Is this the Bulls team we thought that we would see in November?
Sam: Yes, they’re the Orlando Magic. Maybe Charlotte Hornets. I know that’s not an ambition, but that is who I thought the Bulls would be this season when I scoffed at that 27-win Vegas over/under and advised everyone to take the over. Another reason when I am in Vegas I play golf. The Hornets with a roster with one All-Star because he is having his career year and the Magic with one because they have surprised everyone are—I hesitate to say battling—perhaps debating over the last two playoff spots in the East with the Nets, Pistons and Heat. No, even Jabari cannot save the Wizards. The Bulls should have been in that group, somewhere between the 37-win season the Heat are on pace to and maybe .500. So it’s where the Bulls now sort of healthy, though without Wendell Carter Jr., are this month. They’re playing .500 ball, beating some good teams, mostly competitive as both Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine show they could be as good as Kemba Walker and Nikola Vucevic. And Otto Porter Jr. fits nicely. If the Bulls flip on Charlotte and Orlando next season, it will be Zach and/or Lauri as an All-Star. Of course, the goal is hardly to be—or be in—Charlotte or Orlando. That’s what the draft and free agency and perhaps trades and the post season will be about for the Bulls. But perhaps the outlines are forming.
I still don’t know and understand what Bulls fans, coaches and media are looking for in a point guard? Take Saturday’s Celtics game as a perfect example. When you have the Zach & Markkanen Show playing along with Lopez like he was (making Boerwinkle proud as Stacey King puts it), what type of stats are you looking for in the point guard. Ryan was playing well so there was really no need to bring Dunn back in. So, what are people looking for ?
Sam: It always is an issue when there is a lineup change because many don’t study the game as much as they see the trends which reflect the game, i.e., like someone isn’t in their regular spot. So it must mean they did something wrong. Or if there is a change, why? It must mean something. It’s not so much about stats, though they do matter because they still add up the points. I agree you don’t have to be a super scoring point guard, which Dunn hasn’t been, because players have succeeded, like Rajon Rondo, for example. He fits sort of a Dunn profile as a defender and facilitator and physical player, though Dunn hasn’t done it, as it were, as much as Rondo did. Because basketball is an interrelated game, it matters what others do. So if Dunn isn’t a shooting threat, then the defense drops off him and closes the lane more and then it’s tougher for Zach or Lauri to drive and then maybe they take a tougher shot or pass when they could have had an open shot, all elements you notice more than can be calculated by analysis. Dunn has been injured often, which isn’t his fault, but it has altered his arc. But because his shot isn’t great, he needs to make it up in other areas. But his penetration and movement hasn’t been expeditious enough. It’s not to say Arcidiacono’s has been, though he tends to play faster in the style the Bulls are trying to achieve. He’s more of a backup. In this NBA era, you preferably want a point guard who can score and stretch the floor with shooting as the best do. Russell Westbrook doesn’t, but he’s a blur getting to the rim and finishing, so he gets to the free throw line. Kris doesn’t. He has to develop an offensive element of some sort whether it’s range shooting or the free throw line or finishing with layups. Those are the Big Three of analytics in this era, and Dunn hasn’t excelled at any. Unless he does, the Bulls will have to look elsewhere for someone who can. It’s become an offensive game, and for all his defensive prowess, it still doesn’t count for points.
Is LeBron going to retire soon? I can picture him still trying to be the focus even after he retires. He doesn’t make all teammates better. Ask Bosh, K Love, Wade and Irving. He didn’t make any of them better. Arguably, Bosh and Love became much worse. LeBron blamed them for most everything. The Lakers? When they win, LeBron praises himself. When they lose, he’ll say the hiccups were expected because his teammates are so young and inexperienced. Basically, he blames them. I try to avoid watching his interviews. It’s all about him and it always has been. If the Lakers don’t make the playoffs this year, he’ll blame the inexperience of the young players. He’ll say they need to realize every regular season game counts. As if they don’t know. If they make the playoffs, he’ll credit himself and he’ll say that’s why Magic brought him there. Why do players want to play with him? Why would players want to play on the Lakers knowing LeBron won’t support them when times get tough? Has he made Ball, Ingram or Kuzma any better? Hopefully he doesn’t teach them how to play defense.
