By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) When there are no championship dreams, Bulls fans find other things to love.
They are an oddly romantic lot, generally, getting all gooey over good-but-not-great players and high-revving teams despite the banners hanging above them providing a reminder of the only true goal.
Adorably, these Bulls keep plugging away night after night, convinced they are contending for something. Tom Thibodeau stomps and screeches, Joakim Noah shoots his imaginary guns, and speedy D.J. Augustin dances around screens and jacks up threes. Stacey King gushes. The Hawks or Raptors or Cavaliers are vanquished. Sometimes, there is even a free cheeseburger!
It has been infectious stuff for hope-starved crowds able to compartmentalize the moment. The Thibodeau mindset of possession-to-possession focus has been adopted, perhaps because it keeps one from actually having to confront the larger, gloomier picture. With this combination of effort and likability meeting competition usually just weak enough for a night, Bulls fans have built a comfortable Happy Place for themselves, and that it happens to sit in the dank desolation of the basketball wilderness matters not.
Streak-shooting dwarves are beloved here, like little pets. Jannero Pargo, John Lucas III, Nate Robinson and now Augustin have each had a turn to have their name embroidered on that big pillow on the floor at the foot of the bed.
Multiple reports now say that there’s a new face at the animal shelter for the NBA’s unwanted and abandoned, and general manager Gar Forman wants to bring him home, provided Bulls fans promise to take good care of him and be responsible for his well-being.
Jimmer Fredette could be signed as soon as late Saturday afternoon when he officially clears waivers from the Sacramento Kings after a contract buyout. The 10th overall pick in the 2011 draft has been a bust, to put it simply, averaging seven points in his 171 games on 41.6 percent shooting. Fredette’s college accomplishments included not only winning both the Naismith Award and Wooden Award and every other major player-of-the-year honor, but becoming something of a phenomenon due to his ballsy, care-free style and willingness to shoot from anywhere on the floor.
That’s mostly gone, now, either coached or defended out of him, or both. He’s not tall, he’s not fast, and he’s in tough against the more powerful, rangy athletes patrolling NBA wings.
But if the expected occurs and he ends up with the Bulls, he could have the opportunity to be the next Thibodeau resurrection and United Center prom king. If he can help and recover defensively enough to satisfy the current standard, he’ll get minutes, which means he’ll get shots.
The Bulls can’t score. Like not at all, like at 92.9 points per game, which is dead last in the league. Their 3-point percentage is 27th, and their overall shooting rate 28th. Defense and rebounding and foul shooting can make for a winning regular season, but that number of points doesn’t beat a better team four times in seven games. Even close-your-eyes-and-pretend aspirations eventually confront reality.
So the bet appears to be to add Fredette to the rotation, finding places and matchups for him that minimize his deficiencies and let him fire away.
He’s got it all to set Bulls fans’ tender hearts aflutter: the outsized, misplaced hope that always comes with mere novelty, the ready-made redemption narrative of the unwanted underdog taken in by the league’s most industrious scrappers, the echoes of collegiate spectacle and even a cutesy nickname bestowed by his mother.
It’s still cold outside, but love is in the air.