Bulls

Plenty of shoulda, woulda, coulda in Jabari Parker's return to Chicago

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USA TODAY

Plenty of shoulda, woulda, coulda in Jabari Parker's return to Chicago

Jabari Parker’s homecoming to Chicago was supposed to be a feel-good story. When the 23-year-old preps legend inked a two-year, $40 million with the team he grew up cheering for, the prevailing thought was that Parker was an odd fit but someone with the offensive versatility to make it work. It helped, too, that the Bulls were rebuilding, giving Parker a low-expectation chance to turn around his career after an unceremonious exit in Milwaukee.

Instead Parker’s time with the Bulls was a mess on both ends from the moment he arrived at training camp overweight to Wednesday, when the Bulls shipped him to Washington after 28 painful, inconsistent games. Parker was back at the United Center for the first time as a visitor this season and gave a glimpse – both on and off the court – of what could have been in Chicago.

“I’m happy, I would say,” Parker said prior to the Wizards’ 134-125 win over the Bulls. “I haven’t smiled in a while, but it’s great.”

An upbeat Parker was a rarity during his nearly seven-month stay in his hometown. It was ironic that Parker was playing arguably his best basketball when the Bulls dealt him and Bobby Portis to Washington for small forward Otto Porter Jr. In eight games leading up to his eventual trade he was averaging 13.8 points on 62 percent shooting and 4.4 rebounds in just 17.6 minutes.

But those minutes were more of a result to continued Bulls injuries and an attempt to improve his draft stock than his standing with the team. His removal from the rotation just four games into Jim Boylen’s tenure was just the beginning of what became a strained relationship between someone Parker had previously gotten along with.

“It was a total 180,” Parker said of his relationship with Boylen the head coach. “At that point (with Boylen the assistant), we never had controversy. I always had his back, you know, with things that we had in-house problems with. Always had his back, always had everybody’s back.

“Just to see that relationship go sour, not from my end but from his end, was just bad. Because you trust the guy. He says all the things. I understand it’s his decisions and whatever. But it was just hard because of the relationship that we had going into it when he was a head coach.”

Parker said he doesn’t regret the time he spent in Chicago this season for more reasons than the $20 million they gave him without much competition for his services in July. He cited a group of teammates he enjoyed playing with – and the sentiment in the Bulls locker room has been reciprocated – and inner growth and development during the trying times he experienced for most of his stay. Parker said “of course” he would sign with the Bulls if he were able to do it all over again and that the sour ending won’t change his roots.

“I’m still from the city. I’m still from Chicago. So I’m always going to come back,” he said. “That doesn’t change as much. I’m rooted here. I don’t forget where I come from. If it was meant to be, it was meant to be. If it wasn’t meant to be, then, hey, that’s OK. No love lost.”

He's hoping his tryout in Washington fares better. It’s an almost guarantee the Wizards won’t pick up his $20 million player option next season, so Parker’s final 28 minutes are just as much an audition for 29 other teams looking at the free agent-to-be.

And he’s off to a good start. After a near triple-double on Friday a clearly motivated Parker lived at the rim, dunking a career-high six times, including a thunderous left-handed slam over Lauri Markkanen in the second quarter.

He pushed the ball in transition – the one thing he consistently did well in Chicago – and dished out four more assists; it was his second straight game with six or more assists for the Wizards, something he accomplished twice in 40 games for the Bulls.

He hit a turnaround jumper early in the fourth quarter and shouted at the Bulls bench while backpedaling down the court. For the usually reserved Parker it was a rare show of emotion, something clearly made easier on a 20-point night against your former team. A rejuvenated Parker looked good playing long stretches, something he also struggled with in Chicago, and even made a few nice defensive stops

Parker was everything on Saturday night that he could have been in Chicago. Both parties were certainly at fault in a marriage that was doomed from the moment he arrived. But for one night the hometown kid was back in Chicago and smiling, ready for a fresh start after turbulent endings in Milwaukee and Chicago.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Parker said of his opportunity in Washington. “That’s all I can do right now and that’s how I’ve been doing it so far with the situation, just looking forward and keep improving. That’s where I’m at.”

Even in victory, Bulls know they can be more consistent

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USA Today

Even in victory, Bulls know they can be more consistent

The Bulls authored their 106-99 victory over the Grizzlies Wednesday night in quintessential 2019-20 Bulls fashion.

They started scalding hot — scoring 13 of the game’s first 15 points. Then, a lull: They led only 24-20 with 1.5 seconds left in the first quarter before a Ryan Arcidiacono three pushed that advantage to seven.

The bench rode that wave to a 16-4 burst to open the second, and the lead soon ballooned to 50-28 — a 22-point advantage. Ahead 50-35 at the half, the Bulls were 19-for-41 (46.3%) from the field and 8-for-18 (44.4%) from 3-point range. The Grizzlies: 14-for-49 (28.6%) shooting and a mind-bending (for 2019, at least) 0-for-15 on 3-pointers.

For a team in the Bulls that’s six games below .500 and still underperforming relative to expectations, these types of spurts aren’t foreign. Nor are extended stretches of sound, swarming defense that drive opponents to stagnation.

Unfortunately, neither is what came next.

