9:29 AM CST, February 15, 2012
The Bulls without Derrick Rose have become mostly unwatchable.
It’s hard to care about this team without their only hope for an NBA title. It’s harder still to sit through it.
I’m not blaming the remaining Bulls players. Bless their hustling, rebounding, defensive-minded, Thibodeau-fearing hearts, they try. Yes, they can be very trying.
Against good teams, that’s a gimme. We saw an example of it Sunday in Boston, and remember, the Celtics are barely a good team because they’re barely off life support. The Bulls couldn’t shoot and couldn’t score. They wasted a solid rebounding performance on the offensive boards. It looked like a plea for a group rate to attend basketball camp.
Against bad teams, the Bulls either end it early or prompt cursing. Welcome to last night against Sacramento.
C.J. Watson and John Lucas III were taking turns making me punch something with the way the point guards were running the Bulls late. I didn’t realize there was a competition to see who would be more responsible for Sacramento nearly erasing all of a 19-point Bulls lead.
But as that seminal philosophical production “Blazing Saddles’’ told us: out of chaos comes Deng.
Luol Deng gave the Bulls a game. In fact, he gave them maybe his best all-around performance since he got here: 23 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds.
The assists mark a career-high and by design, too, because Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau saw it the way we did: Watson and Lucas needed a designated driver. It wasn’t that the ball stopped on offense, it was that it never got started, it seemed. The offense was being run through the backboard.
And then all of a sudden, the offense was being run through Deng. He was the one making the decisions. He was essentially playing point-forward. He was restoring order. The Bulls held on to win another one for the toxic waste dump that is this NBA season.
Horrible product aside, this would be a good time to say I’m sorry for hating Deng. No, wait, actually, I hated the rumor formerly known as John Paxson for paying Deng a ridiculous amount of money. Yeah, what I really hated was Deng’s contract, and here’s why:
He wasn’t worth it.
He didn’t play like it.
He didn’t know who he was in the NBA scheme of things.
He didn’t know how he was supposed to fit into Rose’s offense.
And now he might be the most complete player in the league.
I’m talking both ends of the court here. He’s good and game on defense, and not just compared to the stiff formerly known as Carlos Boozer. Look, there’s a reason that the defensively obsessed Thibodeau consistently gives Deng the most minutes and frequently the most difficult cover.
On the offensive end, Deng has found his role in Rose’s offense, whether it’s hitting threes, slashing, or moving the ball to the open man.
Deng never had the flash or dominance to match that big contract. But now he is showing the all-around skill and smarts that render it immaterial.
So, I now have a greater appreciation for what Deng can do when coached the right way and put in position to succeed. I have more appreciation for Deng than this team without Rose. Deng didn’t make the Bulls watchable, just more tolerable.
I’m telling you, the NBA really needs a DVR for this joke of a season. Just skip the crap and fast- forward to Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals, as soon as Rose is OK, that is.
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