The Camouflaged Mediocrity of the Chicago Bulls

“Out-of-town stupid” is a term often used for national or regional sports writers who may not understand or know of the intricacies of the team or organization they’re talking about.  This is obviously a phenomenon that occurs everywhere; of course out-of-towners wouldn’t know as much as local reporters or even the most vigilant of fans.  However, some organizations just do a better job of obfuscating their true natures, or never draw enough attention to themselves to warrant a deeper look.

The Chicago Bulls might be the very best at that obfuscation, and the nature of their mediocrity is that of non-action, which would naturally draw less attention than other NBA franchises who take bad risks or make poor decisions.

Like many things, it starts at the top.  Jerry Reinsdorf has obviously had enormous success overall with the Bulls since purchasing them in 1985, but much of it was in spite of himself and the people he hired.  Giving him credit for six championships in eight years goes along with giving him credit for breaking that same team up and ousting one of the greatest coaches of all time (and by proxy, the best player of all time).  It would be easy to point at that as an isolated incident, but it simply isn’t.

Another enterprising individual on Bulls site Blog a Bull came up with this brilliant chart that maps out Reinsdorf’s repeating pattern of nepotism.  Long story short: the Bulls have ousted two of the winning-est coaches in NBA history in favor of completely inexperienced coaches from Iowa State.  Iowa connections don’t stop there, and there are strange New Mexico connections as well.  The linked article explains and shows it better than I can, but the point is clear: this is an organization that has never given positions of power based upon success, but rather based upon “I knew this guy.”

That’s not to say there haven’t been successes or good decisions made.  There absolutely have been.  In the rare moments the Bulls do participate in a trade, it has rarely gone terribly.  The draft record is mostly decent to above average, and there hasn’t been any catastrophic decisions made there either (save for perhaps the drafting of Marquis Teague, when then-coach Tom Thibodeau wanted Draymond Green).  There have been times when there has been a pretty clear plan on how to approach the future, and sound risks and decisions were made to facilitate that plan.  A lot of it hasn’t worked out, but judging a decision purely based on the outcome is a fool’s errand.

However, there’s a few trends that are rather apparent at this point.  These trends are all likely characteristic of Reinsdorf himself, as like in any organization, it will resemble who’s in charge.

  • They are averse to risk.  There is a long, ever-expanding wasteland of “almosts” and “could haves” in regards to trades involving the Chicago Bulls.  Obviously not all of those trades should have been made, but the point is that trades just aren’t their style, because the risk is too great to them.  The biggest problem with this is missed opportunity; too often, they have lost a player in free agency that they could have traded in the previous season for nothing, or have missed a chance to build assets.
  • They are cheap.  This is a common meme for any criticized owner, but Reinsdorf has earned this dubious title.  He has a long-running track record of resisting any pro-union measure in either sport in which he owns a team.  He was one of the primary “tough nuts” in the 1994-1995 MLB player’s strike.  He has avoided paying the luxury tax for the Bulls almost every year.  Contract disputes with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, two of the best 25 players of all-time and also underpaid during their careers, are known to anyone with some time and Google skills.  There are a number of other cases to point out, but Jerry’s prudent nature isn’t a terribly unknown reality.
  • They will have their way.  There are two common threads between Phil Jackson and Tom Thibodeau; both are among the winning-est coaches in NBA history, and both are people who refused to be pushed around by the Bulls’ front office.  Because of that, they were both deposed despite making the playoffs in their final season (and in Jackson’s case, winning a championship!).  The reasons given for their departures haven’t been entirely honest, accurate, or smart.  Most of the evidence points to this: neither Phil nor Tom were willing to bend to the front office’s will (whatever that will was), and they got sent away because of it.  Both were replaced with inexperienced Iowa State coaches.  Tim Floyd was pretty terrible.  So far there’s little to like about Fred Hoiberg.
  • Their track record with the handling of training and injuries is poor.  I’m not sure if this is an organizational mandate, an inability to hire effective training and medical staff, or a combination of those or other factors, but the Bulls have a curious history in this regard.  The most famous of this is Derrick Rose’s stunted return, but there are numerous other incidents that point to an alarming trend of poor handling of athlete wellness.

 

Many of these subjects are rarely talked about in national media, but they’re also largely ignored in local media.  There are a multitude of reasons why this might be the case, and the more salacious possibility is that the Bulls highly curate and manage the writers that cover the team.  The amount of excuses given for this organization by local media is bordering on sickening; no single situation appears to be bad, but we’re now at a decades-long run of excuse after excuse after excuse.

