Bovada Sportsbook has the Chicago Bulls tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder at 8-1 odds of winning the NBA championship. Belmont Sportsbook has the Bulls at 10-1 odds, fourth overall behind OKC, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Miami Heat.
That's all good. Encouraging. For now.
Back in May, I wrote a piece asking (begging) general manager Gar Forman and Bulls management to keep as much of the current team intact as possible. At the time, I didn't have the preseason or the regular season in mind. All I was thinking about was the defending champion Heat and what it was going to take for the Bulls to (finally) defeat them.
Now that the season is about to begin, here's the on-paper reality: The Bulls will not beat the Heat (in a playoff series) with the team as is.
The reason: No Nate Robinson. And his absence probably will come back to haunt them.
Let's be real. As offseason signings go, re-signing Robinson should not have been that "bigga" deal. With Derrick Rose coming back and Kirk Hinrich healthy and playing as his backup, there was no need for Forman & Co. to overpay Robinson to be a "one-dimensional, third-string" point guard averaging fewer than 10 minutes a game during the regular season.
Robinson, who signed a two-year deal for $4 million with the Denver Nuggets, wasn't going to average the 13 points and four assists that he did last season. And he wasn't going to have the opportunity or responsibility to rescue and resurrect the Bulls the way he did in last year's playoffs, where he led (read that word again) the Bulls to the Eastern Conference semis.
Robinson's job requirements would have changed and been totally reconstructed had the Bulls brought him back. And what the Bulls would have had to pay him for two years to watch him not do a repeat of last year's deliverance may have been too hard for management and fans to watch. Or accept.
Except for when the Bulls go up against the Heat in the playoffs.
It's a little thing that is more than likely going to happen in May, something the Bulls haven't been able to overcome twice in the last three years. The Heat have a plan when it comes to the Bulls that is more effective than the "rules" the old Pistons had in place for Michael Jordan.
And in 2011, they executed that plan to perfection. Putting LeBron James on Rose for 94 feet and 48 minutes. Turning the Bulls into a one-dimensional squad. Exposing them for being a team that relies on one player to control the entire offense. Proving that only one player on the team was capable of creating his own shot. Showing what a monolithic, elite NBA team looks like when the chicken's head is cut off.
The beauty and curse in this is that no other team in the NBA can do this to the Bulls. But the one team that can, will. Again.
Robinson, was kyrptonite to that. He was the one player on the Bulls roster last season who was the possible mythos/cure/solution not on the roster in 2011, when the last true playoff assessment can be made of how these teams really stack up against each other in a series in which everyone is healthy.
It's not about the stats or the algorithmic quantifications some overthinking fantasy GM will conclude or the $4 million the Bulls couldn't find to give Robinson as much as it is about threat and possibility. The threat of what he could do once on the court in those situations, and the possibility of those things happening.
There's a difference in this league in players who are not afraid of the moment and players who just don't give a rip. None of the Bulls are afraid of the Heat, that's clear. But when an entire nine-month season comes down to a 10-day series, every team needs more than one player that fear itself is afraid of.
So when the Bulls play Miami and LeBron takes it upon himself to make Rose's offensive life miserable -- which is something we've all seen before even when Rose was better than LeBron -- what matchup puts fear into the Heat? What player on the Bulls roster in that scenario has the ability to force the defending champs to call a timeout to rethink their whole strategy?
If that moment were to ever come and Robinson was still on the squad, I'd take the matchup of him and Mario Chalmers all day and three times on Saturday night.
I also know that with Robinson's ability to score and create on his own, he -- for at least seven games -- had the ability to remove the Bulls from the one-dimensional offensive stereotype that in the recent past they've proved to be their truth.
"I want a team to want me to be there. Not because somebody's injured. Not because somebody's down or 'We don't have this, we don't have that, so let's go get Nate Robinson,'" Robinson said in an NBA TV interview before he ended up signing with the Nuggets. "No, I don't want that. I want something that's real. Like I said, I want a commitment and that's something that I'm going to do. I'm committed to do my job and that's to show up every day, be professional, never late, work hard and perform at a high level, and I think I've done that throughout my whole career. ... God will put me on that team that will deserve me and that's how I'm looking at it."
The Heat will be the first organization to tell you that during the regular season last season, Ray Allen was probably worth the investment but not what they signed him for. They knew different. That one shot he dropped in Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, the one with 5.2 seconds left, the one that sent the game into overtime and gave them a second life -- the one that actually won them the championship before they actually won the championship -- was what the entire three-year, $12 million contract was all about. They spent for that, and that is how "chips" get stacked.
Allen was their one-man counterattack. Their "break glass in case of emergency." Where is that player on this Bulls roster? I'm not comparing Allen the player to Robinson the player. That would be insanity. I'm comparing principle. For Miami, he proved to be what every team trying to realistically win a championship needs at some point if it is serious about winning everything. That "other" dimension. The Bulls had that dude. Had him! Now that dude is going to waste away in Denver wishing he were back here while we'll be here mad that he's not.
Sometimes even the smartest people in sports tend to overthink, overanalyze, over-rationalize. Look at the big picture instead of every now and then looking into the impact a small detail can play in the overall scheme of things. For the Bulls, this might prove to be one of those times.
Players aren't perfect, but for some, the situation they are in is. Nate Robinson was not the perfect player for the Bulls, far from it. Flaws everywhere. But for what they need and whom these Bulls have to defeat in order to win it all, Nate was beyond being worth the risk and money.
I was told once that "teams should never let business get in the way of winning a championship." If the Bulls lose to Miami again in the playoffs, this time the Bulls can't say that they didn't have a solution.
They did. They just decided a solution wasn't really what they needed.