The Chicago Bulls’ front office, in place since the firing of Jerry Krause back in 2003, does not like to answer questions publicly. Presented as a friendly alternative to Krause’s oft-mocked ways – the man was cast as singularly secretive and painted in some quarters unfairly as sinister – the team’s basketball operations duo of John Paxson and Gar Forman have instead taken to the stylings of their predecessor in ways that are far from becoming.
Minus, of course, the six championships that Krause and his staff enjoyed. Chicago’s new front office will point to all those postseason appearances since 2005, nine in total, while the fans will point to an unending malaise and paucity of leadership and clarity that took tangible form during the team’s embarrassing, nationally-televised loss to the Boston Celtics on Sunday afternoon.
That defeat, one that saw the Celtics so safely in the lead that the team decided to work the wave during game action, was Chicago’s fifth straight. It dropped the team a game and a half behind the No. 8 seeded-Milwaukee Bucks for the final spot in the Eastern Conference’s already-embarrassing playoff bracket.
A team featuring fringe MVP candidate Jimmy Butler, Robin Lopez in perhaps a career year and Dwyane Wade is working on a 39-win pace, and that’s after we round up. It has been a very bad year for the Chicago Bulls, a team created without a sense of direction and, in just about every instance, a semblance of tact.
To say nothing of an acknowledgement as to how the modern game is played. That’s to even presume mixing Wade and Butler and Rajon Rondo would fly in any era, as if slapping together Michael Ray Richardson and Bobby Dandridge on a team in 1981 would have ever shook the league’s foundation.
Forman and Paxson aren’t answering questions about the why offense that everyone knew in July wasn’t gonna fit … ain’t fitting. A post-wave Dwyane Wade, placid as ever as he counts down the 110 days left between Sunday’s loss and his ability to opt out of his 2017-18 contract with the Bulls, wouldn’t mind yet another Chicago Bulls employee stepping in to do the work for him:
“I wish upper management could be answering these questions because I’m tired of answering the same ones every game,” Wade said with more resignation than rancor. “I don’t want to say too much. I don’t want to say the wrong thing. I want to get out there and try to play and to lead.”
The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson professionally points out that Wade was speaking bright and easy as opposed to resentful and with a chilly tone:
Tone doesn't translate on Twitter. Wade was very calm, composed and even smiling at times during his postgame media session.
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) March 12, 2017
Well, yeah. I mean, despite the eight points on 4-11 shooting, the guy did have some energy in reserve:
Dwyane Wade prepared and ready for the afternoon start pic.twitter.com/6JL0nmOegM
— BullsBlogger (@BullsBlogger) March 12, 2017
“And try to find a way that me and Jimmy can be better to help these guys,” Wade said of All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler. “We got to go look at the film, sit down with coach … we got to figure out a way for us to be better so we can help everybody else be better.”
Butler has shot just 37 percent from the floor since injuring his heel against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Feb. 1, a span that has included 12 games, two stints on the injured list (totaling four games), a seven day All-Star “break” (and game, in which Butler shot just four times, hitting for six points, in 19 minutes; the lowest marks among East starters) and 40 days (40 days!) in full.
His averages have taken a tumble as a result, as he plays for a team set to miss the playoffs for the second straight year, while dealing with an injury that, seemingly at best (what if this eventually requires surgery, as was the case with some former Bulls?) will only be better once the offseason hits.
Chicago, in the wake of a mediocre 2016-17 season and a deal that sent a strong starter and bench helper to Oklahoma City for little in return, is left wondering if it is best served shooting for the playoffs, or developing its young, um, prospects.
Those questions led to Wade’s bland insistence that John Paxson and Gar Forman address the queries. Neither travels with the team, Paxson gives the odd local and/or radio interview while Forman’s most recent in-season discussion with the press featured a statement and no questions, making Jerry Krause himself look as ubiquitous as your typical modern, podcast-friendly and Twitter-literate, 2017-era GM.
The new front office seems not only averse to the modern sense of patter, but the modern sense of research; which is why one recent study painted the Bulls as among the few that paid little-to-no attention to what the rest of the league (and not Bulls front office) consider to be “advanced analytics.”
This is perhaps why a surprised Rajon Rondo questioned if “analytics” were behind the decision to play left-for-dead deep reserve Michael Carter-Williams ahead of the consistent Jerami Grant in the Chicago rotation on Saturday in a loss to Houston, following a good run of play from MCW in the teams’ previous meeting against Rockets star James Harden.
