It’s nearly NBA playoff time, and Bulls fans are stuck in limbo between “how far will they go?” and “will they even get in?” – a much bleaker situation than we’re used to in Chicago this time of year.
Unlike the Tom Thibodeau era, hoping for one more chance at LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals should be considered borderline delusional at this point.
But, if you’re able to get your shit together and root for a different team, there’s a pretty damn good option in the form of LeBron’s worst nightmare.
Barring a miraculous scenario where the Bulls beat Cleveland, the best possible outcome of the 2016 Eastern Conference playoffs is the Cavaliers losing to the Miami Heat.
Yes, those same Miami Heat that Chicago and the rest of America bonded over in common disgust for four years.
It’s a nod to how fast the sports world moves, but it’s incredible how big of a swing the Heat have made in Overall Coolness over the last two seasons. If you don’t agree, then you probably haven’t thought about it very much.
Luol Deng, a key player in the failed Thibodeau Crusades of 2011-2014 and Miami’s starting small forward, is still the man and still ridiculously solid at basketball. Chicago native Dwyane Wade will always be slightly annoying, but respect for his resurgent season at age 34 should outweigh any lingering desire to be butthurt about him hustling the Bulls in 2011 free agency.
Goran Dragic, crafty lefty white guard extraordinaire, is hitting his stride after coming to Miami at last season’s trade deadline.
If you really just don’t like Chris Bosh, I get it. But he’s certainly much closer to the well-liked Toronto Raptors version of himself; and easy to root for when you consider his multiple health scares the last two seasons.
Like Wade, another 34-year-old having a resurgence is recently acquired Joe Johnson – the guy the Bulls should have gotten when they signed Carlos Boozer – who’s helped the Heat to a 7-2 mark since his arrival.
One of those seven wins was an ass-whooping of the Bulls in Chicago last Friday, a game I was sitting on the floor for because my friend’s dad sometimes has really awesome tickets and sometimes I get invited (once).
Other than getting a whole new perspective of the monstrosity that is Hassan Whiteside, (one of four players in the last 30 seasons to record four triple-doubles with blocks) I was formally introduced to a promising rookie named Josh Richardson.
Fortunately for the Bulls, it wasn’t as rude as his introduction to Greg Monroe.
Despite being taken 40th overall, Richardson has become one of the NBA’s more productive rookies in the month of March. Miami’s sexier rookie, Justise Winslow, has come on as well — and both Richardson/Winslow having an early impact are testaments to the understated genius of Heat President Pat Riley.
Miami has gone from hated Eastern Conference bully to chill Eastern Conference dark horse in a matter of two seasons, all facilitated by LeBron James’ departure and Riley’s ability to thrive in the wake of it.
Without the sideshow drama bullshit that came as a nauseating byproduct of LeBron’s time in South Beach, the Miami Heat organization simply and objectively sticks out for its prowess as an expansion franchise.
Founded in 1988, the Heat have won 11 division titles since Riley got to town as head coach in 1995 – and are headed to their 12th as of this writing. And his hand-picked successor, Erik Spoelstra, seems to be doing just fine without Assistant Coach LeBron James.
Riley’s impressively deep roster has surged into a tie with Boston for the East’s three seed, going 16-7 since January 25th despite Bosh’s health issues. If Miami can hold onto the three spot, it sets up the potential Miami-Cleveland ECF we should all be rooting for on entertainment value alone.
As an objective fan of professional basketball, the Heat present a balanced and compelling mix of youth, star power, and savvy.
And if you’re a subjective fan of the Chicago Bulls, the Miami Heat are the team you want playing LeBron James and the increasingly annoying Cleveland Cavaliers.
Take your pick.