While the notion has been hanging around the heads of the Chicago Bulls players and staff for quite some time, the understanding that this season isn’t just going to be about missing out on a championship or even contending but actually missing the playoffs, seems to be finally hitting them and dragging them further down.
The Bulls losing to the Orlando Magic 102-89 means a fourth consecutive loss as they fall to 30-30, 10th in the East. They’ve given up 102 points or more in 15 consecutive games. Their net rating since the beginning of February is -7.1, better only than the Phoenix Suns and Philadelphia 76ers, the two worst teams in the NBA. Their defense has been catastrophic, but their offense, scoring 101.2 points per 100 possessions since February 1 is better than just what two teams have produced: Yes, the Sixers and the Suns.
Jimmy Butler hasn’t been playing since February 5. Joakim Noah is out for the season. Nikola Mirotic is also undetermined for return. And yet the last few years with Tom Thibodeau, a period with a number of lost seasons because of the main goal, winning a championship, often seemed impossible to reach because of injuries. And yet the Bulls always got more out of less, despite the injuries, most of them attributed to Derrick Rose missing so much time along the way.
Fred Hoiberg was brought in to turn the offense into something cohesive, flowing, deadly. It hasn’t turned out that way, and along that path, with the Bulls pretty much staying the exact same team from last year (a huge oversight by Gar Forman and John Paxson), losing all sign of the combative, tough as nails defensive teams from years past.
The Bulls players seem to have lost the feeling of what’s right and wrong on the court. Whether it’s defensive assignments and roles or offensive positioning and plays. And with the overall atmosphere of a sinking ship heading nowhere, comes what is perceived as apathy from these players, knowing that a season as catastrophic as this one (at least from what we’ve seen so far) leads to some drastic offseason changes.
There’s no bad luck to be pinned on this. There’s been disappointing coaching, lazy or blind team building and players not living up to expectations. The window for a championship with a certain core that looked ready to shine in 2011 and 2012 has closed, and the attempt to keep a similar team going by setting the bar too high has failed in a much more powerful way than anyone anticipated in their worst nightmares.