11-Year NBA Vet: The Bulls are Not a ‘Mentally Tough Team’

DeMar Derozan, Chicago Bulls

Getty DeMar DeRozan #11 of the Chicago Bulls waits for the start of play after a time out against the Boston Celtics

The Chicago Bulls (46-36) can count former-pro-turned-analyst Greg Anthony among their detractors as they get set for their first postseason appearance as an organization since 2017.

They weren’t done any favors as the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks opted to rest on the final day of the regular season, sitting several starters and falling 133-115 to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

That has set up a first-round series between the Bulls and Bucks beginning on Sunday, April 17.

Anthony’s stance is understandable. The Bulls ended their regular season winless against the Bucks and as losers of four of their last five winning their final game of the season 124-120 versus a Minnesota Timberwolves squad missing both Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell.

They did get to see a new level of aggression from Patrick Williams in that one as he set a new career-high with 35 points and spoke of needing to maintain that level of aggression in his postgame media availability.

To that point, something Anthony said during a segment of NBA TV’s “Playoff Central” program stuck out more than anything.

Lacking Mental Toughness

Anthony and host Matt Winer were breaking down the playoff matchups when they came to the Bucks-Bulls tilt. They began with what they wanted to see from the Bucks which included being locked in on making life difficult for the likes of DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine.

Then the conversation switched to the Bulls and that is when Anthony spoke his truth.

“They’re not a physical team, they’re not a great defensive team, and I haven’t found them to be a really mentally tough team. And I think those are areas that have to concern you.”

Most of that is a common refrain at this point.

The Bulls are one of the league’s smaller teams and often run lineups with up to four guards which severely hinders their physicality. Their porous defense in the latter half of the season has also been well-documented with Heavy’s Ashish Mathur digging into the numbers in a piece for Sportscasting.com from January and this graphic from ESPN’s Kirk Goldsberry.

The harshest criticism is Anthony saying they are not mentally tough. That is a decision and something that Billy Donovan brought up following the team’s 117-94 loss to the Boston Celtics on April 6.

Anthony continued with his assessment.

“They’ve kind of now come back to the mean and, basically, ended where I thought they would…They still, culturally from a defensive standpoint, they’ve never really been there. Now, when they had Caruso and they had Ball early in the season they showed signs. But they still don’t hang their hat on that side of the ball and I don’t think you’re going to have a chance to advance deep in the playoffs if that isn’t a priority for your team”

The Players are Fed Up

There is a positive spin to put on this. Though, it will not have much of bearing on the outcome of this series. It came courtesy of Anthony, who took a moment in between those negative points to remind everyone of the Bulls’ successful season.

“Having said all that, they’ve had a really good season based on…we talked about preseason, I said I wasn’t as high as most were. And midway through the season, I had egg on my face, because I thought, ‘okay, you know what, they started to play really well’”.

While Anthony got back to talking about where the Bulls were falling short, this bit is an important perspective to have as they get ready to begin a series that might not be much fun for Bulls fans if the regular season is any indication as CHGO’s Will Gottlieb points out.

This was a successful season given where the team was just two seasons ago with 22 wins and no direction.

As LaVine put it in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson, the Bulls “shut a lot of people up” with their performance this season. Not even a swift playoff exit can take that away and, in fact, it should add fuel to their collective fire.

LaVine also expressed his frustrations with the Bulls late-season swoon in his postgame availability following the 133-117 loss to the Charlotte Hornets on April 8.

“I’m tired of talking. We say a lot of words, We say the right things but we got to figure it out. We can’t let this happen. This is embarrassing. We have to figure it out. We have been getting our a** kicked.”

Same Refrain

Unfortunately, that is all too similar to comments made by DeRozan who said in his postgame availability that the Bulls got their “a** kicked” after falling 138-112 to the Brooklyn Nets on January 12. He said it was all in how they bounced back.

They got blown out 138-96 by the Golden State Warriors two nights later.

DeRozan was back saying similar things almost three months later following the same loss that had LaVine frustrated.

“They attacked us. We couldn’t guard them. They did what they…they had their way. It sucks but that’s what happened. It’s just we got our a** kicked.”

Donovan has cited the losses to Brooklyn and Golden State among the warning signs that he felt were predictive of his team’s slide. He also said he wanted his players to get to a point where they have had enough of getting beat in his media availability after the loss to Boston.

That has not happened yet despite, as LaVine said, them saying all of the right things.

Anthony played for six teams in his career. He appeared in 36 games with 35 starts for the Bulls in 2001 after being acquired for a 2002 second-round pick and averaged 8.4 points, 5.6 assists, 2.4 rebounds, and 1.4 assists.

He was waived and signed with the Bucks for the rest of the season.

The University of Portland and UNLV alum also spent time with the New York Knicks and Seattle Supersonics during the Bulls’ championship runs.

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