(Iâ€™ve been meaning to finish this post for quite some time nowâ€¦at lastâ€¦your inaugural â€śI’m a huge Chicago Bulls fanâ€ť storyâ€¦)
Every year in Chicago…typically around the end of Octoberâ€¦I read the same story.
And â€śCubs in sixâ€ť isnâ€™t it.
Iâ€™m referring to the Chicago Bulls. Have they finally grown up? Must I suffer through another season of â€śbabyâ€ť Bulls references?
Itâ€™s like Iâ€™m in a Bill Murray movie â€“ for the past 10 years.
But this year will be different. I think.
Because Chicago has something they havenâ€™t had since you know who. Shedding the rookie tag â€“ and hoisting the ROY award â€“ Derrick Rose has the opportunity to do something the Kirk Heinrich-Ben Gordon-Luol Deng triumvirate couldnâ€™t.
Gordon is gone. Heinrich and Deng are now complimentary players. And itâ€™s Roseâ€™s team now.
Chicago participated in one of the greatest playoff matchups in recent memory last season, taking the defending champs, the Boston Celtics, to seven games. Rose was tremendous, and his showdown with Rajon Rondo was magnificent.
Rose wasnâ€™t alone. Late season additions, Brad Miller and John Salmons, added sorely-needed scoring and experience. But the biggest surprise came in the form of the Bulls big men â€“ Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah.
Thomas has shown flashes ever since he first stepped on the floor. There is no denying his freakish athleticism. There is also no denying his incapability of playing under control for an extended period of time. But there he was against the Celtics, flying around the rim and hitting jump shots. Giving Bulls fans a taste of whatâ€™s hopefully ahead.
Noah, the free-flowing haired, seersucker suit-wearing wild child, has faced consistent abuse from fans and local media since draft night. I believe this anger was more directed at Chicagoâ€™s front office for failing to trade or draft a low-post scorer â€“ again, then for taking a chance on Noah. But there he was, stealing Paul Pierceâ€™s pass and gliding down the court â€“ ball in hand â€“ before throwing down a thunderous dunk and fouling Pierce out in game six.
Fast forward to today.
Two weeks into the season, the Bulls are an underwhelming 5-4. Not unlike yearâ€™s past, the Bulls have been as inconsistent as ever. The season began with impressive victories against contenders like the San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers. But the Bulls also lost to those same Celtics by 28 points and to a Toronto Raptors team due to their heavy reliance on the jump shot.
Up next? The dreaded â€śCircus trip.â€ť
But reasons for optimism remain – despite Tyrus Thomasâ€™ freak weightlifting injury, resulting in a broken radius and a months-worth of street clothes.
A lot of that has to do with Mr. Noah.
Day one of the NBA season I made a bold statement. And I will make it again â€“ in bold. Joakim Noah will play in the 2009 NBA All-Star Game. Yes, you heard that correctly. It wasnâ€™t his boyish charm or free spirit that led me to this conclusion. It was his all-out hustle, his never-say-die demeanor and his development around the basket.
In related news, Noah currently leads the league in rebounds (12.3 rpg) and is averaging a double-double (11.5 ppg).
Thomasâ€™ absence has also been softened by the arrival of â€śThe Taj.â€ť Rookie Taj Gibson has totally bucked the NBA rookie tradition. He plays solid defense and rebounds. He understands his assignments and rotations. He never lets the game get too fast. And he likes to read the Wall Street Journal.
Combine the development of this youth movement with the Bullsâ€™ previous generation, Heinrich and a now fully-healthy Deng, and the Bulls 78th attempt at life A.J. (after Jordan) may be a successful one.
Do I think they can make a run at the NBA Finals? Absolutely not. That is one thing Vinny Del Negro and I agree on. Donâ€™t get me started on the Bulls second year coach â€“ weâ€™ll save that for another day.
But I do believe Chicago can make a push for the fourth seed â€“ behind Boston, Cleveland and Orlando â€“and secure home court in the playoffsâ€™ first round.
No matter how far they go this year, the entire Chicago Bulls organization better keep this in mind â€“ people are watching. Like soon-to-be free agents, Dwyane Wade, and the power forward weâ€™ve always wanted, Chris Bosh.
And some other guy wearing no. 23…