Expectation, it’s a funny thing. It moves different within different circumstances, different elements, different bodies, different situations, different teams. Take the Bulls. What are their expectations of themselves? What are ours of them?
Promise usually has a lot to do with giving birth to expectations. Especially early ones. The Bulls’ problem, two games into their five-game preseason? Their past, their potential. They showed us promise two seasons ago — when everything was intact — that stuck with us. We’ve been locked in this time trap of believing (despite the never-ending mystery of Lonzo Ball’s career-altering injury/injuries) that that team will return at some point ever since. Which makes us fear if having expectations is just another way of lying to ourselves.
As Season 3 of the Bulls’ version of this ‘‘restructuring’’ (which is slightly different than a ‘‘rebuild’’) is set to begin, the sight of a solid, brilliantly devised plan of how they’re going to enter this season of fatigued expectation doesn’t seem concrete, cement or asphalt. Tinkering with the lineups doesn’t come off as a plan. Acquiring Torrey Craig and Jevon Carter, as dope as they are and will be, doesn’t come off as the answer. Point guard-by-committee doesn’t come off as a serviceable — or a playoffs-or-blow-it-all-up — solution. Hands still thrown up, shoulders still shrugged. All expectations have expiration dates.
We expect them — by now — to finally get past the Lonzo saga that has haunted them the last two years. We expect them — by now — to know how they’re going to use, play and depend on Patrick Williams. We expect Alex Caruso, Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu at this point to know exactly what their game-in/game-out roles are once Oct. 24 hits. We expect the Bulls — by now — to be a better version of the first half of their 2021-22 selves, to show flashes of undeniable hunger, desperation, urgency, anger and pride in games after loses, to come off not satisfied and comfortable after wins. We expected them to seriously look at their five playoff DNQs (did not qualifies) over the last six seasons — and their ‘‘meh’’ 86-78 record over the last two — and do something structural about that over the half-year (literally six months) offseason. Instead, they noped it. Even a double-OT preseason win against the defending champs won’t change that.
Look, the Blackhawks, whose official new beginning just began, don’t have expectations as a team that the Bulls do. Instead, they have interest. Year 1 of the Bedard Era does not include a ‘‘this is the final straw’’ expectation attached to their narrative, just an increase in our general overexcited interest to see if our Connor can live up to the expectations the world put on him once that ‘‘next Connor McDavid’’ was placed on him while he was still in high school. Their expectations are two to three seasons out. The Bulls are the opposite, cornered in the beginning of the end of theirs. They have the Vrdolyak-like law firm of LaVine, Vucevic & DeRozan that is no longer new; a roster of eight players who will, by season’s end, have more than 200 games of being together on their Bulls IMDBs; and a bench (mob) that has the capability of being so solid it’s out here working these Chicago streets for a lit-name.
Someone said something to me the other day: ‘‘Dawg, don’t forget the Miami Heat made it to the NBA Finals last year.’’ And the first thing that came to my mind? The Bulls coulda made that not happen. Full stop. They have that ability in them. Now, does that mean the Bulls could have replaced the Heat in those Finals or, had they stopped Miami from even making the playoffs, we now would be looking at a team that denied a championship-caliber team a shot at a title had they made the playoffs themselves? No. It doesn’t work that way. What that line of thought does is afford us the luxury of looking at the Bulls and saying that this upcoming season, hopefully, they know how not to lose that game this season. Hopefully, they know now how to close out the final play-in game or just win the first one. That’s the realistic first step. That’s how #OccupyExpectations gets started.
Because no one in the city expects the Bulls to be the Bucks, Celtics or Sixers. But despite not dealing straight up with covering themselves (or doing something to recover) for not having Ball on the floor for what this season will be its own Season 3, there remains reasonable belief that the Cavs, Knicks, Nets, Hawks, Raptors and (yes) Heat are not necessarily better than the Bulls. They just happen to win more often. And we don’t know why.
Leaving expectations as the singular thing that forces us to ask this one question about the Bulls: Do they?