, 2009 3:33 PM


Posted by: cj658 | February 27, 2009 3:55 PM

”Thabeet is a really good player but lets not kid ourselves to think adding him to the team will push the Wizards past Lebron and the Cavs and KG and the Celtics”

Never said he would. I said he would be a hell of a first step though. It’s having a fast car, with all the parts, but you have crappy tires. That’s the one piece you’ve been missing for years, then you finally see some shiny new Good Years available. You buy them. New tires can do wonders for performance.

”UConn big men don't deliver in the NBA only their guards”

Yeah, and Oklahoma Power Forwards have a great resume in the NBA. Now that I think about it, how many OK players are even in the NBA? Hollis Price?

”I personally believe Thabeet should stay a another year in school”

Huh? I don’t even know what to say. Hmmmmmmm

”NCAA is watered down this year, not a lot of talent, so it's a bad time for the Wizards to suck”

I’ve been saying this for quite sometime. I agree. That said, you have to work with what’s available. Thabeet is the best option available.

Posted by: cj658 | February 27, 2009 4:04 PM

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