There’s been a lot of talk and rhetoric in this underwhelming Bulls’ season to date, but perhaps there hasn’t been enough honest and raw communication between the principle parties as things have gone south.
To that end, there was a team meeting before Sunday morning’s practice, following their third straight loss to a sub .500 team, the latest a drubbing at the hands of the Orlando Magic.
There didn’t appear to be any furniture moving or expletive-filled rants by the coaching staff or the players, which one can interpret myriad ways.
“We did get together and talk. That was a big part of what today was about, getting in there and talking about some things and hopefully airing some things out,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We came out and competed. We got after it in practice, not for long stretches because of our upcoming schedule. But I thought it was a productive day.”
As for the meeting, it seemed to have a measured tone, not necessarily one where guys got after each other for mishaps and mistakes, but presumably there was an air of responsibility for the current state of affairs.
“I don’t know about angry. I think just disappointed,” forward Mike Dunleavy said. “I think we feel like we can play better and win more games. I don’t think we’re a 60-win team or anything, but I think we should have some more wins right now, and probably be in a better position to get into the playoffs. But we are where we are, and we’ve got to make the most of it.”
Hoiberg termed the meeting “productive”, but with the schedule turning more treacherous and the Bulls having squandered a huge opportunity to close the gap on Detroit and Indiana, one has to wonder if it’s too little, too late.
“As always happens in those type of meetings, yeah,” said Hoiberg when asked if voices were raised. “You talk about things and obviously we have a lot to correct right now. We had a three-game win streak and the last three have been very poor performances by our team to say the least. I think it had to be done. And again, I thought it was productive.”
With games against an Atlanta team that has stymied the Bulls all season, the Indiana Pacers, Houston Rockets and Detroit Pistons this week, things had better shape up in a hurry.
Hoiberg openly wondered after the Bulls’ 111-89 loss to the Magic if his message to the team was getting lost, and had to answer the worst question a coach can ever be asked: if his team has quit.
Even the question being asked is an indictment, and responsibility is likely shared between the players and coaches.
“It’s both. It’s two-way. It’s what communication is all about,” Dunleavy said. “They have to find a way for us to do it, but we as players have to take a collective responsibility and get it done. And that’s what we’re searching for right now.”
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Dunleavy said the team feels as if it's being prepared properly by the coaching staff strategically, but clearly something is going wrong early. Although it’s been a problem over the last three months, it’s been more noticeable in the last three games where the Bulls have been outscored by an average of eight points and giving up an average of 32 points in first quarters.
“I just think we’ve had some issues with carrying out that game plan,” Dunleavy said. “And so maybe we need to be more thorough about it, maybe we need to give guys less freedom in terms of what they’re able to do.”
Freedom has been one of the magic tenets of Hoiberg’s tenure, and Dunleavy’s statement indicates there could’ve been some liberties taken by this team in its newfound freedom this season, to disastrous results.
Stating “I just don’t think we’re good enough,” was also a nod to the expectations that the Bulls have come up short in this season, as many expected them to challenge the Cavaliers for supremacy — now, they’re fighting for their playoff life, leaving many to wonder if they possess a pulse.
“It’s a do or die week for us,” he said. “We just lost three tough games in a row to teams we expected to beat, but that can turn quickly. You can win three in a row just as easily as you can lose three. It all starts tomorrow night for us.’’