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What up, Bulls Nation. Chicago Bulls fans were treated to a classic on Tuesday: a snowy Halloween! There are still a few leaves on the trees, but winter made a familiar early arrival. Maybe we’ll get lucky and fly right into spring? The Bulls are doing their part. Because after watching the first five games of their 2023-24 season, it feels like we’ve already made it to Groundhog Day.
Instead of waiting for Punxsutawney Phil to tell us how much more winter is coming, I feel like Bulls fans are sitting here waiting for Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley to tell us how much more not-quite-.500 basketball we can expect.
I hate it here.
Here are the Top 5 things driving me crazy through the first five Bulls games this season. It’s the Pecking Order.
5. Starting Lineup / Rotation
We spent the offseason, training camp and preseason discussing the options Billy Donovan had when making his starting lineup. Who would fill out the two spots surrounding the “Big 3” of Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic? Would newcomers Jevon Carter and Torrey Craig challenge the Bulls’ homegrown talent of Coby White and Patrick Williams? Should reigning First Team All-Defense member Alex Caruso be considered?
Billy chose the young guys. And, despite very concerning results thus far, he continues to ride the same starting lineup. Other than juggling DeMar and Zach as the primary star to stagger with the second unit, he hasn’t changed much else in his rotation. Our guy Mark K highlighted the issue with this chart after the loss to Dallas:
The starting unit has a net rating of NEGATIVE SIXTEEN through five games. Why not try something else? And how the hell have we not seen any minutes yet of Carter and Craig — or even Caruso and Craig — with the Big 3? I don’t get it. It’s like getting an awesome new pair of Jordans, but refusing to wear them with your Bulls fan outfit that would compliment them and vice versa.
4. Chicago Bulls City Edition uniforms
Speaking of Bulls outfits, the team officially launched their City Edition jerseys and merch for this season on Thursday. The early leaks of the jerseys were not flattering, and they look much better now that we see the real thing being worn by the players.
These definitely aren’t my favorite in the pool of City jerseys we’ve gotten over the past several years. I do appreciate that their design gives a nod to the old Chicago Stadium. But that’s also what drives me crazy.
This organization continues to profit off the fanbase’s nostalgic obsession with the dynasty while toiling in mediocrity or worse for most of the 25 years since. And I’m not innocent of that. I spend my hard-earned dollars on Bulls merch because I love my team and love repping them with cool gear.
[Author’s note: Yes, the phrase “hard-earned” is a joke. I get paid to watch basketball and then talk about it. Crazy, right? But SOME people actually DO work hard, and still choose to spend that money on the Bulls.]
As I scrolled through all the City Edition merch on the team’s online store, I kept saying to myself, “Oooh! I want that! …and that! …need that, too!”
Then I scolded myself for being a dope just like so many others. We aren’t satisfied with the product on the floor. We want winning basketball. We want to remember what championship glory feels like. But as that feeling sinks further into the deep recesses of our memory, we still throw our money at the organization for the products they put on the shelves.
I hate myself for falling prey to it. But it underscores the thing I love most about my fellow Bulls fans: we are BLINDINGLY loyal. This team means so damn much to us, we can’t help it. It’s admirable, while also bordering on insane. For the sake of our collective mental health, let’s stick with admirable.
Still, I don’t like these reminders that the people who own and operate this team can so easily take advantage of our loyalty while failing to give us a team that’s a) worth spending our money on or b) worth being proud of.
3. Patrick Williams
I have tried SO hard, but I’m just about finished believing in and defending this guy. We are five games in, and we’ve already seen TWO zeroes in Pat’s point column. In another, he managed three points before Billy told him to grab some bench after playing just 13 minutes. Just LOOK at this. LOOK AT IT.
If I had to look at it, then so do you. I know there are several layers of context around individual performances, and we’re still dealing with a small sample size in Pat’s fourth season. Sure, his defense still looks solid. Sure, he’s a better three-point shooter than these early numbers suggest. But it’s the fact that he looks like the same low-motor, DGAF kind of player we’ve seen since Day 1.
This man is playing in a contract year, because he didn’t get an extension off his rookie deal. He sure as hell doesn’t look like someone who “wants a big contract” as he himself said.
I’m not even driving myself crazy thinking about the dreaded “what if” scenario of Pat leaving the Bulls and blossoming with some other team. What is there to blossom? By all evidence, this is a fake plant you stick in the corner of the waiting room at a dentist’s office. Just put it there and let it collect dust, because it ain’t never blooming into jack sh*t.
You can tell by my willing usage of that grammatical nightmare just how bothered I am by this. I had such high hopes for Pat. I was rooting for you. We were all rooting for you. Tyra was rooting for you. Sigh.
2. Three’s a Problem
We heard all about it from Karnisovas and Donovan in the offseason, and again on Media Day. We need to change this team’s offense and shot profile. We need to generate more good looks from beyond the arc, by getting into the paint and distributing. Other than a few short glimpses, all that talk hasn’t produced any results.
Well, I guess you can give the Bulls *some* credit. They’re tied for 23rd in three-point attempts per game, as opposed to dead last where they finished each of the past two seasons. Progress! Unfortunately, they’re not seeing the modest increase in attempts pay off, with their 30.2% efficiency ranking 28th in the NBA. In the two games the Bulls have managed to win, their opponents shot 25% (Toronto) and 26% (Indiana) from deep. Great winning formula right there!
So that’s…fun. And by fun, I mean *Matt repeatedly slams his head into a hard surface*.
“We like our group.”
“Just wait until you see what we do in free agency before you judge.”
“Well, when Lonzo went down…”
“Let’s go to Nashville for team bonding! That will help.”
“We need to have the difficult conversations.”
I’m paraphrasing on some of those, but this is what we’ve heard for the better part of two years now. That last one, to me, is the most telling.
Billy said something along those lines during training camp, and again at Media Day. He was — as far as I can tell — trying to articulate the importance of communication with this group. And that sometimes, they’re guilty of not having the “difficult” conversations where teammates, coaches and anyone else committed to this team hold each other accountable.
Torrey Craig, who’s been here for a few months, already observed that this is “one of the quietest teams [he’s] been on.” When Donovan was asked why his team doesn’t communicate more, his answer was, “I don’t know. I don’t know what the reason is.”
Look, I think the whole “players only meeting” thing has gotten a bit overblown. LaVine explained it as best he could in a chat with Vinnie Goodwill, just the latest attempt by the team to correct the narrative that’s spun out of control after their season-opening clunker against the Thunder. Donovan said he was glad to see the players having a discussion like that after a bad loss. Vucevic said it was healthy and productive. Cool.
While Billy and his players may finally be starting to have some of those conversations, I’m sitting here wondering when their bosses will finally have the most difficult conversation. You know, the one where they admit to themselves that this team they’ve constructed ain’t it. [There I go again with the improper grammar. I’m clearly unwell.]
I don’t know about you, Bulls Nation. But I’ve reached the point where I’m sick of wondering. Is this front office gaslighting us fans, refusing to admit this isn’t good enough? Continuously saying “we believe in our group” while secretly having lost that belief, but unsure of what to do next? Or, do they actually still believe in this team’s capabilities to be legitimately competitive? Playoffs competitive?
It will probably be awhile longer before we learn whether it’s deception or delusion causing this malpractice. Either way, I don’t like it. Because we’re stuck here in the meantime with this milquetoast team regardless.
Now, who’s ready for another Friday/Saturday back to back?! You better get ready. Because it’s Groundhog Day.
Thanks for reading. See Red. Be Good.
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