by Jack Maidment
Imagine for a second that you are a Chicago Bulls fan, fresh off of the series defeat to the Boston Celtics in round one of this years playoffs. You are happy and content despite defeat, safe in the knowledge that your team has just taken the defending NBA Champions as close as possible in professional basketball to defeat in a series that will go down in history as one of the finest of all time. A series worthy of more spoils than a mere second round birth.
If defeat can be anything other than heartbreaking, this was the time. A young Chicago team had done themselves proud. They could hold their heads high when glancing at the banners Jordan had provided, believing that their performance allows them hope of adding to the fabric hanging high above the floor.
By taking Derrick Rose with the first overall pick in the 2008 draft the Bulls had acquired the kind of player that only comes along every so often. Given his rookie season and his astounding play against Boston the Bulls have every right to think that Rose will become the League’s most dominant point guard for the next 10 years.
Couple Rose with the youthful exuberance, length and athleticism of Tyrus Thomas, who could be ‘the best running big man in the league’ according to Jeff Van Gundy, and the wild competitiveness of Joakim Noah and the Bulls are in a fine position to move forward with confidence and belief in their future.
That is not to forget the present though with many believing the Bulls will only improve on last year’s playoff run next season. Veterans like John Salmons, Brad Miller and Kirk Heinrich give Chicago one of the best benches in the East and in Vinny del Negro they possess a coach undaunted by one of the biggest jobs in basketball who acquitted themselves with aplomb since his arrival halfway through last year.
Which leaves us with the Luol Deng, the man charged with sparking the major resurgence of the Bulls: you don’t hand a player $71 million over 6 years for mediocrity and role playing.
The departure of Ben Gordon has left a 20/30/40 points a night space in the Bulls line-up which Deng will be required to fill. Coming off of a lengthy injury, Deng will have to hit the floor running to begin justifying the huge amount of faith (money) placed in him by the Bulls. The fact is, Deng has been in the NBA long enough for fans and GM’s alike to demand results. He can be ‘a project’ no longer.
$12 million a year is All-Star money and Chicago need a guy who Rose can at least half the pressure that accompanies playing for one of the biggest teams in sports. It has to be this season for Deng.