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All the Bulls did this past weekend was hurt their chances at future contention
a minor, but still real, miscalculation of goals
The Bulls are locked in to the 10th seed for this year’s play-in tournament, but they were already that way before the season’s final two games.
The Bulls played those games, and won them both. Those results had an adverse affect on their lottery odds (provided they don’t win two play-in games and make the playoffs) and thus chances of not sending that First Round Pick to the Magic.
Finishing the season at 40-42 (I’d say hitting 40 wins could be some arbitrary benchmark to be spun by the front office, but that was more of a Gar Forman thing, AK instead goes by more nebulous assessments), the Bulls tied in record with the Thunder and were 2 games ‘behind’ the Mavs, and now the odds of landing in the top-4 are set at 8%.
There are several reasons why this isn’t a big deal. The final two games were against:
The aforementioned Mavs team, which had such an even-clearer incentive to lose and executed so shamelessly that they’re being investigated by the league.
The Detroit Pistons, who finished with the worst record in the league by five games and their coach announced he quit right after the buzzer.
So, in all likelihood, the Bulls were going to win these two games no matter what they did.
But what is a bigger deal is that it doesn’t appear there was even a consideration to plan big-picture, from the people in charge of thinking beyond the next game.
While Billy Donovan and the Bulls performed some half-measures in resting some players for one of the games (or one of the halves of a game), there clearly wasn’t any kind of influence from the front office to do more by doing less.
Every quote from Donovan regarding his strategy cited a desire to maintain ‘rhythm’ and how important that was. That all makes sense…from the perspective of a head coach. And more precisely from such a player-friendly coach, as Donovan also mentioned his players had some say in the matter, and players usually want to play. Particularly Nikola Vucevic, who achieved a personal goal of playing in all 82 games this season.
And all these quotes implied that Donovan had full autonomy (with the medical staff) in this decision. So of course he was going to go with that ‘more games = good and important’ mindset, the concern is why was he making the call from entirely that micro context?
The other implication we have that the Bulls front office didn’t step in and try to influence this decision comes from what we’ve seen out of them the past couple seasons. They simply haven’t done much and are fairly ineffectual in all matters, plus compared to other organizations give a lot of power and responsibility to their head coach. So it follows that they wouldn’t step in here.
What a right-thinking organization would do is tell Donovan to rest guys. They had plausible deniability, unlike the Mavs, in that their play-in seed was already locked up. Heck, they even had nagging injuries to consider with LaVine, DeRozan, and especially Alex Caruso (Donovan should’ve absolutely been overruled on that decision at least). They could say they wanted to get a longer look at young players under contract for next year like Dalen Terry, who was in the rotation for these final two games but only played 15 and 16 minutes.
I’m not suggesting that the front office would dictate this without negotiation. Like, sure, Vuc, you can get your 82 games by playing 6 minutes. But no, Billy and Zach+DaMar, ‘rhythm’ is not maintained in playing garbage minutes, just run around the gym a bit if you need to stay in shape.
Nothing was crucially harmed. The Bulls have slightly lower odds and were probably going to win those games regardless of what they did (would’ve been fun to see 40 minutes of Marko try, though!). The rotation players escaped injury, outside of Patrick Williams receiving stitches after a collision in the Mavs game, and the team is at full strength with a couple rest days before the play-in in Toronto on Wednesday night.
But the process shown here when deciding who to play in these meaningless games was poor, and left us with the existential question of this front office (and we had it with GarPax, too): are they unambitious at what they want to achieve? Or merely bad at their jobs?
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