In the NBA, the more talented team wins most of the time, especially during the playoffs. However, based on the 2015-16 season, Bulls fans know that isn’t enough. A hallmark of many great teams, and something that set Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls teams a part, is heart.
If the Bulls want to be considered an elite NBA team, like they once were, they have to make a lot of changes. This past season the Bulls had arguably their most talented roster since the 1990s.
Where did all of this talent get them? The 14th pick in the NBA Draft.
Finding the right balance between talent and heart is very difficult. Talent alone can win in the NBA.
“They have a lot of talent.” That might be the easiest thing to say about a player, or team; but is it what really matters? Yes, but alone, it’s not enough. Talent wins, but if the NBA playoffs are any example, the talent with the most heart, has the best chance to do so.
The Bulls lacked the heart and emotion that is needed to win. The only flashes of exuberance came against the elite teams in the league.
It may be hard to truly quantify heart and passion. Some players do not show much outward emotion, but the best ones do. Maybe that is a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it is true all the same.
For those of you thinking, seriously, talent is all that matters in the NBA.
Consider this: everyone in the NBA is talented.
For the second season in a row there were 100 international players on opening night rosters. There are roughly 450 players in the NBA, the smallest amount in major North American professional sports.
Of the four teams remaining in the NBA playoffs, what do they have in common? Extreme talent, of course. MVP trophies, All-Star appearances, shoe deals, and car commercials. Despite all of the talent, one thing might be even more clear. They exude heart and passion.
The Bulls used to display those traits on a nightly basis. They often won when they were missing their best talent. The Bulls team that beat the Brooklyn Nets in Game 7 on the road was missing its most talented players. But they had heart. They did not go on to make an NBA Finals run, because they lacked the talent to do so.
Heart enables less talented teams to overachieve, and it gives more talented teams the edge they need to win at the highest level.
In 2011, when the Bulls were poised to make a real run at the NBA Finals, they had talent and heart. We all know what happened next. The Bulls would not have won it all that season if they had more heart, but without it this past season, have they ever felt further away from conversation?
Their collective will to fight and the passion for the game seemed to be missing the whole season. With Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah all missing time during 2015-16, heart might not have saved the Bulls this season, but their lack of it made everything much worse.
Rose may never have been the most outspoken player, but he was outwardly passionate on the floor before his injuries. He showed shades of his former MVP self during last year’s playoffs, as well as glimpses of passion. This past season, heart was hard to come by.
Fans and the media have speculated for years about Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s relationship, and it is not uncommon to see them yelling at each other. Westbrook, despite all of his perceived flaws, is unquestionably one of the most passionate players in the NBA. Durant, despite being mild-mannered off the court, and with the media (most of the time), shows a ton of emotion on the court.
This past season the Bulls rarely showed emotion. Some nights this was clear before the opening tip. This is not to say they wanted to lose, or never cared, but on most nights they reeked of indifference.
There are those that blame their lack of emotion on the firing of arguably the most fiery coach in the NBA, and replacing him with the polar opposite. Remember, they quit on Thibodeau too.
Noah’s season-ending injury did not help either. He has been the heart and soul of this franchise. However, despite his ability to lift the collective spirits of this teammates, his heart and passion cannot be the only thing that enables the rest of the team to bring energy.
Heart is not a quantifiable NBA skill. Neither is talent. They are often the first and perhaps the only attributes that most people notice. And they are both required in order to win. The NBA is the most skillful and talented basketball league in the world. There are a lot of talented players, but there are far less that pour their hearts out on the court.
The Bulls have proven they can win without the most talent. And their most talented team in years proved they could not win without heart. Perhaps their best offseason acquisition would be to find that spark again.