In a close game against a spiraling Memphis Grizzlies team last night, the Chicago Bulls had multiple opportunities to seal the game and progress their record to an even and satisfying 26-28. Unfortunately, they’d completely fall apart in the closing moments, allowing Memphis to wrap the game up on a 22-7 run despite the score being tied with only 7 minutes remaining on the clock.
As all too often has been the story this season, the Bulls repeatedly fail to capitalize on opportunities and leave fans wanting for so much more. Chicago crumbled without DeMar DeRozan‘s stabilizing presence, as he was sidelined due to hip soreness.
After leading the league in 4th quarter points last season, DeRozan once again finds himself in the ‘King of the Fourth’ debate, logging the 4th most 4th quarter points this season behind only LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Kyrie Irving. Without DeMar there to lead this team, we saw how quickly the Bulls crumble in the clutch.
Despite being paid a whopping $215 million, Zach LaVine still hasn’t developed into the dynamic closer on offense that the Bulls have been hoping he could become. LaVine is the NBA’s 17th-highest-paid player, yet he has shot a horrific 35.3% in the clutch this season. Meanwhile, DeRozan has shot 47.4% in clutch scenarios and has made the second-most clutch field goals among all qualified players, behind only Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox.
The Chicago Bulls cannot justify trotting out this flawed roster if they want to genuinely compete for a championship this season.
Instead of embracing the moment with DeMar out, LaVine defaulted to his teammates, with Nikola Vucevic taking twice as many field goal attempts as Chicago’s second-leading points-getter. Even Ayo Dosunmu logged more field goals than LaVine, for better or worse. Factoring out LaVine’s production, the Bulls shot 35% from the field as a team, so it’s not like he was letting the hot hand take over last night.
By all accounts, this should have been a statement win for the Bulls. Memphis had dropped eight of their last nine and looked weaker than ever entering last night’s contest. Instead, the Grizzlies pulled away after the game was tied 82-82, with the closing score of 104-89 giving off the impression it wasn’t a close affair. This loss served as a grim of how incompetent and frustrating the Bulls have looked for the past half-decade led under LaVine.
Counting on DeRozan to continue pulling this team out of mediocrity is not a winning strategy. As good as DeMar is, we already have over a decade of evidence to that point. His stellar regular season play has been routed all too often in the postseason, supported by his 25-38 record in the playoffs.
It’s not fair to DeRozan to expect him to hard carry this team to (and through) the playoffs when he still has much to offer a legitimate contender. Halfway to 34 years of age now, DeRozan isn’t getting any younger, and this team’s window of contention isn’t getting any bigger.
Will the front office come to this realization ahead of the February 9 trade deadline? Now that is the 215 million dollar question.