A like-loathe relationship for the Bulls this season

The players and coach are likable and talented, but the Bulls have been so disappointing.

SHARE A like-loathe relationship for the Bulls this season
Billy Donovan knows the game and has elevated basketball discourse in the city, but his team has been mediocre.

Billy Donovan knows the game and has elevated basketball discourse in the city, but his team has been mediocre.

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

This season’s Bulls are one of the most perplexing teams in recent history. Glance at the roster, and it’s filled with players who are easy to embrace. There’s DeMar DeRozan, the veteran who has brought legitimacy to the franchise with his multiple All-Star appearances, buzzer-beaters and overall attitude. There’s Zach LaVine, the high-flying shotmaker who makes transition basketball so fun to watch. Alex Caruso, who plays dynamic on-the-ball defense and whose basketball IQ is through the roof. I could go on about players such as Coby White and Patrick Williams improving or how noble Nikola Vucevic’s workmanlike demeanor is, but I digress.

As individuals, this team is likable.

So is the coach. Billy Donovan has elevated basketball discourse in this city. His answers to tough questions have been thoughtful and measured. It’s clear he knows the game and does a great job of expressing his knowledge with Bulls fandom.

As an individual, this coach is likable.

There are no villains on this squad. No one can definitively point a finger and say, ‘‘That guy is the problem.” Even Patrick Beverley — the veteran brought in to play “bad cop” to Donovan’s “good cop” — has been delightful. Bulls teammates and fans have embraced his “tough love, keep it 100” style of leadership.

Nope, there’s not a bad guy in the bunch. Which makes this next part seem harsh: I don’t like this team!

Don’t get me wrong. When the ball is tipped Wednesday night in Toronto, I’ll be rooting for this band of misfits to keep going, but I’m still not sure why. This season has been littered with unmet expectations. When the season opened, the idea was this team would be in a better position to win a playoff series than the one that limped out of Milwaukee, losing in five games.

That team never materialized. It has been excruciatingly mediocre.

A 40-42 record makes all the sense in the world to anybody who has watched the Bulls. Last week was particularly upsetting. When they rallied to beat Memphis, it felt like a turning point in the season. And, sure, good teams don’t need turning points 80 games in, but here we were with a signature win for this talented yet underachieving crew. That comeback opened a world of possibilities. Maybe now, with Beverley at the point, the Bulls had a chance to play a more cohesive style of basketball. Maybe now, this team understood that midrange basketball is cool, but making threes is the way to win games in 2023. Maybe this was the team we’ve been craving.

The euphoria didn’t last. Two days later, the Bulls were at home with a legitimate shot to improve their seeding in a game against the Hawks. Everything was setting up for the Bulls to make a move. Atlanta’s sharpshooter, Trae Young, was out. The Bulls were at home and riding high off the win against the Grizzlies. What happened? They got blown out by a short-handed team. This solidified their spot as the Eastern Conference’s 10th-place team — a true and just reckoning.

Afterward, LaVine lamented that the Hawks wanted it more than the Bulls, which left every Bulls fan asking the same question: Why did they want it more than you? This would be an infuriating statement had the Hawks won by two or hit a heroic game-winner at the buzzer. The Bulls got beaten by 18 points, at home.

De La Soul said it best — “The Stakes Is High” — but for some reason, that’s when we’ve come to trust this Bulls team the least. They’ll walk into Toronto in an actual “must win” game — that is, if they want their season to continue. Bulls fans have waited all season for them to reach their potential. It would be silly to allow yourself to hope again after the consistent inconsistencies of this team, right?

But then you look at this group of likable dudes and think . . . please, one time this season, can you be what we all hoped you could be? And if you do that, we get to ask you to do it again, but at least take the first step to making this team likable instead of loathsome.

You can hear Laurence Holmes talk Chicago sports Monday to Friday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on 670 The Score with Dan Bernstein.

The Latest
Omar Zegar, 37, was arrested after the shooting Sunday and was charged with a felony count of aggravated unlawful use of weapon with a revoked firearm owners ID card, Oak Forest police said.
The Trust said in its statement that its decision followed a “deliberative process” in which it closely monitored changes in the college athletics landscape.
Cunningham has worked for the Bears since 2022.
The White House on Wednesday will officially announce Biden’s intention to nominate April Perry to be a U.S. District Court judge. For months, the effort to confirm Perry as Chicago’s new U.S. Attorney was stalled by Sen. J.D. Vance, a Republican from Ohio.
Stacey Greene-Fenlon became the first woman and first person not connected to Chicago government to chair the Chicago fishing advisory committee on Thursday.