To Tank or Not To Tank…
That is the question now for the Chicago Bulls.
by Bryan Crawford / @from_the_chi
I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’m probably going to have to drive 90 minutes north up to Milwaukee to see any playoff basketball this season instead of my usual 30 minute in-city drive south to the United Center. With Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Luol Deng all hurt, the Bulls have lost six straight games and the postseason is an unrealistic possibility at this point. I figure they have no chance to win their next three games (Memphis, Dallas, and Cleveland) and if they don’t beat the Sixers on March 20th, their next chance to win a game won’t be until March 27th when they play the Nets. By then they could be looking at having dropped thirteen games in a row.
It’s one thing to have a roller coaster season the way the Bulls have had, it’s another thing entirely when you’re on the down slope at the wrong time of the year.
No team can make the playoffs with their three best players hurt at the same time, especially not a team like the Bulls where their three best players are pretty much all they have. By this point in the season, teams should be peaking and building postseason momentum, not wearing walking boots, having bone scans, and getting MRIs.
So let’s keep it real. Minus the injuries, this Bulls team is a playoff squad. But the injuries are real which means the playoffs are not. So the question remains, do they keep trying to play competitive basketball and bide time until one or all three of those guys come back? Or do they just give up on this season and roll the dice in the lottery? Again.
There are some who feel like tanking should never be an option, but the Bulls have more to gain by doing so in my opinion. I hear the arguments now about the draft pick involved in the trade with the Milwaukee Bucks, so let me explain it briefly.
The Bucks get to swap first round picks with the Bulls—if they choose to exercise that option—unless Chicago ends up picking in the top 10. Now there are some who feel like the Bulls can’t even get into the top 10 because even if they lost every game from now until the end of the season, theoretically they’d still only be the 11th worse team in the League. So if the Bulls end up with the 11th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft Lottery and say the Bucks get to pick 18th in the draft, Milwaukee owns Chicago’s lottery pick if they want it which chances are they probably will.
But stranger things have happened. Remember, the Bulls had a less than two-percent chance to win the lottery when they took Derrick Rose with the first pick two years ago, so anything is possible.
Then you have those who feel like continuing to play competitively and then swapping picks with the Bucks after Secaucus would be the best thing for the team considering a lottery pick comes with a much higher price tag than a player selected later in the draft. With the Bulls positioning themselves in the 2010 Free Agent bonanza, any additional monies spent on a lottery pick means less money to throw at one of the big name free agents which then makes Chicago a much less attractive destination this summer.
Both sides have a valid point and though I’m not a fan of tanking, I certainly understand the logic behind it when the coveted collegiate prospects this year are John Wall and Evan Turner. Who wouldn’t want to put themselves in a position to take one of those guys? Of course no team will outright say they’ve given up on a season, but you see it happen all the time.
As it pertains to the Bulls, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by just playing out the string.
First off, just what if they somehow end up top 10 in the lottery? I know there are those wishful thinkers out there (like Mike Wilbon) who hope the Bulls can somehow get high enough to come away with Evan Turner, but what those same people don’t know is that Evan Turner and Derrick Rose don’t exactly like each other. At least they didn’t when they were in HS.
That being said, I can’t see Turner being OK with playing second fiddle to Rose. When you can get a quiet and reserved guy like Derrick to talk trash—as Evan has done in the past—then it becomes something more than just basketball and it becomes personal which makes being on the same team less than ideal for both guys. But if the Bulls wind up at least picking tenth, then a guy like Kansas big man Cole Aldrich—if he’s still there of course—wouldn’t be such a bad choice for Chicago either.
Secondly, as far as the remainder of the season goes, there’s really nothing left for the Bulls to play for anyway. They’re not only out of the playoff picture, but they’ve been shorthanded in practice the last two weeks and a team just can’t get better like that.
Sitting their three best players for the last five weeks of the regular season would allow for the continued development of guys like James Johnson and Taj Gibson (who continues to play despite plantar fasciitis in both feet) whom the Bulls took in the first round last year and could be seen as a good thing. Gibson has been solid all season and Johnson has shown flashes of being a good player with his increased minutes of late due to Deng’s recent injuries. He still shows mental lapses at times, but that’s to be expected from a young player. But he plays hard and he plays fearless and these are things that will help build his confidence going into next season.
The time off for Rose, Noah and Deng would also give the front office a chance to play and evaluate which guys they’re going to consider resigning over the summer. Acie Law, Joe Alexander and Jannero Pargo probably have no chance of returning, but guys like Hakim Warrick and Flip Murray might even though they’ve struggled since coming over at the trade deadline.
Regardless of what happens in the coming weeks and months, this has been a crazy season for the Bulls and it’ll only get crazier as time progresses. The best part about all of the frustration the team has experienced this season is I have no doubt they’ll come away much stronger as a result and they’ll be a lot better going into next season because of it. I know that sounds like the old Chicago Cubs mantra of ‘Wait ‘till next year,’ but at this point, what else can you do?