By Nick Shepkowski-
(CBS) Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
And with the 94-91 Game 5 loss in Miami, the 2012-13 Chicago Bulls are nothing more than a memory. So, with a second round exit after their franchise player didn’t set foot on the game floor the entire year, how does the 2012-13 campaign grade out?
Just as Apollo 13 was called, this year’s Bulls were a “successful failure.”
The Bulls didn’t unseat the Heat as the NBA or even Eastern Conference Champions. They also failed in getting Derrick Rose back on the floor, something most people didn’t anticipate after he tore his ACL last April. However, those who remained standing by the end of Game 5 in Miami seemed to play to their ultimate potential. There isn’t a Larry O’Brien Trophy that will be placed in the Berto Center because of that, but it still deserves praise.
Stars of 2012-13
Tom Thibodeau – The day after the Bulls were run out of the building in Game 1 of the first round matchup against the Brooklyn Nets, I took calls on 670 The Score with Adam Hoge with people suggesting Tom Thibodeau was overrated. Since going 45-37 without his MVP candidate running the point obviously wasn’t enough for these naysayers, I can only hope the fact he was able to get his depleted roster out of the first round of the playoffs and remain competitive in three games versus the Heat. Thibodeau only getting two votes for Coach of the Year was a joke, as the third-year head man impressed me more this season than either of the previous two.
Jimmy Butler – He had a couple of solid moments a season ago, but nobody was really too sold on what they saw. A year later and there won’t be many people complaining when he’s the Bulls starting shooting guard come opening night next fall. Will he be an All-Star at the position? Doubtful, but he’s only 23 and is a young man who shut down the likes of Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and plenty of others this season. Butler seems to be a much more important piece of the Bulls future than anyone could have ever imagined when he was drafted nearly two years ago.
Joakim Noah – It very well could be that we will look back at the end of Joakim Noah’s career and say that 2012-13 was his finest season. The first-time All-Star wound up a first-team member of the NBA’s All-Defensive Team, while his offensive game expanded and his leadership only seemed to grow. Noah did again miss a significant chunk of time (16 games), the third time in four seasons he’s missed 16 or more contests.
Dilly Bars for Effort:
Luol Deng – Not nearly consistent of a scorer as you’d like, but again an All-Star and led the league in minutes played. Yes, he’ll leave you frustrated at times but you can’t argue the value he brings to the defensive side of the ball.
Carlos Boozer – As much as he continued to frustrate you defensively, he had his best season as a Bull and could have been an All-Star selection. Boozer was huge in round one and one of the main reasons the Bulls moved on – then the Heat series happened and I’ll spend the off-season remembering Boozer letting Norris Cole have a clear path for a dunk before passing on a late open shot that would have made game five a one-point game.
Marco Belinelli – So much for missing Kyle Korver. Belinelli stepped into a one-year deal and exceeded expectations this year. I’d be curious to see how he’d be able to play with Derrick Rose, but with him being a free agent and the Bulls having issues against the cap, at this point having him back seems like it’d be an upset to me. Let’s just hope he brings his “Marble Celebration” with him wherever he may end up.
Kirk Hinrich – Seemingly hurt all the time? Yes. There’s no doubt he can still D up, however, and of the point guards who played this season, none made Carlos Boozer better than Hinrich.
Nate Robinson – Instant offense? Someone willing to take the big shot late? He was your guy. Sometimes. More on No. 2 later on.
Richard Hamilton – It’s safe to say that Rip’s time in Chicago was a disappointment. He struggled through injuries time and time again, while hardly being able to move on defense. Thibodeau wouldn’t put him on the floor even with a depleted roster as the playoffs went on, pretty much saying without words how the coach felt about the aging veteran.
Taj Gibson – He agreed to a contract extension on opening night and will remain a Bull through 2017. Perhaps it’s because of increased expectations after getting a big payday or it’s because we’re used to seeing Gibson grow each year as a player that he’s closer to plateauing and seeming more frustrating than he really was.
Nate Robinson – Good or bad Nate, it’s only fair that he’s represented as both a pleasant surprise while being disappointing at times. I’ll admit he was better as a Bull than I’d have ever expected. Each time he chucked up a three with 19 on the shot clock while holding an eight-point lead made you realize why he didn’t last anywhere particularly long.
Derrick Rose’s Knee – Not him specifically, but how the whole situation went down. Thibodeau made it seem as if the Bulls decided to be cautionary with his return and not risk anything with their franchise player. That’s fine. It’d have been relieving to see him play and not enter next season with nearly as many questions as he will, but he hasn’t done a lot to make you doubt he wants to play. From Reggie Rose’s comments after the trade deadline, “The Return” commercials that haven’t aired in months and the Bulls/Rose never stating he was out for the year when it was obvious he would be, it’ll be refreshing for all to not have to sit on Rose-Watch day in and day out.
The Bulls getting to the second round exceeds what most people would have expected for the team. Fans will want the team to bring in a big name this off-season, but with salary cap issues that’s just unrealistic.
Some want Luol Deng dealt and for the right price it’s not a horrible idea, but be careful in wanting to push Deng out the the door because, as always, what would you replace him with?
And as much as some people want Carlos Boozer to be amnestied, I’d be shocked to see it before the end of next season, leaving the Bulls with very little cap space again.
Belinelli, Mohammed, Vlad-Rad, Nate Robinson and Cook are off the books. I’d expect Belinelli and Robinson to move on to larger paydays, while the others were just “guys” and won’t be particularly missed.
The Bulls have a five million dollar option they could pick up on Richard Hamilton for next year (laughs) but for a million bucks they can buy out him out. Expect the later.
It’ll be refreshing for all next year, not having to read each day about the latest on Rose’s knee. With the foundation still in place, there’s no reason to think the Bulls can’t be the second-best team in the East again, even though the Pacers seem to be better than anticipated.
In the meantime, take a break from the Bulls yourself. Lord knows if you’ve been following them regularly this year, you could use it.
In addition to covering the Bulls for CBSChicago.com, Nick Shepkowski is the associate producer for The McNeil and Spiegel Show and a weekend host on The Score. For Bulls information all season long, follow him on Twitter @Shep670.