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Are the Bulls This Year’s Thunder?

March 31, 2011

Two young and humble superstars aren't the only thing these two teams have in common....(Photo Credit: slumz.boxden.com)

Not gonna lie,  I was a little scared when the Bulls bandwagon started picking up speed.  As evidenced by the ridiculous demand for Bulls’ playoff tickets, the secret is out: the Bulls are good.

Then, I wake up on Tuesday to find that John Hollinger thinks that the Bulls can win it all? Eep.

Now I’m terrified.

Last summer, when we signed Thibs and half of the Utah Jazz, I figured we had enough to go to the conference finals.  People scoffed at me.  “Silly Jocelyn”, they said, “D.Rose is too [quiet/shot-happy/fill-in-the-blank].  He’s just another Allen Iverson.  You lost out on LeBron, Bosh, and that other hometown hero, Dwyane Wade.  Joakim Noah has crazy hair and shoots tornados.  What makes you think this rag-tag bunch will make any noise in the playoffs, much less get past the first round?”

You would think that I would be happy now – gloating, even.

Instead, I’m terrified.

Everyone loves a Cinderella story – after all, that’s why the NCAA tournament is so popular.  Battle after battle of David versus Goliaths and sometimes, David gets thisclose to prevailing.  Rooting for an upstart underdog introduces unpredictability into the final outcome.  In the NBA, the law of large numbers typically takes care of most uncertainty in playoff matchups.  Last year, the Thunder were the feel-good story of the NBA until they were summarily dismissed by the Lakers in their first-round matchup.  There are some uncanny similarities between last year’s Thunder and this year’s Bulls’ team:

  • Point guard love – the Russell Westbrook v. D.Rose debate is the sequel to the Chris Paul v. Deron Williams debate, heightened by the fact that they train together and put on a show this past summer on the international basketball stage.
  • Young – both teams feature cores that are young and if both franchises manage their money right, will be in a position to contend for years to come.
  • Coach love – thanks to the Thunder’s performance, Scott Brooks took home the Coach of the Year award last year.  Thanks to the Bulls’ performance thus far this year, Thibs is in the conversation to take home this year’s trophy.
  • Humble superstar – Kevin Durant is the superstar that franchises dream of: a nice kid who only wants his team to get better and will commit long term to his team without any hesitation, without testing the waters, simply because he wants to get on with the business of winning.  D.Rose?  I have yet to read an interview where he shows any hesitation at playing on the big stage, under the championship banners, with anything except utter reverence for the Bulls of yesteryear and complete desire to surpass their accomplishments.
  • Overachieving – how many “top basketball analysts” had the Bulls getting out of the second round at the beginning of the season?……[the sound of crickets…].  The Thunder were similarly surprising, making headway in an ultra-competitive Western conference.
  • Team chemistry – guys on these teams like one another.  Even though the game of basketball is a business, both teams say it’s like college, where guys will freely spend time with one another off the court.  You don’t hear complaints about needing the ball more or calling each other out to the press.  Everything, including more/less playing time, is a means to an end.
  • Praise for defense – in addition to a prolific scorer, the rise of both teams was largely attributed to their ability to defend.

Now, mind you, the biggest and noticeable difference between the Thunder and the Bulls is that the Bulls head into the post season as the likely number 1 or number 2 seed.  And they play in the Eastern conference, where the lower average quality of playoff teams favors the Bulls.

So where does that leave us now?  Here are my concerns going forward:

  • Superhigh expectations – and you thought the UC crowd was overly concerned about Big Macs…
  • Sophomore slump – after the excitement of last year, the Thunder dropped a bit their second year and one has to wonder if Thibs will be able to keep up this intensity and pace because…
  • There’s no more flying under the radar – as the saying goes, the hunter becomes the hunted and the biggest concern is…
  • What happens when you bring in the piece that will “put you over the edge”? – part of the Bulls’ success is because of their extraordinary chemistry.  This year, the Thunder pulled up a blockbuster trade to bring in Kendrick Perkins.  What happens when you have to make hard choices about what trade assets to give up if a shooting guard becomes available?  Is there really room for problem children like O.J. Mayo or J.R. Smith?  Or can the locker room absorb crazy personalities (a la Dennis Rodman) and keep winning?

But you know what?  These are the kinds of problems I could get used to – in the end, it’s just basketball, right?  [Remind me of this when I need to revive Joyce after she passes out following the player introductions during playoffs…]  Regardless of how far the Bulls get this year, it’s been a fantastic run and I believe there are many more to come…

-Jocelyn

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