Clearly, the standards are soaring now.
The Bulls were aiming for more after back-to-back 41-win seasons and first-round playoff exits, and did they ever get it. They boasted the league’s MVP in Rose, the Coach of the Year in Tom Thibodeau and a league-leading 62 wins while advancing to the conference finals for the first time in 13 years.
Not since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were here had the Bulls generated such a buzz and sent expectations rocketing like this.
How they did it is well-documented. Where they go from here is the question.
For Rose, it was a disappointing finish to an otherwise outstanding season in which he became the league’s youngest MVP and joined Jordan as the only Bulls player to win the award. If anyone could sympathize with him, Miami’s LeBron James would be the guy.
“I’ve been in situations where I say why me at this point?” said James, searching for his first championship. “But you have to keep working and be put in those positions time after time after time where if you fail, you have to be ready to take that challenge again and again and again. When you’re a leader, D-Rose _ he earned the MVP. He’s a great talent, unbelievable player. Chicago got not only a great basketball player, but a great kid, too. What he’s done for this city and what he’s done for this franchise in just three years is remarkable. The sky is the limit for that guy.
“I mean, wow, as a fan, he’s going to get better and better,” he continued. “Hopefully we don’t have to continue to see him in the postseason.”
Dwyane Wade chimed in: “We will.”
And James said: “Yeah, we will.”
To many, Chicago-Miami has the makings of a long rivalry. The question is whether the Bulls will be like the 1990s Jazz and Knicks, good teams that couldn’t quite win it all. Or will the Heat be more like those Pistons teams of yesteryear?
Detroit eliminated the Bulls three years in a row before Jordan, Pippen and Co. swept them in the 1991 conference finals on the way to their first championship.
“A lot of us haven’t been here before,” forward Luol Deng said. “We’ve got to take this as a learning experience.”
Only once since the dismantling of the dynasty following the 1997-98 championship season had the Bulls advanced past the first round. That was in 2007, when they swept defending champion Miami and lost to Detroit in six games. The only player remaining from that team is Deng.