Sam: Good time to get back at LeBron; I notice even some of his media toadies have been turning on him lately. But what it produces most of all is this amazing and endless conversation, speculation, observation about what LeBron is up to next. There’s never been as much discussion about a 10th place team. The LeBron discussion has become tiresome, I agree. But the response has been that’s what fans are interested in. I’ve always believed as a political and investigative reporter many years ago and in sports since the early 1980s that reporters are basically a funnel for the public, a pass through of information. Sure, everyone has some bias, but with the system of checks and balances once established and in still a few places, that mostly was flattened out. There’s always been sharp opinions, and frankly much more bias in media before the 20th century. But with LeBron it becomes the chicken and egg thing: Is the public really that interested; or that interested because that’s the storyline the media keeps giving them. And they really have few other places to turn. ESPN’s NBA coverage seems to be an amazing amount of you know James Harden scored 50 again, but what does LeBron think about it? I listen to the NBA radio station on Sirius when I am driving around and you wouldn’t know a third of the teams are even in the NBA with the LeBron discussion. They say, well, that’s what people call about? But would they call about something else if you talked Kings? OK, maybe not Kings. How about Thunder? Sure, LeBron is an egomaniac. It’s not news. He called himself King and had a mural painted of himself across from the Cavs arena in a Jesus pose. So what else would you call that? Though let’s not also suggest Jordan was the shy retiring type. OK, maybe retiring, but not shy. It’s also part of that so called branding the sponsors teach these guys, and it pays. I’m not sure he always makes guys better, but he does make them richer and more famous. James Jones is Suns general manager. JR Smith and Tristan Thompson got contracts even the Kardashians would be jealous of. Praising yourself is fairly in vogue these days. Look, it’s not like he’s putting his name on his properties. Though I am watching to see what happens with that Staples sign.
I think Dwayne Wade is a great player, but my memories of him are always muddied by his one year in Chicago. Talking “guys need to step up” and about how “young guys need to learn how to win.” I remember Kobe being like this at the end too, and now I see Lebron pulling the same business. I always end up feeling bad for the young guys. Is there an older great player who doesn’t fall into this trap? Dirk? Tim Duncan didn’t do that. A nice correlation would be to compare how quietly a guy goes into retirement vs how much of that silly stuff they pull. I wish Lebron wasn’t talking like he’s doing now. It makes me lose respect for him… mostly because I think he’s really wrong here in blaming others.
Sam: Speaking about ego…It is one reason why I have heard coaches say it’s dangerous to have a formerly great around because (in most cases) they have difficulty dealing with who they’ve become. Though Wade seems to have handled this season moderately except, of course, with his post game fashion shows in every arena. OK, maybe not so subtle. It was the case also in Washington with Jordan as the young guys had trouble playing with him and Richard Hamilton couldn’t wait to be traded. Vince and Dirk even for all their accomplishments never were considered at that level, and perhaps partly because they didn’t act like those guys. Of course, when you do you have to produce. And they did. So that’s the unspoken agreement in our sports society. Act as vain and narcissistic as you want, but we will hold you accountable, which means winning. Those guys all did; so you get the pass the way the sports/celebrity game is played. And you have to give them credit on one level. If you trash talk society, you are going to be ridiculed if you can’t back it up. They did, and that takes some courage as well. There’s also this incredible dissection and analysis of everything LeBron says to the point there’s always some fault to find. Has anyone ever seen a teammate interviewed? The spotlight isn’t always kind when the makeup wears thin. But it’s hardly just LeBron. Boston seems to be having a similar issue with Kyrie Irving despite his youth and never having been the best player on a winning team.
