Bulls, Fred Hoiberg try to hit reset button

Bulls, Fred Hoiberg try to hit reset button

Remember the fun-loving, fast-paced Chicago Bulls that smiled, threw alley-oops and told anybody who was listening how much they liked each other?

It sounds like that was the message from Fred Hoiberg at Sunday’s practice, along with some harsh truths of a film session that showed the raw, ugly footage of three straight bad losses.

"I talked to them about this – right now, it’s a drag" Hoiberg said. "You look out there, our body language, our inability to fight through adversity these last couple games – going back to what made us successful early in the season, that was a confident basketball team that was having fun out there. This game is hard to play when it’s a drag."

The only solace the Bulls can take is that the Eastern Conference aside from Cleveland and Toronto hasn’t established much consistency, as the third through 10th spots are separated by two games.

The Bulls, many thought, were poised to elevate themselves over the muck of the rest of the conference. It hasn’t happened just yet and there’s no sign it will occur.

"The big thing we had early was just the swagger we were playing with, the confidence we were going out and playing with, getting down the floor and throwing lobs," Hoiberg said. "It was fun."

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

The Bulls’ offense has dragged along, the defense has been a step slow and the Bulls have had their doors blown off in the last 10 quarters, dating back to their 21-point lead over the Minnesota Timberwolves that evaporated in the last three minutes of the second quarter.

"You wake up this morning and it was 25 below, you get your butts handed to you a couple days in a row, you got to come in here and find a way to reverse that," Hoiberg said. "Again, hopefully today we made some steps in the right direction."

The steps apparently included doing training camp activities, and trying to increase the competition in the two-hour session.

"We did a lot of the same drills," Doug McDermott said. "We got up and down quite a bit, scrimmaged more than we have all year. I think it was really good for us. It was competitive, guys were getting after it."

McDermott said Dwyane Wade spoke up in the film session, telling his team they are just 26 games into it, with plenty of basketball left before April.

"He's been through tough seasons, he's been through championship seasons," McDermott said. "There's still a lot of basketball to be played. You can't hang your head. Nobody's going to feel sorry for us in this league. You have to continue to work and good things can happen."

It’s not just work that will fix the Bulls’ myriad problems. McDermott said Hoiberg put in some new actions that will hopefully add some spice to a dull offense devoid of perimeter shooting.

The fourth quarter numbers were already ugly even through some of the Bulls’ inspiring wins, but now its permeated to the other three quarters and it’s made life almost wholly dependent on Wade and Jimmy Butler to produce.

"I need to shoot threes and trust myself and they'll fall," McDermott said. "I think Rondo's been doing a great job of finding me. We put in some stuff today that really god the ball moving, and I think there will be more opportunities for me and guys like Niko (Mirotic) and Isaiah (Canaan) and our other three-point shooters to get looks. They're going to start falling."

As Bulls prepare for workouts, new management regime headed to Chicago

As Bulls prepare for workouts, new management regime headed to Chicago

For two men who refer to themselves as gym rats, this has been an odd time for Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley.

Hired as the respective executive vice president and general manager to lead the Bulls out of their rebuild and into a more modern NBA, they haven’t even been able to travel to Chicago because of the global pandemic.

That’s about to change.

Karnisovas and Eversley, who have been working remotely daily and diving deep into evaluation of all things Bulls, are scheduled to travel to Chicago in the near future, according to a team spokesperson. Their arrival coincides with a phased re-opening of the Advocate Center, which the Bulls have advanced in conjunction with state and local government officials and infectious disease specialists at Rush University Medical Center.

In compliance with NBA guidelines, the Bulls opened the Advocate Center for players seeking treatment and medical issues. Lauri Markkanen, who recently from a pelvis ailment four games before the league's hiatus, and Kris Dunn, who sprained his MCL Feb. 1, have utilized the facility for treatment purposes.

Voluntary, socially distanced workouts with coaches are scheduled to begin Wednesday, which is when Mayor Lightfoot has said Chicago will enter “Phase 3” of a five-stage plan to re-open the city.

Gov. Pritzker moved the state of Illinois to “Phase 3” on Friday. The Bulls have been in talks with officials at both the state and local levels to follow safety guidelines.

“We are supportive of the Mayor’s decision and are aligning our plans with the directive of her office,” a team spokesperson said.

Few players are currently in the Chicago area. With the league set to have a conference call with team owners on Friday to continue discussing return-to-play plans, the Bulls could have clarity next week on whether they’ll be invited to the league’s restart in Orlando.

Either way, those players who want to will be able to work out with coaches at the Advocate Center starting Wednesday. The Advocate Center remains closed to non-essential staff and media until further notice.

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Why the Bulls are better off not being invited to the NBA bubble

Why the Bulls are better off not being invited to the NBA bubble

Coby White could deliver some mojo again. Otto Porter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen could continue their progress after returning from injuries. Zach LaVine, well, could be Zach LaVine.

There would certainly be basketball-related benefits if the Bulls wind up one of the teams invited to conclude the NBA’s 2019-20 season in Orlando, Fla.

Having the new management regime watch players in live action and avoiding a nine-month layoff between games should the league begin the 2020-21 season on Christmas Day (as the current scuttlebutt says), represent a few.

But all those positives pale to one significant potential drawback, safety concerns (of which there are many) aside: jeopardizing the Bulls’ draft lottery position.

With the league set for another Board of Governors call on Friday as it nears proposing a suggested return-to-play policy, finalizing the format for the draft lottery is one of many fluid situations. Nothing is yet guaranteed other than — bad joke alert — the Bulls drafting seventh.

Indeed, when COVID-19 shut down the sports world in mid-March, the Bulls ranked seventh in the draft lottery standings. That translates to a 32 percent chance at a top-four pick and a 7.5 percent chance at the No. 1 pick. 

And while that doesn’t translate to a 100 percent chance at the seventh pick… Man. That the Bulls currently sit No. 7 — where they have drafted White, Wendell Carter Jr. and acquired the rights to Markkanen over the last three drafts — feels twistedly poetic.

Simply put, weak draft or not, a higher pick is more beneficial to the new front office regime than some fluky playoff run. Sorry, Jim Boylen.

Think about it: Say the league invites the top 24 teams to Orlando and the Bulls, currently 12th in the Eastern Conference, make the trip. The best case scenario? The Bulls get hot, build up a bit of good will and, who knows, maybe even advance a round. But their long-term fates don’t change. And if the NBA eventually models a revised lottery formula for this season in a manner similar to the NHL — which awards lottery odds to teams excluded from their play-in round, and teams that are eliminated in the play-in round, regardless of regular season standing — it could hurt their chances at a higher pick significantly, if not erase them entirely.

To be clear, there is currently no indication of the NBA molding its own lottery formula after the NHL’s. In fact, there is nothing concrete on that front to report at all. 

Still, for a team mired in a rebuild that needs to maximize its assets, the above would not be a good development.

And all of that’s without mentioning the flipside of a potential trip to Disney World for the Bulls. What if more than a month of potentially high-risk travel and training to retake the floor results in a quick flameout — or merely a handful of meaningless regular season games? Any evaluation that could be conducted over that period, which would be colored by the unprecedented circumstances at hand, simply isn’t worth the cost.

So be careful what you wish for, Bulls fans. Yes, everybody is starved for basketball. And, yes, the Bulls were supposed to be done tanking a while ago.

But this is one time when not getting invited to the party could be a good thing.

RELATED: Where the Bulls stand in each of the NBA’s reported resumption plans 

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