Billy Donovan is screwing this up.
Yes, my mindset is probably annoying and against the fiber of any coach’s being or whatever, but Donovan really should’ve been punting these regular season games for a while now, and certainly before last night.
Instead, Zach LaVine (and to a lesser damaging degree, DeMar DeRozan) played against the Hornets...and while thankfully nobody got hurt (and Alex Caruso was held out) the team looked like total garbage again.
I suppose this is a bit worse than the last 2 blowout losses as the Charlotte Hornets are far from the elite tier.
But this really made no difference. And the players obviously knew it.
I also knew it, and personally gave the proper amount of attention to last night’s performance. But the beat writers, whose attendance is compulsory, looked to be trying to justify that mere requirement to give more weight to it:
“dispiriting” - Cody Westerlund, CBS Radio Chicago
“look ready for summer vacation” - Darnell Mayberry, The Athletic
“duurr dawgs durrrr” - Joe Cowley, Chicago Sun-Times (yes, he’s still working there (?!?) and out of Twitter Jail)
(our own Jason Patt was also inappropriately dismayed, invoking Boylen era shit?!?)
The fans, who paid to go, justifiably booed what was on the court. But I don’t even think they believe that it means they’re less likely to pull off a first-round upset than they were a week ago.
If you do feel this way, I implore you: these games mean nothing. If the Bulls had an inverse performance where they looked great and blew out the Hornets, it also would not have been ‘spiriting’.
The inherent flaws and health issues with this roster have persisted the entire second half of the season. In the mess that is April Regular Season Basketball, those flaws have not gotten worse and was not going to get better. If Patrick Williams and Coby White’s confidence is so fickle that they are more likely to be better in the playoffs because of a shooting performance over the final week , then 1) that reveals worse underlying issues and 2) it could’ve been achieved in games where the stars rested anyway.
Billy Donovan’s mindset - and again, I recognize this is just a coach-y way to be - has hopefully made no difference. Because if it did make an impact, it has only been a negative one. Instead of prioritizing what should be the most important and controllable element for this team, health, he instead thought it was important to establish a ‘rhythm’ and (I guess) build confidence heading into the postseason after a week-long break.
So now he’s place undue importance to these games, and since his team has shit the bed he now has to sound disappointed and even point the finger at himself.
But I think the players know better. They’re saying the right things in terms of being disappointed and frustrated and whatever, but what they’ve shown on the court indicates otherwise.
Zach LaVine, who had a very good response to the boo-ing, even further played into being gritty (which is even more admirable coming from him given he’ll never get the credit Caruso does for the same thing) heading into the regular season finale:
Zach LaVine will evaluate Saturday whether he'll play in #Bulls' regular-season finale Sunday.— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) April 9, 2022
He admitted he's been playing injured. LaVine was then asked why he would play given Bulls are locked as No. 6 seed.
"I love basketball," LaVine says.
Well sure, being a high-level basketball player probably is a lot of fun in glorified pick-up games!
I clipped this one earlier, but still dumbfounded how a pro-team can let something so basic like this happen.— Mark K (@mkhoops) April 9, 2022
Amateur hour. pic.twitter.com/D9vCpzwcXN
These guys aren’t dumb, and yes while they clearly weren’t motivated by Donovan I don’t think that’s Donovan’s fault. They knew once the team was guaranteed out of the play-in that the rest of the games didn’t matter. Heck they’ve been told all season that all games Alex Caruso misses are null and void, now they’re supposed to give their best when he’s out and their playoff spot is locked in?
I suppose one could say these games just further indicate that the Bulls can’t really afford to play with marginally less effort. But we knew that already: they just aren’t that good. The playoffs will reveal just how far below the top 4 teams they are, and if LaVine, Caruso, and the others merely nursing the usual maladies that occur over a gruelingly-long NBA season are more healthy, that does a lot more for their chances than whatever they would’ve shown the past few games.