Chicago Bulls

Bulls' poor record, Zach LaVine's trade saga placing franchise at crossroads

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How low can the Chicago Bulls go?

They’ve lost three straight games, have scored 33 points in consecutive first halves of back-to-back losses to the rebuilding Orlando Magic and are dealing with Zach LaVine being open to a change of scenery on a daily basis inside their locker room.

“We got a good group of guys. Everybody is encouraging. We’ve done a good job of staying positive,” LaVine said. “Nobody is going to feel sorry for you. Everybody in this room supports each other, helps each other.”

LaVine’s departure feels more like a matter of when, not if. The question, of course, is: Does that lead to widespread change? Consistent losing only intensifies that question.

It also raises all manners of thorny topics like whether or not players are tuning out coach Billy Donovan.

“I don’t sense anything like that,’’ Donovan said. “If they weren’t engaged, why fight like they did to get back into the game? It speaks to them wanting to win. But we’ve gotta be able to sustain that intensity on both ends for 48 minutes.

“Sometimes when we come out, we’re testing, ‘What’s the game going to be like?’ Instead of coming out, ‘OK, scoreboard says we’re down 15, we gotta go. Score is 0-0, we still gotta go.’”

Indeed, the slow starts are bedeviling. They’re also crippling a season in which management set playoffs as its expectation.

“They need to put us down 18 when we come out so we come out with a sense of urgency when it’s 0-0,” DeMar DeRozan cracked. “That’s on us. It’s an effort thing.”

Added LaVine: “It’s not like we’re neglecting it. We have to figure out what we’re doing in the second half and try to put that at the start.”

Of course, the Bulls are digging big holes not only to start games but also to start this season. A 4-9 mark isn’t what anybody internally expected.

And if the downward spiral continues, management may need to revisit its stance on whether or not to plunge into a full rebuild. As of now, that stance hasn’t changed, according to sources.

Sources also said management has full autonomy on which path to take. Jerry and Michael Reinsdorf are known for hiring people and letting them do their jobs, giving them power and support to make decisions as they see fit.

Of course, management doesn’t have full say on its future plans unless it reaches an extension with DeRozan. And with no progress on his talks, he has the power to take a wait-and-see approach on the roster once the LaVine situation resolves.

“Fifteen years, I’ve never had a comment on what teams should or shouldn’t do. I come to work every single day with whatever it is that we 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,” DeRozan said. “I put on a jersey. I don’t put on a suit.”

DeRozan spoke for the first time since LaVine’s openness to a change of scenery went public. He missed Wednesday’s game for personal reasons.

DeRozan said he’s not worried about the LaVine situation impacting the locker room.

“It won’t. You play in this league long enough, it’s something you gotta deal with. If it’s not personally, it’s with a teammate,” he said. “It’s just part of the game. It’s not preschool. We’re all grown men.”

And he pointed to LaVine scoring 25 points in the second half as a sign of LaVine’s commitment to winning.

“That’s the sign of a true professional,” DeRozan said. “Understanding what’s in front of him and what’s now. You can’t worry about whatever else is out there. He’s trying to lead us to a victory.”

After LaVine sank back-to-back 3-pointers to kick-start the second-half rally, he approached the bench showing strong emotion, greeted by excited teammates.

“Who likes losing? You show emotion in the game. I think that’s a good thing,” LaVine said. “We obviously really wanted to win this one. I did too.

“I come and do my job. I 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. How long has my name been in trade talks, four years? I’ve been doing the same thing. It’s not hard.”

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