The Bulls have lost 7 of 9 after Rose was injured in Portland. Those losses include at Utah and the Knicks, and at home against the Bucks and Davis-less Pelicans. The Bulls are really bad right now, and the only thing preventing a debate whether they're the worst team in the NBA is that cataloging terribleness this year is too daunting of a task. Just look at the view from Knicks fans last night, who described the game as "a win that never felt more empty" or hoping their team lost just to see the shit-storm that would follow. That's how poor some teams are, the ones who are beating the Bulls.
But is the ship sinking and tank firing up (or other large mechanical things doing something)? That was what Nick Friedell posited after the Bucks loss:
Even Thibodeau looks more dejected than ever. As he answered questions in the postgame press conference [Tuesday], he bristled at the notion that he had concerns regarding his team as it started the always treacherous four games in five nights stretch.
"We do have to put five guys out there," Thibodeau said. "That is a requirement. That's what we're trying to do."
[The players] all say they still believe in Thibodeau's "more than enough" credo, but their actions on the floor tell a different story...after playing tough, physical basketball over the past three years under Thibodeau, the Bulls are struggling to stay in games emotionally once they get behind. The injuries have taken a huge toll on this team, on and off the floor.
To not single out Friedell, the Tribune's KC Johnson said something similar regarding Thibs when he was on WSCR Wednesday, but not so definitively suggesting that the players had started to crack.
And to me, saying so at this point just seems lazy, or at least jumping the gun. The Bulls are losing because they're injured, and because the current fill-ins are especially bad (something we figured even going into the season). I don't see a lack of effort or the emotional hangover that was more prevalent in the first couple of non-Rose games, and it did sort of prove itself in the 2nd half comeback Wednesday night.
The Bulls erased a 23-point deficit behind effort. Whether it was their full-court press, forcing steals, winning the rebounding effort (35% offensive rebound rate), or defending tough without fouling...while some of it was Knicks ineptitude it wasn't the signs of a Bulls team 'struggling to stay in games emotionally'. Taj Gibson took the task of defending Carmelo Anthony in isolation (after Melo had chewed up Tony Snell for most of the night). Joakim Noah has not only been playing through a knee injury but sprained his ankle in that second half and stayed in the game, at one point giving his distinctive brand of trolling as he "yeeeaaaahhhhhhh"'d at the Knicks fans after winning a loose ball.
Of course, once they tied the game, the Knicks went on a 7-0 run, with the offensive possessions for the Bulls showing more instances where they fell down than they had even attempted even a field goal. With a crunch-time lineup helmed by Kirk Hinrich, who is completely S.H.I.T. right now, that's probably bound to happen. Forgetting Rose, this team without their starting wings and a slowed center just will not be able to score. Their post players can't effectively post-up, their shooters cannot get themselves open, and the 'playmakers' have been completely abysmal. Hinrich is in one of the worst stretches of his career (4 of his last 31 overall, 3-16 from three) exemplifying the national joke the Bulls offense has become when the ESPN announcers were literally rooting for a shot of his to go in. Marquis Teague is even worse (and maybe he will actually go to the DLeague now), and Thibs has been forced to play these two guys together.
This is all a lot of ways to say the Bulls are terrible, I know. I just don't think once Deng and Butler return they'll be this bad, i.e. bad enough to fulfill lottery desires. I still think trades are necessary for that to happen.
Then again, maybe the fact that the Bulls have had so many injuries beyond Rose is reason to think they will not make the playoffs regardless of trades. ESPNChicago's Jon Greenberg makes the case that these injuries are systematic, because ThibsBall does demand so much from so few there will always be a couple guys out. And we can see it even now with Noah, who played after missing Tuesday's game and has been playing with a knee injury (Bulls PR called it a thigh, but he had his knee drained. Whoops to them and credit to Friedell.)
Thibs definitely isn't letting up, saying Tuesday regarding Noah: "he had taken on that injury, it was a bruise in the New Orleans game so he had played two games after that where he played great." and then Wednesday: "I think [Noah] wants to play all the time. The swelling's gone down in his knee, or his thigh area [lol -ed.]. He feels better, so he's going to give it a shot.", and even talked about why he conceals injury news as to not give opponents an edge. He definitely isn't conceding anything, as dejected as he apparently sounded this week.
You can read on to see how badly Noah wants to keep playing, and Deng wants to return. This attitude, something I don't think has cracked yet, is why they'll probably still make the playoffs. Though it could also prevent them from doing so. For example: I don't think Kirk Hinrich doesn't play hard, he's just terrible. And the effort will likely get him hurt soon as well.