Devastating loss to Thunder brings Bulls crashing back to reality

Coby White, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Coby White, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

For the briefest of moments there, it truly felt like the Chicago Bulls were making a comeback effort to save a disastrous start to their 2022-23 campaign. After losing 18 of their first 29 games, the Bulls appeared to bounce back by claiming 8 wins in an 11-game stretch that included victories over Eastern Conference rivals Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Miami, Atlanta, and New York. For all their efforts to get back into the playoff picture, however, the Bulls have consistently failed to beat the teams that aren’t even trying to be in it at all.

That much was made abundantly clear Friday night, as Chicago dropped yet another game to Oklahoma City to extend their losing streak to three and add to the mounting internal pressure on this organization. Things weren’t particularly close either, as the Thunder finished the game with a 14-point lead and comfortably secured a win to finish the season series 2-0 against the Bulls.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, and Jalen Williams all chipped in 20+ points on a combined 28-for-44 (63.6%) shooting. The Bulls only had one player hit the 20-point threshold in Zach LaVine, who posted a horrendous 5-for-19 (26.3%) from the field. Giddey reeled in 10 rebounds, only one less than the Bulls’ 6-foot-10 center Nikola Vucevic. Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey each dished out 6 assists, more than anyone in Chicago’s starting lineup. The Bulls’ starting five once again was thoroughly dominated from top to bottom.

This culminated in a fourth quarter where the Bulls were outscored 33-20 and choked away what was just a one-point deficit entering the quarter. Without DeMar DeRozan around to anchor this team in the clutch, the Bulls looked listless and desperate out there.

Friday night’s beatdown at the hands of OKC has made it obvious the Chicago Bulls are simply not good enough as currently constructed.

Not even a full year removed from selecting No. 2 overall in the 2022 NBA Draft, the Thunder have made it known to the rest of the league that they’re willing to compete, but are more focused on the future rather than the present. While Gilgeous-Alexander is steering the ship and building a genuine case for All-Star and even All-NBA honors this season, OKC’s core of Giddey, Chet Holmgren, Williams, and a war chest of draft capital point toward better days ahead.

And yet, the Oklahoma City Thunder now have a better record than the Chicago Bulls as of January 14, 2023. The same Bulls that are built to “win now”. The same Bulls roster that has sacrificed much in the way of future assets to even exist in the first place.

This isn’t like the Thunder are a rare exception here, either. The Indiana Pacers recently traded away their All-Star big man Domantas Sabonis to refocus around a promising third-year guard in Tyrese Haliburton, and the results have been incredible as the team has raced out to a 23-20 record. The Utah Jazz traded away both of their All-NBA talents Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, yet are still 22-23 so far this season and have a very bright future ahead led by Lauri Markkanen and a massive haul of picks. Even the Orlando Magic, who traded Nikola Vucevic for rights to Chicago’s picks in the first place, are 16-27 and only three games behind the Bulls.

There’s no easy way to say this, but this is a disaster. And it’s not one that can be fixed by the return of Lonzo Ball. Or by a coaching change. From top to bottom, this roster is just… inadequate.

Even if the Bulls get things back on track and crawl back into the playoffs, what’s the best-case scenario for them? Winning a playoff series? Not only is that unlikely, but it’s also not a very high bar to set for a team that is built to contend now.

Truthfully, selling the team’s assets to tank this season sounds like a terrible idea, as the Bulls currently only possess a 31.9% chance to retain the pick in the draft lottery. But just because that might be a bad option, does not mean Chicago should default to traveling down an even worse path. As bad as those 31.9% odds may look, they’re an awful lot better than the Bulls’ current chances at redeeming themselves this season and making a run in the playoffs.

And if getting swept by an Oklahoma City Thunder squad that intentionally wants to lose doesn’t make Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley wake up and realize the reality of this precarious situation, I’m not sure what will.

Next. For Bulls to tank, they need to trade stars now. dark