Bulls

The Bulls go through a process of their own in loss to Embiid, Simmons, Sixers

The Bulls go through a process of their own in loss to Embiid, Simmons, Sixers

PHILADELPHIA—The Bulls were the lone team Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Joel Embiid hadn't played against in his four-year career, but Fred Hoiberg was acquainted with Embiid’s unique skill set from their collegiate days.

The two have taken disparate paths from Hoiberg’s days at Iowa State and Embiid’s lone season at Kansas, where Embiid’s raw game produced 16 points, nine rebounds and five blocks in 28 minutes in a close Kansas win in Ames in January 2014.

Hoiberg gushed in recalling that game from Embiid, saying “he whooped our (butts). The performance he put on in our building was one of the best college performances I’ve ever seen. He did everything.”

Hoiberg’s words could have applied to another physical unicorn of sorts in Embiid’s rookie teammate Ben Simmons, as he dominated the Bulls from soup to nuts in a 115-101 final at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Wednesday night.

Simmons was two assists short of a triple-double in the first half before finishing with 19 points, 17 rebounds and 14 assists, pacing the 76ers to a 25-point lead in the third quarter.

Without Kris Dunn as a physical deterrent, Simmons took advantage of an indifferent Bulls defense that was perhaps still lagging from a double-overtime loss to New Orleans 48 hours ago.

The Bulls removed Jerian Grant from the starting lineup to start the second half, going with David Nwaba to try to use a bigger defender on Simmons—Hoiberg believed Grant was a bit fatigued from playing 48 minutes Monday and perhaps it showed in Grant’s 1 of 6 shooting night.

Either way, there was no stopping Simmons, a player the Bulls will have to contend with for the next several years as he figures out his game to match Embiid’s.

“I mean he’s just really big, can get to the middle,” Zach LaVine said. “Dishes, and you just don’t know what he’s going to do, attempt to score. Very indecisive with that, but they have a tough combo with him and Embiid man. You gotta really help off Embiid and [Simmons] cuts to the hoop, facilitates, they’re good.”

Simmons’ eyes and darting passes led to 16 3-point makes from the 76ers, who shot at least 50 percent from the field and 3-point line in an all-around consistent performance.

Embiid didn’t leave Hoiberg gushing, but he inflicted damage with his maturing game, taking advantage of his quickness against Robin Lopez and anyone else who dared step in his way.

He scored an easy 22 points in 32 minutes, giving a small glimpse offensively why he’s so dangerous but covering enough ground defensively to have the Bulls looking over their shoulders on the rare occasion they ventured into the paint.

It led to a sputtering Bulls offense that hit just 38 percent from the field and under 30 percent from the 3-point line, as Hoiberg was frustrated with the shot selection after the slow start.

“I just didn’t think our toughness was there,” Hoiberg said. “And then it just kind of became a 'my turn' shot. A guy took a bad one and we said, ‘If he’s going to take a bad one, then I’m going to take a bad one.’”

Nikola Mirotic has always had the green light since his return, putting up 15 shots in 26 minutes. But Hoiberg didn’t seem pleased with the type of shots LaVine wound up with in his 24 minutes.

“The mid-range, contested pullups when he doesn’t retreat with his dribble and make a decisive move, that’s what we gotta get rid of,” Hoiberg said. “I saw some of that tonight.”

LaVine is walking the fine line between incorporating himself into the team’s free-flowing offense while also doing what he does best, creating his own shot with his quick first step.

It seems there’s a balance to be found with letting the game come to him and LaVine going out and getting it—especially as he operates under the current minute limits.

It’s a “process,” one would say.

“No doubt he can hit shots,” Hoiberg said. “Philadelphia’s a switch team, so he had a couple really good attacks on the switch. Last week he settled. It was good to see him get to the rim.”

LaVine scored a season-high 21 points, finding a rhythm in the second half, right behind Bobby Portis’ 22 points and 10 rebounds for team-high honors. He didn’t agree with Hoiberg’s ‘your turn, my turn’ assessment.

“I think just everybody was trying to help get back in it,” LaVine said. “I don’t think it was a selfish-type thing. It was more of things aren’t going the right way, I’m going to help dig us out of it, and it didn’t work.”

He admitted, though, the slow start isn’t something the Bulls can afford at this stage. Usually, they’ve been the aggressors early on in the last several weeks.

“We just didn’t come out the right way,” LaVine said. “Didn’t knock down shots at first, that didn’t help, but I just felt like we had that type of juice that we usually come out of the game with. We’re not good enough to come out and mess around like that, so we gotta bring that energy every time.”

