I remember even telling an officemate of mine at Solar Sports and he replied, "They'll compete but Boston just might win it all."
The latter is a possibility while the former... well, it leaves everyone shaking their heads. Even their opponents on the court.
They won 49 games last year. This year, that figure is in the "loss" column.
I thought that the downfall started almost immediately. Luol Deng and Ben Gordon not accepting Chicago's new contract offers. The Kobe trade rumors didn't help any. Then they got off once more to a slow start. I even remember telling my former boss at Solar that this looks bad to which he replied, "But they always start slow."
I said, "This is different."
And it sure was. Of course I wish that I was wrong.
Rookie Joakim Noah clashed with teammates and Ben Wallace. Players were injured. Players sulked over getting benched. Players skipped practices. Scott Skiles was fired. They were constantly blown off the court and could never get into a rhythm.
But for all the sour taste in the mouth of a season gone awry, some look forward to staying. “I didn’t get any indication from Pax that I wasn’t in the plans,” Ben Gordon said Friday after his exit interview with General Manager John Paxson. “It’s still very early. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but the organization knows what I’m capable of. If they feel that I’m a piece that they need, they’ll make the necessary moves.”
Gordon led the team in scoring but his numbers were down. And furthermore, there's a logjam at the guard position with Kirk Hinrich and Larry Hughes.
“I accept the fact that we won 33 games this year, but we’re better than that,” Paxson said. “We have talent that’s better than that. At the beginning of the year, everybody thought that talent might be conference-finals caliber. Obviously, it isn’t. It seemed like this year when things got going poorly, they just kept going bad and kind of spiraled. You can’t overturn your whole roster. Guys are going to be back here competing and playing, and hopefully, they all take some pride.”
None of which the Bulls have now. If I had to pick teams all over again at the start of this season, would I say the Bulls have what it takes to win? I'd still say yes. I'm still shaking my head. And so are their Eastern foes.
The time is for rebuilding.
Once more. It seems that has been the story since 1999. But as the saying goes, "there's always next year."