CHICAGO — Forty-three games into what appears to be another lost season, the Chicago Bulls have proved to be what so many people around the league thought they would be before the campaign began: a mediocre team without a direction for the future.
Tuesday night’s performance offered another example of how that prediction is coming to fruition, as the Bulls dropped a 99-98 affair to the lowly Mavericks. It is the second time that Dallas, now 14-27, has knocked off Chicago this season.
The script was familiar for coach Fred Hoiberg’s team: It didn’t play with consistent energy in the first half; it made too many defensive miscues late; and it couldn’t get much help from a group of reserves that finished the night a combined 8-for-23 from the field. Yet again, the Bulls allowed a bad team to knock them off after one of their best wins of the season on Sunday night in Memphis. Dwyane Wade has been playing in the NBA for 14 years and even he doesn’t have the answer as to why his team continues to play well against good teams and play poorly against the bad ones.
The most disconcerting issue for the Bulls is that the mental errors never seem to get fixed. Unless Butler, or to a lesser extent, Wade takes over late, the Bulls find ways to lose games instead of finding ways to win them.
“This is a very young team with young guys we’re counting on who has to play in these games and they have to go through these moments,” Wade said. “The one thing you want for them, whether it’s this year or next year, whatever, you want them to get to the point where they’re learning and not making the same mistakes, we’re not making the same mistakes as a unit. But when you’re counting on young guys, you’re going to have these bumps on the top of your head sometimes.”
This is the issue Bulls executives Gar Forman and John Paxson must tackle in the coming weeks leading up to the trade deadline at the end of next month. Wade is correct in noting that the Bulls are better served to have younger players experience growing pains now as they prepare for the future. But that’s why the Bulls’ current plan of adding Wade and Rajon Rondo to a young group of underachievers and unknowns surrounding Butler was always doomed for mediocrity. If the goal is for the Bulls to win games now, they haven’t achieved that with the current roster. They are winning just enough to stay in range for the Eastern Conference’s last playoff spot, but not enough to generate much hope for the future.
If the goal was for younger players to learn along the way, that hasn’t been accomplished as much as it could have been, either. Rondo, who was 0-for-4 in 23 minutes on Tuesday, continues to block a spot in the rotation for Denzel Valentine and Jerian Grant. Valentine didn’t even play Tuesday, despite the fact that Hoiberg played 11 guys.
Wade has helped the Bulls’ organization in many areas on and off the floor this season, but he doesn’t figure to be part of this team’s long-term future. On his 35th birthday, Wade sounded like a man content to ride out the next year and a half (he has a player option for next season), enjoying life in his hometown — even if that doesn’t equate to many wins.
“This is who we is right now,” Wade said. “We’re halfway through the season. We’re now 21-22. We’ve been going through this all year. I’m too old to be getting stressed out and frustrated with all this. So we’ll get back in here [Wednesday] and the next two days and try to figure out how to get a win on the road.”