Looking at the top 20 point guard in the league, all of them are so-called attacking/scoring point guards. Isn’t that supposedly the role of a shooting guard? In that case, Bulls could legitimately move LaVine at point guard if Bulls could acquire players that can bring the ball up. Do see that happening?
Sam: It’s a valid point. I wouldn’t actually call players like Westbrook, Lillard and Irving classic point guards. But I doubt the Bulls want to turn the ball over to Zach that much, though I would like to see him shooting more. I think he gets held back some. I do like the theory that was initially pushed by Hoiberg of having multiple players advance the ball and make plays. The addition of Porter helps a lot with the development of Markkanen. It’s also a better offense than having one player dominate and make plays. You can see how mad the Celtics are at Irving about that.
Robin Lopez is the perfect veteran to have on a growing young team. He’d be my 2nd priority in free agency after looking for help at PG. What are the chances that the Bulls use some of their 20 some million in cap room to bring him back, and what do you think a contract would look like?
Sam: I’d say everyone was sure by trading deadline he’d be elsewhere and certainly with a buyout afterward. And then he gets more playing time and is playing the best of his career and, I agree, makes a larger case every game for a return. Robin actually is better off staying with the Bulls than requesting a buyout because the way things have gone lately he’s showing value that he might not have a chance to playing little as a newcomer on a contending team. I doubt his market is huge, but he’ll want to find that out. There’s no doubt after the trades of Parker and Portis, the ineffectiveness of Felicio and perhaps losing Lopez, the front line will be a huge priority this summer. Going into the season, the Bulls seemed convinced Robin could not play in this NBA with the switching and three-point shooting. But he’s demonstrated that old maxim that maybe I can’t guard you, but you also can’t guard me. Few teams lately have beaten the Bulls at his position. And even when Wendell Carter Jr. returns, it likely will be half time at power forward given he’s only about 6-10. It seems now Robin’s return for next season will be under consideration, which it wasn’t last summer.
Not only am I a fan of the Chicago Bulls, I am also a fan of the G-League affiliate Windy City Bulls. Last year’s two-way players Antonio Blakeney and Ryan Arcidiacono lit up the G-League. Blakeney was the leading scorer in the entire league (by a huge margin) and Arcidiacono was the picture of stability, good ball handling, and good decision making. I found them so entertaining that they, in fact, became my favorite professional basketball players playing the game today. I was thrilled when both got signed to the Chicago Bulls for this season.
Arcidiacono has impressed the coaching staff with his high quality play (that reminds me a bit of Kirk Hinrich) and has earned himself some minutes in both the starting lineup and off the bench. What I learned last year watching Blakeney in the G-League is that he is a big time scorer. I was convinced that he could be instant offense in the big league. He reminds me a lot of Billy Ray Bates of the Portland Trailblazers from way back when. However, while Paxson and Forman saw his potential value signing him to the Chicago Bulls roster this year, the coaching staff have never really given him a chance. It’s obvious that if there isn’t a coaching change, Blakeney is going to toil at the end of the bench for the remainder of his contract.
From what I’ve seen, I am confident that Blakeney can be a high impact player in the NBA. He just needs to be signed to the right team. And the Bulls aren’t it. I was surprised that he wasn’t traded before the trade deadline. Do you predict Blakeney will be able to sign with another NBA team when his contract with the Bulls is up?
Rikki Lee Travolta
Sam: Antonio has become a forgotten man with the coaching change, trade and returning players from injury. He has another year on his deal at a minimum NBA salary, which is nice for that at about $1.5 million. There are worse jobs. Like most of them. When he surprised the Bulls in summer league and training camp a few years back, the Bulls were convinced they found the next Lou Williams. He’s somewhat undisciplined as a player and uncertain in a system. Though it’s tough to blame him as the system changed rapidly and the new administration doesn’t appear as confident in him. He seems to want to do the right thing, and it seems to have made him hesitant at times as you could tell when he’s out there he’s thinking about making that pass they have drilled into him and hesitates some. Though it is difficult to give a bench guy a green light like that. I think he would be a good pickup for someone and could come in handy for the Bulls as a player to add to a trade because he does have unique scoring potential if he works on his three-point shooting a bit more.
