Bulls

Lottery reality setting in for Bulls, Hoiberg: 'I have to be better'

Lottery reality setting in for Bulls, Hoiberg: 'I have to be better'

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.”

[NBA BUZZ: Bulls failed their chemistry test in 2016]

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.”

[MORE: Phil Jackson, '96 Bulls congratulate Warriors on 72 wins]

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.”

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

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USA TODAY

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

If you haven't heard, Neil Funk is cutting 20 road games from his 2018-19 Bulls' play-by-play schedule.

Friday, the Bulls announced that Adam Amin, Andy Demetra and Kyle Draper will fill in for Funk for the first five of those games.

Amin, a play-by-play commentator for ESPN, will games on Oct. 22 against the Mavericks and Nov. 14 against the Celtics. He grew up in Addison, resides in Chicago and also does play-by-play for Bears preseason games.

Demetra is from Oak Brook and currently is the play-by-play broadcaster for Georgia Tech basketball and football. He will call games on Oct. 26 against the Hornets and Oct. 27 against the Hawks. He has previous play-by-play experience with the SEC Network, Pac-12 Network and Fox Sports South.

Draper will call the Bulls' Nov. 7 game against the Pelicans. He is the Celtics' pregame and postgame host for NBC Sports Boston and an occasional play-by-play annoucer and sideline reporter for the Celtics.

The Bulls said they will continue providing updates on substitute broadcasters as they are scheduled.

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

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USA TODAY

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

Finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference last season cost Stan Van Gundy his job as Pistons head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Van Gundy was replaced on the bench by 2017-18 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, who was fired after the Raptors were swept by Cleveland in the conference semi-finals.

Casey’s job in Detroit is to find a way to develop the young players on the roster while getting the team to the playoffs. He has a pair of All-Star caliber players in the front court, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, along with highly-paid, erratic point guard Reggie Jackson.

Griffin has battled injuries in recent seasons, but Van Gundy decided to roll the dice at mid-season a year ago by trading Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley AND a 1st round pick to the Clippers for the former slam dunk champion in a desperate bid to save his job. The trade didn’t work out for Van Gundy, but it’s possible Griffin could enjoy a resurgence in Detroit this season.

The 29-year-old power forward scored 26 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists in the Pistons’ 103-100 win over Brooklyn on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Drummond had a monster game with 24 points and 20 rebounds. As Bulls fans know all too well, Drummond has made the 20 rebound game commonplace when facing Fred Hoiberg’s squad in recent years.

As for Jackson, a severely sprained right ankle limited him to just 45 games last season, probably costing Detroit a chance to make the playoffs. The 8th year pro is lightning quick, with the ability to disrupt defenses by getting into the paint and challenging bigger defenders at the rim. Jackson scored 19 points in the season opener against Brooklyn, and he’ll be a problem for the Bulls Saturday night, especially if Kris Dunn is unavailable.

Casey is still trying to figure out how to use the rest of the roster Van Gundy built, with recent 1st round pick Henry Ellenson and former rotation player Jon Leuer getting DNP-CD’s against the Nets. Meanwhile, two other expected rotation players, small forward Stanley Johnson and swingman Reggie Bullock missed the opener because of injuries.

That left second year guard Luke Kennard and 2018 2nd round draft pick Bruce Brown as the other starters in game one, something that’s unlikely to continue once everyone’s healthy.

So, how do the Bulls even their record at 1-1 on Saturday? Here are my three keys:

1. Keep Drummond and Griffin off the offensive boards. This is much easier said than done. Drummond in particular is relentless going after missed shots, and his bulk will cause problems for 19 year old rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Hoiberg hinted at possible line-up changes on Friday morning, which could include starting veteran Robin Lopez at center to battle Drummond inside. Griffin has turned into more of a jump shooter now and doesn’t have the multiple jump capability that characterized his early seasons in the NBA, but he’s still a threat to create 2nd shot opportunities.

2. Close out on three-point shooters. Of all the defensive issues for the Bulls in Philadelphia on Thursday, losing touch with shooters in transition was probably the most troublesome. Robert Covington seemed to be open at the three-point line throughout the game, and Bulls players struggled to handle cross-match situations. Kennard had one of the best games of his rookie season against the Bulls, and Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway are all capable of heating up from long distance.

3. Attack Detroit’s interior defense. The Bulls were at their best offensively in the first quarter against Philadelphia when they drove to the basket to set up easy scoring chances. Zach LaVine was getting to the rim at will in scoring 15 of his 30 points in the opening 12 minutes, and his penetration also set up Bobby Portis for open looks from the three-point line. Hopefully, Dunn will return to stabilize the point guard position and give the Bulls' first unit another shot creator so they can sustain their pace and scoring potential over four quarters.

Saturday’s home opener is definitely winnable against a Detroit team still finding its way under a new coaching staff. Better effort and attention to detail on the defensive end along with a fast-paced, drive and kick offensive attack should make for an exciting opening night at the United Center.

Make sure to join Kendall Gill, Will Perdue, Kelly Crull and me for a special one hour edition of Bulls Pre-Game Live at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago and the new My Teams app, followed by the play by play call with Neil Funk and Stacey King at 7 p.m. And, stay tuned after the final buzzer for reaction and analysis on an expanded edition of Bulls Postgame Live.