The most that ever gets said about the Bulls in the national media are cryptic, vague statements such as “the Bulls are weird” or “I’m not sure what they’re doing.”  To my knowledge no major national writer has delved much deeper than that when talking about Bulls dysfunction, but that should come at no surprise.  National writers gravitate towards either the greatest teams or the loopiest ones, and the Bulls haven’t qualified as either for a long time.  Their organizational dysfunction isn’t so bad when compared to the Kings and Lakers of today, the Knicks and Timberwolves of yesterday, or other front-office tire-fires of yesteryear.  Additionally, most of the Bulls’ problems don’t stem from individually poor choices; there’s no unforgivable draft blunder or ill-advised trade to point to.

With the Bulls, it’s a death of a thousand cuts.  Some of those cuts might grab momentary media attention (such as Thibodeau’s firing and subsequent shaming by a public, personal attack by Reinsdorf), but the Bulls are still widely regarded at worst as a reasonably stable organization.  I suppose that statement is completely true, if only because they’ve been consistently awkward, risk-averse, and mediocre.

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Derrick Rose was Right: Another Reason Why the Bulls are Kinda Trash

In 2013, many people tore down Derrick Rose.  He had gotten injured the previous year’s playoffs, and that ACL tear that has haunted his career (alongside a meniscus tear and other injuries) since.

He was called many things: weak, scared, pansy, etc.  Bulls’ doctors had cleared him to play in March of 2013, but he didn’t play then, nor did he play in the playoffs.  The Bulls lost in the second round to the eventual champions, LeBron James’ Miami Heat.

Criticism came from many sources.  Local sports radio, national sports radio, blogs, fans, etc.  It wasn’t a complete chorus; many Bulls fans (myself included) felt it was more prudent to take it slow, especially after an injury that has commonly had a two-year recovery time (meaning that the second year they’re playing, but they’re not 100%).  Regardless, narratives were written: Derrick Rose was soft, or Derrick Rose didn’t care about his team or the fans, or Derrick Rose is weak-minded and can’t be trusted as a franchise player.

This was then all exacerbated by the fact that Rose endured further injuries, that expectations were very high for a Bulls team that was legitimately great when healthy, and the fact that Rose was the youngest MVP of all time (and had a contract that paid him like one).  This only further wrankled fans who had already formed their “soft” perception of Rose, regardless of any real evidence.

Derrick-RoseWhere Rose’s career goes from here is impossible to predict; he has had one of the most tumultuous careers in NBA history already, and he’s only 27.  However, based on a number of events that have occurred since, it is wholly unfair to continue to hold the 2012-2013 ACL injury (and the subsequent handling of his return) against him.

He was right to sit out, despite Bulls doctors clearing him.  He was right because it’s rather obvious: the Bulls’ training and medical staff has a proven track record of being inept, careless, and/or downright irresponsible when it comes to their job.

Rose choosing to trust himself over the Bulls’ doctors has proven to be a smart decision.

Let’s take a walk through some of the more alarming failures that the Bulls’ training and medical staff has had over the last four years:

That is a reasonably frightening list, and it’s nowhere near complete.  This is an organization that has consistently pressured its athletes to come back from injury too soon, and has allowed players to repeatedly play through injuries, to a point of near-malpractice.

First: hard to say any of it was necessarily Tom Thibodeau’s fault, if only because these trends of poor diagnosis and over-playing have continued since his exit.  Maybe it wasn’t Thibs, but rather a medical and training staff that is giving the coaches poor information?  That’s a more reasonable explanation.  It’s either that, or an example of blatant hypocrisy from a front office who claimed over-playing as a reason for firing Thibodeau, but has inexplicably allowed the same behavior from their hand-picked successor.

However, the point: Derrick Rose was correct in not trusting this organization’s medical or training staff.  Chances are he had his own doctor, and that doctor told him that coming back from an ACL too early can be disastrous (and there’s a long enough list of NBA players who can tell you from experience).

The narrative of Derrick “not being tough” never rang true to me.  In the same year he tore his ACL, he had also had a bunch of other minor injuries, almost all of which he played through.  He was one of the most fouled and contacted players in the NBA (due to how often and quickly he drives the lane), playing through a modicum of injuries, and we’re calling him soft after tearing an ACL?  A guy who got elbowed so hard in practice that it broke his orbital bone, and he missed what, two weeks?  He couldn’t see straight for over a month and a half afterwards, and we’re calling that guy soft?  Bullshit.

