Many people who follow the Bulls believe an upgrade at two-guard is needed in order to take a step forward next season -- get to the NBA Finals. Keith Bogans, the starter in each game this past season, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer had their moments, but the Bulls proved to be one creator, playmaker short from a deeper run this past season.
Don't count Bulls guard C.J. Watson among the folks that believe a new shooting guard needs to be brought to the Windy City.
"No, I don't think so. I still think we had [the Heat] beat and we could have beat them, but with the team we have, I think we just have to grow
together," Watson said in a phone interview from his offseason home in Las Vegas, Nevada. "It was our first year [together], so just got to let us gel a little more."
Watson has a point: the Bulls are a young group, led by 22-year-old Derrick Rose, and should only grow, improve and mature next season.
However, it was an up-and-down season for Watson, who was acquired by the Bulls in a sign-and-trade from the Golden State Warriors last offseason.
After averaging 10 points in 27 and a half minutes per game in his final season in Golden State (2009-10), he saw reduced minutes in his first
season in Chicago.
In 82 regular-season games this past season, Watson averaged five points in 13 minutes. He went from a losing club to a winning one, but his play, and minutes, fluctuated this season.
"It was a little different. Just [had] to get used to it, get comfortable. Coach [Tom Thibodeau] told me to just go out there and play my
game when he saw me struggling," Watson said. "So I just tried to do that and tried to have a consistent game and play more of a fast-paced tempo.
"It was difficult at first, but just had to go along with it. I want to win, so it was a sacrifice I had to make. But [Thibodeau] could've used me a little bit more different -- probably play me and D-Rose a little more."
Yep, going from a 26-victory team (2009-10 Warriors) to a 62-victory team helps ease the lost minutes. Just a bit.
Though with the Bulls clearly lacking another ball-handler to support Rose in the Eastern Conference finals, where they fell to the Miami Heat in five games, Watson may have been the guy to plug next to Rose in order to ease the load on the league's MVP, providing another ball-handler in the process.
And if you thought Thibodeau loves to yell, especially during games, you are right.
"Sometimes he yells just to yell," Watson said, laughing. "We just go out there and play together. He told us ... everyone's held accountable, and we're all treated the same. So [we] just have to go and play the same, and play hard."
It helps when your best player buys in. When the team's star isn't afraid to get cursed out by the head coach, everything else falls into place.
Watson had faith and confidence in Rose from the beginning -- even when Rose asked reporters in training camp, "Why can't I be the MVP of the league? Why can't I be the best player in the league?"
"Yeah, I did. I mean, if he believed it, we believed it," Watson said. "We just went with him, went along with the ride, and he did well."
It was a fun ride, indeed.
The Bulls rolled through the Indiana Pacers in five games in the first round of the playoffs, and got by the Atlanta Hawks in six games in the
Eastern Conference semifinals. The results -- especially the five-game victory over Indiana -- may have looked easy, but Indiana and Atlanta
gave the Bulls everything they could handle.
"Definitely -- especially Indiana," Watson said. "They prepared us for the next couple series, with the physicality they played with."
And the million-dollar question after the Bulls' loss in the East finals, as they lost the final four games of the series after a 103-82 win in Game 1: What happened versus the Heat?
"I just think Miami's intensity changed and they changed what they were doing," Watson said. "Also, we didn't execute our offense as well as we did in the first game.
"It was a little bit of everything. You can't point a finger on one person, or any one thing. But I think if we just did a lot of things the same [as Game 1], we probably would have won that series."
Some might have pointed their finger on Rose after the Bulls' defeat in the East finals. He averaged 23 points during the series, but attempted 24 shots per game and shot 35 percent from the field, nearly 10 percent lower than his regular-season mark.We all know about his struggles versus LeBron James, who hit several clutch shots down the stretch of each of Miami's victories. This stat in particular: Rose shot just six percent when he was defended by James. But don't blame Rose.
"It's tough to score against LeBron -- he's probably one of the top athletes we have in this league," Watson said. "It's tough to score on him, especially when D-Rose is probably the only ball-handler in the game that can create his own shot. It's tough on [Rose's] part."
Watson expects Rose to work hard during the offseason, but he didn't expect LeBron James' poor showing in the NBA Finals. It was shocking to him and players around the league.
"Yeah, I think so. When [Miami] beat us, I thought they were going to win the series 4-2," Watson said. "I'm sure it was a shock how he played with the championship on the line."
Does he believe James checked out of games, as DeShawn Stevenson suggested, during the Finals?
"I don't think he checks out of games," Watson said.
For Watson, maybe a mindset change is needed. It seemed when he was in attack mode, looking for his shots, the Bulls' offense was more fluid.
The pass-first mindset is when he struggled, and the offense seemed stagnant.
"When I go out there and attack more, it's a lot better for me and the team," Watson said. "I also want to get my teammates into the game."
How about some more Watson/Rose in the backcourt? Count Watson in that club.
"Yeah, I think we could have gone to it a little more," Watson said. "Hopefully, we'll do it a little more next year and [Thibodeau] has more
confidence in me playing together with D-Rose."
Watson brought up playing alongside Rose a few times, and it makes sense: the Bulls, and it really showed in the East finals, lacked another
ball-handler to take the pressure off Rose when he didn't have it going. Rose shot just 23 percent on three-pointers in the East finals -- unfortunately for the Bulls, as he struggled, so did they.
While the Bulls hope to find an upgrade at two-guard this offseason, the Watson/Rose backcourt is something to keep as a Plan B.
Watson makes his offseason home in Las Vegas, but will make an appearance in Chicago on Sunday for the White Sox (versus Washington Nationals) game to throw out the first pitch.
"It's going to be fun. I want to get the ball over homeplate," Watson said.
He certainly doesn't want to bounce the pitch, as Washington Wizards guard John Wall did.
"Yeah, I saw that. That's exactly what I'm going to do," Watson said, laughing. "I'm going to try to [do better than Wall]."
Not all is fun, though. With a lockout on the horizon in the NBA, there's some concern. Will there even be basketball next season?
"Yeah, I think so," Watson said, optimistically. "It may take a while, but hopefully [the players union and owners] will get it ready by the start of training camp and when the season starts."
As long as there's no games missed, NBA fans will breathe easy.
You may not agree with Watson's claim that there's no need for change on the Bulls' roster, but his general manager, Gar Forman, backed him up.
"We like the nucleus of this team and again, it's a young team that we feel still can grow together moving forward," Forman said to ESPNChicago's Nick Friedell on Tuesday. "You never say never to anything, but we do feel that this team's really got a chance to
continue to improve and it's our job to improve this team, keep the nucleus together for the most part, and then make some improvements to
try and address some needs."
We'll see what the Bulls do, but Watson will be ready for a bigger role, opportunity next season. Maybe some more Watson/Rose lineups? Just a thought.