Bulls roster has suddenly become overly fragile in an imperfect NBA season
Regardless of whether the Bulls front office can pull off a trade before Thursday’s deadline, this current roster needs to start picking up the pieces and covering the holes rather than leaning on them as a crutch. Relying on being rescued remains a bad look for a contending team.
After the Suns came to the United Center and gave a basketball clinic Monday night, a reporter asked All-Star guard Zach LaVine about yet another poor showing by his Bulls against another upper-echelon team from the Western Conference.
“Good thing we don’t have to play them until obviously at the end,’’ LaVine said with a snicker, referring to the NBA Finals.
It was a good point — but it doesn’t address the losses piling up against top teams, including those from the East.
The Bulls are now 1-11 against the top seven NBA teams by record, and only four of those 11 losses came against Western teams.
Not once were the Bulls at 100% health — the reality since just five games into the season, when second-year forward Patrick Williams tore ligaments in his wrist. But not being at 100% health seems to have become too big of a crutch for this team. Between COVID-19 outbreaks and injuries, few teams have been whole this season, with plenty of big names sidelined: the Nets’ Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Warriors’ Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and the Lakers’ LeBron James and Anthony Davis, to name a few. This is a season of winning by attrition, not waiting for injured players to return and save the day.
Take Williams out of it, since the Bulls have shown since they can dominate without him. For the Bulls, “full strength” means having their three All-Star-caliber players — 2022 All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and LaVine and 2021 All-Star Nikola Vucevic — and defensive standouts Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso. They had that group available three times in their 12 games against the top seven teams, losing twice to the 76ers and once to the Heat — both potential second-round playoff opponents — by an average of 5.7 points.
But in the other nine games, they still had firepower on both ends of the floor. In a second loss to the Heat and one to the Cavaliers, they had Vucevic, Ball, Caruso and LaVine on the court. In a blowout loss to the Warriors, they were without Vucevic but had everyone else. In a rematch with the Warriors, another loss, they were without Caruso, and LaVine left early.
And that is the real concern: This group seems to become fragile when one of the aforementioned five players sits. Contending teams shouldn’t need every dish to be the perfect temperature. In fact, in five of the 11 losses, DeRozan, LaVine and Vucevic all started. Not many teams are starting two current All-Stars and one former one.
Ball (knee surgery), Caruso (wrist surgery) and Williams are expected back in late March, but even then, little is for certain.
So is the trade route necessary before Thursday’s deadline? Maybe. But trading a package of bad draft picks and players with injury excuses might not yield a strong return.
NOTES: Rookie guard Ayo Dosunmu (concussion protocol) will miss Wednesday’s game against the Hornets in Charlotte.
... Zach LaVine will participate in the All-Star Three-Point Contest for a third time.