Did I actually say earlier this year that the NBA Eastern Conference has improved? On the last day of the season, the Bulls could have ended up anywhere from the #5 seed to the #8 spot. That's ugly. Still, Scott Skiles has got this team rolling right now. After the Chicago Bulls spanked the Toronto Raptors last night, our guys moved up to the #7 seed and avoided the Pistons. Sam Smith of the Chicago Tribune even believes that the Bulls will beat the Heat in 6 games. That might be some wishful thinking (particularly when the Bulls have Carrot Top going up against Shaq at center), but I do feel that the Bulls have a decent shot to beat any other team in the East other than the Pistons (which means that avoiding that #8 spot for huge). The fact that the Bulls have gone from on the cusp of missing the playoffs completely a week ago to a possible run to the Eastern Conference Finals shows (1) how bad the East is and (2) that Scott Skiles is the right coach for this particular type of team.
I'll admit to having been a Skiles skeptic. The Tim Thomas situation earlier this season (sending a 6'10"/240 lb. guy to sit at home while collecting a $14 million salary when the Bulls' biggest need was and still is size in the post was one of the strangest things I've encountered in sports in a long time) soured me quite a bit. Skiles' shaky relationship with Ben Gordon has also bothered me since Gordon is the only player on the team that is considered to be an offensive threat by anyone. To me, Skiles seems like someone who would be a fantastic college coach but is too much of a control freak to be able to deal with the primadonnas of the NBA.
He might still encounter this problem down the road if Gordon takes his game to an elite level or the Bulls acquire a true star. If that happens, Skiles might have a career path similar to former Bulls coach Doug Collins. Collins was extremely successful in disciplining and pushing young teams to play beyond their collective talent levels. However, when Michael Jordan really started coming into his own as a player and a leader, everyone recognized that Collins' style could not mesh with such a superstar and the coach was pushed out (ironically, Jordan realized later on how important Collins was in His Airness' career and hired the former Bulls coach to man the helm with the Wizards). I foresee a complete repeat of this story with Skiles – once the Bulls get to a certain talent level, Skiles' coaching style won't work anymore and he'll need to be pushed aside for a Phil Jackson-type manager of egos.
In the meantime, though, Skiles is the right man to be in place for such a young and growing club. There's a complete lack of expectations with this team, so the Bulls are playing with house money at this point. They aren't anything close to a championship team, but it's nice to see some concrete examples of hope in the post-Jordan era. If the Bulls end up with a marquee player in this year's draft (thank you again, Isiah Thomas), it's possible that we can move into that rarefied space occupied by the Celtics and Lakers of NBA franchises that have enjoyed multiple dynasties.