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Bulls crying ‘injury’ can’t muffle the loud truth of another bad team

Even before all the injuries arrived, we saw a group that didn’t play well together.

Bulls vice president John Paxson decided to stand pat at the NBA trade deadline last week.
Bulls vice president John Paxson decided to stand pat at the NBA trade deadline last week.
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Injuries sure are convenient sometimes. That statement might seem contrary to everything you’ve ever thought about sprained ankles, strained knees, concussed noggins and pulled groins.

What could possibly be convenient about a ruptured tendon?

If the number of players on an NBA team’s injury report (11) is equal to the number of its home victories by mid-February, as is the case with the Bulls, the injuries can provide cover for a franchise. That’s why we saw the Bulls standing their shaky ground at the trade deadline last week. Vice president John Paxson was adamant that all the team’s wounded had made it impossible for him to evaluate his roster.

“We don’t know what we have yet,’’ he said. “And we need to see.”

But we did see. We saw things clearly before an ugly wind blew in all those injuries. We saw a group that didn’t play well together. We saw that Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen are still as compatible as the Earth’s poles. We saw Markkanen take major steps backward for reasons that seem to defy explanation, unless the explanation is that what the Bulls originally saw in him was a mirage.

We saw that there’s nothing special about this team and, worse, that special isn’t scheduled to drop by any time soon.

The Bulls weren’t good before the injuries hit. That fact has been noticeably absent in Paxson’s public evaluation of the team. Same with coach Jim Boylen’s explanation for what has gone wrong. The Bulls were 1-4 in October and 5-10 in November. They were 3-6 before Otto Porter Jr. fractured his left foot.

Wendell Carter Jr., Markkanen and LaVine were together for the first 37 games of the season, and the Bulls went 13-24. Since then, the Bulls have gone 6-11, including a 118-111 road loss Sunday to the 76ers.

Where’s the unknown in any of that?

‘‘Obviously, we need to get Lauri and Wendell back,’’ Paxson said. ‘‘Those are two cornerstones to determine where we’re at and how we’re going.’’

That the Bulls didn’t make a move at the trade deadline is no big surprise. The franchise is to action what general manager Gar Forman is to hip-hop dancing. To blame the deadline inactivity on injuries is an intellectual sleight of hand.

The idea that the Bulls don’t know who they are and what they have is very, very hard to believe. Markkanen, LaVine and Kris Dunn are in their third season together in Chicago. Yes, all three have had injuries, but they’re hardly strangers. Maybe their string of injuries is exactly who they are.

Dunn, whom the Bulls had soured on last season, has been one of their best players this season. Then he sprained his right medial collateral ligament Jan. 31. The Bulls have set no timeline for his return.

‘‘The amount of trauma that this team has faced is unusual,’’ Boylen said. ‘‘It’s a drain on everyone. We have to fight through it in this moment. We’ll evaluate when we get a chance to evaluate. In the meantime, we have to continue to develop and play competitive basketball.’’

It would be nice if the Bulls didn’t act as if their fan base had the IQ of a Gatorade dispenser. The team is neither developing nor competitive. The whole thing feels like one big charade. If anyone can tell me what the endgame is, please do. It can’t be an NBA championship, not with this group.

LaVine is fun to watch, but it’s difficult to picture his lead-singer comportment fitting in with a title contender. Still, other teams surely wanted his services. The whole idea of a rebuild is to stock up on talented young players, develop them and use some to acquire veterans who can help the franchise make a deep playoff run.

The Bulls don’t want to wave the white flag on their renovation project. That would be an acknowledgement of failure, and very few people in sports these days are in the truth-admitting business. The statement you won’t hear from Paxson: We traded Jimmy Butler for this?

It’s possible that Paxson really is in the dark about the abilities of Markkanen, et al. Again, hard to believe, but maybe it’s true. You can either applaud him for his steadfastness or rip him for his lack of vision.

Given his track record, handing him a new pair of glasses would seem to be the safe answer.