The message was sent long before this recent three-game winning streak, capped off by the dismantling of an overmatched Pistons team on Sunday night.
The way veteran Garrett Temple sees it, the Bulls’ front office sent the message early on in its new tenure that the goal was to make Chicago a destination place.
An aggressive coaching search, the drafting of Patrick Williams, and then swinging for the fences at the March trade deadline were just a few examples.
The standings might not show it, but winning is a priority. And Temple feels the league is listening.
“I think AK [executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas] and [general manager] Marc [Eversley] have done a great job, have done a great job showing that they keep things close to the vest, that they understand the business, and deal with a level of privacy that’s refreshing in today’s NBA,’’ Temple said. “Not only do all that, but they have an eye for talent. Getting Pat where they got Pat, and being able to trade and bring an All-Star in [Nikola Vucevic] here, and also being able to get [Daniel] Theis as well, who has shown what he can do in the league, people that understand and are free agents and things of that nature, are probably looking at the Bulls’ front office as a place, a group of people that know what they’re doing for sure.’’
But that’s the business of the offseason.
Temple and his teammates still were focused on the business of the next week.
The 108-96 victory against the Pistons in Detroit pulled the Bulls (29-39) to within 2½ games of the idle Pacers for the 10th and final play-in spot in the Eastern Conference with four games left to play. The problem is those four games.
The Bulls play the Nets twice, the Raptors sprinkled in between, and a home finale with the Bucks. The Pacers are in Cleveland on Monday, then host the 76ers, the Bucks, the Lakers and finish in Toronto.
So even with Zach LaVine scoring a game-high 30 points and looking better and better after missing 11 games when he tested positive for the coronavirus, and fellow All-Star Nikola Vucevic remaining a double-double machine — 29 points and 16 rebounds against the Pistons — little is in their control as the regular season winds down.
That’s the frustration.
“The last [few] games we’ve shown what we can do when we’re fully healthy and guys are playing at levels we can play at,’’ Temple said. “So to see that it makes it even more disappointing. But at the end of the day there’s still a pathway and we’ve got to worry about what we can control and let the chips fall where they may.”
Those chips fell easily in Detroit, with the Pistons missing Jerami Grant, Cory Joseph and Wayne Ellington to name a few, while the Bulls were still without Troy Brown Jr. (ankle) and Theis, who banged up his hip in the victory against Boston.
The visiting team wouldn’t need either.
With Coby White also chipping in 21 points, the defense again earned some praise from coach Billy Donovan, limiting the opposition under 100 throughout this winning streak and setting the tone early with the Pistons by holding the home team to 18 points in the first quarter.
“I think kind of playing with each other,” Donovan said of the defensive turnaround. “We talk a lot about offense, but then -playing together on defense is also important in terms of rotations and terminology. We’ve gotten better.’’