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From playoff talk to disappointing finish — Bulls’ season review

On media day in September, the talk throughout the Advocate Center focused on the Bulls returning to the playoffs. But with the league looking to restart the season in July, the Bulls will be left home.

The Bulls’ Zach LaVine averaged a team-best 25.5 points, was second in assists at 4.2 and shot 38 percent from three-point range, averaging a career-best 8.1 threes per game.
The Bulls’ Zach LaVine averaged a team-best 25.5 points, was second in assists at 4.2 and shot 38 percent from three-point range, averaging a career-best 8.1 threes per game.
AP

They were all in — from the tippy top of ownership to the front office of John Paxson and Gar Forman, to the coaching staff, the players, even the people who mop up the sweat on the court during timeouts.

There was a whole lot of chest-pounding along with some good old-fashioned Kool-Aid gulping.

The Bulls were a playoff team last September.

Just ask them.

“First and foremost, we want to compete at a high, high level,’’ Paxson said on that first day of training camp. “We think we can compete. And when you compete at a high level, you have an ability to be a playoff-caliber team. And we set that as a goal.

“[Coach] Jim [Boylen] talks about it. He’s not afraid of it, and our guys through their work have shown us that they want to make that commitment, so we feel good about that.’’

Boylen sure did.

“Our goals for the season are to make the playoffs,’’ Boylen said, doubling down on Paxson’s message, “and every day to prepare like we’re a playoff team, every day to work like we’re a playoff-bound team. I’m excited for that. I think that’s the only way to do it. There’s no way that we were going to stand up here and say, ‘Hey, I hope we can win 10 more games or we hope we can be better.’ We want to get to the mountaintop.’’

They never even made it out of the valley.

And now, if the ESPN reports hold true and the NBA owners vote to restart the season by the end of July with a 22-team format, guess who’s staying home for the dance?

No suit, no date, no ticket.

By finishing 22-43, the Bulls had the seventh-worst record in the league and the fifth-worst record in the Eastern Conference.

That means that by Thursday, the 2019-20 season could officially be over for them. So here’s one last disappointing look back:

Player of the year

Zach LaVine averaged a team-best 25.5 points, was second in assists at 4.2 and shot 38 percent from three-point range, averaging a career-best 8.1 threes per game. He even played better defense than in years past. The good news for the Bulls is several NBA scouts believe there’s room for LaVine to improve and become a perennial All-Star. On a playoff team, LaVine is the perfect Robin. On a championship team, he’s that third option — or Flash. But the Bulls need him to be Batman for now, and with the roster all but locked through next season, he’ll have to make that jump sooner rather than later.

Reserve of the year

In the last game the Bulls played before the coronavirus shutdown, rookie Coby White finally had earned a start. But before that, he was instant offense off the bench, averaging 13.2 points, including a stretch in which he scored 30-plus three games in a row.

Disappointment of the year

Along with LaVine, Lauri Markkanen was labeled a foundation pillar for the rebuild when the season started. Only one of the pillars held up, however. Markkanen struggled with his role, struggled making shots, then struggled staying healthy. It’ll be a huge offseason for the 7-footer with a new-look front office to help turn his energy around.

Biggest move of the year

The hiring of Arturas Karnisovas to run the basketball operations was obviously an organization-shifter. But the first domino to fall and the real move of the year took place when Paxson went to the Reinsdorfs in December and let them know that it was time for a change in the front office, starting with his own post. It was one last clutch play by “Johnny Big Shot.’’