By Matt Spiegel-
(CBS) We’ve had the conversation before. I dreamt of this Bulls season being a comp for the 1996-97 San Antonio Spurs. David Robinson got hurt and played just nine games. Due to a mix of injuries and prudence, Charles Smith missed 65 games, Sean Elliott 43 and Chuck Person the entire season. The Spurs dropped from 59 wins to 20 and ended up winning a lottery that brought them Tim Duncan.
The NBA as it stands now is broken. More than half the teams are better served by losing.
But it takes a franchise willing to commit, willing to trade away assets and perhaps invent “ailments” for winning players. This Bulls front office won’t force it. Luol Deng was dealt to get under the luxury tax threshold, and that will most probably be it.
This team, with this coach, renders it impossible anyway. Tom Thibodeau is a marvel; he continues to get more out of players than any coach they’ve ever had. D.J. Augustin is this year’s Exhibit A. And their overall continued effort is as always exemplary.
It has made watching them awkward, to say the least. It’s difficult to find comfortable head space. Options have been 1) fight the urge to appreciate efforts of men you admire as you’d rather see them lose or 2) hope for said men to try, fail and be unhappy.
I usually chose, along with many of you, to simply not endure the conflicted experience. I did not watch.
But I’m done rooting for Joakim Noah to mope.
Here at the All Star break, I, Tank McNamara, lay down my defeatist sword.
There will be no more dreams of losing, no more #tankwin hashtags after a loss, nor the inverse #tankloss after a win.
It serves no purpose. As an organization, the Chicago Bulls have chosen not to take this rare opportunity, in a prospect-rich draft, to aim for the lottery rather than the playoffs.
They’ll make the playoffs in a terrible Eastern Conference. Conceding that, what’s the difference, draft-wise, between finishing as the third seed or the seventh seed?
I, the former Tank Johnson, know they’re not going to win a title this season. The Heat and/or Pacers are too good and too deep to be upset by the try-hard, Derrick Rose-less Bulls.
But at this point, we may as well embrace once more the opportunity to watch them overachieve. If you’re a basketball fan in need of a couple hours of viewing pleasure, they’re offering it to you lately.
It’s been working for me to have the game on, while doing other things as well. Dishes. Cleaning. Anything.
This can be done, while also acknowledging the big picture and hoping for some revelatory scheming by GarPax to improve. The Boozer amnesty is pending. A Nikola Mirotic arrival is hopefully on the horizon.
It’s impossible to believe that Rose will be his old self after missing three playoff runs in a row, but perhaps he’ll be healthy. He’ll have to become more of a true point guard, but that’s a transformation I could visualize.
Then there will have to be more done to build a true contender. Somehow.
But at the moment, here is what we know.
Noah is playing perhaps the best ball of his career. He’s healthy and is using this opportunity to improve his passing and his growing array of driving moves. He is a championship-caliber, winning player with an enjoyably unique skill set. No one works harder.
Taj Gibson is proving that he’s a better power forward than Boozer, start to finish. Next year it’ll be his job in full.
Mike Dunleavy Jr. can be a very useful piece on a good team. He won’t be dealt here at the deadline, so add him to your visions of 2014-15.
Jimmy Butler has been a disappointment in a year begging for him to take over. But there’s time to see more.
Augustin will probably make more money somewhere else next season, as the latest product of Thibodeau’s career reclamation camp. But if he wants to stay and be a Rose backup, fine by me.
The Bulls enter the All Star break on a 15-7 run. I’d bet they end up with home-court advantage for a first-round round playoff series, which they’re fully capable of winning. Then, the year most likely ends at the hands of the Pacers or Heat.
Some will call it a “reality check.”
But you know what the reality is.
It’s time to accept it and stop letting it make you miserable.
Listen to Matt Spiegel on 670 The Score weekdays from 9 a.m.–1 p.m. CT on The McNeil & Spiegel Show. Follow him on Twitter @MattSpiegel670.