Bulls’ struggles include handling on-court disconnect between LaVine, DeRozan: Sources

With two 2022 All-Stars in Zach LaVine Y DeMar DeRozan and former All-Star center Nikola Vucevicthe Chicago Bulls he hoped to be a serious contender in the Eastern Conference and build on his sixth seed last season. But as this season progressed, with the Bulls now sitting at a disappointing 11-18, and playing without their star point guard. Lonzo Ball Due to a nagging knee injury, serious questions have been raised within the locker room as to whether their two-star wings can fit in at a high level on the pitch this season and beyond.

The Bulls have held multiple team meetings to try to work out their issues, and that has included face-to-face meetings between DeRozan and LaVine, according to team and league sources who were granted anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly. about team dynamics. DeRozan and LaVine have always had a lot of respect for each other. Just 10 months ago, during Cleveland’s All-Star Weekend, the stars proclaimed themselves the nbaThe best duo of They have a good personal relationship. But their encounters have not led to any in-game results thus far, with a level of stylistic tension on the court that simply festers throughout the season and is magnified by the win-loss record.

“I think everyone goes through their ups and downs, just like every team,” LaVine said. the athletic on Tuesday when asked about the matter. “Obviously, if we’re not winning games, not everyone is going to be happy. It won’t look as good as before. It’s all glitter and show when you’re winning games. But when you’re losing games and you’re trying to do the same things, it’s chaos. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. For me, I keep my head down. I work on my game and try to help my team. I help try to lead the team. That’s where I am. I just try to take it day by day and assess how we’re doing.”

What’s more, multiple league sources and sources close to the organization say LaVine and the Bulls disagree. In recent weeks, there has been a palpable feeling in various parts of the franchise of a disconnect over LaVine’s situation in Chicago. All of this has been going on while LaVine is in the first season of a maximum agreement of $215 million for five years which was signed this summer.

“There is a certain level of frustration in people trying to figure out what we can do to help right the ship,” LaVine said. the athletic. “I think with the players we have, we try to put each other in to right the ship. We have those kinds of guys, those kinds of mindsets where every one of us has been the number one option on a team before and then we all come together collectively. It will not take a person. It’s going to take us all as a unit. I think that’s what the guys are trying to figure out to help the group.”

As the saying goes, winning cures everything. A year ago, DeRozan, LaVine and these Bulls were firing on all cylinders while jayson tatum, jaylen brown and the celts they struggled to find their way. The roles are reversed a year later, and it’s glaringly obvious when you look at the rankings.

In the third season of Billy Donovan’s tenure, skepticism has also grown within the locker room about the head coach and coaching staff. For Donovan, the challenge of optimizing DeRozan and LaVine together through a balance between execution, accountability and cooperation is very important. However, Donovan’s work is currently safe, as the athletic reported that he signed a multi-year contract extension before the start of this season.

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Bulls coach Billy Donovan sets tone for next season: ‘We have even more to prove’

The Bulls’ season began with optimism. 12 players from last season’s roster returned, and the hope was that continuity would mean more chemistry and better results. The Bulls are a much more well-rounded and dynamic team with a healthy Ball, of course, as his ability to pick up the pace and set the table for DeRozan and LaVine were necessary for last season’s team.

But even with Ball’s status up in the air in terms of when he might return, Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnišovas set out expectations for this season at the team’s media day in September.

“What we want to see is obviously an improvement,” he said. “Once you get to the playoffs and you have a healthy body, I think a lot can happen. So I think we have to do better than last year. When you get to the playoffs, as always, things happen. A certain team is missing a key player or two and you can get through a round. So those are the expectations.”

However, from the start, the Bulls faced a bumpy road.

LaVine unexpectedly sat out the team’s first two games this season, and the team said his occasional absence would be part of scheduled maintenance focused on managing offseason arthroscopic knee surgery. LaVine battled a persistent knee problem through the second half of last season, displaying tremendous stamina and strength to stay on the floor in the first postseason appearance of his career. LaVine could have had knee surgery during the season, but he decided to wait until after the Bulls’ playoff run to ensure his availability to the team.

DeRozan came to the Bulls in the 2021 offseason with the intention of being the second choice most nights behind LaVine and providing LaVine with the support to win more games. Yet in that role, he emerged as one of the best players in the league, with clutch moments, multiple game winners and consistent leadership.

“Now is the time to understand how we can make this work for the whole group. I haven’t played with a talent at that forward position like Zach. He is unique. I want to put everything I’ve been through in my career into, share that with him and win together.” DeRozan said last October.

The duo had a successful first season, leading the Bulls to a 46-36 record and their first playoff berth in four years, having the best record in the East for part of the first half of the year due to a slow start. 27-11 and seeming to genuinely enjoy each other’s presence. It’s clear Ball is an engine for these Bulls: The team went 22-13 with him in the lineup and 24-23 without him. DeRozan and LaVine seemed to lay a foundation for their partnership last season, except everything has been called into question across the organization this season.

For Karnišovas, the best move of his tenure was acquiring DeRozan, who made the All-NBA second team and received an MVP vote a season ago. DeRozan has played brilliant basketball since he joined the Bulls. He has averaged 27.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists on 50.4 percent shooting from the field and 88.1 percent shooting on nearly eight free throws per game. As a fourth quarter player, he is among the best in the NBA.

DeRozan joined the Bulls on a three-year, $85 million contract in 2021 and will be eligible for an extension this summer worth a maximum of four years and $153.7 million. Do the Bulls see DeRozan as a centerpiece for years to come?

LaVine chided the idea that the weight of expectations from his maximum contract allowance has weighed on him.

“Nothing weighed on me. I don’t understand how you put that in context,” LaVine said. the athletic. “Just because you sign an agreement, is that supposed to add weight to it? I think there is an additional weight every time you step on the court if you don’t perform or you don’t play the right way. But everyone is open to their own opinion.

“I have been improving every day that I have been coming out of an injury. If you’re losing, you don’t see it. It’s obviously frustrating when you’re losing and all these other narratives are coming up. It does not come from us. It comes from external sources. It’s just what you have to deal with. It comes with the territory. I understand that. I think the team understands. It doesn’t bother me. I think it’s something that just comes with it.”

Additionally, Vucevic is eligible for a four-year, $118.2 million extension, but is currently expected to enter free agency in the offseason.

The Bulls’ direction going forward is clouded by the fact that they still owe the orlando magic a protected first-round pick in the top four in the 2023 NBA Draft. In potentially moving from competing for a playoff spot and Tournament Play-In to a complete rebuild, the Bulls’ front office would be at risk to remain outside the top four, and thus give Orlando their pick.

And yet, if these Bulls continue down this path anyway, even with all this talent, the organization might not have a choice.

goran dragicthe team’s oldest and most experienced player, he didn’t sugarcoat the team’s woe following a 150-126 loss in Minnesota on Sunday.

“We are not playing for each other,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

The veteran point guard’s comments followed Donovan’s in an equally candid postgame interview. Donovan has publicly challenged his all-star trio through the media, but on Sunday he was more direct than ever.

“We have to get out of the mindset of worrying about scoring and how the offense is going and realizing that the ball scores,” Donovan said. “And if the ball has moved and passed, the one who scores, scores.”

Donovan echoed Dragić’s sentiments that the Bulls are playing too individualistically and the results won’t start to change until the team does.

“When we have the mentality that, ‘I feel like I’m doing it for him. And I’ll do it for him, and I’ll do it for him. And I’m not going to let the guy I’m outside with get down,’” Donovan said.

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(Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

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