Too early for Bulls coach Billy Donovan to question players’ toughness

The core of this Bulls team is used to being labeled soft or, at least, allergic to adversity over the years. But Donovan wants to give it a bit more time before he joins that chorus.

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The Bulls’ roster has seen some changes in the last three seasons. Not a ton, but some.

Unfortunately, its reputation hasn’t.

Former coach Fred Hoiberg often talked about how the core needed to handle in-game adversity better. Former coach Jim Boylen flat-out called the makeup of the team soft multiple times. Even former vice president of basketball operations John Paxson demanded more from the group in terms of toughness.

But while new coach Billy Donovan wasn’t exactly thrilled with what he saw in the Bulls’ 125-104 loss to the Rockets in their preseason debut Friday, he’s holding out on passing judgment.

After all, just four contact practices, two non-contact practices and one bad debut against the Rockets in, questioning the Bulls’ heart wouldn’t do anyone any good.

‘‘I think it’s too early for me to say that right now because these guys have been really, really good workers,’’ Donovan said when he was asked Saturday whether the team played too soft against the Rockets. ‘‘They’ve tried to come every day with energy and enthusiasm. They’re trying to work extremely hard.

‘‘But I’ve always said this: The minute the ball gets thrown up in the air, it’s about how you handle adversity. And I think adversity is one of the greatest teaching tools that we have because, generally, you improve and get better when things are hard.’’

That’s basically the opposite of what the Bulls did against the Rockets. After the Rockets scored 37 points in the first quarter, the Bulls briefly showed some fight in the second before retreating throughout the second half.

By the time the smoke had cleared, the Rockets had made 24 three-pointers and seemed to feel comfortable getting wherever they wanted to on the court.

‘‘When adversity hit [Friday] night, we did not respond well enough as a group in trying to solve and fix the things that were in front of us at that moment in time,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘They were just all figuring out what they have to do instead of solving it together as a group.

‘‘So being with these guys for six practices and one preseason game, I don’t think it’s fair to pass judgment on what these guys are or are not competitively.’’

What’s nice is that the Bulls will get a rematch against the Rockets on Sunday. Defensive schemes will be added, the offense now has a feel for the Rockets’ switching defense and there’s some early pride on the line.

‘‘Clearly, the competitiveness and dealing with adversity, dealing with [the Rockets] going on a run, having the group together step up and try to shut that down, is going to be an identity that you have to build,‘‘ Donovan said. ‘‘And if you can’t handle adversity in this league, it’s really, really tough over a 48-minute period just to expect every minute of every game to go your way. It’s really how you respond when things aren’t going your way.’’

Veteran guard Tomas Satoransky saw too many instances last season when the Bulls didn’t handle adversity well, but he was confident that was in the past.

‘‘I think [we’re] just kind of looking for identity defensively as of right now,’’ Satoransky said. ‘‘It’s a totally different defense than we played last year, so obviously there will be some habits of last year’s defense we have to get rid of to succeed in this kind of scheme.

‘‘We have to do a better job. But I think we can be solid.’’

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