Chicago Bulls in the middle of the NBA pack

By JeffGraveline

As the NBA gets back to business following the All-Star break, the Chicago Bulls have continued to tread water.  As the Bulls head into the second half of the season, their 25-25 record leaves the team in the tail end of the playoff hunt, but still in the playoffs.

At the start of the season, some thought the Bulls might be able to push their way into the top half of the

Eastern Conference.

“They might have a chance to challenge for one of the top four seeds in the [Eastern Conference],” Mike McGraw, who covers the Bulls for the Daily Herald as The Chronicle reported in the Oct. 19, 2009 issue.

However, reality has sunk in. Those with predictions close to where the team was last year have been proven right by the team’s inconsistent, up-and-down play.

“For what the expectations were for the Bulls, they’re probably underperforming,” said Joel Brigham, staff writer for “In terms of my expectations for the Bulls, they’re right about where I thought they would be, but still underperforming a little bit. To be at .500 through 50-ish games is not what you want to see from a team that was so competitive in the playoffs last year.”

Things were bumpy for the Bulls’ 2009-10 campaign, with All-Star and team USA member Derrick Rose—the team’s first All-Star player since Michael Jordan in 1998—getting off to a rough start with a hurt ankle. Chicago hit a slump early, as they dropped 11 of 13 games in a monthlong stretch from mid-November to December.

“[Rose] at the time kept saying that [the ankle] wasn’t bothering him,” Brigham said. “But when he kicked it back into high gear and started to play like the all-star he is, I asked him [about the injury holding him back] and he said, ‘Yeah … It was bothering [me] more than I thought it was.’ Once he got his ankle right, it’s a different team when Derrick Rose is playing the way he has been playing.”

The Bulls and Rose were able to bounce back, setting an NBA record of five consecutive road wins against teams with a .500 or better record during the last week of January.

As the All-Star break gives everyone on the team (except for Rose) time off, members of the basketball media have taken time to reflect on the issues the Bulls have on the court. The biggest issue media members recognize is the team’s inconsistent play on a nightly basis, often playing up or down to the level of their competition.

However,  Sam Smith, of said the Bulls are just inconsistent.

“I think that is a cliché [to say the team plays up or down to an opponent],” Smith said. “That is an easy way of explaining what you don’t know.  I think the inconsistency they display is more-so based on the fact that they are a .500-type team. They just aren’t quite good enough and have a couple fatal flaws as a team.”

Those flaws Smith pointed out include the lack of a steady 3-point shooter, a lack of a solid offensive threat in the low post and the combination of those two points allow opposing defenses to shut down the lane.

“The key to getting offensive balance is to get spacing and get lanes for the players,” Smith said.  “They don’t have as much ability to do that as other teams.”

With key deficiencies apparent to those who cover the Bulls on a daily basis, fans should expect more of the same from the team in the second half: an inconsistent team that should make the playoffs. However, fans shouldn’t expect to see more than a brief first round playoff appearance from the Bulls, Smith said.

This season may be just a “treading water season,” K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune told The Chronicle.

Johnson said the Bulls looked poised to at least make a move at the trade deadline Feb. 18, in the hopes of landing a big name player or unloading salary space for the 2010 off-season free agency bonanza.

“I’d be surprised if [the Bulls] didn’t make a move,” Johnson said. “They’ve made it pretty clear to teams around the league that they want to dump salary. At this point, they’re trying to make a basketball-oriented trade, but if we get to Feb. 18 and they haven’t been able to hit on that, they’ll make a straight salary [dump] trade.”

The Bulls resume regular season NBA action on Feb. 17 against.