The Chicago Bulls just picked up a big-time win on Saturday, dealing the Utah Jazz their first loss of the 2020-21 campaign. While the victory was sweet to be sure — and the Bulls now find themselves atop the Eastern Conference standings — we probably need to attach an asterisk to the result.
For the first time this season, the Jazz were without their floor general in Mike Conley. Utah is load-managing the All-Star vet, and its backcourt clearly suffered in his absence.
Donovan Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson may have teamed up to drop 46 points in the contest, but the Bulls limited the high-scoring duo to a combined 14-of-46 shooting. Meanwhile, the Jazz recorded a season-low 15 assists.
This isn’t the first time Conley has skipped out on Chicago, though. Over the summer, the 34-year-old was reported to be a top free-agent target for the Bulls. However, he ultimately re-upped with the Jazz band, leaving the Windy Cindy faithful to wonder what might have been.
Ahead of the Jazz-Bulls affair, Conley revealed to The Athletic’s Sam Amick the rationale behind his decision to pick Utah over Chicago and others. And it looks as though the Jazz may have had him locked up from the jump.
Conley: ‘It Was the Easiest Decision’
Despite entering postseason play as the West’s No. 1 seed, the Jazz were beaten four games to two by the LA Clippers in the second round. While it was a disappointing result for Conley and Co., the point guard told Amick that his first thoughts ahead of free agency were of rolling it back in Salt Lake City.
“Being so freshly removed from the playoffs you always think about, ‘All right, next year, next year, next year, we’re gonna figure it out; we’re gonna figure it out,’” he said. “And my mind went there.”
In short order, though, Conley realized he had to weigh his options.
“Two weeks after that, it was like, ‘Well, now I have to really sit down and evaluate [his choice]. Just look back at everything and reflect on decisions that I’ll have to make and what teams might be involved,” Conley said.
The point guard confirmed that the Bulls made a push. So, too, had the Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans and New York Knicks (who Conley described as being “off and on”). In the end, though, Conley realized he had unfinished business in the Rockies.
“For me, it was simple. It was the easiest decision,” he said. “Just wanted to be a part of that journey with these guys. Trying to bring a championship to a place that, you know, it’s not easy to do.”
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DeRozan Reaches New Heights
Although the Bulls undoubtedly lamented Conley’s decision, their backup plan looks to have panned out. Former No. 2 overall pick Lonzo Ball is averaging 12.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.0 steals per contest this season while knocking down nearly 36% of his triples.
However, former All-Star DeMar DeRozan was arguably the team’s biggest offseason acquisition. And he was in rare form against Utah.
In 35 minutes of play, the four-time All-Star scored a season-high 32 points on 13-of-22 shooting. He also added six rebounds and three assists for the Bulls, who outscored the Jazz by 15 points when he was in the game.