MIAMI In many ways, the 2011-12 campaign has been an improvement for the Bulls from the previous campaign, at least in certain areas. While injuries have prevented Derrick Rose from reaching an MVP level again, the improved health of Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, the development of further depth and consistency within the Bench Mob, Luol Deng making his debut All-Star appearance and adding a legitimate scoring threat at the shooting-guard position in Rip Hamilton, all represent progress.However, at the tail end of the regular season, its clear that something is missing. Perhaps this reads like a knee-jerk reaction after a disappointing loss to the Heat, but whether or not last seasons squad was a true title contender in hindsight, the veritable bullying of the Bulls by the Heat wouldnt have occurred a year ago, not with the likes of Kurt Thomas and Keith Bogans around.Say what you want about Bogans lack of offensive firepower and though the Bulls post-player rotation have remained relatively healthy throughout the year (knock on wood), Thomas would have been an excellent insurance policy, but more significant to any on-court contributions theyd provide would be Miamis knowledge that the two veterans wouldnt permit the flagrant fouls, whether called by the officials or not LeBron James bone-crushing, dirty screen set on the diminutive John Lucas III, while it was officially a non-call, was as bad, if not worse, than the called flagrants committed James Jones and Dwyane Wade wouldnt be happening, at least not without some sort of retribution.This isnt a judgment of the Bulls front office for not re-signing the pair, as the Bulls league-best record cant be second-guessed at this stage of the game. But whether its Bogans, Thomas or another non-nonsense veteran that opponents respect, if not fear payback if one of the Bulls was targeted on the floor, the team simply lacks anybody with an enforcer-type quality.By no means is on-court violence being advocated, but as Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said after the humbling defeat, I just want them to respond. Hamilton, while not the player whom opponents fear from a brute-force standpoint, comes from a background his former employer, the Pistons, were known as one of the leagues most physical teams during their title-contending heyday explained it best.When youre fighting and youve got aspirations and dreams and you want to win a championship, youre going to do anything and I felt as competitors, thats what were going to do to help our team win, he said. When somebody tries to put you on your heels, you never get on your heels. Youre going through them the whole game. You dont allow anybody to go through you. Weve just got to do a better job of putting our foot on the gas and responding, and not allowing them to do different plays where were on our heels.Hamilton himself was the victim of one of the aforementioned flagrant fouls committed by Miami, as longtime nemesis Dwyane Wade outright shoved him afterwards, Wade admitted he didnt even try to be covert, as he felt Hamilton was getting away with fouling him and wanted to direct the officials attention to the situation prompting one of the handful of skirmishes, in which the Bulls were reacting to the Heats actions.Its part of the game, man. Its one of those things that happen in the heat of the battle. Youre going to have plays like that, two people just trying to outwill each other, trying to fight, Hamilton explained about the incident with Wade. He knows what Im going to do, I know what hes going to do, so its one of those things where, Im not going to give you the edge, and hes going to do the same thing with me. I didnt think he was going to back down, he didnt think I was going to back down, so its all part of the game.Anything happens in a game. Anything happens in the heat of the battle. Its one of those things that just happened, he continued. I didnt even know they called a flagrant foul. I thought they called a technical, but its part of the game. Thats what playoff basketball is about.Its one thing for isolated incidents, like the situations with Hamilton and Lucas or center Joakim Noahs angry response to Jones foul, to briefly fire up a team. Its another to maintain that mentality throughout the course of a game, without losing focus or control, yet letting the opposing squad know that there wont be any of that going on, not without severe repercussions.I think weve got to get better. Thats what the playoffs are going to be about. I know what youre going to do, you know what were going to do, said Hamilton, one of the few Bulls in the locker room when the media was allowed to enter. When somebody pushes their foot on the gas and tries to push us back, weve got to push even harder.Thats the game. When youre