I remember you writing an article during the winter of Thibodeau’s rookie year where you described the baby Bulls being excited about reversing the decade’s long road trip of death. Noah’s comments especially stood out to me then. That turned out to be the turning point for a generation of Bull’s teams. Your Zach and Lauri article felt very similar to me, with LaVine sounding like he might really enjoy this being a winner stuff and something he was energized to work hard to repeat. Noah back then said something along the lines of… We learned that we can win. We learned that winning is fun, and we all agreed we want to do what it takes to have more fun.
At the time, I viewed the turnaround as the result of one thing. Thibodeau realized the starters needed Deng for his defense. The second string needed Deng for his offense and defense. Thibodeau came to this conclusion after trying to get Deng rest many ways and losing substantial leads in all of them. I am convinced all these pieces fit together. Thibs solved the problem with a simple solution. Play Deng 48 minutes a game. The Bulls started winning. This is where Thibs acquired the taste for playing starters heavy minutes and the players acquired a taste for playing heavy minutes in order to win. It also explains the end of Thibs career as a Bulls coach.
It seems relevant to me, because we seem to be in a similar spot where our current coach is telling players that the path to winning is playing harder for longer. Despite early resistance, they seem to be coming around. Boy I would love to have Rondo back on this team to feed that.
Sam: It’s an interesting theory that I have not thought much about, and you know we seemed to exhaust every Thibs theory. Boylen is starting to go longer with a core of players because with the trade and injuries he doesn’t have much bench to pick from any longer. So that should change for next season. Plus, at this point I agree you need to play Zach and Lauri more to establish them as foundation players and Kris Dunn to find out for sure whether you can move forward with him. I get a lot of missing Rondo requests and he’s probably not the answer for this group since he still seems to want to play, though LeBron appears to have reduced his minutes. Perhaps Wade called.
I think Markkanen’s run of stellar play is neither an anomaly nor a “hot streak.” He’s just healthy at long last. I’m not seeing any reason he can’t be a perennial All-Star (assuming good health). He doesn’t seem to be one to rest on his laurels (“Lauris?”), and appears committed to working hard, and continuing to build his strength, conditioning and game.
Sam: Yes, the NBA seems to be discovering him as well. But you have to do it for a full season, and he hasn’t yet. Plus get into a playoff game without paying.
If the Bulls won the lottery and were offered Dennis Smith Jr. plus the Knicks number one, or Collin Sexton and the Cavs number one, the Bulls would be insane not to take it, in my humble opinion. Or if the team who wants Zion has the #2 pick, they can still get Morant and another #1. I think this is a year we may see Holy Mount Zion traded as the number one pick.
Sam: As I’ve written previously, I don’t see anyone passing on him and all that hype. It would be a rough summer with your fans. Or put it this way: You won’t lose your job if you pick him and he fails. But you will if you pass him and he succeeds. That said, I’d root for No. 2 if it were me.
I don’t understand why so many fans would pass on Zion because they are worried about fit. You fit the team around a once in a generation player.
Even if Zion flops, which I doubt, you can never be the team that passed on him. Morant and Barrett have much higher chances of being average players, at worst Zion is a poor mans Charles Barkley and at best he’s a 1.0 the likes of which we’ve never seen.
Wendell Carter projects to be a very good NBA player but he would obviously come off the bench and you’d start Lauri at C, since he is 7 feet and start Zion at PF. I’m surprised this would even be a discussion. Zion would anchor the defense like Draymond Green.
Bulls probably draft no higher than 4th anyway and this is all a moot point.
