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Bulls Tue Oct 28 2008
When the Bulls tip off tonight in their 2008 season opener, it will mark the beginning of the Derrick Rose/Vinny Del Negro Era.
Not to be confused with the Jerry Krause Era (also known as the Post-Jordan-Organizations-Win-What? Era), the Tim Floyd Era, the Tyson Chandler/Eddie Curry Era, the Scott Skiles Era or the Ben Wallace Era.
Yeah, there's been enough "eras" in the Bulls recent history to require a team of archeologists, but for all their digging and excavating, they wouldn't come up with much.
Three playoff appearances in the last 10 years. Five season of 50 losses or more. Only one second place finish and one third place finish during that time. Five different head coaches (not including Bill Berry and Pete Myers coached for a total of five games during that span). Two GMs. Not. One. All-Star.
It's been a dismal decade for the franchise that once defined the modern NBA in terms of talent and organization. The word "rebuilding" has been used more times in relation to the Bulls than in San Francisco in 1906, and often involved a mashup of overwhelmed-and-unfocused rookies and sullen veterans who instantly became unmotivated when they slipped on the red, white and black jersey.
Can this year's version of the Bulls improve on last season's 33-49 record? While the immediate answer might be "Well, they can't get much worse", don't be so sure. Del Negro is a first-year coach with NO head coaching experience. Nada. Bupkis. Zipp-o. Not in the pros. Not in college. Not in junior college. Not in park district toddler leagues where everyone gets to play and hitting the rim constitutes a basket. GM John Paxson has surrounded Del Negro with some respected veteran coaches like Del Harris and Bernie Bickerstaff, but ultimately, the form this team takes will be molded by Del Negro.
That he has been entrusted with developing the guy who is generally considered the future of the franchise, No. 1 draft pick and former Simeon High School star Derrick Rose, doesn't make things any easier for Del Negro or the Bulls. Unlike their United Center roommates, the Blackhawks, the Bulls aren't really experiencing that new surge of popularity and fan support. For Bulls fans, their attitude is more like Ted Knight in "Caddyshack". Well... we're waiting...
The team won't be lacking for guards: they've got five of them. What they will be lacking is strong inside scoring. Joakim "Feelin' Irie" Noah (5.6 rpg) and Tyrus Thomas (4.6) weren't exactly clearing them out underneath the boards last season, so they'll need to step it up. Until they do, veteran forward Drew Gooden (14 ppg, 9.3 rpg), acquired as a free agent in the off-season, and the team's one true league-wide star, Luol Deng (17 ppg, 6.3 rpg) will have to do the job themselves.
As for that guard situation, might restricted free agent Ben Gordon be the odd man out? With Rose joining the fold, Gordon might be the only real trade bait for the Bulls, leaving Rose, Kirk Hinrich (6.0 apg), Thabo Sefolosha and Larry Hughes (who will miss the first two-to-four weeks with a dislocated right shoulder) to fight for playing time.
Most preseason predictions have the Bulls finishing third in the Eastern Conference's Central Division. The fact that no one expects very much from the team actually plays in their favor, at least that's the theory that some players on the team are stressing.
"I think we're going to take some teams by surprise, especially if they're thinking that we're a bottom-of-the-barrel team," Gooden told the Sun-Times. "That's to our advantage. You can play more freely. There isn't that added pressure."
Maybe so. But then, STARTING a new era is always the easy part.