playing in the playoffs and you know one game can send you home, thats what youre going to get. Youre going to get an ugly game, added the veteran shooting guard, who answered all the time, when asked if the physical tone set Thursday evening would persist in potential future matchups with the Heat. Ive been in many ugly games in my career and thats the game that you want to be in. You want to be in a dogfight.As far as intense game, yes, it goes without saying that the Bulls have the mental toughness and dont shy away from physical play allowable under the rules. But judging from the Heats approach and honestly, going back to the first-round series last spring with upstart Indiana, in which the Pacers, even with Thomas and Bogans present, displayed a similar mindset, especially in defending Rose, though they didnt have the talent to translate it into wins, at least at that point in time it wouldnt be surprising to have other teams attempt the same course of action (after all, it was a nationally-televised, high-profile affair) in the future.With three games remaining in the regular season before the playoffs begin, the Bulls have enough on their hands with Roses uncertain health status and even without him at 100 percent, they should be capable of surviving a first-round matchup, especially if they maintain the Easts top seed and face the free-falling 76ers, as the Carmelo-Anthony Knicks could pose problems for even the stiffest of competition. But beyond the opening round, where the likes of Boston and Indiana could lurk, and assuming they return to the conference finals, another anticipated showdown with the Heat, it wouldnt be surprising to see their mettle tested again.
The Chicago sunlight followed Jabari Parker as he walked through the East Atrium doors of the United Center, facing Michael Jordan’s statue before meeting with the media, introduced as a Chicago Bull for the first time.
For his sake, the brighter days are ahead instead of to his back as he’ll challenge the perception of being the hometown kid who can’t outrun his own shadow.
Parker re-enters Chicago as the No. 2 pick in the draft that the Milwaukee Bucks allowed to walk without compensation despite holding the cards through restricted free agency, damaged goods on the floor but not giving the Bulls a discount to don that white, red and black jersey he’s always dreamed of wearing.
“There were other teams but as soon as I heard Chicago, I just jumped on it,” Parker said.
It took a two-year, $40 million deal (2019-20 team option) to get Parker home, along with the selling point that he’ll start at small forward—a position that’s tough to envision him playing with on the defensive end considering three of the game’s top six scorers occupy that space.
It was a dream come true for his father, Sonny Parker, and high school coach, Simeon Academy’s Robert Smith, who both couldn’t hide their joy following the first question-and-answer session with the media.
“This is where he wanted to be,” Sonny Parker said. “His family’s happy, the support is there. All I know is the United Center will sell out every game. He can’t wait.”
“Normally guys get drafted here. He signed to come here. He had a couple offers from other teams but he wanted to come here.”
The biggest examples of Chicagoans who arrived with outsized expectations for this franchise had varying results, but Derrick Rose and Eddy Curry both came away with scars of sorts that had many wondering why any hometown product would willingly choose to play for the Bulls.
The risk seems to far outweigh the reward; the emotional toll doesn’t seem worth the fare. And with the roster makeup not being ideal for Parker, no one could blame him for going to a better situation—or at least one more tailored to his skills rather than his heart.
“I think every situation is different. Derrick was excelling,” Bulls executive vice-president John Paxson said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “MVP of the league in his hometown before the injury. Eddy was just a young kid who didn’t have the savvy Derrick had. I think every situation is different. Jabari is such a grounded, solid person that he’s gonna be just fine.”
“You don’t have to spend a whole lot of time with him to figure out he’s got it together. He knows who he is. Comfortable in his own skin. A quiet guy. Hopefully he’ll thrive here. The goal is it works great for him and works great for us.”
It seemed like he was bred to be a pro—and not just any pro, but the type Chicago demands of its own when a covenant to play 82 nights a year has been reached. If the constant prodding from his father didn’t break his façade, or older brother Darryl doing everything he could to coax emotion from the most gifted of the Parker clan couldn’t do it, two ACL surgeries on his left knee may pale in comparison.