Derrick Rose isn’t perfect.  He’s made some dumb decisions and has said some dumb things, for sure.  MVP-level Derrick Rose is gone, and even just All-Star Derrick Rose or Above-Average Starter Derrick Rose are probably unlikely.  But saying “no” to the Bulls training staff was not the wrong move, given their previous and future track record.

 

Darkest Dungeon, aka Defeat Simulator 2016

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Darkest Dungeon is a wonderful game.  It is also a mother fucker.

Some general info: Darkest Dungeon is a turn-based strategy game, where you manage a hamlet of adventurers.  Your goal is to complete missions, defeat bosses, and earn resources.  There are all sorts of recources to gain, and they’re used for a large variety of purposes.  There’s simple, obvious things such as improving the skills and gear of your adventurers, to macro objectives such as improving your buildings (and the bonuses they offer).  Finally, you have to manage stress, which adventurers will accrue pretty much perpetually.

Stress can be gained by getting critically hit, to being in the dark, to retreating from a battle, to retreating from a dungeon, to all sorts of other things.  Alleviating stress is done by sending adventurers to stress-relief places, which is a tavern or a chapel (with different methods of stress relief as well).

Combat is a smart, strategical affair that is based off of line placement, buffs and debuffs, and other reasonably simple mechanics that coalesce into a pretty deep system.

All of this is to make you hurt.  This game is not about winning.  It is about your pain, defeat, and how you deal with it.  It’s brilliant, frustrating, tiresome, and satisfying all at once.

I didn’t know it was possible for a pyrrhic victory in a video game to actually give me gratification, if only because the still-negative outcome was better than what could have happened.  But it is; this game has framed not-losing-so-bad as a triumph.  I’m not sure if that’s crazy-smart design or a formula for me wanting to cut whoever made this, but it’s damn intriguing at the very least.

I’m actually about to restart my campaign, if only because I’ve learned some lessons and want to get a better start to what I was doing.  It’s pretty common for me to do this; if I notice that I had too many inefficiencies in a game like this, I’ll start over to “get a better start.”  However, I’m not sure that’s possible.  I have a sneaking suspicion that my start that I’m lamenting was actually sort of OK, and my retry will probably be similar.

And then I’ll learn what this game may truly be: a defeat simulator, a masochistic automaton of harsh reality.  An engine of pain that is meant to grind out any preconceived notion of heroism or “I’m the player and I should win”, like a slow zamboni paving ice before a hockey game.

Wow, that got dark.  This game is fucking with me.

Thoughts: Deadpool (spoiler-free)

Deadpool shouldn’t be a thing, when it comes to movies.  There are dozens of reasons why it shouldn’t work, or why it shouldn’t have been made.  Even the base idea sounds ludicrous, if you put yourself in the shoes of a studio exec: “Let’s make a comic book movie that kids cannot see.”

Yet, I have watched a Deadpool movie.  Better yet, it was actually very good!  And it’s been very successful!  These are all very surprising things, all worthy of exclamation points!

So how did we get here?  Well, I don’t know, but I have some guesses.  To be honest though, I’d rather talk about the “why” rather than the “how.”  So, not unlike the protagonist of this movie, I’m just going to be a bit chaotic and make a number of observations about why this movie is a bit of a triumph (or at least as much of a triumph as a movie like this could be).

