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Sports Authority

Klaus: Bulls front office continues to fail team

| Friday, April 28, 2017

“I’m going to lie? We’re a confident team, but you don’t think you’re going into Boston and getting two.”

The eight-seeded Bulls were up two games to zero on the top-seeded Celtics after dominating Boston in two road games last week. Yes, as the quote above insinuates, even Dwyane Wade was surprised.

But for most basketball fans, the sheer notion that the Bulls could become just the sixth No. 8 seed to oust a conference regular season champion was entirely plausible before the series even began. The Bulls had the series’ definitive best player, Jimmy Butler, in a league dominated by superstars. By most metrics, Boston is one of the weaker No. 1 seeds in playoff history. Boston has struggled to rebound all season, a weakness that has manifested itself in allowing average NBA big man Robin Lopez to become an offensive rebounding machine. And unfortunately, Boston’s best player, Isaiah Thomas, has had to play under abnormal and tragic circumstances after his 22-year-old sister Chyna passed away April 15.

In short, despite just sneaking in as the conference’s No. 8 on the last day of the regular season against a laughably light version of the already-terrible Brooklyn Nets, the list of possible advantages for Chicago in round one was far from rudimentary, which contributes to the premise of this piece: The 2016-2017 Chicago Bulls are possibly the most polarizing team to be a fan of in NBA history.

As of a week ago, any Bulls fan asked to describe this season’s team would likely use words such as frustrating, maddening, infuriating and a host of other synonyms for these adjectives. Starting with upper management, the current Bulls roster was constructed by two of the sport’s most inept front office executives, John Paxson and Gar Forman, who have made a number of head-scratching transactions that have given fans no clear indication of whether or not the team would undergo the rebuild that is necessary to ever position themselves as true championship contenders. Between the offseason and the entirety of this season, Forman and Paxson have committed a large number of dollars to two declining and largely apathetic former superstars, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, toyed with trading their actual superstar Jimmy Butler an uncountable number of times, tried to assemble the worst shooting backcourt in NBA history in the same era of the league that has proven that long-distance shooting is the most effective method to winning championships and made a “rebuilding” trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder at the trade deadline in February that involved the Bulls sending away draft picks and quality veterans for useless bench fillers Cameron Payne, Joffrey Lauvergne and Anthony Morrow.

Consequently, every playoff victory and any sense of vindication for Forman and Paxson is, and should be, universally grotesque for Bulls fans everywhere. The decision-making from the team’s top two executives is worthy both of criticism and dismissal. The fact that a series win over the Celtics would implicitly strengthen the job security of these two individuals and suggest that their vision was the correct direction for the franchise is an independent tragedy that lurks in the background of any postseason euphoria.

And it’s not just the front office that has been frustrating for Bulls fans throughout the season. Rajon Rondo spent much of the season being a poor man’s version of vintage Rajon Rondo, with noticeable regression in everything but his unlikable personality, which was on full display during the team’s social media feud in January and his suspension for throwing a towel at an assistant coach early in the season. Dwyane Wade, the hometown hero who was somehow able to convince Chicago fans that his decision to come to the Bulls was anything but a financial one, was only consistent in his inability to give 100 percent; the veteran routinely skipped practices, threw his harder-working teammates under the bus and was clearly not planning on returning from his late-season elbow injury until he realized the Bulls were on the cusp of the playoffs. Combine these two supposed “alphas” with a ragtag group of mostly unexciting young players and average NBA veterans and it’s not too difficult to see why the team’s legitimate superstar, Jimmy Butler, spent most of the campaign outwardly frustrated.

Yet, the team that has subjected its fans all season long to frustrating personalities, mind-boggling decision-making and inconsistent effort finds itself in a position to pull off a huge upset and perhaps compete for a chance to get to the Conference finals. As a Bulls fan myself, let’s just hope that the inconsistency and disappointment doesn’t again become pervasive.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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