Bulls Insider

Bulls' poor start is collective failure, but burden of change to fall on players

Core 3 of Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vučević knows winning is only fix

NBC Universal, Inc.

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

BOSTON --- When a team is 5-13 with four straight losses and seven of eight, it’s obviously a shared blame situation.

From management’s roster vision to coaches’ schemes and messaging to players’ execution, there’s plenty of blame to divvy up among the Chicago Bulls.

The odd part is: Typically in such circumstances, a coach may be on the hot seat or perhaps management could be in trouble. But with Jerry and Michael Reinsdorf’s history of employing Jerry Krause for 18 years and John Paxson for 17 until Paxson initiated his exit plan, not to mention Artūras Karnišovas’ contract extension, Karnišovas has been given the green light to try to fix the current mess.

Same goes for Billy Donovan, who is liked and respected by both ownership and management and also has multiple years left on his extension. While it has happened in recent situations like Fred Hoiberg and Jim Boylen, the Reinsdorfs typically don’t like paying coaches not to work for them. So Donovan is safe, although it wouldn’t be a surprise to see his staff tweaked moving forward.

That leaves the burden of change falling on the players. And they know it.

“We don’t think about whatever is going to happen if it keeps going this way,” Nikola Vučević said. “Our only focus is to try to turn this thing around.

“Rumors come with the territory. If you’re playing well, everything is great. Everybody is talking positive about you. If you’re losing, you get criticized and rumors start. We have to deal with that. The only way to deal with it is for us to play better. That’s the only way for that to stop.”

From Vučević to Zach LaVine to DeMar DeRozan, each member of the core three has acknowledged in the recent past that this likely is their last attempt to achieve success together. Heck, the subject dominated the postgame line of questioning as far back as Oct. 28, following the mere third game of the season, a road loss to the Detroit Pistons.

“From Day One, I’ve said it’s time to put pen to paper. It’s our third year here together. We know how this business is,” LaVine said that night in Detroit. “We all love each other. DeMar is one of my best friends. We talk all the time. But we have to figure out how to make this thing work.”

Add in LaVine and his representative making clear to the Bulls---for the first time---that LaVine would be open to a change of scenery and the feeling of when, not if, change is coming permeates the locker room on a daily basis. DeRozan also is without a contract past this season, with no recent progress on extension talks.

Not to mention that the feeling of imminent change is intensified by the consistent losing.

“It doesn’t bother me. It hasn’t in the past. I go out there and try to do my job and try to help us win,” LaVine said. “If it doesn’t happen, you understand what comes with it.

“But it doesn’t bother me. I don’t think it bothers anybody else in the room. We’re all grown men here. We all care about each other here. And that’s all that matters.”

The players insist they’re remaining connected off the court despite their on-court disconnect. LaVine, DeRozan and Vučević have shared the court for 370 minutes, the 11th-most minutes of any NBA trio. Their net rating is minus-13.9.

“When we do practice, we’re still locked in. We try to find ways and talk and everything. It’s just not happening on the court for us for whatever reason,” Vučević said. “We’re going to stick together and keep trying to find a way to do it.

“Throughout games we’ve showed signs of what it can be. But we’re not consistent with it at all. That’s why we have huge gaps in games where we play really well and then we fall off and try to make a push. We do fight and don’t give up. But it’s only results that matter. So we have to play better.”

It’s not merely lip service that the players have remained connected through the losing. During Sunday’s loss to the Nets, LaVine smiled at DeRozan as he ran downcourt following a made turnaround jumper on the baseline. Following Saturday’s practice in New York, DeRozan and LaVine worked together on footwork that DeRozan has been employing for years and LaVine utilized on that shot.

“We all get along,” LaVine said. “Nobody wants to be 5-13 or lose multiple games in a row. It doesn’t feel good. It didn’t feel like we’d be at this point now. But that’s our reality. So we have to figure out how to get out of that hole.

“Try to get a win. That’s all we try to worry about.”

That task won’t be easy Tuesday night, or beyond. The Bulls face the NBA-best Boston Celtics, followed by a home matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks. After a home game against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Bulls face the Bucks on the road, the Denver Nuggets at home, a three-game trip where they face the Miami Heat twice and the Philadelphia 76ers and then return home to face the Los Angeles Lakers.

Yikes. On paper, that looks like more shared blame to share.

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