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Friday, November 9, 2012

Deja Vu and Prayers for a Time Jump: This Year's Bulls

Sigh. Where to begin?

I only actually started caring about the Bulls after Jordan left. That might sound strange, but I was born in 1989 and as such, until he left, had rarely known a season in which the Bulls weren't champions. At the same time as the Bulls were winning all those titles so were the minor league teams in the Quad Cities area, where I grew up. Being of an age in the single digits, and also being a pretty naive kid for that age, I was almost positive these things were being rigged for my enjoyment, so I just couldn't be happy about them. I was a precocious kid, winning a local NFL game picking competition at 5 and causing the editor to call my parents to make sure my Dad wasn't attempting to put two entries into the competition. My parents handed me the phone, and I proceeded to tell Mr. Nessler about why the Bears had lost on Sunday, why I was sure the Jets would win, and what a 4-3 defense was. He was convinced enough. I believe I took the $200 I won and bought comic books. Good times!

I suppose I related that story to show you that, if there was one thing I knew at that age, it was sports. I've been obsessed with them since I could talk. Yet I just couldn't care about the Bulls. Not until that title team got dismantled and the "rigging" of my NBA team ceased. Suddenly I cared a whole lot. While most Bulls fans were slowly drifting away from the NBA (half because Jordan left, half because the Starburys and Iversons of the world were coming in) I was just becoming interested in it. I "suffered" through Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry, expressed frustration that the Bulls would trade for Jalen Rose, and got excited every draft day for who was going to be the next player to fill out the Bull's young core. I sat. I waited. I knew, eventually, the Bull's young pieces would mature and turn into a good team. Then, finally, the team got good enough to make the playoffs. And not only that, it was with a team centered around guys the Bulls had drafted! Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng. This was 2004-2005.

And here we are again, 2012-2013... and here THEY are again, Deng and Hinrich. And here I am again... waiting. Luol has never left. First a member of the Baby Bulls, then the "elder statesman" of a new round of Baby Bulls, he finally managed to get to an All-Star game last season (despite last season being his least-deserving All-Star campaign, arguably... a different article, a different time). Kirk Hinrich, however, was not retained after the drafting of Derrick Rose and has been freelancing (really the best way to put it) ever since. But here he is again. When I sat down to watch the Bulls on CSN a few nights ago, what did I see? A commercial with "Captain Kirk" splashed all over it. I remembered yelling that nickname back in 04-05 and especially 06-07. For the entire time I had really been a Bull's fan, they had never been in the playoffs. And Kirk had taken them back! I remember thinking during that second round series with the Pistons;

They can do this. They can be the first to come back from down 3-0. Why not? They just need to get hot.

At the time, that mantra was somehow comforting to me. Because back then, the possibility of victory was so much better than what had come before that it all seemed very rose-colored. But now? Last night I was watching the Bulls play the Thunder. They entered the 4th with a lead. And I found myself thinking the same thing;

They can do this. They just need to get hot.

And all the memories came back. Losing that Game 6 to Detroit. Beating Miami the round before. Blowing a 2-0 series lead to the Wizards. Letting Tyson Chandler walk so we could sign Ben Wallace. Trading Lamarcus Aldridge for Tyrus Thomas. Larry Hughes. Jalen Rose. Ben Gordon. Jump shots.

And suddenly, there I was, sitting on my track coaches couch, eating a carb-heavy meal of spaghetti and garlic bread for the meet the next day, watching the Bulls drop Game 6 to Detroit. But instead of feeling nostalgic, it just made me sad. The Bulls never had a shot to win that series. They were too soft. They shot too many jumpers. They didn't have a primary scorer anywhere. And here, in 2012, we are again.

The Bulls aren't soft; they now have Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson defending with dominance in the post. But they do have to rely on jump shots. And they don't have a primary scorer. And there's Kirk Hinrich. And there's Luol Deng. And nobody has any idea what to do in the fourth to close out a game.

And here I am, waiting. Again. Waiting for Derrick Rose to come back. Waiting for a secondary scorer to be signed. Waiting for an NBA title that may be too far out of reach for Rose and these Bulls for two more years.

Even when Derrick comes back, can this team win the title over Miami, or L.A., or OKC? We may never get the chance to know, but maybe that's a good thing. You see, in two years the Bulls drop Deng's contract number off their docket. And Boozer will most likely be amnestied. And the Bulls will find themselves with a ton of cap room. Hell, they'll even be in position to be a trade suitor next year when Deng is in the last year of his deal.

But this year? We wait. The Bulls need a #2. They need the Westbrook to Durant, the Wade to Lebron. Rose is young. He has ten to fifteen more years left to play this sport. He'll heal, and maybe next year the Bulls can give him the team he needs to bring an NBA title back to Chicago.

Until then, we wait. We watch this team, eerily reminiscent of THOSE teams, the first Baby Bulls, the Baby Bulls before we got the Baby Bulls that could one day win a title. We wait, but it isn't all bad. We're used to it.

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