As trade deadline approaches, Bulls need to start showing consistent life

Sources have told the Sun-Times the Bulls might be very quiet as the deadline Feb. 9 comes and goes. That doesn’t mean they can’t get loud in other ways, specifically by turning up the volume defensively and sustaining it.

SHARE As trade deadline approaches, Bulls need to start showing consistent life
Alex Caruso

The Bulls have 11 games to play until the NBA trade deadline Feb. 9.

That doesn’t give them a whole lot of time to wait for sustainable improvement from a team that has shown itself to be consistently inconsistent.

Then again, there might not be much choice. While outside executives have labeled the Bulls as a team to watch on the trade front, multiple sources have told the Sun-Times the team might be very quiet leading up to the deadline.

Maybe that’s why coach Billy Donovan has been so adamant about his players understanding what’s being asked of them on both ends of the court, not to mention that they have to do it every possession.

On Friday at the United Center, the less talented Thunder took a relentless mentality to the court. The Bulls, meanwhile, continued flashing only glimpses of such a mentality in their 124-110 loss.

‘‘The mentality is there; they are trying,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘But the ability to sustain it over a long period of time is something we’re still trying to work toward.’’

When Donovan was asked why that message continues to get lost on his players, he responded: ‘‘I don’t think it’s necessarily about getting a message as much as it is we’ve got to compete at a much higher level. And we’ve shown signs of doing it really well and looked good while doing it.

‘‘The one thing you have to be careful of is that you can be in a situation where you make all these schematic changes and be good at nothing. I believe we can guard the ball better. Are they getting the message? Yes. But there’s a difference between getting the message and going out there and executing it over the course of the game.’’

What should concern the Bulls is that maybe certain players aren’t capable of sustaining and executing the game plan.

All the talk leading up to the game Friday was about the Thunder’s aggressiveness in attacking the rim. Donovan wanted to see some physicality on the ball and, if a defender did get beaten off the dribble, another player sliding over, planting his feet and taking a charge.

Guard Alex Caruso did so and also contributed five steals. Maybe that’s why he was only a minus-six while the other four starters were all minus-13 or worse.

While it’s easy to dismiss taking charges as rah-rah type of play, when a team doesn’t have solid rim protection — the Bulls, for example — scorers have to be slowed down by any means necessary.

To put things in perspective, Thaddeus Young led the Bulls in charges drawn in 2020-21 with 19. In only 41 games played in 2021-22, Caruso led them with seven. Entering the game Sunday against the Warriors, Caruso and forward DeMar DeRozan are tied atop that list this season with seven.

One player who needs to pick it up in that category is guard Zach LaVine, who has drawn only one charge in the last three seasons combined. LaVine is one of the weaker defenders on the team, but that can change quickly if he commits to giving effort more than on every third or fourth possession.

That’s what Donovan has been begging from the Bulls.

‘‘Can we sustain that competitive, heightened level for a long period of time?’’ Donovan said. ‘‘That’s our challenge, and I have a lot of confidence and belief in the group because of the people they are. But you want to be able to get better at those things.’’

Sooner than later, especially before Feb. 9.

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