  • The fact that this movie was something I watched and understood while still preserving the fun chaos of the Deadpool character is an achievement.  This movie could/should have been off the rails from minute one, and it feels like it’s going that way a lot of the time, but it doesn’t.  It holds together somehow, trudging forward with the plot while making fun of itself for doing so at the same time.  The movie pauses just long enough in spots to let emotional impact set in, then proceeds to show you its balls.
  • Ryan Reynolds is really great here.  I don’t know how many other actors could or couldn’t have pulled this off, but I do know that he did and he’s great.
  • The fourth-wall breaking is done perfectly.  It would have been very easy to run away with it and “do it until it’s not funny,” but it was the perfect amount, and it never really took away from a scene (which is the risk that’s ran when you do that).
  • While this isn’t the first R-rated comic book movie, it’s certainly the first in a traditional style.  Sin City (derived from graphic novels) was also rated R, but it wasn’t bright and didn’t have costumes.  Deadpool is a real risk, and there has been a backlash towards it (and a backlash against the backlash).  There is a valid concern over a primary comic book character being what Deadpool is and flaunting it in a movie, but I think grown-ups can decide what’s good for their children.  At least I hope so.
  • This movie is legitimately hilarious.  Some of it is sophomoric, a lot of it is crude, but Reynolds and Co. pull it off wonderfully.  There were a few people crying at some of the jokes, which I personally hadn’t experienced before.
  • The violence is at a perfect level.  The thought going in was that it would be gory, as Deadpool usually is in the comics.  It certainly is gory, but it’s not over-the-top.  It only focuses on gore for a moment, if only to profress it long enough to go “this is cool, ain’t it?” before getting on with something else.
  • The only real complaint I can think of here is one in hindsight; I wish there was another major “Deadpool vs. 8 schmucks” action scene, if only because the one that was there was so fun.  There wasn’t room for it obviously, and this movie had to force itself to sit down and show you Deadpool’s origin story, so I understand why there wasn’t.  Would have just liked more, I guess.  I suppose that’s a good sign for the franchise.
  • I think it’s interesting that between Deadpool and to a lesser extent Jessica Jones, that Marvel will likely continue exploring “mature” content in the future.  Not that blood, cursing, and sex is necessary to tell a story, but it’s so far been refreshing when compared to the more vanilla storylines and characters of other films.
  • There’s going to be a sequel, and that amazes me only because I’m not sure anyone’s capable of making a coherent Deadpool movie again.  We’ll see.

Keyboard Review: Leopold FC750R

In my ongoing quest to find my perfect TKL (mainly to use as a daily driver for work), I may have found a winner.  For now, anyways; we all know this mechanical keyboard thing is a never-ending chase that will destroy our wallets.  But anyways; this one is nice.

So far I’ve been able to experience a number of TKL boards, so my frame of reference is decent.  I’ve checked out the CM Novatouch, CM QuickFire Rapid, WASD V2 87, Razer BlackWidow Tournament Edition, and the KUL ES-87.  I had some high hopes going into checking out the Leopold though, since what I’ve been able to find about it is that it stacks up really well with other premium boards.

This follows my last review of the KUL ES-87, and beating it will be a tall order.  While I panned it for having a “ping” (this was with Cherry MX Clear switches), it was an extremely high-quality, thoughtfully designed board, and one I would absolutely consider as a daily driver.

This Leopold, however, is equipped with my current favorite switch, the old reliable-and-loud Cherry MX Blue.  This won’t be a switch review, however, as we’ll be concentrating on the board itself.

Last couple things: pictures taken with a Nexus 6.  Keyboard procured from MechanicalKeyboards.com, $114.00.

First: Unboxing!

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Contents are pretty straightforward:

  • Keyboard
  • Dust cover
  • USB cable w/attached velcro tie (nice touch!)
  • Ring-style keycap puller (i.e. another thing to throw in the trash)
  • Replacement stepped CapsLock key (with no LED window)
  • Replacement ScrollLock key (with no LED window)
  • Extra spacebar, because…yay?
  • USB->PS2 adapter

First impression: this is a well-built keyboard.  No flex at all if you try, using both hands.  There’s a decent heft to it; not as substantial as the KUL ES-87, but heavy enough.  The plastic case is thick with a nice rough finish that resists fingerprints.

Here’s a picture of the underside:

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Features of note: thick rubber feet, thick and sturdy flip-out legs for some hot angle action, cable channels to route to either side.  I noted that the top cable channel was especially snug, but not so much as to hurt the cable.

Now, to show off one of the primary features of this board: dem caps.

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These PBT beauties are pristine.  Pad-printed legends, but they’re legends you’re not likely to rub off due to their stealthiness.

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The above picture is one of the Leopold PBT caps next to a Vortex PBT cap.  They’re just as thick.

Now, some quick observations so we can wrap this up:

THE GOOD

  • Excellent build quality.  I’d give the slightest of edges to the KUL ES-87, but both boards are phenomenal specimens.
  • PBT keycaps; not often included, always appreciated.  Side printing is very nice. as well.
  • Overall good package; there are no glaring omissions from what I would expect from a $114 keyboard.
  • Sound-dampening – I assume it’s working.  There is absolutely zero ping on this board.  And I tried to coax it out.  None.
  • Value – you’re getting a lot here for $114.  Most other high-end TKLs don’t come with PBT caps, or build quality this good.

