The Bulls are at a heavy disadvantage going into the play-in tournament

The Bulls are battle-tested in the clutch, but will face an uphill battle going into the play-in tournament.
Chicago Bulls v Houston Rockets
Chicago Bulls v Houston Rockets / Tim Warner/GettyImages

The Bulls front office had a message for the fans after the trade deadline. "This team is very competitive, in every game. And we have aspirations to compete for the playoffs" via The Athletic. They weren't necessarily false in their statement.

The advanced metrics state that the Chicago Bulls are a top-five team in clutch games played, minutes in the clutch, wins, and net rating. They're veterans in these clutch situations and DeMar DeRozan is the leading candidate to win the Clutch Player of the Year award, followed by Steph Curry, whose team is also in the play-in picture. They're successful when dragging teams into these dogfights at the end of the fourth quarter.

For a team competing for a playoff spot and vying for a deep playoff run with an injured roster, it does bode well for them, but to be put into these situations multiple times all season is a huge red flag. The team has played in 71 games so far this season and has a record of 34-37 through those games.

They have competed in 10 overtime games so far, a season-high in the NBA with the Blazers coming in second with eight and the Kings with six, while also finishing 39 contests within a clutch situation. They hold a record of 24-15 in those games and while that looks good on paper, the reality of the situation is quite dire.

The Bulls are finding themselves in close games and with the play-in looking to be the likely result, whether it be finishing as the 9th or 10th seed, it will still be an uphill battle. As it stands now, the Bulls would face the Hawks for the chance to face the loser of the Miami Heat and Philadelphia Sixers to win over the 8th seed. They have a good chance to defeat Trae Young and the Hawks, but Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat are always a sleeping giant.

Tyrese Maxey without Joel Embiid would be the most likely route that could result in a squeak-in situation for the Bulls. But theoretically after winning those two games, they would have to beat the number one seed Boston Celtics in a seven-game gauntlet. A team that has gone 57-14 so far this season, they demolish the competition. Marginally scrutinizing them won't change that this team is considered a top-three contender in the NBA this season.

The path would be ruthless if they were to win the series against the Celtics. The Bulls are without Zach LaVine and Patrick Williams going into the play-in and the team is finding a way to keep the ship steady. They would have to win two more series before meeting the best team in the West. The playoffs are much more strategic and the West winner will be a different beast.

Billy Donovan has shown lapses in judgment in the past and teams are more likely to adjust to finishing the Bulls than vice versa. The Bulls on their best day couldn't keep up with the top teams on their worst. The game plan around Demar DeRozan and Vooch can only get you so far in the playoffs before teams figure out a counter to their plan.

The Bulls are waiting for next season to make a move with the return of Lonzo Ball feeling more likely to happen. The Bulls will soon decide what to do with DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic, and Patrick Williams. Zach LaVine is signed for the long term and with no market and no indication to rebuild, they'll have to make it work with him being the centerpiece and rebuilding his value as a great scorer. Coby White and Lavine could shoulder the scoring load if the team were to go for a defensive forward and move on from Nikola Vucevic. The Bulls ought to resign Andre Drummond to another contract because he's very efficient in grabbing both offensive and defensive rebounds.

The Bulls have to trim off what they can and rebuild around their long-term players since they do not own significant draft stock. They are a middle-of-the-pack team and the creation of the play-in tournament has given the front office a false sense of competitiveness. It's a consolidation prize that championship teams laugh at. It's an old-fashioned approach and one approach that certainly hasn't resulted in any success.

It's wild that they'd wait three years with everyone intact to try the team again around a Lonzo Ball who hasn't played in two years. They're piling up the problems and waiting for a pipe to burst to see where it'll go wrong later. They should be proactive in this situation, but unfortunately, they'll wait for the last moment.