Sam: Just 12.5 percent chance for now, so you are probably correct. Most of my mail suggests fans would prefer Zion to a trade package that includes Durant, Kawhi and Steph. Though the demands would be to rename the team the Zions. Which made it very different from the Jordan experience here. When he came to Bulls camp even with success in the Olympics, which was pre the world being competitive, there wasn’t much awe. The Bulls had three high lottery picks on the roster who’d all averaged close to 20 points in the NBA and were dominant, high scoring collegians, all better scorers than Jordan in college. Then in training camp, Jordan dominated them and it became clear he’d play wherever he wanted. Zion will have to show them wherever he goes. LeBron did. My favorite is GM Rod Thorn tells the story from that first day of Jordan’s training camp in 1984, which Thorn missed, Assistant Bill Blair calls Thorn after scrimmaging, which in those days they did twice a day, and says, “Well Rod, at least you didn’t screw up this draft,”
I think we try for AD if we get the #1 (Zion) and trade him with Carter and picks to get AD. Assuming we don’t get Zion I think we resign RoLo for $5 million as he has been a great vet and solid big man over this run and we will need one to backup Markkanen and Carter. The other move I like is bringing back D Rose. It’s a great story but it’s another great veteran presence who has been through all the ups and downs and help Zach especially moving forward.
Sam: I cannot imagine anyone trading the No. 1 pick for Davis; even the Lakers if they miss the playoffs and really begin the conspiracy talk. Rolo and Rose would be all the free agent money, and I doubt the Bulls are ready to go there yet. You never know if Kawhi Leonard has been doing all this to get deep dish pizza. He never says anything, so it’s difficult to really know.
I know this is a stretch but I think Lauri Markkanen has a lot of similar traits to Kevin Durant? What do you think of locking him in a room for a month with Karjalanpiirakka and Kevin Durant highlights?
Sam: I’m not sure the pastries will help with his strength and muscle definition. If only, eh? Lauri’s been a revelation of sorts the way he’s produced statistically the last month. I have yet to see him beat many small, quick players off the dribble the way Durant does. I think the Bulls will be satisfied for Lauri to become an All-Star. Everyone would like MVP, like Derrick did, but especially in this era you have to be the guy with the ball first, and that’s not going to be Lauri. I wouldn’t be disappointed if the Bulls get Dirk 2.0. Hey, look at me talking computer.
Earlier this season there was expressed concern about LaVine’s “fit” with Lauri and the team. His recent evolution as both a defender (at least at times) and in assists has been extraordinary and a credit to him and the coaches. He sacrifices for the team and has become a very valued complement to Lauri and now Otto as well. All the pieces are not yet in place but the three are providing solid hope for the future.
It’s too early to declare success on the rebuild especially with the wild dynamics of other teams, potential injuries and the missing ingredients. The Bulls needle is however pointing up.
Sam: I never fully understood the criticism regarding LaVine other than the angry fan lament and the particular Chicago factor that, sure, but he’s no Jordan. I’ve always wondered if that had an impact on free agents because of the way players so easily get dismissed here because they are not the next. It baffled me last summer about Zach’s contract and the notion the Bulls perhaps should not have matched. If you got rid of Zach you’d spend the next five years trying to find someone as good, and probably wouldn’t. Other than Rose, he’s probably the best combination of athlete and player the Bulls have had in the last 20 years. Deng, Gordon, Hinrich? Seriously? Jimmy’s development was amazing, but he never could do the things Zach does. Jimmy created himself with will and effort; Zach was created and is so much more creative. No, he’s not Jordan. There are no more. Get over it.
I’ll start by saying that I really like the way Gar and Pax have been building this young core with talents. The future looks bright with Zach, Lauri, Porter, and Wendell. I would love to have Arch, Harrison, and Rolo back next year, and Chandler will have a positive impact from the bench, hopefully Denzel comes back stronger. Now the lottery pick will be an important move this offseason. I get it that creating that winning culture and team chemistry is important as it will translate to next season, but wouldn’t it be a good idea to sit some guys for at least 10+ games to secure a high pick?
Now if they get lucky and get the first pick, they have to draft Zion. I think a lineup with Zach, Porter, Zion, Lauri, and Wendell would work. They can play Lauri at the four on the defensive and and Zion at the four on the offensive end and not too much dribbles from Zach as they pass the ball and create quickly.
