The Chicago Bulls weren't supposed to make the playoffs this season. Instead the 2008-2009 campaign was just supposed to be a year of seasoning for rookie Derrick Rose and first-year head coach Vinny Del Negro. An opportunity to get their feet wet in the NBA game while hoping that those around him grew as well, and maybe in 2009-2010 the Bulls would be ready to make some noise.
For most of the year that's exactly what the Bulls were. A young team still trying to find its identity, but over the closing weeks of the regular season the learning curve shrunk considerably. The team would get hot and sneak into the playoffs at 41-41.
There they would take on the defending champion Boston Celtics. Sure, they didn't have their defensive centerpiece in Kevin Garnett, but with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen still in the lineup, the young Bulls weren't supposed to pose much of a threat.
Instead the Bulls pushed the Celtics to their limits in a first-round series that will go down in NBA history as one of the most exciting matchups of all time. Unfortunately at the end it just wasn't enough and the Celtics ended the Bulls dreams on Saturday night with a 109-99 victory.
In the end it was the same inconsistent play we saw all season from the Bulls. A lot of bad turnovers, some horrible shot selection, and at times, way too much dribbling. Still, even as the season ends in disappointment, the Bulls should feel awfully proud of themselves.
They surpassed all expectations in both the regular season and in the playoffs, and the simple truth of the matter is that this team just isn't good enough to get to the second round. Not yet anyway.
What's important is that they laid a foundation for their future, and though there are plenty of questions about what will happen to this squad like what happens with Ben Gordon, this series made it pretty clear that the Bulls are a team on the rise. After all, it's not like Michael Jordan hoisted the trophy in his first season as a Bull. Now, we're not saying that this team has the same type of potential that those teams did, but every Bulls fan has to admit they feel a lot better about their favorite basketball team going into next season than they did going into this one.
Really, there's nothing more we could have asked for from this team this year.