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Sports Saturday

Latest loss to Utah is another reminder of Bulls’ point-guard play

Jazz veteran guard Mike Conley wasn’t spectacular in his team’s victory Friday, but he affected the outcome. Bulls point guards remain inconsistent in that aspect. So guess who’s a free agent this offseason?

Guard Mike Conley’s career NBA earnings are just under $175 million, including the $34.5 million he’s making this season with the Jazz.

Is there more to make for the free agent-to-be? Absolutely. But how much, and where?

At least a handful of teams will be interested in finding out the answer, and the Bulls — who fell 113-106 to Conley and the Jazz on Friday night for their sixth straight loss — should be right at the front of the line.

It wasn’t that the veteran Conley was spectacular Friday. He just spent his 32 minutes getting the Jazz closer to a win, finishing with 13 points, five assists and only one turnover.

The Bulls (19-28) had Tomas Satoransky starting at the point again, in addition to lead ball-handlers Coby White and Zach LaVine back from neck and ankle injuries, respectively, but winning plays were hard to come by consistently. LaVine scored 23 points on 22 shots, but White’s play and decision-making were head-shaking at times.

Overall, the Bulls haven’t been awful at point guard. On some nights, they’ve been quite serviceable. But serviceable isn’t good enough for a team that has been cast into win-now mode.

The Bulls were in on the Pelicans’ Lonzo Ball at the trade deadline, so it’s obvious how they feel about their point guard play, even if they won’t necessarily admit it.

“There’s things that Sato can do better,” coach Billy Donovan said. “There’s things that Coby can do better. I would hope those guys are not satisfied with where they’re at. Do I think both can be better? Absolutely. I think everybody on our team can be better. I think we as coaches can be better. That’s the real key. Am I satisfied with them? Yes. I’m satisfied with them, but I hope there’s more in them to get better. They both have to get better. We have to get better.’’

And there’s the problem. Donovan can’t lean on his guards from game to game, as good NBA playoff teams usually do.

That doesn’t mean Donovan needs Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook, but he does need a player who can be more instrumental to winning. Conley’s first half was a good example: just six points and four assists, but also a steal, only one turnover and a plus-19 in plus/minus. Teammate Donovan Mitchell led the way for the Jazz with a game-high 26 points; forward Thad Young led the Bulls with 25.

It seems the Bulls should at least kick the tires on Conley this offseason. The Jazz will have the eighth-highest payroll in 2021-22; the Bulls will have the 18th-highest.

The immediate concern, though, is turning the losing around. Even amid the current spiral, the Bulls sit in the No. 10 spot in the Eastern Conference and are in the mix for a play-in game. Improved point guard play could go a long way in making sure they get there.

“It’s been challenging,” said White, who was demoted to the second unit and then missed games with the neck injury. “It’s been different. Still learning, trying to mesh with those guys off the court. So just get ready to get back out there.”