May 2, 2009

I'd like to amend my previous statement

Remember when I said that I didn't care whether the Bulls won or lost Game 7, as long as they fought hard and were competitive? I fucking lied -- I'm furious.

And Ben Gordon is on the receiving end of most of my ire. I don't care how many points he scored, he lost the game for the Bulls. Or at least prevented the Bulls from winning. When you're getting the ball every possession and you refuse to pass -- which is what Gordon did the entire second half -- you'd better lead your team in scoring. The game devolved into a deluge of Gordon's ill-advised shots, none worse than his 1-on-3 layup attempt with the Bulls trailing by 5 with under a minute to play. Though his pull-up 3-pointer on a mini-break with the Bulls down 8 late in the third quarter was almost as bad. Same with his jacked-up 28-footer after Kirk Hinrich's huge steal with the Bulls down 6 in the last 30 seconds of the game. Actually, Gordon took so many terrible, out-of-the-context-of-the-offense shots that it would take me several decades to list them all here.

Gordon is a terrific shot-maker, that cannot be disputed. And the guy is just a remarkable scorer for a man his size. But that is the extent of his game. He gives you nothing on offense other than his own scoring numbers, and his defense is atrocious. If he could learn to play the John Paxson/Steve Kerr role, he would be a great #3 scoring option for a championship-caliber team, spotting up all over the floor to receive kick-outs from a sublime penetrator like Derrick Rose. But why Vinny Del Negro lets him play the Michael Jordan role as everyone clears out and watches is beyond me. Gordon pounds the ball for 20 seconds, then goes 1-on-everyone, and that's quite obviously when he provides the least. And honestly, it's Del Negros fault. He should be insisting the ball be in Derrick Rose's hands, not Gordon's. Gordon is an absolutely terrible ballhandler, and once he receives the rock in a game like this, he totally disrupts the offense, looking only for his own shot. Gordon could be one of the most effective scorers in the league if he worked within the framework of the offense, only taking shots within its flow, but I don't think that's ever going to happen. He just wants to get his own and be the hero, I have become completely convinced of that. Just as I'm convinced that the Bulls would have won this game had they played a second big (probably Tyrus Thomas, since he was their lone frontcourt player to avoid foul trouble) for Gordon in the final quarter.

There is no denying Gordon has hit some huge shots in his career, including a flurry of clutch baskets in this series. But it always comes at a cost. I would have hoped that after he fouled out in Game 6 he would have seen that he doesn't need to take every shot for the Bulls to win. But he didn't. Instead, it seemed having to watch had the opposite effect; that is, he wanted to prove that he could lead the Bulls to victory. And, just like in Game 2 -- when he put on a similar jacking-up clinic, only this time making the shots -- he couldn't.

I don't know what it's going to cost to re-sign him, but assuming Luol Deng can come back healthy, I'd let Gordon walk (unless the terms were very reasonable) and slide John Salmons over to the 2, thereby creating an infinitely better defensive lineup. Because Deng's contract makes him totally immovable, and the Bulls already have a backup point guard in Hinrich (who with Salmons at the 2 becomes a much bigger necessity than Gordon) making $10 million a season, they can't afford to lock up too much money in another guard, not with extensions for Thomas, Salmons, Noah, and Rose looming. As long as the Bulls have a coach who is seemingly unwilling to corral Gordon, they would be better off parting ways with him.

Though both Gordon and Salmons were totally ineffective tonight, Del Negro stubbornly stuck with his 4-guard alignment throughout the second half. Yes, the Bulls made a comeback with that lineup, but who's to say what they might have done with more than one frontcourt player? The run was made mostly because the Celtics totally got away from their offense -- just as the Bulls did in their disastrous second quarter -- not because the Bulls began doing anything exceptional. While there's no doubt that Thomas looks a little lost on offense at times, he played an extremely disruptive defensive game, getting his hands on numerous balls and blocking a pair of shots. And then Del Negro completely stopped playing him. For Tyrus to have only played 17 minutes in this game -- especially when both Noah and Brad Miller were in foul trouble -- was unconscionable.

As good as Miller was in Game 6, he was nearly that bad in Game 7, but part of his ineffectiveness was caused by being the only big out there. The Bulls could not stop the pick-and-roll because he (or Noah) was the only guy over 6-foot-6 on the court, and how the hell is Rose going to stop Big Baby Davis on a switch without any weakside (read: Thomas) help? Del Negro has proven he loves two things: guards and veterans. He'll keep running out both (C'mon, Lindsey Hunter? Really?) at the expense of his young big men. Meanwhile, Miller is allowed to make turnover after turnover, but as soon as Thomas or Noah has an iffy play, it's off to the bench they go. And really, shouldn't it be the opposite? Shouldn't you let your young guys play through their mistakes, and pull the veterans -- who really should know better -- for making them? I will never be able to wrap my head around this warped double standard.

Still, through my frustration, I can nonetheless appreciate what a remarkable series this was. Despite this mess of a game, the Bulls were still in it until the very end, a testament to how hard they battled. And in the series, the Bulls played better than I ever would have dreamed. The games were incredibly competitive slugfests with previously-unattained heights of drama. I have been so thoroughly entertained and enthralled by the Bulls' play that there is no doubt I am going to miss this team. But they were ultimately undone by Gordon and Del Negro. Hopefully at least one of them will be gone next season.

Bulls in 2010.

1 comment:

  1. Gordan will be re-signed at a reasonable price because the only teams that would want him are in small markets and they can't afford his "asking" price in this economy. Then if the Bulls are smart they will trade him and Tyrus Thomas for a power foward that can run back on defense and hit a 15 footer.