Welcome to Bulls Leftovers, a continuation of the same roundup-style column I abandoned half-way through Bears season. This one could run longer, or shorter, but will assuredly feature fewer Rex Grossman segments. Yay? Only sticking with the Leftovers brand here because the franchise at hand exhausted every conceivable Bulls-related pun during their stretch of '90s dominance. Highlight videos do not name themselves.
1. Washed away in the positive vibes that flowed out of the final two minutes of the Chicago Bulls' come-from-behind season opening victory in LA over the Lakers is that the team hardly looked like the juggernaut they were expected to be. Remember: their opponent -- at least at this juncture of the season -- was really only The Lakers in name, color, and Kobe. Here's an idea for a fun party game: find three starters on opening day NBA rosters as decidedly below-average as Josh McRoberts, Derek Fisher, and Devin Ebanks. It'll be a lengthy exercise. You see, the Bulls should have embarrassed that troupe, not needed a tooth-and-nail job just to grasp victory from the jaws of defeat. There's something to be said for winning games you shouldn't, of course, and the Bulls certainly did that last season on their way to an NBA-best 62 wins. But still: expectations are different this time around. They're raised. Anything less than the No. 2 seed in the East and a return to the Eastern Conference Finals will be seen as a massive disappointment. So much effort shouldn't be required to beat a squad as unspectacular as these Lakers.
Lest we think a think a victory cleanses all that ails, there was Monday's game in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors. The semi-close final -- Warriors 99, Bulls 91 -- isn't indicative of the way it felt. Chicago was seemingly stuck behind 15 points the entire way; I don't believe they got the margin closer than eight. The Bulls were plain and simply run out of the gym by Golden State. It served to remind that, oh yes, those offensive struggles on Christmas can't just be swept under the rug thanks to the spectacular finish. There might be something here.
The Bulls lost a game on Monday they should have won, and that didn't happen much last season. This is hardly a death sentence, and maybe not even a red flag, but a world with Twitter is a world that lacks patience and perspective. We react now, because that is the way the we operate as the calendar pushes 2012. The Bulls may have plenty of time to right the ship, but they did not make a strong first impression. They should be 0-2.
2. Make no bones about it: Chicago's offense has been decidedly pedestrian through the first two games. Of course, any team coached by Tom Thibodeau will forever view offense as secondary, if not a flat-out nuisance. The reason the Bulls have a notch in the win column right now is because of the spectacular defense they played against the Lakers in the final two minutes. How the Bulls won that game, I'm still not sure. But the answer is clear as day: with the same type of suffocating defense that led this team to the top of the Eastern Conference a season ago.
The two plays that stand out the most three days later were both made by Luol Deng: his steal that led to Rose's game-winning floater, followed by his perfectly-played block of Kobe's final shot. And there were surely plenty more critical defensive plays that led directly to the victory. What's comforting is that even when the Bulls are stuck in neutral on offense, the defense will never cease. It was the formula last season; it will be the formula this season. If we're led to believe that effective NBA defense is as much about effort as strategy and talent, you can trust Thibodeau to crack the whip every night out. Golden State game not withstanding, I guess.
3. The incoming factoid has become the narrative de jour in the hours following the Bulls' loss in Oakland, but just so you know, I totally tweeted it in the middle of that game: when Derrick Rose isn't being the destructive supernatural force he grew into last season, the Bulls aren't an elite team. That's why it's no surprise that Rose spent the post-game session talking about how he needs to be more aggressive:
"I think in the first quarter I’ve got to establish myself a little bit more,"
"I see that being laid back is just not doing it. I think both games in the first quarter I shot the ball just one or two times (one of four total and zero free throws). I see that approach is not working. So next game I’ve got to change it up."
I spent the majority of Christmas yelling at my grandma's television for Rose to take Derek Fisher and Steve Blake to the hole. He was equally passive -- and less effective -- against Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry in Oakland, two dudes not exactly known for their defense.
Much of the offseason focused on Rose's continued development as a playmaker, or, you know, the start of his transformation to become a more traditional point guard. But why? The NBA hasn't seen a man as small as Rose this deadly of a scorer since the heyday of Allen Iverson. Getting everyone involved is great, but it shouldn't come at the expense of being a cold-blooded killer.
4. Carlos Boozer isn't worthless, but the Bulls' starting power forward will make fans feel that way many times this season. Even when Boozer is cooking on offense, he's still half-terrible. On Monday against Golden State, he was fully terrible: he scored only six points, and David Lee abused him when the Warriors had the ball. Boozer didn't even play in the fourth quarter, though it's worth noting that fellow starters Richard Hamilton and Joakim Noah didn't either.
Rest assured, Boozer will have some very good offensive games this season, though I'm not sure if scoring 20 matters when you give up 28. But instead of cursing at your television or firing off frustrated tweets, perhaps Bulls fans should count their blessings. The biggest thing to come out of the new CBA just might be the amnesty rule, and thank goodness for that. It means the Bulls can cut Boozer instead of being on the hook for the entire five-year, $80 million contract the team signed him to last season. That likely would have become a Ben Wallace-level albatross, if it isn't one already. When you're trying to win a championship with a salary cap, there isn't room for such under-production.
Boozer will not finish out his contract in Chicago. The only question is when he'll be released. After a majorly disappointing postseason last year and an unimpressive start to this season, Boozer is going to need to kick it into gear just to convince fans he deserves to be around a third season.
5. There's few things in this world I enjoy more than changing expletives in print in order to preserve Christian America. This one from Sam Smith was pretty good:
"He just said it was bull (stuff) and it was right," said Joakim Noah. "We’re not going to get to where we want to get to playing defense like that. We have to improve. It’s frustrating. Our defense was just bad."
Bull stuff! I also really enjoyed when the RedEye referred to the eighth best song of 2011 as "[Friends] in Paris" on the eve of the Jay-Z/Kanye West show earlier this month. That one was was probably my favorite.
6. Hey, speaking of Kanye, he was in the house for the Bulls' Christmas day win over the Lakers.
Better in LA than in Chicago, as Bulls fans booing 'Ye in-game at the UC was truly one of my least favorite moments of last season. Lil' Wayne was also in the crowd. I saw a tweet that said "Lil' Wayne in the house rooting on two of his favorite 30 NBA teams". So true.
7. The best thing to come out of the Bulls' Christmas day win in LA just might have been this picture.
Shouts out to SB Nation Chicago's own Bobby Loesch for adding the necessary Chappelle Show nod.
There are no words.
Ricky O'Donnell is a writer and editor in Chicago and the founder of the Chicago sports blog Tremendous Upside Potential. He is always very much available for hire. Follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.