May 23, 2008

A ping-pong fix-all

So much depends upon a white ping-pong ball.

Tuesday night's draft lottery saw the ever-objective ping-pong balls bounce Chicago's way, and on June 26, the Bulls will welcome the top pick in the NBA Draft to the Windy City.

And finally, everything will be alright.

Forget the fact that the once proud Bulls haven't reached the Eastern Conference finals since 1998.

Forget their 289-499 record over the past 10 years.

The Bulls have the first pick in the draft, so everything is going to be fine.

It doesn't matter that this past season the Bulls lost all of the momentum they built up over the previous three years. It doesn't matter that they followed up a 49-33 year in which they held claim to the third-best record in the East by plummeting down to the 11th spot.

It doesn't matter that the team experts across the country expected to contend for the Eastern Conference title finished the year contending with the Charlotte Bobcats for that much-prized 11th spot.

Because the Chicago Bulls have the number one pick in the draft, they've got the chance to turn everything around, and everything is going to be fine.

Who cares that the Bulls don't have a coach?

Who cares that Luol Deng and Ben Gordon still have to settle on the contracts that both opted not to finalize before last season?

Who cares that, overnight, the Bulls became a team full of players who show up late for practice and team meetings?

Who cares that Cap'n Kirk Hinrich looked like a poor man's Smush Parker while making $11.25 million last season and still has another $37 million left on his contract?

I certainly don't, because we have the top pick, so really, the team is going to be great.

Don't worry about Tyrus Thomas either. They traded down to get him with the fourth pick just two seasons ago, and even though his game has grown slower than Charles Barkley's hair, he's got great upside.

Don't worry about the Bulls' history of failure in the draft. Nobody even remembers Chicago taking Marcus Fizer with the fourth pick in the 2000 draft, so it's almost like that never happened at all.

I'm not worried. The Bulls have the first pick, so they can't mess this one up.

Don't get me wrong; I love this team. Nobody likes Luol Deng more than I do. Ben Gordon is one of the coolest players in the league. I have a Kirk Hinrich cardboard standup in the corner of my room.

More importantly, though, I believe that this team can win. They had the right chemistry when they swept the Heat out of the playoffs in 2007, and even though that chemistry faltered this season, they still have the right pieces, especially with the mid-season addition of Larry Hughes, a shooting guard with size, and Drew Gooden, a big man who can play some offense.

Adding either Memphis's Derrick Rose or Kansas State's Michael Beasley, the Bulls will certainly be a tough team to beat, especially in the slower-paced Eastern Conference.

But no team has ever won a championship just by winning the lottery.

Of course, maybe the Bulls will find their Tim Duncan, who led the Spurs to 57 wins in his rookie season and has since won four championships.

But it's a big maybe. Rose and Beasley both could be great players, but there's no telling how they'll mesh with the team and how the Bulls' record will look this time next year. Maybe they'll be in the conference finals. Or maybe they'll be right where they are now, watching the series from their couches.

So let's be reasonable here. This part of the draft is called the lottery because it is entirely luck. The Bulls went into the draft with approximately 1-in-59 odds of getting the first pick, and Tuesday happened to be their day.

I know that it's hard not to be excited. I cranked a celebratory Soulja Boy when I saw that the Bulls had won the first pick. This could be the beginning of the beginning for the Bulls; we just don't and can't know for sure yet.

But at least the ping-pong balls have given us some hope.