A 5-10 record is not how the Chicago Bulls looked this season after returning the same core team for the third straight year.
But the Bulls’ shutout following Monday’s 118-100 home loss to the Miami Heat was more typical of the previous four games.
The Bulls got off to a slow start again, this time digging a 12-2 hole, only to claw back and hang on before collapsing. Miami led by as many as 24 points and never trailed.
“We weren’t down 20-1 in this game,” Bulls guard Zach LaVine said, “so that’s a positive.”
Suddenly, this season passes for growth, which tells you everything you need to know about how it will go.
Bulls coach Billy Donovan tried different starting lineups and rotations. He preached about improving spacing, ball movement and quick decisions. Still every night the bulls are banging their heads against the brick wall and gnashing their teeth.
Kobe goes coast to coast!@NBCSchicago | @CobyWhite pic.twitter.com/ESRQdvpdi1
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) November 21, 2023
Decision makers of many teams look for a solution when it turns out their product isn’t working. But the bulls continued to decline, hoping that time would cure them of their woes.
News flash: Nope.
This is precisely the case with Arturas carnisovas. The only question left for the executive vice president of basketball operations is how much time he will give. His plan, especially with banking on continuity, has already failed. The Bulls are 16 games under .500 going nowhere at the midpoint of the season.
Critics may point to Donovan’s coaching or bemoan the limitations of the players. But Karnisovas and his crew dared to take this roster and double down on it this season. Chicago’s unfairness has made it impossible to celebrate even the few encouraging developments seen early this season. The list is largely limited by the all-around play of Alex Caruso and the development of Kobe White.
He’s done a lot more, and in every passing game, he doesn’t seem to be going in the right direction.
Fourth-year forward Patrick Williams, the No. 4 pick in 2020, is a failed attempt. He scored nine points on 4-of-7 shooting in 17 minutes Monday. Dallen Terry and Julian Phillips, the team’s last two draft picks, haven’t been able to crack the rotation and are shuttling between the NBA and the G League. Javon Carter, this summer’s top free-agent acquisition, is being forced into a 10-man rotation because Ayo Dosunmu is signed despite his existence and continued development.
And now Lavin wants out.
If contracts signed this summer can be traded, the Bulls don’t expect many to make a trade until at least mid-December. A more realistic target is the Feb. 9 trade deadline. It often takes more time to build a business for high-contract players, and Karnisovas has shown time and time again that he has the patience to make a deal.
But Lavin’s saga is growing more curious about the game. Following the Bulls’ loss to the Orlando Magic on Friday, LaVine didn’t hesitate to say that his players are doing everything they can to win. The next night, in an emotional comeback win over the Heat, LaVine walked off the floor looking upset, thwarting an attempt by the team’s public relations staff to get him to do an on-court interview with the team’s broadcast.
In the Heat on Saturday and Monday, LaVine’s shot selection will be scrutinized. He scored 13 points on just 10 shots in Saturday’s win and 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting Monday.
“I think he played really unselfishly,” Donovan said. “I thought he created a lot of good looks for other guys.”
Lavin was certainly a willing passer. On several possessions, however, he does not seem to be looking at the basket. He is not making himself a threat. That’s what’s so amazing. He is a real scorer, not a real player. Heat sharpshooter Duncan Robinson, who had 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting, was outpaced by LaVine and DeMar DeRozan (15 points on 6-of-10 shooting).
“I was just trying to do my best to be aggressive, get down and create for others,” LaVine said. “I think Demar and I were both playing the right way, making shots when we needed to. The previous game worked. Today was a different story.”
But the Bulls lost for the 10th time in 15 tries. And all anyone can do is wait to see what Karnisovas will do to fix it.
“Everything in our conversation is really about how we can help this team try to play better,” Donovan said. “We’ve definitely talked about the starts we’ve had at the beginning of games. We looked at different starting lineups, played different rotations, tried to do some things to get back to a level of consistency.
It doesn’t work with this group.
By now, Karnisovas should see that.
(Zach Lavin photo: Kamil Krzachinski / USA TODAY)