The mediocre Bulls and the NBA’s flimflam play-in tournament are a perfect match

No amount of lipstick and blush can make this Bulls season look pretty.

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Arturas Karnisovas

The Bulls have been mediocre the past season and a half under vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas.

Chicago Bulls

Somewhere out there, a team is happy to be part of the NBA’s play-in tournament. That team had better not be the Bulls. They should be wearing the “accomplishment’’ of a play-in game like a scarlet letter. How about U for underachievement? No. Let’s make it U for ugh.

The tournament is the league’s attempt to give mediocrity a makeover. If watching average teams try to look like playoff teams is your thing, have at it. Also, I’m George Clooney.

Maybe this is the way the Bulls should be outed for what they are. Not by missing the playoffs, which would have been bad enough, but by having a chance to pretend to be in the playoffs. They’ll dribble, pass and shoot like real, live postseason teams, maybe — maybe — win two play-in games and then get trounced by someone like the Bucks.

The idea of the Bulls in a best-of-seven series against Milwaukee might be attractive to some, but for those of who have been waiting for the Bulls’ Big Three to blossom, it sounds like more punishment. I feel like I’ve been in NBA timeout for decades. The crime? Geographic bad luck.

No amount of lipstick and blush can make this season look pretty. All you need to know about the Bulls is that they lost the other day to a Bucks team playing without superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. Khris Middleton, his talented teammate, played only eight minutes because of right knee soreness.

So, please, don’t try to pump artificial suspense and intrigue into the play-in tournament, which is pretty much gym class for art majors.

“I always believe that if you got a chance, you got a way,’’ Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan said of the play-in game. “We got a chance, and now we just got to make a way. Can’t miss this opportunity. Comes down to a one-game elimination. It’s an opportunity to make the playoffs, and that’s how we’ve got to look at it.’’

Ugh, again.

The discerning reader will ask what else a professional athlete is supposed to say in these circumstances. Put a piece of cheese in front of a competitor, and he’s going to try to grab it, right? But this is stinky cheese, a smelly reward for a rank season. It would be refreshing to hear someone with the organization say that out loud.

The Bulls are 39-42. When the front office put together DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic, a sub-.500 record was never a thought. It’s been the reality for the better part of a season and a half. Even without oft-injured point guard Lonzo Ball, the Bulls should have been much, much better than this.

That they’re not is on everyone involved. On executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas for whiffing on what was supposed to be a sure thing. On coach Billy Donovan for failing to figure out a way to get more out of this group. On the players for seemingly being resigned to their bland fate.

Some are inclined to give Karnisovas a break, the thought being that no one could have foreseen the Big Three not gelling. But foresight is his job. Foreseeing is exactly what he’s supposed to be doing for a living.

Yes, Ball has been an injury riddle, but the fact that his absence can be used as an excuse for a disappointing season is a terrible reflection on his teammates. Tougher people would have raised their game to make up for the hole in the lineup.

So, the play-in tournament. This is what the Bulls get for being so much less than they should be. Now they’re reduced to talking about the need to turn it on when it matters. Two problems with that idea: 1) If this team had a switch that could be flipped, we would have seen it by now and 2) Nothing about the play-in tournament matters. It’s artificial sweetener. Fairleigh Dickinson isn’t beating the Celtics in a best-of-seven series.

The Bulls are stuck. The rebuild hasn’t worked. LaVine got his money. No obvious answer to the franchise’s woes is riding to the rescue, not through the draft and not through free agency. The Reinsdorfs still run things, and if history is any indication, that probably means a contract extension for Karnisovas. The shoulders, already sagging, slump a little more.

But, this being Chicago, let’s revel in another movie about Michael Jordan. “Air,’’ starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, chronicles how Nike landed the budding star and launched a cultural revolution. Those were the days!

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