This, people, is a spasm of serious, not sarcasm. And as unaccustomed as both the writer and reader are to that unique situation, hear me out.
The NBA, if you were unaware, dictated part of the Bulls’ lineup against the miserable Grizzlies on Wednesday. And there was Justin Holiday, held hostage by the tanking Bulls because he could help them win, pouring in 14 points in 17 minutes, as effective as you could imagine, going 5-for-5 from the floor including 4-for-4 from beyond the arc, giving the NBA what it wanted and the Bulls a win they probably didn’t need.
The NBA forced the Bulls to play Holiday and/or Robin Lopez at some point, whatever the minimum daily amount of adult basketball player is. Those two hadn’t been dressed since Feb. 22, a six-game stretch in which the Bulls lost five of six, a tank job like it oughta be.
Then the NBA called. More Holiday and Lopez, less Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio seemed to be the message. Something like that. The NBA’s call had to come from the bleating of teams tanking like the Bulls and worried that the Bulls would catch them for the most pingpong balls in the lottery.
But you know what? Stevie Sunshine says the NBA’s call was a relief. Maybe not for you, but it helped refocus my optics, happily so, I was surprised to feel.
First, while rooting for losses is a necessity and a reality, it still isn’t fun, unless you want the coach or GM fired. See John Fox’s 5-11 for details. But getting mad over wins has become more tiresome than getting angry over losses. Listen, the Bulls already have lost enough to secure a spot in the lottery, probably in the middle of it instead of the deep or shallow end, and that’ll work.
Check out the last 20 years, and you’ll see that the first player taken in the draft almost never leads the team that selected him to a title. The Bulls will offer Derrick Rose as Exhibit A. Starting in 1998, only twice has the first overall choice been part of a champion with the team doing the drafting, and both times that team was the Cavaliers with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
Second, while you can blame the NBA for ruining the Bulls’ plan, you had first better realize that if Nikola Mirotic doesn’t go nuts coming back from fight club and if the Bulls don’t inexplicably rip off seven straight wins after a delightful 10-game losing streak, then the Bulls wouldn’t have been called into the principal’s office.
But that’s part of the upside. That’s part of the relief here. The Bulls might not be a title contender, not now and maybe not ever, but it’s worth noting that the Bulls had to manipulate their roster and lineups to be bad, which means they might be pretty good when they get around to it.
No contender is simply a collection of young, talented players. That doesn’t work. Veterans always get mixed in. So, moaning about reinserting Holiday and Lopez harshes Stevie Sunshine’s buzz about Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen all scoring at least 21 points for the first time in the same game. They were ready to play, unlike Monday’s disaster, and they played well.
That’s the future. That and someone with maybe more talent than those three, either from the draft or free agency. Oh, the Bulls won’t always get to play against the wretched Grizzlies defense, but this would feel hopeless if the core of three young players had stunk and the Bulls had lost to that dumpster fire of a team.
I’ve rooted enough for the Bulls to lose this season, and I’ve decided they’ve lost enough for me to have accomplished that goal. There are just 18 games remaining. It should be safe to come out from the special land of Tankanda and act normal. Wednesday’s win felt satisfying. No, check that, specifically, the nod of approval after the win because of the big games from the guys who will be here if the Bulls ever contend again felt satisfying. Felt like relief.