CHICAGO — A lone Chicago Bulls fan stood near the visiting team’s tunnel and delivered a solitary but spirited chant at the conclusion of the Bulls’ 103-97 home loss to the Orlando Magic.
Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap.
Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap.
On this night, the man served as the voice of a frustrated fan base, one desperate for changes as also evidenced by the crowd’s sporadically booing the home team once again Friday. But then the face of the franchise, a man who also seeks change, stepped in and gave another statement that spoke to the possible sentiment toward Bulls coach Billy Donovan inside the team’s locker room.
“I mean, the players are doing everything they can,” Zach LaVine said when asked whether the Bulls are making adequate adjustments. “I know everybody’s trying to do the best they can. We’ve just got to figure out something that works.”
Chicago is 4-9 after losing its third straight game Friday, which includes consecutive home losses to the upstart Magic. LaVine, in his seventh season with the franchise, has openly voiced his frustration with losing and doing what he loosely described as the same thing for the past few seasons. Slow starts, streaky stretches and suspect finishes have defined the Bulls’ early schedule much like those traits plagued last season’s roster.
Friday, Donovan turned to his third starting lineup that wasn’t injury/absence related. He inserted Alex Caruso into the first string in place of Torrey Craig, who supplanted Patrick Williams as the starting power forward in the team’s sixth game.
The Bulls still got off to another slow start, an early theme in their season. They led 9-4 before giving up a 21-9 run over the next 11 minutes. Caruso scored the first 9 points, all on 3-pointers, a sign of an offense that continues to function with little rhythm or flow. As the Bulls sputtered, Orlando ballooned its lead to as many as 20.
Great, the Bulls started Alex Caruso.
Maybe play him longer than six-minute stretches?
Or trade him.
— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) November 18, 2023
Chicago is tied for 27th in offensive rating despite the talented scoring trio of LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vučević. Against the Magic, which owns the league’s second-best defense, the Bulls managed only 33 first-half points in consecutive games.
“It doesn’t matter who’s out there,” DeRozan said. “When we all show the effort and give the effort, we’re right there. So to me, I don’t look at it like it’s a rotation thing. It’s just an effort thing from us all.”
In each of the past two contests, the Bulls have looked wholly unprepared. They’ve committed sloppy turnovers, missed easy shots from in close and played with an alarming lack of resistance defensively. It’s all placed a brighter spotlight on Donovan as poor performances pile up.
Fewer than 15 games into the season, the Bulls look lethargic. It’s almost as if they’d rather be somewhere else. The Bulls’ habit of playing the final eight minutes hard after loafing for much of the first 40 already has grown old. Listless performances are becoming the norm. One half of satisfactory basketball can’t be the standard.
Yet too-little-too-late efforts are all anyone can cite to suggest the players haven’t checked out.
“I don’t think they compete in the second half like they do if that (is the case),” Donovan said. “I don’t know. If I had the answer to that, we would try to get it corrected.”
LaVine scored 25 of his game-high 34 points in the second half to help spark the Bulls’ comeback effort. He buried two massive 3-pointers to revive the Bulls, unleashing a roar after his final long bomb. In that moment, he certainly didn’t look uninterested. Nor did he when he whipped critical, crunchtime passes to teammates Andre Drummond and Coby White for dunks.
“I come and do my job,” LaVine said. “I come out here and play and try to do the best I can to help us win. Everything else is white noise to me. That stuff usually takes care of itself. My job is to play basketball. It’s pretty easy to do that.”
LaVine has become more vocal in his displeasure, but DeRozan said he doesn’t think the matter will become a problem.
“It won’t,” DeRozan said. “You play in this league long enough, that’s something you’ve got to deal with. If it’s not personally, it’s with a teammate. It’s just part of the game. It’s not preschool. We’re all grown men. We understand what comes with the territory when you sign up for it, whether it’s speculation, rumors, whatever it may be. It comes with it, especially when things are not going your way. You can’t let outside things affect what goes on internally.”
DeRozan deflected, however, when asked whether the Bulls need a shakeup sooner rather than later to avoid imploding.
“Fifteen years, I’ve never had a comment on what teams shouldn’t or should do,” DeRozan said. “I really come to work every single day with whatever it is that we’ve got and try to make the best out of it. I don’t even look at it or go home thinking something needs to be done. I put on the jersey. I don’t put on a suit.”
(Photo of Zach LaVine: Quinn Harris / Getty Images)