Another "Clutch" Loss, the Trade Deadline, When to be Mad About Defense, and Other Bulls Bullets

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Another “Clutch” Loss, the Trade Deadline, When to be Mad About Defense, and Other Bulls Bullets

Chicago Bulls

The Chicago Bulls failed to close another game. Drink (coffee, you animal … it’s Tuesday).

•   Last night, the Denver Nuggets went on a 12-3 run in the final 2:00 minutes of the game, as the Bulls failed to hold onto their narrow 108-106 lead over the Western Conference finalists. The performance was yet another example of how far this team has come and how far they still need to go. While the start of the game was lackadaisical, the Bulls fought back strong, outscored the Nuggets in the 2nd and 3rd quarter, and made Nikola Jokic sweat until the very last minute. Those are positive signs, but we can take only so many moral victories. If this team wants to find themselves in the *legitimate* playoff picture over the next 38 games, they must close out more performance against playoff-caliber opponents. A clutch record of 9-12 isn’t going to cut it. We might be happy to see them stay in these games late, but now they must learn to finish them, too. That’s the new bar.

•   Can this version of the Bulls reach that bar, though? At some point, things simply come down to a talent disadvantage. Chicago might finally have an All-Star on their roster, but there is no question that figuring out his supporting cast is still a work in progress. The organization will have its first opportunity to transform this roster in just a few short weeks at the trade deadline, and Arturas Karnisovas spoke to that more in his pre-All-Star break media availability on Monday.

•   Unsurprisingly, the Bulls executive vice president left a lot of room for interpretation in his 16-minute conversation with reporters. While he certainly didn’t rule out the possibility of the team seeking offers (in the buying or selling category) this month, he did express plenty of confidence in the current trajectory of this season. The organization made pretty clear that they would use this season as an evaluation period, and it doesn’t appear that evaluation will be cut short at the trade deadline, in my opinion. So while that could possibly rule out moving a “young core” member, it doesn’t really speak much to the whole Thaddeus Young conversation. The way I see it is either they view him as vital to the young core’s development or they want to see which of these young players can step up in his absence. I’d say the former is more likely, but I can’t say I’d be shocked if the latter was a conversation behind the scenes.

•   I saw a lot of folks really mad at the Bulls defensive showing against Jokic. If you want to criticize this team’s defensive IQ, go ahead. But to find yourself discouraged by their showing against this particular MVP candidate isn’t worth it. Sure, it would be nice if the Bulls had a center that could slow down Jokic. I think, like, 26 other front offices would say the same thing about their teams. Jokic is just a freak of nature, folks. The man literally scored 47 points and hauled in 12 rebounds on the 2x Defensive Player of the Year (and front-runner for the award this season), Rudy Gobert, just a few weeks back. I’m seriously fine with people being concerned about the Bulls D – it’s an area that must improve – but using this as the basis of your argument is close to saying, “we need someone who can slow down LeBron James!” Yeah, so does everyone.

•   If you’re Zach LaVine, you have to be happy with was the boss man said about you last night: “We are constantly in games because of his play. So he’s been establishing himself as a leader of this team, and we’ve improved dramatically because he is impacting winning. Besides his numbers of 29 (points), 5 (rebounds), and 5 (assists), which are amazing, he’s also impacting winning, and that’s why this team is fighting for a playoff spot.” The more this front office sees LaVine as a player who can promote a winning brand of basketball, the more likely it is that we see him locked-up long-term.

•   Thanks to Wendell Carter Jr., we learned that the Bulls front office spends plenty of time with their players. The video below shows just how comfortable this whole squad is together (it’s also adorable).



Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.