Sports column: Curing indigestion

By Jeff Feyerer

Call it blind optimism or just plain stupidity, but I’ve got a feeling about this NBA season.

Maybe it’s time to start making up my room at the mental institution, fully equipped with straitjacket and padded walls.

But a feeling in the pit of my stomach tells me the Eastern Conference team without a playoff appearance in six years will find a map and get back on the road to the postseason.

That’s right.

I’m talking about the Bulls.

After hearing that statement, you may be ready to cut out the crossword puzzle and throw the paper on the ground, thus discounting any memory of me writing the words, “Chicago Bulls.”

As much as I love to walk around campus on Wednesdays and see my face covered in footprints, hear me out.

After high expectations prior to the 2003 campaign, the Bulls stumbled out of the gate and were never able to recover. They suffered through injuries and blowout losses, giving fans indigestion.

But 2004 begins the second season under general manager John Paxson and the first full season with Scott Skiles at the helm.

They’ve had an opportunity to make changes after a dismal 2003, just not the same changes everyone expected.

With one of the youngest teams in the league, the Bulls were expected to add a few veterans via trades to give them the injection of leadership that was missing.

But the young got younger.

They put shoot first, shoot second guard Jamal Crawford on the next plane to the Big Apple.

When they were expected to make a trade for some experience in the draft, they took two players who left college early.

But there was something different about former college stars guard Ben Gordon and forward Luol Deng.

Just like there was something different about Paxson’s other first round draft choice as general manager, Kirk Hinrich.

While general manager Jerry Krause focused his restructuring of the Bulls around two teenagers, one of whom couldn’t score on the high school players seven inches shorter that guarded him, Paxson has drafted dedicated players who were winners and leaders during their time in college.

Paxson’s additions weren’t limited to the first round.

In the second round, Paxson brought aboard former Duke point guard Chris Duhon. He also signed through free agency the 25-year-old forward Andres Nocioni, who came to the States after leading Argentina to the gold medal in the 2004 Olympics.

It’s clear Paxson and Skiles aren’t simply attempting to increase the skill level, but also to alter the mindset of the team.

For the last six years, the Bulls have seen nothing but darkness, something Paxson knows nothing about after his time in the spotlight next to Michael Jordan.

These aren’t the same Bulls we’ve seen in the past, despite what their 3-5 record in the preseason indicated.

It’s clear prognosticators aren’t expecting much from the Bulls, but why should they?

Just when you think they’re turning the corner, Elton Brand gets traded, or Jay Williams gets in a motorcycle accident, or Jalen Rose starts crying like a baby.

Whatever the circumstance, the basketball gods have not smiled upon the Bulls for six years.

What will it take to change the mindset of Chicago basketball fans and increase the viewing audience to include people not named Jeff Feyerer?

They are a much better team talent-wise and with another one of Jerry Krause’s mistakes, Eddie Robinson, being shown the door, the Bulls just need Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry to finally step to the forefront and show they are the hard-working leaders Chicago loves.

It took fellow high-school-to-the-pros hoopsters Tracy McGrady and Jermaine O’Neal four and five years respectively to have their breakout seasons.

Does that mean this is the year for the Twin Towers to realize their true potential?

If not, they won’t be re-signed by Paxson next season, and the Bulls will continue to watch the playoffs from their couches.

Do the changes this offseason mean the Bulls’ past fortunes are reversed?

If not, my new favorite drink come April will be Pepto-Bismol.

Jeff Feyerer is a senior in ALS. He can be reached at [email protected]