But if not I would go for Ja Morant if Phoenix picks someone else. Now let’s say they get the fourth pick or lower wouldn’t it be good if they pick Darius Garland? He got injured but he is good shooter and quick, I would like to have him if we don’t get Zion, Ja, or RJ Barrett.
Sam: That sounds like a reasonable personnel consensus. Now it just needs some luck. This may be the weekend for that with the home and home with Atlanta. But the way the team is trending and being coached, I doubt the Bulls engage in any losing scenario. The way the last 20 games is looking, there could be quite a few wins. Coach Jim Boylen has narrowed his rotation, seemingly geared toward success, playing the top players sometimes close to 40 minutes and down the stretch of games. It’s much different that last season’s post All-Star, well, experiments. Plus, the way the schedule shakes out the Bulls could be facing in the last two weeks either teams out of it like Washington or teams locked into matchups with two of the last three games with the 76ers, who could be resting everyone. Plus, as has been much mentioned, the teams with the three poorest records all have the same 14 percent odds for the first pick with a gradual decline to 12.5 percent for fourth (where the Bulls are now), 10.5 percent for fifth (where Atlanta is), nine percent for sixth and downward. The Bulls now are three games better (worse for tanking) than Cleveland at third and four games behind Atlanta, though worse for tanking with the big weekend series ahead. If the Bulls and Hawks split, it seems most likely the Bulls stay at four. I know everyone wants Zion, but the fact is the Bulls don’t deserve the No. 1 pick. They have more talent than the Knicks and Cavs. The Suns have a lot of talent, but are the biggest mess. Sure, there are fluke seasons that turn into dynasties, like when the Spurs lost David Robinson for one year and fell into Tim Duncan. But the Bulls are “lucky” to be in high lottery position this season. They would not be if half their roster wasn’t seriously injured, losing Markkanen, Portis and Dunn for months, Valentine for the season, and then having to extend LaVine to the point he broke down some. So getting a top five pick, which is likely to occur, really is a gift. If it’s not Williamson or even No. 2, it’s still going to be a player who can become a starter since the draft looks reasonably strong through the top seven or eight picks. The Bulls are demonstrating they may have a reasonably good core now. Getting a top five lottery pick is a bonus that wasn’t supposed to occur this season. One change I hadn’t realized is now four teams instead of three can move up—the theory being to discourage tanking—so the Bulls finishing fourth could fall as far as eighth. The odds of that are low. But losing on purpose isn’t guaranteeing you nearly as much anymore. We’ll see how this first lottery change works, but I suspect it will discourage the outright losing of the past. If only the Knicks fall to five. Of course, that also means eight for the Bulls unless they move up. May 14th, where are you watching? Talk about creating excitement with nothing going on. You’ve got to love sports.
Though I understand the reasoning/analytics for an organization choosing to “tank” in order to gain a higher draft choice, I am personally staunchly opposed to it. In sports, you play to win. Period. I don’t care if you end up with the 9th-16th pick in every draft forever. You play to win. Besides, if you draft well, then picking outside of the Top 5 doesn’t mean you can’t find a great player. Take the top 10 players in the league today: Lebron, Durant, Curry, Davis, Giannis, Kawhi, George, Harden, Embiid, & Jokic/Lillard. Only half of them were taken in the top 5 picks.
From what I can tell, tanking hasn’t proven to work either. In the last 20 years, teams like the Celtics, Nets, Sixers (obviously), Knicks, Wizards, Suns, Kings, Clippers, and Wolves have all been guilty of (quite blatantly) tanking. Not one of them has won a championship after tanking. Moreover, the only 2 teams in that group who have had any sort of consistent regular season success are the Celtics and Sixers. And I’d argue that the Sixers’ “Process” experiment has actually failed, being that of the 5 Tank years (’13-’17), three of those high draft picks failed miserably in Philly: Noel, Okafor, and Fultz. Of the 2 that hit (Embiid and Simmons), one is a walking injury-waiting-to-happen, and the other can’t shoot outside of 10 feet. Meanwhile, the true MVP of the Celtics’ success is Billy King.
