It’s hard these days to get away from the Chicago Bulls. That happens when you have the likely MVP, recently locked-up the number-one seed in the Eastern Conference and have looked like the best team in the NBA for much of the second half of the season.
At this point, expectations for Chicago have gone through the roof. What was entirely out of the question – a championship – even so short as six months ago, is now a viable goal. They have virtually everything you need: a superstar, a great coach, a supporting cast that defends, plays team basketball and doesn’t care about individual accolades and a defensive structure that will carry them when all else fails. But there is one glaring thing missing: experience as a unit.
Earlier today on the “The Waddle & Silvy Show” on ESPN 1000, Charles Barkley admitted he doesn’t think this will matter, saying they have a “really good chance” of winning that elusive title:
“That’s stupid for people to say because they are not the same team,” Barkley said Tuesday on “The Waddle & Silvy Show” on ESPN 1000. “No. 1, they got that dude. To be a great team, you have to have that dude and that dude is Derrick Rose. People can say what they want to, he has been the best basketball player in the world this year. Nobody can take that away from him.
“Secondly, Noah has gotten better and also they didn’t have [Carlos] Boozer on those other teams. So to compare them to those teams that aren’t very good does disservice. And they’ve got a totally different coach.”
Yes, the Bulls are a different team this year because of what Chuck mentioned. But the fact remains that most of their core – Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah – have yet to win a playoff series together. They lost in 2008 to Boston and last year to Cleveland. It’s easy to look at the regular season in a vacuum and say this team should win the title, or at least be in a position to do so. Our eyes want to tell us that as long as they play like this in the playoffs, it’s nearly a given they will reach the Finals. We assume all of this, even though when looking at it historically, this nearly never happens.
2010: Lakers over Boston in seven games
-both teams had experience, long playoff runs to build off of
2009: Lakers over Orlando in five games
-Lakers had made the Finals while Orlando had won their first playoff series with their current core in 2008
2008: Boston over the Lakers in six games
-This was obviously a special year, bringing three of the games’ best players together in the twilight of their career for a shot at a ring. It’s an entirely different situation. The Lakers added Pau Gasol during the season, but the core of that team was still Kobe, Derek Fisher and the championship-level coaching staff.
2007: San Antonio over Cleveland in four games
-San Antonio had years of experience together while the Cavs had beaten Washington and advanced in the playoffs the previous season
2006: Miami over Dallas in six games
-Dallas had been trying to break through the West for years before finally doing it. The Heat had come within a quarter of making the Finals the previous year.
2005: San Antonio over Detroit in seven games
-Two veteran teams who had won the previous two championship (Pistons in ’04 and the Spurs in ’03).
2004: Detroit over the Lakers in five games
-Detroit’s deal for Rasheed Wallace put them over the top, but the rest of the team had a few playoff battles together. The Lakers were in the exact same position, except Karl Malone and Gary Payton didn’t live up to expectations.
2003: San Antonio over New Jersey in six games
-New Jersey was coming off a Finals appearance while the Spurs were going for their second title of the Tim Duncan era
2002: Lakers over New Jersey in four games
-Lakers won their third straight title, but this is one of the few years where the blueprint for making the Finals was trashed. Much like this Chicago team, the Nets rode a hot point guard (Jason Kidd) all the way to a Finals berth, despite no prior success together.
2001: Lakers over Philadelphia in five games
-Lakers won their second-straight title and the Sixers had made the Eastern Semis two years in a row with Allen Iverson.
2000: Lakers over Indiana in six games
-The Lakers were an underachieving group, but they had won at least one playoff series every year Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant had been there. Indiana had been battling for years to get out of the East.
1999: San Antonio over New York in five games
-The Spurs already had a playoff series win under their belt during Duncan’s rookie year while the Knicks had won a playoff series each of the previous seven years.
1998: Chicago over Utah in six games
-Two veteran teams that were perennial deep in the playoffs
1997: Chicago over Utah in six games
1996: Chicago over Seattle in six games
-The Bulls had championship experience and while Seattle had fallen apart in two straight first-round exits, they had made the Western Conference Finals together in 1993
I will stop at 15. I’m getting bored and I’m sure you are too. Now, there have been a few exceptions where a team with largely the same core made the leap all the way to the NBA Finals like New Jersey did in 2002. Yet, possibly the only blueprint for what the Bulls are trying to do is the 1995 Orlando Magic. Over the last 20 years, that Magic team is really the only one to successfully make the most difficult jump of all: from good to great.
If you want to compare the arrival of Boozer to Kidd’s impact in Jersey, that’s fine (it’s also rather stupid). But the 1995 Magic compare quite nicely: a young superstar coming into his own, a few All-Star caliber teammates and then a lineup of hungry role players eager at a shot for a title. But guess what? Even though they made the Finals, Orlando got embarrassed once they got there by the Houston Rockets.
This isn’t to say it can’t be done this year, and actually when studying the Bulls, they have the requisite strengths to get it done (a star who can take over, defense and coaching). But keep in mind that’s asking a lot from a team that still hasn’t won a playoff series together, just as it’s tough to expect Oklahoma City to get all the way to the NBA Finals this year.
But there are a few things that could change the circumstances this year. It’s likely Chicago will face the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. You might’ve heard, but they have a bunch of new players who haven’t won together themselves. And the Bulls’ front office has done an excellent job of bringing in players from winning environments. Nearly every one of their role players has had some level of success in the playoffs. They’ve just mostly done it with different teams. It should all add up to make for a very interesting dynamic this spring.
Do you agree with Charles Barkley? How good are Chicago’s chances?
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