Did Billy Donovan hit his roof with coaching the bullpen as it is currently built?

CHICAGO – Remember when you could get the Bulls to a win over Oklahoma City?

Remember when Billy Donovan left The Thunder for Chicago in part because he couldn’t be bothered coaching the rebuilding franchise?

How did we get here? To this twisted, sad fact that felt like the “Twilight Zone” inside the United Center on a Friday night?

The same Thunder franchise that apparently wasn’t good enough for Donovan three seasons ago, the same Thunder that came this season hoping more for lottery luck than gutsy wins, is suddenly outclassed by the Bulls. Suddenly, it’s the Bulls who are increasingly looking like the team in need of a makeover—and sooner rather than later.

Oklahoma City completed a two-game season sweep of Chicago with a comprehensive 124-110 win on the road that highlighted the coaching. While the Bulls falter under Donovan, the Thunder, U37 third-year head coach Mark Dignault, is already showing promise while playing together and posting unexpected victories.

Oklahoma City (20-23) shocked their record in half a game better than the Bulls, something many didn’t expect at the start of the season. Chicago was supposed to compete in the second round of the postseason. Oklahoma City was looking to select Victor Wimpanyama for the first generation.

However, the Bulls, albeit without leading scorer DeMar DeRozan for the second game in a row, seemed to be overpowered the second game in which they lost a jump ball. Thunder forward Luguentz Dort hit the loose ball, lunged for his team’s basket and scored, putting the touchdown in play for just three seconds. It was the first of OKC’s 64-point paint finish, as the Thunder enjoyed a 20-point advantage.

No Bullseye can keep Thunder Ocean attackers off the paint. Shay Gilgos Alexander, Josh Geddy, and Dort, who have an average age of 22.3, split the bullpen with hacks, kicks, kicks, and base ball movement. When they didn’t do direct damage, they did so indirectly, making Jalen Williams and Darius Bazley hit the post beautifully.

“They were leading us in a straight line,” said Zach LaVine, the bulls’ keeper. “We didn’t have a lot of protection at the edge.”

The Bulls are now well past the midpoint of the season, yet the same problems persist – slow starts, shoddy defensive rebounds, sloppy turnovers and a stunning failure in fundamentals such as boxing. When the text becomes redundant, it’s time to consider training.

To be fair, the Bulls make a list of players who can’t defend, rebound, or shoot consistently. But it’s fair to conclude that Donovan hasn’t proven he can fix everything that ails the Bulls. He brilliantly diagnosed the team’s problems, but we’re still waiting for him to come up with sustainable solutions.

Of greater concern is the multi-year extension Donovan quietly signed last summer. If the Bulls peaked under him, what gives anyone reason to believe results will improve over the next three seasons? The way the Bulls have played most Fridays, coupled with their inconsistency over the past 2 and a half seasons, doesn’t inspire confidence.

“I don’t look at it from my perspective as an employee,” Donovan said. “I always look at it as how can I help these guys and how can we be better.

“The one thing I think you have to be careful of is that you can be in a situation where you sit down and try to make all these layout changes and become good at nothing,” Donovan said. “Because you keep changing everything constantly.”

An easy counterargument can be made that the Bulls still don’t have an identity more than halfway through the season. They are 4-10 in games decided by five points or fewer and 1-4 in overtime contests. They improved their success against the top teams in the conference, but showed a disappointing pitch with losses to the shorthanded Magic, Spurs, Rockets, Wolves and Wizards and now Thunder twice.

While the Bulls are temporarily without DeRozan while he nurses a right quadruple strain, this stretch against a relatively lighter schedule provides an opportunity to see Chicago strut its stuff without relying so heavily on DeRozan. The offensive fumble that followed, marked by a prolonged drought despite a 30-assist night, was in some ways more of an indictment than the team’s leaky defense.

“The most important thing I think for us is to attack sometimes, it seems like we don’t really know what to do,” said Nikola Vucevic. “I know when (DeRozan) is in the game he has the ball a lot and we depend on him a lot. But we still have a lot of weapons even without him. And we still have ways we can score. First half. We tried really hard to get something instead of working on defense, being patient.”

Then came the largest number of Dams entries, the latest in a long line of them this season.

“We don’t always seem like we’re all on the same page,” Vucevic said. “Without (DeRozan) we just have to find out. Hopefully he’ll be back sooner rather than later. But you can’t look completely different just because you’re missing one player.”

This is on Donovan and his staff. There are holes in the roster that management must address, but repetitive trashy performances start off the bench. It seems that the correct message is not being delivered or simply not being shown.

“I mean, the coaches, they talk about all the things you mentioned,” Vucevic said. We know it’s a recurring problem for us. It was a problem for us, the details, the little things that matter in the game. I can’t say they didn’t focus on that. They do. And they do that in every game. Often, as with long rebounds, we keep talking about it. As players, we just have to do a better job of keeping and focusing on those little things because that’s the difference.

“Everyone in this league is good. All of these players can score. All players can do the big things. But who’s going to do the real small things. It’s the margins that make the difference.”

(Photo by Nikola Vucevic on the rebound Friday: Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via AP Images)


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