The last time the Chicago Bulls (26-30) got swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers was in 2017-18. It happened this season with their 97-89 loss giving their division rival – the four-seed in the Eastern Conference – a perfect record against them.
Their only hope for revenge before 2023-24 would be a meeting in the postseason which, as it stands, would require them to stay in and make it through the Play-In Tournament.
But they are missing a key element that contributed to yet another blown lead.
While not necessarily meant to disparage teammate Ayo Dosunmu – the team’s current starting point guard – or Alex Caruso who has filled in to the best of his abilities as a starter, Dragic’s comments do speak volumes about where this team is during the final 26 games of the regular season and sitting in 10th with just a half-game lead on the Toronto Raptors.
It’s not as though Dragic, who has been called a buyout candidate, was advocating for himself.
“At the end of the day you want to win,” he said noting that his fluctuating role has not bothered him. “I’ve got limited minutes so it’s what can I do in those minutes? I know the plus/minus is good, and I know what I can do. Sometimes I feel more involved, sometimes not.”
Head coach Billy Donovan spoke highly of Dragic’s “toughness” and “competitiveness”, two issues that have plagued his team as a whole this year.
But the Bulls boss is also cognizant of the 36-year-old’s defensive limitations.
“The one thing about Alex and Ayo out there is we feel those two on the perimeter have been pretty good,” Donovan told Johnson, “and then even if we’re going against someone a little bit bigger we’ve played Patrick [Williams].”
Dragic played just 3.5 minutes in the loss to Cleveland failing to get a shot up before notching a pair of turnovers to match his pair of fouls. Dosunmu (six points, season-high eight assists, two steals to just two turnovers) saw just 4:53 in the fourth quarter. Dosunmu was minus-9 in his minutes as the Cavs made a furious comeback on the strength of Donovan Mitchell.
Donovan closed with Caruso who had four rebounds and one assist to one turnover and was tagged for three personals. Mitchell scored 12 of his game-high 29 points in the final 12 minutes – five of those points came at the free-throw line.
Still, Mitchell was credited with scoring 10 of his points on Coby White (4-for-4 FG) in less than a minute of being matched up, per NBA.com matchup data. He had just seven points total against Caruso (1-for-5 FG) and Dosunmu (2-for-4 FG).
Even with what the Bulls’ current group brings to the table, they aren’t solving what has been a big issue, particularly on this three-game road trip.
“We had so many possessions where we just didn’t make good decisions,” Donovan told Johnson after the game.
Caruso is a tenacious defender that often makes the right decision but he can be both foul and injury-prone. Dosunmu is an ascending young player but has not developed the floor-general qualities just yet, though his eight-assist night is a great sign. Dragic has always been more of a scoring threat than someone who looks to set the table even though he is capable of both.
There are no perfect solutions on this Bulls roster.
Bulls Looking For Outside Help
Shams Charania of The Athletic first broke word of the Bulls’ search for guard help during an appearance on ‘Waddle & Silvy’ on ESPN 1000 in Chicago.
Subsequent reporting from ESPN NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski put the Bulls as frontrunners for Russell Westbrook whom many expect to be bought out soon by the Utah Jazz after being traded to the Utah Jazz.
“If he gets out into the buyout market, listen, there is significant interest in Westbrook,” reported Wojnarowski during a segment on ‘NBA Today’ on February 10. “I think one team that you’ve got to watch – and I think will be a front-runner – the Chicago Bulls…And, certainly, you can see how he fits, just bringing some energy and some fire to that team’s bench.”
Wojnarowski points to opportunity as well as a connection to most of the Bulls coaching staff as leading factors in his speculation.
But the Los Angeles Clippers, namely Paul George, are interested.
There is also the possibility that Westbrook stays in Utah with options to play for the Jazz or not at all while his $47 million salary expires after the season.
Lonzo Ball is the Elephant in the Room
That it has come to this for the Bulls is an indictment of executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas‘ plan. The easy answer is that, if Lonzo Ball was healthy, this team would very likely look a lot more composed in those critical situations.
But Ball has been sidelined since January of 2022 and the Bulls more than anyone saw how little progress he was making.
Perhaps, they find lightning in a bottle with Westbrook if he does indeed sign.