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Hey there, Bulls Nation!
It’s been awhile since I’ve dusted off the keyboard and talked to y’all in this medium. And I must say, I’m thrilled to have it back. I missed writing these weekly columns after leaving NBC Sports Chicago. It scratches a different creative itch for me. As a bonus for all of you, it gives you a break from hearing my hoarse, cynical voice. Unless of course you’re reading this *in my voice*. If you are, I apologize. That can’t be good for anyone.
So let’s do this! The lists, meandering thoughts, and 90s culture references are back.
This week, it’s the ‘Top 10 Things Occupying My Bulls Mind.’ Like Antonio Blakeney getting up 15 shots in 5 minutes, I’m ready to go.
It’s the Pecking Order.
10. The Love/Hate Nikola Vucevic of 2021-22
If you were listening to Big Dave and myself on Locked On Bulls early this season, you know that we were two of the few residents — along with our pal Mark K — on “Let’s All Chill About Vooch” island. Some Bulls fans were even suggesting that the deadline day deal that brought the All-Star big man to the Bulls last season was one of — if not THE — worst trades in Chicago sports history. Y’all. C’mon now. Do I really need to make you a list? I’ve got other shit to do. Go ask Gar.
It’s undeniable that Nikola has struggled with his shot this season. Whether it’s close-range bunnies, midrange or threes — part of the attraction was his offensive game recently expanding to the tune of 40 percent behind the arc — his touch has been fleeting all season. Maybe it’s been his adjustment period, going from the No. 1 option in Orlando to the third wheel in Chicago. It might be something else entirely.
Yet, anytime I start to lose patience with Vooch, he either has a big game or, even worse, misses a game. When he’s out, we get to see what the Bulls look like without his services. Anyone care to venture a guess how that’s gone?
[cue Chris Farley taking his shirt off and flirtatiously biting his finger]
Vooch does so much more for the Bulls than just score. As Will Gottlieb pointed out in a recent column, Vucevic remains an important piece to the puzzle regardless if his shot is falling. His defensive rebounding is elite, as are his screens. Most notably, his passing from the post may just be his most underappreciated skillset. It all matters. And no offense to Tony Bradley or Tristan Thompson, but neither give the Bulls all of those elements. And don’t even get me started on the misguided blame thrown by some onto Vooch for all of the Bulls’ recent defensive issues. Educate yourselves.
So, as my final thought on Vooch for now, let me borrow Big Dave’s refrain: “Don’t give up on Vooch. We’re gonna need him.”
9. What I wouldn’t give for a prime Joakim Noah on this team right now.
Did y’all see this video posted by Bulls Community on Twitter? Holy mother of Jo. Kool-Aid Man has nothing on me. So many brick walls at the CHGO studios to choose from.
8. I really love Coby White and will hate to see him go.
To be clear, I’m not reporting anything here. (Laughing at the thought of me reporting something.) I’m just taking a realistic look at the Bulls deep depth chart at guard and the Bulls contract situations. They paid Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso to come and play big minutes. Zach’s about to sign a huge deal. And Ayo Dosunmu is having a rookie season that screams, “sign him to an extension immediately!” I just don’t see how a lucrative extension for Coby to play limited minutes off the bench is in the cards.
And that’s a shame.
Like Vooch, many Bulls fans were quick to dismiss White, casting away his talent in endless trade machine proposals after a few games knocking off the rust from offseason shoulder surgery. Let me repeat that: shoulder surgery. He knocked off that rust and has delivered some key moments for the Bulls in many of their wins. He’s improved his distribution skills, and watching him learn patience while prodding opposing defenses has been such a pleasure to watch. Perhaps most impressively, he has shown nothing but professionalism and flexibility as his role within Billy Donovan’s rotation continually evolves.
It made perfect sense that AKME didn’t trade White at the deadline. Without Ball and Caruso, the presence of White and his on-court production has been necessary for the Bulls to manage their way through several months of shortened rotations. But will they look to get something for him this offseason rather than sign him to a significant extension? The Bulls exercised the option on his contract for $7.4 million next season. We’ll see what happens.
My hope is that we get to watch Coby catch fire in a playoff game at least once before it’s his time to move on. Like Zach, he paid his dues enduring the endless chaos, incompetence, and depression of the previous regime. (Here comes Big Dave with the neuralyzer.) He deserves a big moment in a Bulls jersey.
7. Gee, I can’t wait to have an actual bench unit again.
The Bulls bench has been understandably anemic for most of the season. Early injuries to key players, then the Omicron wave (clenches tightly upon hearing of this Omicron subvariant taking off in NY, please no…) then more injuries…
We did get the silver lining of watching Ayo blossom into a legitimate starting caliber two-way guard, something very few people saw coming this soon from the 38th overall pick. Forged in fire, and his future looks oh so bright. Can you imagine him picking opponents’ second units apart when he returns to a bench role? My goodness…
Check out Kyle Williams’ recent column on the Bulls bench. Then think optimistically about the potential bench unit come playoff time. Depending on how Billy wants to handle the starting PF spot once Patrick Williams returns, and Caruso being a starter or star 6th man, the bench unit could include any of the following: Caruso, Williams, Ayo, Coby, Javonte Green, DJJ and Tristan.