It didn’t happen lineally. There was no pinpointable avalanche of jumpshots or careless turnovers that swung the game. The Grizzlies just chipped away, cutting their deficit to as few as six points in the third quarter, then to one point on the heels of a deliberate, nearly-eight minute long 23-9 fourth-quarter run. When Jae Crowder capped that tear with a 3-pointer to pull the Grizzlies within 88-87 with 4 minutes, 29 seconds remaining in the game, the United Center let out a collective sigh — fans and players alike. It was familiar. 

To that point in the second half, the Bulls were shooting 10-for-31 (32.3%) from the field and 2-for-12 (16.7%) from three. The Grizzlies were 18-for-35 (51.4%), 5-for-10 (50%) from distance. In spite of the Bulls never trailing, it felt as though the contest had flipped completely on its head.

“I thought we started the game with the appropriate mindset, got off to a good start,” Jim Boylen said after the game. “What we're hoping to get is more consistency… We at times struggle with that. We play good basketball eight, twelve, fifteen minutes, and then we play five minutes of poor basketball and the game flips. Now, we gotta get back, re-engage, and play good basketball again. We're learning how to do that.”

Of course, the momentum eventually swung back in the Bulls’ favor permanently. Thank Zach LaVine for that. After the timeout that Boylen called following the Crowder three, LaVine was at least partially responsible — via made basket or assist — for the next 13 Bulls points. In the final four-and-a-half minutes of the game, the Bulls canned three triples and missed only one shot.

“We made big plays down the stretch, kept our composure,” LaVine said. “[Early on] we came out and played the right way, and then teams are gonna make their little runs here and there. I think we didn’t do a good job of keeping them down by 20… But we ended the game on a high note and that’s the best thing we can do.”

Forgive a moment of contrivance, but for the Bulls, this game felt microcosmic. The flashes were there of a crisp, movement-based offense and high-intensity, impact defense, but their inability to string 48 consistent minutes together will, to some, sour what was a solid overall performance. LaVine, an offensive revelation of late, rushing to the rescue was befitting, as well. 

It was the same story in Sacramento, where the Bulls led by as many as 19, but needed late-game heroics from LaVine and Lauri Markkanen to cling to a victory over a below-.500 team (missing its two best players). It happened — twice — in Charlotte, the first time resulting in a blown 10-point fourth quarter lead, the second an impossibly infernic comeback win that was as exhilarating as it was unsustainable.

“I don't feel a big-time shift, because I still know that we're in the right place,” LaVine said when asked if he feels the team’s energy or confidence wanes during dry spells, both offensively and defensively. “I just wish we could cut it off sooner. And we could make in-game adjustments better, and I'm not just saying coaching stuff, like, us too.” 

But what’s a team to do, then, when the lid on the basket closes? There are differing schools of thought, though no one in the locker room was resigned to a team-wide fate of perpetual inconsistency. LaVine offered something of a solution.

“I think getting to the foul line has been big, because that'll almost — not bail you out — but you can make an aggressive play,” LaVine, who has attempted 10 or more free throws in his last three games, said. “You still gotta stay aggressive, you still gotta take those shots if they're open. We gotta run our offense because at times it works really well.”

Thad Young was also candid, saying he thinks the Bulls’ current conundrum is in some ways a repercussion of attempting to blend into the break-neck paced, 3-point-happy style of play that’s en vogue in the NBA.

“When you're up 20 it's hard to win games, simply because of the fact that you have certain teams that just don't give up. And then you're trying to control pace as opposed to playing as fast as you were before. And sometimes that hurts you,” Young said. “When you're trying to slow it down, the other team tends to pick it up and gain confidence.

It stands to reason that the Bulls — notorious for generating turnovers and creating offense in transition — would be uniquely impacted by this. Boylen stressed that they’re continuing to learn and grow. 

"Just get back to what we were doing that got us to that point," Young said on the mentality of perservering through those tough stretches. Markkanen, among others, consistently preaches never getting too high or too low, in victory or defeat.

Bigger picture, the offensive metrics haven’t turned around yet (the Bulls remain 29th in offensive rating — 27th since LaVine’s 49-point outing in Charlotte — and a bottom-eight 3-point shooting team), but the win-loss record is beginning to. However, the Bulls are doing it, they’re winning, and that’s worth celebrating, for the time being. It allows the team to hone in on areas of inconsistency from a position of assurance.

“I don't feel a lack of energy or confidence,” LaVine said, on when times get the toughest. 

“We just gotta continue to be aggressive and put the ball in the right players' hands and make plays.”

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine closes out Bulls win vs Grizzlies Bulls Outsiders

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine closes out Bulls win vs Grizzlies Bulls Outsiders

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 106-99 win over the Grizzlies.

0:45 - On the Bulls first win streak of the season

2:20 - On Zach LaVine taking over as the team’s closer

5:25 - Viewer comment on Lauri Markkanen being on his way back; discussion on Lauri minutes

10:45 - On Denzel Valentine contributing in meaningful minutes

13:05 - Viewer comment with a different Portillos giveaway suggestion

13:50 - Viewer comment on Satoransky

16:20 - Thoughts on Bulls very blue city edition jerseys

18:30 - Our nightly ‘John makes Big Dave laugh really hard’ moment

19:25 - Viewer comment on concerns over Coby White

21:20 - Viewer comment on Matt breaking multiple mics

22:30 - Viewer comment on Dunn’s defense vs LaVine’s offense

24:15 - On Lebron James not getting called for an obvious travel

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Outsiders

Subscribe:

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.