With the NBA All-Star game a little less than two weeks away, the top teams in each conference are establishing themselves and the biggest storylines in the league are all circling back to the playoff picture.
Currently, the Chicago Bulls hold the best record in the NBA at 25-7. They have overcome chronic injuries to the reigning MVP Derrick Rose and also to their prized free-agent acquisition Rip Hamilton. Collectively the duo has missed 30 games this season (nine for Rose, 21 for Hamilton). But even with a healthy D-Rose and Hamilton, the Bulls will not win the championship this year.
The biggest problem facing the Bulls is their lack of playmakers on offense. Rose is in a class by himself, but the Miami Heat proved last year that if you stop him, you stop the Bulls.
Their next leading scorers, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer, do not play well with their back to the basket or when they are matched up one-on-one in space. Hamilton is a nice player, but cannot be expected to carry the scoring load if Rose is stymied.
Then there's Joakim Noah, the man whose offensive game has not improved since his rookie year of 2007-08. He is essentially a non-factor to score when the ball is in his hands unless he is putting in a rebound. Teams routinely leave him alone when he has the ball hoping he takes the 16'-18' jumper. He is clumsy near the bucket and has yet to develop a scoring move from inside the paint.
The Bulls need Noah to make teams worry about him when he has the ball in his hands. An ugly, inconsistent jumper and out-of-control drives to the basket are not useful offensive talents of a quality big man. Until the Bulls get a presence that can be an effective scorer in the post, they will continue to be a very good team that will rack up a lot of regular season wins, but fail to bring home any hardware.
As long as Noah is the starting center for the Bulls, they will fail to reach their ultimate goal of winning an NBA championship.
If D-Rose and company want to dance on the hardwood with confetti falling around them while a throng of reporters asks them meaningless questions like, "How does it feel to be a champion?," then John Paxson and Gar Forman will have to deal the man with the Sideshow Bob-inspired hairstyle and a propensity for partying and bring in somebody that can help raise the team to championship status.