Bulls' tough loss begins rough summer
Bulls forward Taj Gibson reacts after the Philadelphia 76ers' Andre Iguodala was fouled Thursday in the final seconds of Game 6 in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 79-78 and won the series 4-2.
Hard to believe that 13 days ago the Bulls could peer through the fog of playoff basketball and envision themselves in the NBA Finals.
Not even a fortnight has passed and now a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the team thicker than at any time since a Ping-Pong ball bounced the Bulls' way four years ago, bringing forth a Chicago son's bright rays.
Losing the series to the Sixers, four games to two after a heartbreaking, 79-78 defeat in Philadelphia on Thursday night and being eliminated from the postseason can hardly be considered a surprise after the departure of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.
It's also largely irrelevant in the grand scheme of Bulls things.
What is fair to wonder now is what shape the Bulls' future will take with Rose coming off a serious knee injury, Tom Thibodeau unable to see the value in resting his players, Carlos Boozer getting older by the minute, Luol Deng facing wrist surgery, and the team lacking a second star, someone capable of reducing the burden on Rose in crunchtime.
Is this an overreaction considering where the Bulls thought they were before Rose' knee detonated?
No, it's a fair assessment of a franchise that finds itself further from a championship today than it was just a couple of weeks ago, and certainly not as close as it was a year ago when the Bulls reached the conference finals and managed to win a single game.
No, the reality is that they have a coach in Thibodeau who thinks he did nothing wrong with Rose and believes it's OK to burn out his players on every possession of every quarter of every regular-season game — even while Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich understands regular-season time off for his starters is a postseason necessity.
And while Thibodeau is usually as good a nuts-and-bolts coach as there is — certainly during the regular season — he didn't adjust much in this series and Doug Collins with an inferior team took him to the cleaners.
The Sixers couldn't shoot it in the Atlantic Ocean if they were standing knee-deep in water on a beach in the Hamptons, and yet they managed to handle the exhausted Bulls in the final seconds Thursday night.
So now what?
Rose might come back better than ever, but it's more likely he comes back with some fear that he'll be injured again. And even if he returns to full strength — which is no guarantee — it might be some time before he explodes to the rim the way he did before tearing his ACL.
The Bulls face the prospect of starting next season without Rose for several months and probably the same for Deng, who needs wrist surgery but wants to wait until after he plays in the Olympics, an odd decision considering the Bulls will pay him $27 million to play basketball here the next two years.
What do you do with Boozer, who was 1-for-11 with 3 points Thursday? Your $80 million power forward didn't play the fourth quarter of the final game of the season.
And then there's Taj Gibson, who deserves to start and will want to get paid. The Bulls might try to accommodate him this summer. If not, he likely walks in the summer of 2013.
They also need a backup point guard, as C.J. Watson showed at the most crucial moment of the season that he doesn't understand the job, passing the ball to Omer Asik with seven seconds left in the game — instead of dribbling out the clock or drawing the foul — putting a horrible free throw shooter on the line.
It's a stunning turn of events, this rash of injuries and the series loss to Philadelphia, and it sets up for a summer of endless speculation.
If not utter discontent.
•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.
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