A desperate (if understandable) move made under the influence of a 35-minute sample size shouldn’t count as “advanced analytics,” that’s just a “Michael plays well against the team in red”-level of scouting that even the junior high set would pay attention to. Either way, Rondo contradicted himself later, after chiding the Bulls for the team’s win-now move with Carter-Williams (who missed five of seven shots after scoring 23 in his team’s first pairing with the Rockets), when he offered this in talking to Vincent Goodwill at CSN Chicago:
“(We should) continue to try to move up in seeding versus experimenting,” Rondo said.
“We go out there, we’re in sixth place (tied at that point in the East)…I don’t feel like…I feel like we should be trying to move up.”
“I think it is a goal…for the majority of us,” said Rondo on the notion of winning. “I don’t know what the business side of it is. I’m not involved in it. We don’t know, we try to play with what we have and try to win. But the business part of it has the most control.”
Choosing his words very carefully, a notion repeated by Wade nights later, Rondo was asked if he was confused.
“It’s not confusing, it’s frustrating,” Rondo said. “I feel like I know what it is. I know what it is, but I don’t have all the answers, I may be wrong. But there’s no consistency.”
Dwyane Wade, after lamenting the predictability of the Chicago offense …
Wade: "My job is to play. I have to be better on the basketball floor. Like I said, just running pick-and-rolls all game, that ain’t it."
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) March 12, 2017
“A lot of people have a lot of things they can say about Fred as a coach, (but) I will defend him on this: This is a tough situation he’s put in now,” Wade said of balancing development and winning. “That’s why sometimes I’m glad I’m on this side of the coin and got a jersey on. I don’t have to make certain decisions because it is tough.
“No one is going to really care too much. Fred gets a nice paycheck, I get a nice paycheck, Jimmy gets a nice paycheck — blah, blah, blah. People don’t care when you get paid good. We’re all in this together. It’s on us.”
yeah this was totally going to work pic.twitter.com/jk0THsF71a
— Kelly Dwyer (@KDonhoops) March 13, 2017
Wade never checked in with the Bulls because he never had to, they didn’t deserve his respect after chasing him down to the tune of a two-year, $47 million contract with a player option for 2017-18 that he most assuredly will take advantage of. If you need any confirmation on his “check out status,” read what just flew under the radar:
“I’m not doing that no more,” Wade said. “Hey listen, I realize where my place was in this organization. When I spoke out and said what I needed to say, it wasn’t taken highly.
“My job is to play. … Talking isn’t really the thing. Calling somebody out ain’t the thing. We’re here, man. It’s unfortunate. We have to find a way to win games no matter what or we’re just going to walk our way into the summer early.”
We’re here, man. It’s unfortunate.
“It’s been difficult for me to understand,” Mirotic said about falling out of the rotation. “Coach (Fred Hoiberg) told me I need to stay ready but didn’t give me any expectation when I can play. I know I can help those guys. Of course I’ve been inconsistent, but that’s been the whole team up and down. To be out of the rotation doesn’t make sense for me.
“I asked (Hoiberg) what can I do to be back in the rotation, what should I do differently? It looks like he wants to give an opportunity to the new guy on the team, Lauvergne.”
“Lauvergne” is recently-acquired Joffrey Lauvergne, who has missed 17 of 23 shots as a Bull. Cameron Payne, plucked in the same deal that sent Taj Gibson, McDermott and a draft pick to Oklahoma City, is playing the same way he had with the Thunder. Terribly.
Rozier strips the ball from Payne and finishes with authority! pic.twitter.com/aOg7ytoJEY
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) March 12, 2017
Not a single Bull follows Jimmy on the break. pic.twitter.com/SVhaeoAvbi
— BullsBlogger (@BullsBlogger) March 12, 2017
— Chicago Sports News (@ChiSportUpdates) March 12, 2017
Jimmy Butler remains the team’s star, and for a change he appears a bit resigned, yet in a cheerful turn:
“No, I don’t think we’re giving up,” Jimmy Butler said. “We’re just not playing any type of good basketball as a whole. We gotta get back to winning basics before we can try to do anything else. Getting back in transition. Guarding the way we’re supposed to be. Taking the right shots. I’m sure we’re gonna talk about that for awhile before we play Charlotte.
“But we’re not giving up, I can tell you that.”
The problem is that we can’t tell, exactly, what the Chicago Bulls are supposed to be succeeding at.
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