Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Second City Slowdown

By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA - The Derrick Rose era got off to a rather productive start in the Windy City last year.

The NBA's reigning Rookie of the Year helped will the Bulls to the playoffs before the team succumbed to Boston in one of the more exciting playoff series in NBA history.

Of course, there are no moral victories in sports -- at least among the good teams. You'll never hear the Lakers or Celtics talking about keeping a game or a series close. Winning is the only acceptable option.

I'm not saying the Bulls were happy about the ultimate result against the C's but I do feel that were happy to take the unofficial title of the best young team in basketball, a mantra that has quickly shifted to Oklahoma City or Memphis this season.

Rose didn't look the least bit intimidated on the big stage against Boston and the future looked bright for the former University of Memphis star and his teammates. Sure, Rose lost one of his running mates in the offseason when the sharp-shooting Ben Gordon fled for Detroit but coach Vinny Del Negro still came into this campaign with plenty of talented options to place alongside his star.

Derrick Rose has overcome a slow start due to an ankle injury.
Rose figured to grow with the team's other young talent like big men Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas. Meanwhile, Chicago welcomed back a healthy Luol Deng in an effort to improve on the boards and at the defensive end.

Things haven't translated on the floor, however. As we head to the All-Star break, the Bulls stand a game under .500 (23-24) in the top-heavy Eastern Conference. Another playoff appearance is virtually assured but it's hard to imagine Chicago competing with the big dogs like Cleveland, Orlando, Boston and Atlanta.

Rose has overcome a slow start due to an ankle injury and the Bulls, who underachieved badly early, looked ready to take off when they won the final five games of a seven-game Western swing, a surge that put them over .500. Chicago then let down in its return to the United Center against the LA Clippers and followed that with a rather uninspired performance in Philadelphia during an overtime loss to the hapless 76ers.

The sum just hasn't been equal to its parts in Chicago this season.

A midseason trade last year that landed veterans Brad Miller and John Salmons from Sacramento helped the Bulls immensely, and should have paid even bigger dividends this season after a full training camp playing together. Instead Del Negro, who had no head coaching experience before taking over as the Bulls' mentor before last season, has had trouble fitting everyone into a consistent rotation.

Earlier in the season Del Negro seemed to be on the fast track for a trip to the unemployment line, but the team's recent up tick seems to have solidified his job status for now and attention has been turned to the roster where everyone from Salmons and Miller to Thomas and Kirk Hinrich have been mentioned in trade rumors.

A shakeup isn't likely to help.

The engine of this team remains its youth. Rose, an excellent ball-handler who can get to the front of the rim at will, made his first All-Star team, while Noah, who has arguably been the NBA's most improved player, averaging 11.2 ppg and 12.0 rpg, isn't far behind. Those two have been joined in the starting lineup by rookie Taj Gibson.

The inexperience had shown at times.

George Bernard Shaw once said "Youth is wasted on the young."

The Bulls have the talent but their coach and young stars don't have enough experience in an NBA game where hindsight becomes the foresight of the truly great teams.

In fact, the only real source of knowledge in this league is that experience Chicago is lacking.

The result? A Second City showdown.

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