Sam: All good and reasoned arguments and accurate. But then a team figures, well, we can’t make the playoffs, so maybe if we lose all our games we’ll get lucky. If we don’t, I tell my owner we are starting over and that gives me an extra four years in the job. Then I can try to get another in a few years somewhere else. As George Washington warned while leading the constitutional convention, “The motives which predominate most human affairs are self love and self interest.” That’s right, people always have been the problem.
Writeup on Johnny Kerr and Van Lier:
For some of us, that early 70’s team is as immortal as the ’85 Bears. The Lakers, Celtics, and Knicks were really tough, all of them loaded with great players. Gosh. Jerry West. Wilt. Cowens and Havlicek. Clyde. Reed. Amazing players. A whole lot of superb basketball providing amazing source material for a little kid to learn from. Even though the ABA raided players (eg, Rick Barry), it provided an outlet for an entirely different game. The Doc. Ice. Issel. Artis. The Whopper. Captain Late. Super John. Dampier. Doug Moe. Crazy uniforms, big hair, lack of restraint especially in the joy department. The 80’s were great, and the 2000’s have seen some pretty professional marketing. I wouldn’t trade the early 70’s for any of it. Tiny at his most awesome. Lacey. Goukas. John Block. Don Kojis and his weird free throws. Jimmy Walker mixing it up with Sloan. Curtis Rowe and Love. The amazing/never duplicated Dave Bing. The vastly underrated Dandridge or Lucious Allen chest to chest with Van Lier. I was a little kid with zero idea of how good I had it.
Sloan. Van Lier. Love. Walker. Boerwinkle. Weiss. Cliff Ray. Kennedy McIntosh. Howard Porter. Gar Heard. The Bulls showed up so let’s go, snarling and defiant (some louder about it than others). Today, the players are so skilled. Big guys doing little guy stuff (LBJ, Durant) and little guys doing big guy stuff (Westbrook, Lilliard). Big guys shooting bombs (Nowitzki) and little guys punishing the rim (Rose, now LaVine). In some ways, it’s a pretty amazing time for basketball. Credit to today’s game, credit given to today’s players. Today, they just don’t compete like they did then, though. Litany of reasons, not pointing fingers, just pointing it out. Does John LaCarre read the same as Robert Louis Stevenson? of course not. Both wrote page turners, but got there different ways. Those teams back then? You saw it with large, pretty or ugly or the many shades and hues in between. All of it naked as hell right there to see and when as a little kid you played in your own clumsy way on frozen nowhere playgrounds but in permanently etched games, your face rent in bitterness or exalted in victory for those moments of competition. And you in that ephemeral instant came to a fully distilled empathetic congruence. They were pros. For some of us, every bit a part of our identity as Dick Butkus or Ron Santo or Aparicio or Tony O.
Sam: Memories of childhood often are richer. But that era has been too much overlooked, and among Bulls fans as well. Those early 70s teams with Van Lier, Sloan (Norm always hated going second), Love, Walker and Boerwinkle/Ray/Thurmond were second to the championship Bulls without portfolio. Or, actually, jewelry. But just that. It was a team you could embrace and lament with an if only. Because they were a play or so away just so many times. It’s one of those things that, I understand, you had to be there. They did few of the things we now associate with brilliance. I can’t recall any dunking anything but a donut. Or an opponent. Which made their passion unmatched because it wasn’t policed. Not that it’s bad that it is today, but it also helps enforce that lack of passion you identify today. I don’t believe the players are different; the playing field is much different, corporate, correct and on everyone’s camera. We’d all act differently. The players today are obviously more highly skilled with shooting and athletic ability, but that’s no reason not to appreciate who they were and what they did. This NBA structure would not exist in the form it does without their foundation. I hope we never forget.