It's been a long season for Bull Riding's Erick Ward. His beloved and highly touted Chicago Bulls have suffered through a coaching change, another half-season of Ben Wallace, disasters in the back-court, locker room dysfunction and a plunge in the standings after finishing fifth in the Eastern Conference a season ago. Through it all, however, the transplanted Hicag native has continued to dutifully watch his team courtesy of the wonder that is Slingbox, all the while maintaining his normal level of affability and insight. Recently, Erick and I chatted about the season of turmoil in Chicago as well as what lies ahead for a Bulls franchise that is suddenly very much in flux...
SW: When we chatted in the preseason, I told you that the Bulls were the team in the Eastern Conference that scared me as a Celts fan. They were the one team I definitively didn't want to see in the playoffs, but I felt good that it likely couldn't happen until the conference finals, as I expected the two teams to finish with the top two spots in the East. As you're all too well aware, the pundits' predictions for the Bulls haven't exactly come to pass. Simply put, what happened?
EW: Well, it turns out the Bulls weren't very good. The Bulls' success was based on trying harder than everyone else. They played hard every night, especially on defense, and it made up for their lack of talent, kind of like how the Sixers are winning now, as Celtics fans saw last week. Not that the Bulls didn't play hard this season; it just seemed like they expected to be good again, and the intensity wasn't always there.
SW: Nine games to play, eleventh place, four games out of the last spot: Handicap for me the chances of a miracle playoff berth.All of Steve's daily posts can be found in the CelticsBlog: NBA blog. Check him out!
EW: No chance. Not even a little.
SW: Ouch. Has there been a highlight of this disappointing season for you? What is it? By that same token, what's been the single most frustrating part of this season?
EW: I can't think of any highlights, and the most frustrating thing is that this is probably going to get worse before it gets better. I don't possibly know how the Bulls can turn this around quickly. They don't have a franchise player, and there won't be a guy like that where the Bulls are likely to select in the draft. The Bulls don't have the expiring contracts, good young players or draft picks to make a big trade. It's frustrating, because it's tough to find an answer to the Bulls' problem. Paxson didn't really have a Plan B.
SW: The Bulls' big player personnel change this season was the deal with the Cavs and Sonics at the deadline in which they were considered to have traded trash for trash. What are your impressions since the trade, and how do you think the long-term ramifications of the deal will play out? How happy are you to have Ben Wallace gone?
I like Drew Gooden, and it's nice to have Wallace gone. In the long-run, I think Paxson thought it would be easier to trade Hughes' ridiculous non-expiring contract than Wallace's. So, even though it's great to get rid of Wallace, I can't get really excited unless Hughes is gone, although I am excited to fake trade Hughes on the Trade Machine every day this summer.
SW: So far as big expectations are concerned, none may have been greater coming into this season than those for Luol Deng. After a strong finish to last season (highlighted by a gargantuan set of performances in the first-round sweep of Miami), it appeared to some that the versatile young swingman was poised to cement himself as a franchise centerpiece in Chicago. How would you assess his season thus far, and what are your expectations for him going forward?
EW: My expectations for Deng going forward are the same as they were at the beginning of the season. He is a good player, and if he is your team's third best player, you have a really good team. But he's not a franchise guy. This season he's been banged up, and his numbers are down a little, but he's pretty much done what I expected.
SW: Coaching...whoa. It's been a mess all year. Scott Skiles met his inevitable demise, and Jim Boylan has had multiple run-ins with his players over the course of the season. Meanwhile, the results haven't improved much. What's been your take on the job Boylan has done as the interim coach? Who would be your ideal coach for this team next season? Who will be the team's coach next season?
EW: I don’t think there is any way that Paxson can bring Boylan back. He has no control of the team. Just in the past couple of weeks, Nocioni was screaming at him, Thomas skipped practices, and then the whole Duhon incident happened. Even Aaron Gray -- who looks like the happiest person in the world just to be in the NBA -- got into it with Boylan. If I had to guess, I would say Rick Carlisle will be on the bench next season. I'd prefer to see something crazy, like Alex English or someone else with an offensive mind and NBA experience.
SW: Time to get the fan bases riled up: Jo Noah or Big Baby Davis? Why?
EW: Right now, I'd take Noah. He's played really well in March and basically ever since Wallace was traded. He's averaged about 9 points and 7 rebounds a game as a starter, even though he's going up against the opponents' bigger, stronger center. Still, his ceiling is pretty low because of that hideous shot.
SW: Got a score prediction for tonight's game?
EW: Celtics 104, Bulls 87.
Atta boy, E! That's the type of prognostication skill we're looking for around here. Thanks to Erick for taking the time to chat with us today, and best wishes for some mercy on him from the Bulls' front office.