Tank-hating NBA picks on the one team that can’t get tanking right — the Bulls
The Bulls haven’t been able to do a lot of things right the last few years, scoring and defending coming immediately to mind.
But they can’t even tank right, which is almost beyond comprehension. If winning NBA games is hard, then losing them because you want to lose should be like putting on a pair of socks. Yet, it’s true: With a high draft position at stake, the Bulls are losers at losing. They have the eighth-worst record in the league.
I’d love to tell you that rock bottom has been reached, that there are no more insults or injuries to be absorbed and that you can crawl inside a hole and wait for the season to end or death to arrive, whichever comes first. But I can’t.
Now we’re told that the NBA has been concerned about the absence of veterans Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday from the Bulls’ lineup. Lopez hasn’t played since the All-Star break, and Holiday had played in only one game (going 1-for-11 from the field) before starting Wednesday against the Grizzlies. The league hates any suggestion that teams are using lesser talent and losing on purpose to get a better draft position.
Four thoughts immediately popped into my head when the news of the Bulls-NBA talks hit Tuesday:
— The Bulls?
— The NBA is worried about the Bulls?
— The team that can’t even tank straight?
— If the NBA really wants to see middling players like Lopez and Holiday on the floor, it should fine itself.
The whole thing is much ado about nobody. The Bulls blew their chance at a maximum tank job by winning too many games with Nikola Mirotic on the floor — seven straight and 15 of 23 in a stretch that dropped a grenade inside the hatch of the tank. At this point, it wouldn’t matter if they benched mid-dynasty Michael Jordan. With so many teams losing at a gleeful pace, there’s not enough time for the Bulls to make up much ground on their fellow tankers.
So the NBA having a problem with the Bulls’ “rebuild’’ is like arson investigators obsessing on the one guy who doesn’t know how to light a match.
The league believes that fans should be able to see the best players play. But its interest in the topic primarily has to do with making sure the best teams don’t liberally rest their star players during the regular season. The NBA is looking out for the people who shell out big money to see LeBron James, Kevin Durant or James Harden.
Its interest in the Bulls’ case seems misplaced. Does NBA commissioner Adam Silver believe anyone is coming to games to see Lopez play? If Silver thinks what the Bulls are doing is the most egregious example of tanking, he doesn’t know what tanking looks like.
Anyway, the NBA now seems confident that the Bulls will stop “resting’’ Lopez and Holiday.
‘‘After the All-Star break, we had communication with the league office about Robin and Justin’s roles,’’ Bulls vice president John Paxson said in a statement. ‘‘After healthy dialogue, the league determined that their situations fall into the ‘player rest’ policy. We respect the communication and cooperative dialogue with the league and will adhere to their recommendations going forward.’’
The Bulls seem uncomfortable playing the role of tanker, possibly because they know Silver isn’t afraid to hand out a hefty penalty. He recently fined Mavericks owner Mark Cuban $600,000 for admitting on a podcast that his team was tanking. If there’s one thing the Bulls understand, it’s money and how to hold on to it.
It’s also possible that tanking goes against their idea of fair play. But they made a decision to rebuild. If you’re going to do it, do it right. That’s advice they should have heeded when they won all those games in December and January, when an all-out tank went down the drain.
It would have been interesting to see what the Bulls would have done if the top draft pick had been in reach and if the NBA had started wagging its finger at them. Would they have stood firm in their commitment to rebuild through earnest losing? Or would they have caved in?
Alas, we’ll never find out. After a promising start in which they lost at almost every turn, they went through that bizarre period of winning. They didn’t start losing in bulk again until late January, which is why they find themselves with a 22-42 record after beating the Grizzlies, who have the worst record in the league.
That doesn’t mean a great player is out of the Bulls’ grasp come draft night. It means if you’re trying to lose and you’re only the eighth-best at it, you really ought to hand in your tank card.