For years under Tom Thibodeau, when teams came to face the Bulls they knew they were in for a battle, a physically tough game. Didn’t matter who was injured — or how much blame Thibodeau should take for grinding his team down to that point — the Bulls were going to play tough, they would play hard. In that way, they were a reflection of their coach.
This season’s Bulls — again racked by injuries to key players — do not have that same fight. They are an inconsistent team. Here is what Jimmy Butler said after the Bulls’ blowout loss to the Wizards (a team they are fighting to make the playoffs), via Michael Lee of the Vertical at Yahoo Sports.
“We’re not the tougher team. All the way down this roster, we’re not the tougher team and it shows, from the jump ball to the end,” Butler said. “There’s a loose ball, we’re not getting it. If there’s a rebound people have to fight for, we’re not getting it. We’re just not the tougher team, and I think it shows a lot of the time. We have a lot of guys that have a lot of potential to play hard; we just forget how hard have we have to play sometimes – a lot of the times, actually.”
The Bulls have games, even stretches of games, where they do play tough and with much more energy. There are games you see the team that some thought was a top-four team in the East this season. But it doesn’t last. Soon will come a game where they stumble and instantly seem to droop their shoulders, get down on themselves, and get run out of the building.
It’s more than just coaching; it has to do with the dynamics of the locker room. The Bulls are transitioning from a Derrick Rose team to a Jimmy Butler team, and that has not always been smooth. Up front, the slowed Joakim Noah did not mesh with Pau Gasol, and Fred Hoiberg has stuck by starting Gasol (who was unhappy when not starting for Mike D’Antoni for a stretch in Los Angeles) but at the expense of frustrating Noah and seemingly alienating teammates who have a long history with Noah. Nothing has gone smoothly.
All that has left the Bulls in danger of not making the playoffs. Chicago is in a virtual tie with Detroit for the final playoff spot, with Washington 1.5 games back and with the easiest schedule of the three the rest of the way. At this point, the Bulls need to bring it every game just to make the postseason, which is why Wednesday’s effort was a disappointment.
The Bulls need major roster changes this summer, with players coming in who better fit Fred Hoiberg’s preferred style of play. And some of those changes need to be about bringing in some toughness and hustle, some leadership by example, as well.