By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Spoiler alerts: The Titanic hits an iceberg, breaks in half and sinks to the bottom of the Atlantic; Maximus doesn’t make it out of the Colosseum, Randle McMurphy is lobotomized and smothered to death; and while we’re at it, don’t get too attached to Hamlet, Laertes, Claudius or Gertrude.
One more: The Bulls play really, really hard for six months and pump their fists and jump around and scream to the rafters and then lose miserably in the playoffs when any of it matters.
We saw it again, we’ve seen it before. The house lights come on, we dig our jackets out of our seats and head for the door. Roll the credits.
Tom Thibodeau’s teams never quit, they just get fired.
His regular-season win totals in his four years in Chicago are 62, 50, 45 and 48. His playoff record is 17-22, and the Bulls have now dropped their last six home games in the postseason.
All the usual plot points were on display last night in a season-ending 75-69 loss to the Wizards in Game 5: a decidedly inferior roster, Derrick Rose courtside in street clothes, Joakim Noah limping, a late rally to pull close, 33 percent shooting and 50 missed attempts in scoring an embarrassing 69 points.
“I’m proud of the team,” Thibodeau said. “They gave us everything they had. There was nothing left. That’s all you can ask for as a coach.”
While this was never a champion to be, important questions still linger about how the Bulls prioritize the budgeting of finite human resources. It’s fair speculation that one reason for playoff flameouts is heavy minute loads and high-energy expectations from the first preseason tip-off, evidenced by the 19-6 total record in exhibition games that often see key players logging surprising playing time. Of course there’s nothing left, because they spend it all as soon as they can.
And they seem to have to, because other teams have more talent. It’s not just the total number of minutes, it’s what has to be done during them with the multiple helps and recoveries, scrambling and diving for every loose ball and churning through endless offensive actions just to find one halfway decent shot attempt.
The erosion feeds on itself, with lineup limitations demanding that engines run hotter. The increased stress leads to wear and tear and more lineup limitations as everything gets more important. Last year half the team was hobbled, and we only learned last night that Noah has been dealing with a knee problem that required it be drained of fluid recently.
Meanwhile, contenders like the Spurs and Heat approach anything outside the playoffs as an unavoidable nuisance, not worrying about a record that nobody will remember. They feel a responsibility to do what is necessary to be best prepared to win the NBA title, not award free burgers by exhausting themselves to knock off the Celtics on a cold night in February.
That’s the second and third act of the Bulls’ production, grinding and grinding and overplaying opponents and congratulating themselves for doing so, in front of fans who keep thinking that this time it will be different, just because.
The only way the ending changes is by putting together a much stronger cast and taking better care of it.
A core group of Rose, Noah and Taj Gibson is a start, and nothing more. Be it the successful pursuit of Carmelo Anthony by signing or trade, Nikola Mirotic arriving like Jose Abreu or some other option not yet known that makes championship hopes more real, something must be forced to evolve beyond the frustrating annual cycle of overexertion/overexcitement/elimination.
We need a new script.