Taj Gibson's injury the latest test of strategy and resolve for Bulls


Taj Gibson's injury the latest test of strategy and resolve for Bulls

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Playing small was supposed to be an option for the Bulls this season, looking at the bevy of bigs, the talented players whose depth could absorb an injury or two.

But three?

Taj Gibson limping to the locker room in the second quarter of the Bulls' 117-96 loss to the Washington Wizards with a tight right hamstring probably produced a feeling of “Why us?” or “What else can happen?” followed by “Wait ... don’t answer that.”

“Tight, tight hamstring. Frustrating,” Gibson said. “Tried to go out there and give it a go. Gotta listen to your body on this one.”

There’s no formula that can produce healthy bodies, but Gibson’s injury — one that Fred Hoiberg said “doesn’t look good” for Thursday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets, just adds to the ledger of talented souls unable to perform.

“We have to evaluate it,” Gibson said. “I understand the playoff race is close. Everybody, I feel, something positive coming. I don’t know, how many days it’ll take. We have to re-evaluate it. I try to be there for the guys. It was frustrating early.”

[MORE BULLS: John Wall has a triple-double as Wizards embarrass Bulls in D.C.]

Hoiberg said: “We’ll evaluate him in the morning and see if we need to do a further test on him to see how severe it is.”

The word “severe” probably sends a chill down everyone’s spine, but it’s the state of affairs and has been for quite some time.

Pau Gasol is likely out with swelling in his right knee. Joakim Noah is out for the season. Gibson, playing center mind you, watched as Cristiano Felicio and Bobby Portis had to man the middle.

Felicio spent time in the D-League, and Portis is a wide-eyed, green rookie. Not the desired tandem you’d like to have coming into a crucial stretch of four straight games at home as playoff implications increase the closer the calendar gets to April 14.

“Small ball,” said Derrick Rose of a possible solution. “The guys that come in have to do their job. We know that we want to be in the playoffs, and we have to take it one game at a time and have to find ways to manipulate the game.”

Doug McDermott played power forward in the summer league, but The Show isn’t July basketball in Las Vegas.

Then again, what else can Hoiberg do?

“I think it’ll be a comfortable role for me, especially tonight (Jared) Dudley was at the four and (Otto) Porter,” said McDermott of the Wizards’ players who are small forwards by trade. “I can guard them, they’re not big and strong. But I think it could be good for us, especially on offense. Spread the floor a little more. They’re gonna switch a lot of screens with me, so Aaron (Brooks) or E’Twaun (Moore) or Derrick, a big guarding them so it can be really effective.

“I think Jimmy’s capable of playing the four, too. Him trailing the floor is pretty dangerous. We gotta get used to it. We have a lot of injuries, guys aren’t used to playing with each other.”

[SHOP BULLS: Get your Bulls gear right here]

The other end of the floor is where things are already dicey, as the Bulls have given up track-meet point totals since January, a festival of easy layups, drive-and-kick 3s and a general lack of resistance with a hint of indifference on defense.

“We’re just not the tougher team,” Butler said. “All the way down this roster, we’re not the tougher team every night, and it shows. If there’s a loose ball, we’re not getting it. If there’s a rebound people gotta fight for, we’re not getting it. We’re just not the tougher team, and I think it shows a lot of the time.”

Whether it’s delusion or simply blind optimism, Gibson feels there’s some light at the end of the tunnel — with the way things have gone in this topsy-turvy season, he has to think it’ll swing back to normal, whatever normal is.

“I’m optimistic. I think something positive will happen,” Gibson said. “The games are coming back to back to back. We gotta keep going, stay positive and keep working.”

Let the more pragmatic Butler tell it, he’s confident it can happen but feels it has to be an individual choice in a season quickly tumbling from disappointing to disastrous.

“It’s on everybody to do it,” Butler said. “You can’t make somebody do it. You can’t teach somebody to do it. Either you want to or you don’t.”

Bulls will sign player to 2-way contract, but NBA roster is set for now

USA Today

Bulls will sign player to 2-way contract, but NBA roster is set for now

The Bulls waived Milton Doyle, Justin Simon and Simisola Shittu Saturday, which is minor news since they were mostly camp bodies competing for possibly a two-way contract.

The bigger development is that the Bulls’ roster is basically set, pending the signing of one player to the second two-way contract still available. No Iman Shumpert. No Alfonzo McKinnie. And that’s just naming two hometown products recently linked to the Bulls via the rumor mill.

The Bulls still want to see what they have in Chandler Hutchison, who did some individual shooting Saturday but missed all training camp with a hamstring injury. Denzel Valentine, currently out of the rotation, is staying ready.

And Shaq Harrison, who missed all five preseason games with his own hamstring injury but now is fully practicing, remains a Jim Boylen favorite.

And that’s what the roster staying set for now is about as much as anything. The buy-in Boylen has received from players dating to voluntary September workouts and bonds that have formed could be disrupted by the waiving of someone like Harrison, whose contract isn’t fully guaranteed but his commitment is.

While the Bulls recognize proven wing depth is a question mark, they value Harrison’s toughness and defensive ability. If Hutchison or Harrison or Valentine---if he gets an opportunity---don’t produce, perhaps a move could be made at a later date.

But expect only the signing of a second player to a two-way contract to join Adam Mokoka for now.

“We’ve been talking about that,” Boylen said. “We’re working on that. We’ve got our list and have reached out to some people. We’re actively in process.”

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.

Lauri Markkanen is focused on team, not individual, goals for Bulls

Lauri Markkanen is focused on team, not individual, goals for Bulls

You can’t put Lauri Markkanen in a box.

Just as you can’t pigeonhole one of the faces of the Bulls’ franchise offensively, you won’t get him to bite on any statistical goals for himself. As the outside world clamors for him and Zach LaVine to represent the Bulls at All-Star weekend in Chicago, Markkanen is focused on team goals.

“We haven’t made it to the playoffs and haven’t won many games since we’ve been here,” Markkanen said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago following Saturday’s practice, alluding to himself, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. “That really bothers us. So we want to win first.”

In fact, as Markkanen fielded questions about a preseason that featured him playing more as a spot-up shooter than the dynamic, double-double machine that defined his February 2019, he shifted the focus to defense and rebounding.

Ho and hum, indeed.

“You’re trying to get me to say 22 (points) and 12 (rebounds) and 3 assists,” Markkanen said, smiling. “I don’t have those kinds of goals. I want to get our wins from 22 to whatever. And I want to get our home wins from nine to whatever. I’m not putting a number on those either. But I think guys are doing a good job of making unselfish plays and making the extra pass. We’re coming together as a team.”

In fact, Markkanen said, at least for now, his only individual goals are to “stay healthy and be consistent.” He reiterated his stance from media day that his goal is to play all 82 games after averaging 60 games his first two seasons.

“I wanted to focus on defense more this preseason and I was a little disappointed in myself in that regard early in preseason. But I watched a lot of film and I think I had my learning moments and I think I got better as preseason moved on,” Markkanen said. “I’ve talked to Coach. We both expect rebounding from me. I think we’re going to be really good offensively. It’s at a high level now, and we’re deeper. If we rebound and can limit their possessions, we have a chance to be really good.”

Don’t mistake Markkanen’s aversion to setting statistical goals for submissiveness. Early in the interview, he called his preseason “maybe not as great as I wanted to play” and acknowledged he needs to increase his free-throw attempts by getting to the rim more.

Of Markkanen’s 42 shots, 24 came from beyond the arc and he attempted just seven free throws in close to 91 preseason minutes. That average of 1.8 free-throw attempts in his four preseason games pales in comparison to the 3.8 he averaged last season.

“I haven’t got to the rim as much. I’m conscious of that. Those are easy points for us,” Markkanen said. “(Driving) is still available to me. But defenses are loading up on me more and trying not to let me get downhill. And we’re not in the post as much (offensively) as we used to be. We’re shooting a lot of 3s.”

Markkanen smiled again as he said this, so it’s clear he likes the Bulls’ approach. He also remains confident his varied offensive game will be on display at some point.

“I don’t always talk to him about his offense to be honest with you,” coach Jim Boylen said. “I talk to him about defending and rebounding and handling the ball. I’ve shown him some of his decisions in transition where he’s handled the ball.

“I want him to compete at the defensive end, rebound, handle the ball and everything else to me takes care of itself. I know he’s going to make shots. Historically, he’s been better when the lights come on.”

Those lights get flipped on for real Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C. You can’t put Markkanen in a box. But he can put pressure on himself to help the Bulls make the playoffs.

“I have really high expectations of myself,” he said. “That’s what keeps me going. I want to win."