NEW ORLEANS—The finality has set in for the Chicago Bulls, as they begin the short wind-down to an offseason that will officially begin Wednesday night around 10 p.m.
Derrick Rose will miss the final two games, along with Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and E’Twaun Moore, players who won’t risk further injury in the face of the meaningless final two games this season
“Kinda speechless,” Rose said. “But at the same time, we put ourselves in this position and as men we have to deal with it.”
Missing the playoffs in his first year as coach is something Fred Hoiberg knows he’ll have to face head-on, especially considering the Bulls have been annual participants since 2009—the second-longest streak in the Eastern Conference next to the Atlanta Hawks.
“The first person I’m looking at in this whole situation is me. I have to be better,” Hoiberg said. “I have to get our guys to play more consistent basketball.”
“It’s incredibly disappointing to find ourselves in this position. Looking back on the season, a lot of things contributed to us being in the spot we’re in: not taking advantage of a favorable schedule, not closing out games when we had great opportunities to do that.”
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Hoiberg has been in this situation before, when as a player with the Minnesota Timberwolves coming off a conference finals appearance in 2004, missed the playoffs in 2005. Head coach Flip Saunders was fired midseason that year and it started a downward spiral that led to the trade of former MVP Kevin Garnett in 2007 after three straight lottery appearances.
“There’s nothing worse than having high expectations and sitting around on the weekend and watching the NBA on ABC,” Hoiberg said. “It’s gonna be a painful offseason for a lot of us, especially me with the expectations that were there when I took over.”
Hoiberg disputed the expectations were too high considering how dependent the roster was on young players, but he hopes it’s a stepping stone for them and himself.
“I’m confident in my abilities. I’ve been in this league a long time,” he said. “I’ve been in this league 16 years, it’s a long time. My first as a coach. There’s things looking back I can do better and know I’ll do better. Learning opportunity for all of us. The guys are gonna be back in a Bulls uniform next year and all involved in the summer. Yeah, we’re gonna try to correct some things. It’ll be a big offseason for some of our guys and we’ll come back prepared.”
Beating up on the likes of the conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors with a 7-1 mark is offset by losing three of four to the New York Knicks and being swept by the equally lottery-bound Minnesota Timberwolves.
“Obviously it’s disappointing,” said Jimmy Butler, who will play against the Pelicans. “Only thing you can say is you gotta learn from it. We know what we were capable of this season. It didn’t happen. It is what it is now.”
Butler caught a late flight Sunday night because of a family issue, an excused absence according to Hoiberg. By the time he landed in New Orleans, the Bulls’ playoff fate had already been decided and he seemed resigned to the fact he likely saw this coming with the team’s inconsistencies.
“Yeah but if you don’t play as hard as you’re supposed to, it don’t matter,” Butler said after being asked if this team had enough talent to win. “Everybody has talent or you wouldn’t be in this league. It’s about coming out and competing, playing as hard as you can.”
It’s the first time Butler will miss the postseason, along with Gibson and Rose, with the latter being drafted after the last lottery season in 2008.
“I’m still giving my all to the team. I still believe we can win a championship,” Rose said. “We let things slip too early and it followed us through the entire year. Next year we gotta come in and this should be fuel to go into the offseason and come into the season with revenge on our minds.”