THE MEH

  • Ring-style keycap puller: you may as well not include these, no one should be using them.  Especially on these included keycaps.
  • The spacebar has a pronounced hollow “thud” to it.  I actually like it, but I could see it bothering others.
  • The rubber on the flip-out feet is so grippy that if you push from the front of the board, you’ll un-flip the feet with enough force.  Not a real issue, just sort of humorous.
  • No DIP-switch features, though I don’t think many will miss them on a TKL form factor.  This would be egregious on any smaller form factor, but forgivable here.  Would be nice, though.
  • This is only available in four switches: Red, Brown, Blue, and Black.  Considering the popularity of Clears (and to a lesser extent, Greens), this seems like a bit of a miss.

THE WTF

Um…nothing?

I don’t think there’s any serious or meaningful flaw in the board.  Though there are a few other high-end TKL boards I haven’t tried as of yet (Realforce, Filco, CODE to name a few), this is the best I’ve encountered.  It lacks a few (possibly minor) features that other boards have, but those other boards also have weaknesses of some kind.  This board has no problems, and comes with a nice set of front-printed PBT caps to boot.  For $114, that’s an insane value.

To me, if you’re looking for a TKL, the only reason you wouldn’t want one of these boards is if it doesn’t come in your preferred switch type.  That sounds dramatic and sensational, but I stand behind it.

So, this baby will be taking up permanent residence as my daily driver at work.  Until the next thing comes along.  Guh.

 

Keyboard Review: KUL ES-87

For all zero of you who know me, I’ve recently taken up a love for mechanical keyboards.  I’m ending what’s called a “test drive” phase, where I have a hunger to try all the different kinds of switches and “feels.”  It’s all very nerdy.

Anyway, I got a Cooler Master Novatouch TKL last week, to check out Topre switches.  I wasn’t terribly impressed (though I am not done with Topre), so when I returned the board I decided to get a KUL ES-87 in its place.  I wanted to check out the hype about KUL’s build quality, as well as to try out the Cherry MX Clear keyswitch, which is specifically in a weight class that I hadn’t tried before.

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Enough intro, here’s some opinions, for your mouth:

THE GOOD

  • The build quality is spectacular.  Heavy.  Firm.  Substantial.  This thing is meant to become part of your desk, with its weight and thick rubber feet.  When you’re not typing, be careful when picking this stone tablet up, as others are liable to think you’re getting ready to club them to death.
  • This board has a number of features that clearly make it an enthusiast’s board.  I don’t need to list them all off, but there’s a bunch of stuff us keyboard people like.  We like this stuff.  This board has that stuff.  Thumbs up.
  • MX Clears are nice.  Normally I love Blues, and was wondering how the feels would be with a heavier switch.  It feels fine.  I’ve tried to fatigue my fingers by running lots of TypeRacer tests, but either my fingers are meat sticks of wonder, or Clears are just fine for me.
  • The “unboxing” moment is nice.  It’s well-packed and presented.  Not a big deal, but it’s nice when you open a new keyboard, and everything’s nice enough to where it feels like you’re Link opening a chest in Legend of Zelda.  And now the “treasure-opening theme” is in your head.  YOU’RE WELCOME.

THE MEH

  • The included keycaps are pad-printed ABS, which isn’t great.  However, they do look and feel like better quality ABS than your average in-the-box offerings.  As a staunch PBT acolyte, I think it means something for me to think that I could bear these keycaps for a bit (though the second some shine occurs I would slap some DSA PBTs in their place faster than you can say “Pimp My Keyboard is a weird name for a website, guys”).
  • Ring-style keycap puller?  C’mon guys.  I SAID C’MON.
  • The cable’s OK.  It’s not braided, but whatevs.  It connects.  Yay.

WTF

  • The ping.  It’s been well documented.  It was present on my board.  It’s clearly the plate mounting amplifying spring noise, and the heavier spring in MX Clears probably makes boards with this switch worse than normal.  To make matters worse, there have been reports of KUL saying “well that’s just what it does.”  Well, sure guys.  You know what stops that?  A sheet of foam or other sound-dampening material on the bottom plate.  You know how I know this?  Because people in the community have done it, and it works.  It probably adds $0.10 to part costs.  That’s virtually nothing to make your keyboard stop sounding like a toy piano.

 

So, the KUL ES-87 is overall a great board.  I can’t speak enough on the overall build quality.  However, I can’t recommend it with Clear switches because of the pinging issue, and honestly I would prepare to add some sound-dampening material either way.  If you’re OK with doing that, then you’ll have yourself a near-perfect board.  Otherwise, I’d consider other possibilities.