Now that’s a Bench Mob. Shoutout Omer Asik.
6. Speaking of Omer Asik…
Holy crap it’s been 11 years since the Bulls last made an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. It might not happen this year, but how good does it feel to even think it could happen again after everything that’s happened the past decade?
Oh, and screw the Heatles. Hollywood as hell.
5. Zach’s knee
We all heard the reports after Zach flew to California before the All Star break to have his knee looked at by his most trusted doctor. Same conclusion as the Bulls team doctors: No structural damage, no serious risk of further injury, cleared to play. Zach got some injections, drained some of the swelling, and off he flew to play in the All Star game.
While that was definitely a sigh of relief given the circumstances, I’m still not loving this situation. (I’m not a worrier by nature, quite the opposite. Unless it’s about the Bulls. Then my Spinal Tap Worry Meter goes to 11.) Zach has stated on multiple occasions since then that he’s willing to play through the discomfort to finish this season. He knows just how important this season is. And no, not because of his contract (more on that next), but because for the first time in his NBA career he’s on a winning team heading towards the playoffs. He wants nothing more than to help his team win. I respect the hell out of that.
But I’m also a realist who’s seen what Zach looks like since returning from his latest absence due to that knee. He doesn’t look quite right, doesn’t move quite right, and his shooting efficiency is down compared to his dominant first half of the season. Could that knee also be the explanation for the recent downturn in his effort and focus on the defensive end? Maybe.
Zach admitted himself that he won’t be 100 percent for the rest of the season. I’m sure plenty of you are yelling at me, “C’mon, Peck! No one is 100 percent at this point in the season!” Well, sure. Fine. And don’t get me wrong, I will gladly take a 75 percent Zach over no Zach at all, and thank him profusely for gutting it out. But the difference between a fully healthy, elite scoring All Star Zach LaVine and the watered-down version we’ve seen lately could very well be the difference between a deep playoff run and a first round exit. Toss this is in the densely populated bag of “I-hope-I’m-wrong-but-don’t-think-I-am”s.
4. Zach’s contract
Just kidding. This isn’t occupying much of my mind at all. Know why? Because the Bulls are going to pay Zach the money that he’s earned, and I could not be more okay with it. Could I BE any more ok with it? No. I could not. Shoutout Chandler Bing.
Michael Reinsdorf said in a recent interview that ownership is “absolutely” willing to pay the luxury tax moving forward for a team that’s contending. And it’s not your money, so what do you care? “But Peck, didn’t you just say you’re worried about his knee?” Yeah, I did. That’s about this season’s playoff run. He said he might have a minor surgery to fix it completely this offseason. Cool? Cool.
Furthermore, Zach is a max-contract player in the NBA. Just to clear up any misconceptions on that. The supermax that some Bulls fans are worrying about (ie flirting with the $250 million range) won’t be on the table unless Zach earns an All-NBA selection. Given the games he’s missed and his sagging numbers recently, I’d say that likelihood is shrinking by the day. Even if he does earn a selection and qualify for that supermax, you still pay him.
Let’s not forget that Zach has been one of the most grossly underpaid players in the entire league spanning his current contract. A multi-time All Star making under $20 million per year? Other than players on rookie-scale deals already making All Star teams (Luka, Trae, etc) that’s practically unheard of with today’s NBA contracts.
Please stop asking “should the Bulls really pay Zach all that money???” Because you sound really, really, stupid. And, like Kevin,
3. Alex, Lonzo & Pat
Please come back soon. This team needs you. Have you read Will’s latest on Alex Caruso’s importance to this team yet? Do it. The Bulls need the defensive intensity, IQ and communication that Alex and Zo provide. They need Zo’s three-point shooting to boost them from a laughably low volume of attempts behind the arc. Alex can hit some threes, too. And they both have elite-level passing ability, both in transition and in half court sets. As for Patrick, who knows what the Bulls will get from him after his season-long absence. Billy mentioned he isn’t guaranteed his starting spot back. But another body (and a big one) at the ready can’t be a bad thing.
2. DeMar. DeRozan.
I’m running out of words. Go read Will’s piece on just how masterful DeMar has been this season.
This is a special season from a future first-ballot Hall of Famer. Enjoy it, Bulls fans. Squeeze every moment of joy out of this DeMar season that you can.
Need more convincing that you should be enjoying this season? Read this from Mark K.
1. How fun is this season?
It’s been a long, gross road to get here, Bulls Nation. But like Andy Dufresne, we crawled through a river of sh*t and came out clean on the other side. And we did it together. Best fanbase in the world.
Love ya’ll. Glad to be back. Shoutout to CHGO Sports and the ALLCITY crew for this amazing opportunity and platform.
See Red. Be Good.
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