The Chicago Bulls came into this shortened season with high expectations, but injuries obviously will be the story when people try to summarize their first-round exit from the playoffs.
I will go a step further and say there is a more glaring deficiency the Bulls need to fix despite the injuries. I believe their mindset in regards to how they focus so much on defense needs to change.
I remember Larry Brown wanting to prove a point to Ricky Pierce and me when we played for the Pacers. He put us in a defensive drill to do that. Brown lined up the rest of the players at half court and Ricky and I had to take turns guarding players coming full speed at us. He definitely proved his point because they scored consistently against us, but unbeknownst to Larry it didn't affect me one iota. I knew something every player on that Pacer team knew: We would have abused every one of them as well if he had put us on offense... and they were supposedly good defenders.
I knew what I was and I knew my job description and that was to score. My plus-minus was consistently in my favor and I can argue that I had an upper hand on players that guarded me regularly.
Only a few players in the history of basketball were very good on both sides of the court, but even those guys used their ability to score and be a threat as a prelude to wearing down the player they had to defend.
LeBron James and Kobe Bryant stand out among players who are playing today.
The season I won the Sixth Man of the Year award, I averaged 21 points in 28 minutes and it was undoubtedly my best defensive season. Cotton Fitzsimmons ran plays that kept me involved and put tremendous pressure on the players I had to guard on the other end.
I say this because I just watched the Bulls lose to the Sixers without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah and yet they played the same way.
They played slow, methodical basketball and kept it close, but one problem existed... Rose was in street clothes. He is the only player on the Bulls that can go off on his own and create a shot – good or bad.
The last championship team that had one player with that job description was the Houston Rockets with Hakeem Olajuwon. Hakeem, though, was getting high-percentage shots and the Rockets were stocked with a plethora of catch-and-shoot players from the three-point line if a team decided to double him on the post.
Tom Thibodeau needs to relent and allow Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer to become more prime-time scorers next year to put more pressure on the other guys to cover for them defensively when they get tired.
I have watched Deng over the last few years and I have seen enough to realize he is a 20 points per game scorer if unleashed to do so. If he were allowed to break a play and attack more than a few times during a game, it would force a player like LeBron to use extra energy, maybe giving Deng a better chance on the other end defensively.
I loved guarding predictable players and I knew if I overplayed them and denied the ball they were done that possession. Deng is predictable in that offense and that's why he shot a poor 41 percent this season.
Boozer is a shell of the player I saw in a Jazz uniform and while I continue to argue with my Chicago friends that he is not being used as the same player they recruited from Utah, they still complain that he is a failure.
The player I saw in Utah was not a defensive stalwart. It blows my mind that he is expected to be this tremendous defender now. He is an undersized power forward that operates in a two-man game extremely well and rebounds in his area very well.
Boozer is a pick-and-pop player around the elbows and when he is knocking that shot down the rest of his game elevates. That is the player I saw in Utah and obviously that is the player who is in Chicago, but he does not get enough consistent touches to prove what he did with the Jazz was not an anomaly.
He got 11 shots in the biggest game of the season. I don't care if he was 1 for 11. The challenge should have been to find a way to get him going and put him in a position to win the game.
I love the coaching of Tom Thibodeau and I understand the culture he is developing in Chicago, but they will not raise a championship banner until he unleashes more players aside from Rose.
There are guys on the Bulls that should have been fined for shooting the ball before Deng and Boozer got touches when Rose got hurt.
Deng had a tremendous Game 6 with 19 points and 17 rebounds, but he needed a 35-point outing. He might have gotten it if he were allowed more than 16 shots. I would have taken no less than 22 shots per game in a situation like that.
It's all a product of a methodical system that allows subpar offensive players to shoot when open. What Deng and Boozer need to tell some of those players is there is a reason they are open.
My message to Thibodeau is this: Rose will not be the same next year when he returns. If you want success without extra pressure on Rose, you need to give Deng and Boozer freedom and allow them to gain confidence by letting them know they are getting the ball.