Eli Horowitz | Co-Creator
On the eve of the Cubs/Pirates one game playoff, I choose to think about the Bulls rather than succumb to the nerves and anxiety that is the winner-take-all MLB Wild Card game. Other than the Blackhawks (but who really watches hockey until the Stanley Cup anyway?), the Bulls have been the constant in a Chicago sports landscape that up until the Cubs renaissance has had preciously little to show for it.
While the Bulls haven’t won a title since the Jordan years, they have been a consistent contender in the Thibs era and a compelling team to follow. And yet, as the season nears, and plenty of exciting storylines loom, I begin to ask myself: How closely should I follow the Bulls if I know their ceiling is another loss to the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals or Semifinals? Am I setting myself up for fan failure?
It’s hard not to think that last year was the best chance the Bulls had to take down LeBron. Derrick Rose was relatively healthy. Pau Gasol was in top form. Jimmy Butler had a breakout year. The Bulls had more than enough to overcome a hobbled Cavs team. It didn’t happen. And now the Cavaliers are primed for a run at the title and will likely have a healthy Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.
Bulls optimists will point to many things: a new head coach in Fred Hoiberg brings an excitement and change of style, Derrick Rose, (assuming the orbital fracture was truly a freak incident) is more or less healthy, Jimmy Butler should only get better, and the Bulls possess a surplus of bench options.
While these points have merit and I am certainly keen to see what this years rendition of the Bulls looks like, I wonder if it’s time to throw in the towel and accept that this is the LeBron era in the Eastern Conference. Much like when MJ was in the league, good teams were just not good enough. Reggie’s Pacers, Ewing’s Knicks, and Malone’s Jazz were all squads that could have won multiple titles in other eras, but with Michael Jordan in the picture, it was simply not meant to be. This Bulls core is—unfortunately—most likely in that sad category.
The frustrating part of this reality is that unlike Jordan’s Bulls, LeBron James is beatable. The King is 2-4 in the finals and the Spurs (twice), Mavericks, and Warriors have proven that he is not infallible. With Jordan’s Bulls there was no hope. With LeBron there’s no hope in the Eastern Conference but plenty of hope in the Western Conference.
Seeing LeBron lose four finals keeps fans nationwide feeling that their team could possibly pull off the upset. Really though, it is a handful of Western Conference teams that could: Golden State, San Antonio and maybe the Clippers or Thunder. No Eastern Conference teams to be found.
And so, as I prep for another 82-game grind and playoffs with this Bulls team, I try to lower my expectations. The Bulls are going to be really good, but not good enough. They will try their best, but will inevitably lose in the Conference Finals to Cleveland. I’ve accepted that.