It's hard for fans to believe that the Bulls are doing anything other than sleepwalking through the schedule down the stretch, as their uninspired play of late has people questioning whether or not they want to make the playoffs at all. Most would tell you that they have no business being there to begin given how poorly their 2016 has gone.
However, last night (courtesy of Nick Friedell), we learned just how frustrated at least one of the members of the Bulls is with the continuous avalanche of disappointment that has been this season. After the game, Taj Gibson gave the media an earful, first stating:
"Hell yeah, I'm embarrassed," Gibson said after the Bulls' 106-94 defeat. "I take pride in wearing this jersey. I love wearing the Bulls jersey. Especially what we've been through, I take pride in playing for Chicago. When I wear that jersey, I try to go out there and play my heart out. And it's frustrating when we come up short, and we look at ourselves, we're losing to ... I don't want to criticize any[body], [but] trash teams. Everybody's in the NBA for a reason, but we're playing against teams that are not playing for anything, and we're just laying down. It feels like now we're a target. It feels like teams are not taking us serious.
"Teams are more eager to play us. [In years prior,] it was vice versa. They knew we were coming in to punch people in the face and keep playing. It's just, it's hard, man. It really eats me up inside. It's really hard to sleep at night knowing it's coming down to the wire, and our effort isn't there. It's really frustrating."
Reading that first part about how much Gibson cares about Chicago should make you get on your knees and beg that the Bulls' front office resigns Gibson after next season. Gibson's comments also carry a disturbing amount of accuracy about the context of the team in the rest of the league, as the aura of "fear" that the team so easily generated with nearly all of its opponents under Thibodeau has now completely evaporated. The physicality on defense that defined this team for five years has fallen from grace and been replaced by... well, stuff like this.
Taj didn't stop there, however, which is understandable when you lose two games in two days to the Knicks:
"Tonight, I've never been so frustrated and mad before," Gibson said. "It was disappointing, man, just real disappointing. I'm just tired of having these same talks with [the media] every night. About how we got to do better. ... [Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg‘s] right. We got to look ourselves [in the mirror]. I look at myself in the mirror every night, and I try to do different things every night. Still got how many more games left? We've got 11 more games left. It's really do or die, and it's really frustrating. We got to want it. We got to want it. Sometimes I feel we want it, sometimes I don't know if we're kidding ourselves or not."
Hoiberg used a common refrain after the game, when he said his players need to look at themselves in the mirror and see what they can do to be better. The issue for the Bulls--not just on Thursday but throughout the season-- is that when times get tough, they usually fold. When asked why the mentality has changed, Gibson, who has spent his entire seven-year career with the Bulls, pointed to the new system in place under Hoiberg, the first-year coach he has defended throughout the season.
"It's a new system, a totally new system," Gibson said. "And we got a bunch of young guys, new guys, and it's just completely different personnel. But like he said, we've got to look ourselves in the mirror, everybody has to be accountable. Like Jimmy [Butler] said before, nobody cares if you're hurt, nobody's going to care about anything. The only thing people are going to worry about is if you're on that court and you're doing your job. So we just got to do our job."
"At times, I think we lose track of what we're playing for," Gibson said. "We're not just playing for ourselves â we're playing for the city of Chicago, and we're playing to wear that ‘Bulls' across our chest. And it's frustrating because over the last couple years, we've just been one of those teams ... we took pride in everything we did."
That part about "completely different personnel" is hilariously inaccurate, but there is a lot of insight here about what this team's potential in-house problems are at this point in the season. Not only does it appear that the Bulls' players are still learning how to execute within Hoiberg's system, but it also would seem that there is no clear team objective with only eleven games remaining. While the former is forgivable for a first-year head coach, the latter is absolutely inexcusable for any professional team in any facet of life (sports, business, etc.) that wants to be successful. You can't go anywhere if you don't know where you're going. In that sense, this Bulls team is hopelessly lost right now.
One more thing, Butler offered this quick comment as well:
"We have to be able to flip the switch," Butler said. "I think we want to find ourselves in the playoffs. Yeah, it's frustrating. Most definitely. The majority of us haven't been in this position since we've been in the league. We've always been at the top of the Eastern Conference. Right now, it's a fight. But when it's a fight, I think everybody has to man up. We have to stay in this thing together."
Hmm, "flip the switch," eh? I think we have been over this before.