The numbers from Parker’s recent stint with the Bucks don’t bear it out, but Smith sees a player who’s back on track to being what his talent has always dictated he should become.
“Even watching him work out lately, it’s like whoa,” Smith said. “But of course, everything with Chicago period you have to be cautious. With his family and the support system he has, this thing is about winning basketball games and giving back to the community.”
“He’s had that (target) on his back since he stepped on the court at Simeon, coming behind Derrick and being one of the top five players as a freshman and No. 1 player as a junior. I don’t think it’s a huge problem, it can help him a little bit. If he has those moments if something doesn’t go right, he has someone to help him.”
Parker is more known for his restarts than his unique skill set in his young career, but even at 23 years old speaks with a sage of someone 20 years his senior, unwilling to tab this portion of his journey as a fresh start.
After all, it would be easy to envision his career beginning from the moment he left Simeon as a phenom followed by his one season at Duke—having two games where he totaled just 24 minutes with just two points to start the Bucks’ first-round series against the Boston Celtics isn’t typical of a star’s story if he sees himself that way.
“I don’t. I don’t want to forget all the hard work I had,” Parker said. “To forget I hurt myself and came back is to discredit my success. That in of itself is something outside the norm. I want to always remember the setbacks and failures I’ve had in my career so far. I want to use that as a sense of motivation.”
Bringing up his awkward pro beginnings in Milwaukee, where Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ascension to an unexpected strata mirrored thoughts he might’ve had of himself before his injuries, didn’t cause him to growl.
“I’ve never got jealous a day in my life. That’s why it wasn’t hard because I wasn’t jealous,” Parker said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “My journey is my journey. I gotta be proud of that and be patient. I took that and I move forward.”
The mention of his defense didn’t make him defensive, either, as he definitively pointed out the truth as he saw it, that today’s game is far more offensive-minded than the bruise-fests of the previous decades. Telling by his words in subsequent interviews, the best defense is a great offense and when he’s right, there aren’t many who can get a bucket as easily and with as much diversity as himself.
The only time Parker broke serve was at the notion he’d be following in the footsteps of Rose’s perceived failures, the setbacks Rose suffered when his knees began to fail after reaching inspiring heights players like Parker wanted to emulate.
At the podium for all to see, he corrected a question formed around Rose’s “rise and fall”, a sound byte copied and pasted by a couple Chicago-bred NBA players on social media in support of Parker’s words and feelings.
“Derrick had no lows. He didn’t. He still maintained. Derrick’s a legend, no matter what…no rise and falls. Injuries are part of life. Derrick is one of the best icons in Chicago. He accomplished his duty already.”
And later, he wanted to set the record straight again, drawing a line from how the media has presented Rose compared to how the people of Chicago see him, and vice-versa.
“We didn’t turn on Derrick, the media (did),” Parker told NBCSportsChicago.com. “We’re hometown. I speak for everybody, we love our hometown.”
The love of Chicago meant more than the prospect of not being able to live up to a glorious prep past, even though he should be well aware wanderlust can turn to villainy in a heartbeat—or the wrong step.
“There’s no pressure for me,” Parker said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “I’m just happy I get to play with some young guys, and I don’t harp on the negative. Anybody and everybody is gonna have an opinion. I value more my dreams than their opinions.”
And the dreamer steps forward, with a confident gait, eyes wide open and a city hoping it doesn’t repeat the same mistakes of its past.
“There’s no fear,” Parker said. “I haven’t faced any other pressure than bouncing back. I’m back on my feet and moving on.”
“When you struggle more, you succeed more.”
David Haugh, Patrick Finley and KC Johnson join Kap on the panel. Jabari Parker is officially a Chicago Bull. So does that make the Bulls a playoff team? And who will play defense for Fred Hoiberg’s young team? Vincent Goodwill and Mark Schanowski drop by to discuss.
Plus with Manny Machado now a Dodger, are the Cubs no longer the best team in the NL?
Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below: