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Bulls reportedly frustrated with on-court chemistry between LaVine, DeRozan

After Ja Morant was ejected from a recent Grizzlies game for having a conversation with a fan, Michael Holley says that NBA referees need to "lighten up" and learn that criticism comes with the job.

When Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan share the court this season, the Bulls have a -3.6 net rating — that’s two points per 100 worse than the team average as a whole (stats via Cleaning the Glass). As a duo, they tend to play next to each other taking turns rather than with and off each other, and the result has not been pretty.

Some of that spilled over during a halftime argument during the Bulls’ ugly loss to the Timberwolves over the weekend where they gave up 150 points to Minnesota, which shot 65.5%. K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago had the details.
Two sources familiar with the incident said some of the frustration was directed at Zach LaVine, if not directly by name than at least by defensive breakdowns involving him. A team source indicated the strong words were more collectively focused in nature — as in, “we need to be better.”

Chicago’s coaching staff and management recognize there’s a problem, but meetings and conversations with LaVine and DeRozan — who get along well, this isn’t personal — aren’t working. Shams Charania and Darnell Mayberry wrote about it at The Athletic.

The Bulls have held multiple team meetings to try to work out their issues, and that has included one-on-one, face-to-face sitdowns between DeRozan and LaVine, according to team and league sources who were granted anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly on team dynamics. DeRozan and LaVine have always had a strong mutual respect for each other... But their meetings have not led to in-game results so far, with a level of on-court, stylistic tension simply festering throughout the season and being magnified due to the win-loss record (11-18)...

Even more, multiple league sources and sources close to the organization say LaVine and the Bulls are not seeing eye-to-eye. Over the past few weeks, there’s been a palpable feeling across various parts of the franchise of a disconnect over LaVine’s situation in Chicago. All of this has been happening while LaVine is in the first season of a five-year, $215 million maximum deal that was signed this summer.

A few quick thoughts on this “news” (the chemistry issues aren’t a surprise to anyone who has watched a Bulls game — both guys want and need the ball in their hands):

• If one were cynical, one might say the Athletic story feels a lot like a story generated by LaVine’s camp to spin his position out there (he is represented by Klutch Sports).

• The report also discusses “skepticism within the locker room about the head coach” Billy Donovan. Complain all you want there, Donovan got a contract extension this past summer (one the Bulls kept quiet at the time, for whatever reason). Knowing how Bulls ownership works, they will not want to pay multiple coaches for multiple years, so Donvan isn’t going anywhere in the short term.

• Not having Lonzo Ball as a facilitator and floor general doesn’t help (he remains out indefinitely following a second knee surgery, and buzz is growing he may not play this season). It also doesn’t explain everything.

• There are a lot of teams watching the Bulls to see what they do at the trade deadline, if they decide to make changes to this struggling roster, and if so how deep the cuts will be. The sense around the league is that Nikola Vucevic will be available at the right price, but it’s unlikely DeRozan will be available and almost out of the question LaVine will be. Was this leak an attempt to start to change the thinking on DeRozan?

• The Bulls have lost four in a row and 7-of-9, and they now sit outside even the play-in as the 11th seed in the East.