One thing LaVine, Hoiberg and anybody watching the Bulls will agree on, the mismatched lineups and lack of overall continuity won’t be aided on nights when effort is a concern.

“We really aren’t to that point where we can turn it on at any time,” LaVine said. “We haven’t even gelled that much together as a team yet, so regardless, we’ve gotta go out there and play for one another, and compete.”

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

The door has officially been closed on the 2017-18 season for the Chicago Bulls, and the word that most comes to mind is “unfulfilling.”

Or maybe even “indistinguishable.”

Draft night was supposed to be a culmination of a painful seven-month stretch that only had occasional yet costly moments of light.

Death lineup? Meet Death March. And Death April, while we’re at it.

The Bulls brass sold everyone on a full rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler one year ago, with an unspoken promise that this draft would bear franchise-changing fruit—hence the general feeling of angst or even indifference with the solid selection of Wendell Carter Jr. and their not-so-secret affection of Chandler Hutchison.

It was why fans believe the Bulls got cold feet about trading to move up, and why they believe the Bulls weren’t being pragmatic in staying away from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter, some believe, has star written all over him given his prep ranking this time last year and the Bulls were in position to speed up this process without having to go into a painful Process.

They were desperate for a star, believing the tankathon had produced so much suffering it had to be something on the back end.

There was the fight (or the punch).

The aftermath.

The miserable 3-20 start.

The 14-7 streak that produced the audacity of hope.

The reality that 14-7 was damaging enough to the lottery chances that a 3-11 finish couldn’t rectify.

And finally, the coin flip that cost them five spots in the lottery one month ago.

So that empty feeling has less to do with Carter and Hutchison, who’ve done nothing to earn the “blah” reaction from the fan base and some media. It has everything to do with the unanswered questions over the last 82 games and lack of clarity over the three hauls from draft night last year.

It’s not that Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn underperformed individually last season, but the lack of cohesiveness due to injuries and circumstances has led to the varying thoughts.

LaVine is approaching restricted free agency and by all accounts is taking his continuing rehab in Washington very seriously.  Markkanen has added plenty of muscle since the offseason began, appearing as if he can play Michael B. Jordan’s in-ring foil in the next installation of “Creed” as Ivan Drago’s long lost son.

And despite the report about Dunn not working as hard on the floor this offseason, that would be more of a concern if this were late August, not June.

The last time they were seen together on the floor, they looked no closer to a pecking order than the day they arrived.

What we know is that they’re productive NBA players, capable of putting an individual tattoo on a game at a moment’s notice, skillful enough to take your breath away.

And for whatever reason, the expectations changed once the three displayed they could be dynamic on their own—a star needed to be anointed and groomed to go with the star they believed was coming their way after the season.

Management is fully behind Markkanen, but Paxson’s strong words about LaVine at the season-ending news conference illustrated how much it feels LaVine has to prove next season.

With his restricted free agency status looming, the Bulls’ initial offer will show how much they value him until and if he gets a better deal on the market.

And the fact the Bulls weren’t afraid to draft Trae Young while having a healthy debate about Collin Sexton on draft night has to show they have at least some skepticism about the future at point guard.

But stars—developing stars, acquired stars, drafted stars—have to do it on their own. No amount of promotion or prodding from management will validate their faith, if that’s the route the Bulls choose to go.

This has to be a meritocracy or it won’t work and, honestly, it’s time for a reality check.

All the worry about the Bulls getting back to title contention sooner rather than later seems like folks getting ahead of themselves.

The front office has taken its share of shots from media and fans, so some questioning is earned but they’re right about one thing. Rebuilds aren’t completed in a day or 12 months.

Expecting some magic potion to arrive in the form of a top draft pick isn’t going to cure what ills this roster, and it doesn’t seem likely all the cap space will result in a free agent choosing the Bulls over the usual suspects.

However, methodical building can look like complacency if not done with a sense of urgency.

And with urgency in mind, this past season was unsatisfying to say the least—heading into the next phase with two more young pieces to develop while the first three are still in the evaluation stage.

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Donte Ingram's 2018 keeps getting better and better.

The March Madness hero, who buried a game-winning 3-pointer in the first round of Loyola's win over Miami, will play on the Bulls' Summer League team.

Ingram, a Simeon Academy graduate, had himself an incredible senior season with the Ramblers, who advanced all the way to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.

In five NCAA Tournament games Ingram averaged 7.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists for the Ramblers. He also had 18 points in the MVC Conference Championship Game to secure the Ramblers' March Madness berth.

He'll join first-round draft picks Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison on the Las Vegas Summer League team, which will begin play early next month.