Bulls eager to get off on the right foot on final Circus Trip

Bulls eager to get off on the right foot on final Circus Trip

PORTLAND, Ore. — The dreaded “Circus Trip” is upon the Bulls: six games where players won’t have anyone but their teammates and coaches to see every day for the next week and a half.

Traditionally, the intangible goal is to develop some chemistry in closed quarters and hostile environments, with wins being hard to come by — especially on this five-game set out west before going to Philadelphia the day after Thanksgiving.

“Everyone has this longer road trip in the NBA. The Bulls have a cool name in the Circus Trip,” guard Dwyane Wade said after the morning shootaround before the Bulls' game against the Portland Trailblazers Tuesday. “The Heat didn’t have one. San Antonio got a cool name: the Rodeo Trip. The Clippers have the Grammy Trip. We didn’t have one in Miami. It’s the same thing. It’s good. It’s a time you get out here and you’re playing the best talent in the NBA in the Western Conference. You build confidence by being able to get wins out here.”

Finding wins against the likes of Portland, Utah, a better-than-expected Lakers team, a Clippers team that’s steamrolling everybody and the Denver Nuggets squad that gave the Trailblazers fits in Portland recently will be the toughest tests to date for a Bulls team that’s struggled on the road.

Wade called the offensively-potent backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum the second-best in the NBA behind Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Lillard is averaging over 30 a game and McCollum, last year’s Most Improved Player winner, is averaging over 22. That’s nearly half the Blazers’ scoring output, and with Rajon Rondo struggling defensively, it puts the spotlight on the perimeter defense.

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“When you have guys who put up 45 to 50-plus points, that’s tough,” Wade said. “That’s what you gotta worry about when you worry about them offensively. But then you have to worry about all the intangibles with the other guys who will give them other opportunities by rebounding and running the floor.”

In the Bulls’ losses, every one of them have come from slow starts in the first quarter. Considering Portland’s Moda Center is one of the better homecourt advantages in the league, along with the Blazers’ style of getting up shots early and often, it may not be long before Monday’s outcome is decided if the Bulls can’t handle the early onslaught.

“They’re a team that gets out of the gate very fast in this building, so we’ve got to do a good job executing our transition defense,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Just go out there and try and slow them down as much as possible, but you can’t get deflated if Lillard pulls up and hits a 35-footer coming down over half-court.”

“It’s just something you can’t put your head down, you gotta keep playing, and try and weather their spurts because they’re a team that once they get going they’re tough to slow down and stop.”

As for a goal on the trip, Wade said breaking even is the goal, as he’s stated going .500 on the road for the entire season is the starting point to become a good team.

“50. Always a success when you can break 50,” Wade said. “If you go 4-2, you’re good. You go 5-1, ooh. I always go with that mindset, ‘Hey, you go on a six-game trip and you go 3-3, it’s a solid trip for you.’ You go anything over that, it’s love.”

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.