The message in the wake of the trade-deadline deals for the Bulls was loud and clear: Win now.
If that meant the new regime was sacrificing developmental players, as well as draft assets, so be it.
No offense to Wendell Carter Jr. or Daniel Gafford, but they were simply standing in the way of progress.
What’s the message now after yet another embarrassing loss to a subpar team?
It’s way too early to say if the Magic won the deal that basically sent Carter and a protected 2021 first-round draft pick to the Magic for Nikola Vucevic, but they definitely won Wednesday.
Thanks to Carter’s 19 points and 12 rebounds, as well as a defense that looked like it had somewhere else to be all evening, the Bulls dropped to 3-8 since the roster facelift, losing 115-106.
After the game, coach Billy Donovan wasn’t about to sugarcoat this one.
“We are not in a position right now to be looking at anybody and thinking we’re better than anybody,’’ Donovan said. “It doesn’t make a difference who we line up against. It could be a college team or high school team. If we’re not going [to] really be desperate and have that sense of urgency, I think this idea of when we sit there and say, ‘Well this team’s record is this.’ ‘This is one of the worst teams.’ Well, where are we at?’’
Sinking actually. And not slowly.
Vucevic got his 29 points and 11 rebounds, while Zach LaVine had his 30, but the supporting cast was once again a no-show and took the defense with it.
The Magic came into the game 29th in scoring average, but yet managed to look like the Nets in the first 12 minutes thanks to a defense that seemed optional on far too many possessions.
The Magic (18-37), who outscored the Bulls 32-22 in the first quarter, looked comfortable on the floor.
Some pride kicked in thankfully in that second quarter, and with Vucevic’s three at the horn the Bulls were down just one point.
Coby White struggled in that first half, turning the ball over three times in just five minutes.
Any spark built before the half, though, was erased with a quick reminder of what’s haunted this team far too often this season. The defense again became that of the junior varsity level.
At one point in that third quarter, Donovan actually went to a 2-3 zone just to give a different look, but the Bulls were still outscored 39-19 in the quarter.
That put the Bulls in an all-too familiar position of playing catch-up, as a 23-point deficit was trimmed down to just nine with 5:34 left thanks to LaVine.
LaVine hit another three with 4:54 left, cutting the lead to just eight. An inability to get big stops on the defensive end, as well as a horrible turnover by LaVine that led to a Michael Carter-Williams breakaway dunk, quickly erased all of the momentum.
And now the Bulls (22-32) have bigger problems, as Toronto, Washington and even Cleveland continue closing in on the final play-in spot in the East that the Bulls seemed to be holding down comfortably.
“My thing is you can’t play desperate for nine minutes and expect to win an NBA game,’’ Donovan said. “One of the great gifts in life is when you’re desperate for something. We were not desperate.’’