When it rains, it pours. But in Chicago, during the winter, that rain freezes in midair and turns to an icy, unrelenting sleet that kamikazes into your face and exposed limbs, stinging without mercy. This is what the Chicago Bulls’ 2013-14 season has become with the recent downpour of injuries that’s turned this group into one of the NBA’s most unwatchable teams. It’s not raining on the Bulls; it’s an avalanche that’s burying them.
Derrick Rose is done for the year with the Meniscus Tear Heard ‘Round The World. Jimmy Butler‘s week-to-week turf toe injury has held him out of 11 straight games. And Luol Deng, who played so magnificently after Rose went down, is still listed as day-to-day with an unspecified Achilles injury. According to Yahoo! Sports, Chicago will now sign D.J. Augustin, a player who was waived by the Toronto Raptors on Monday. Welcome to rock bottom.
Chicago has dealt with injuries before. They’ve played without Rose 119 times since the 2011-12 season, after all. But the injuries don’t end with Rose and they haven’t for the last few seasons. In the postseason last year, the Bulls battled without Rose, Deng, Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich for various stretches. Butler had to play 41 minutes a night just to keep Chicago competitive. Now they’re struggling to just put five competent players on the floor. Unfortunately, signing D.J. Augustin won’t do much to solve that problem.
Anytime you’re getting waived by the Raptors, something has gone wrong in your NBA career (no offense, Rudy Gay fans). In 100 minutes as Toronto’s backup this season, Augustin posted 2.1 points, 1.0 assists and 0.9 turnovers per game. His Player Efficiency Rating of 1.8 makes him one of just seven players in the entire league to post a PER that low while playing at least 10 games and 10 minutes per game. Another name on that list before last night’s Knicks-Bulls contest? Marquis Teague.
On Tuesday, watching the Bulls-Milwaukee Bucks game was a form of cruel and unusual punishment I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. In a 78-74 barnburner, the Bulls lost to the worst team in the worst conference in professional basketball. Hard to blame them, though, since Chicago trotted out a starting five of Kirk Hinrich, rookie Tony Snell, Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer and Nazr Mohammed. Everyone except Mohammed played at least 37 minutes,Taj Gibson logged 36 minutes off the bench and Teague, who should realistically still be in the D-League, played 23 minutes. When you’ve only got eight healthy guys, Cinderella players rapidly dissolve into pumpkin innards when fatigue sets in.
This is first time Bulls have failed to break 80 points in 3 straight games since Dec. 1, 2001. 3 weeks later, Tim Floyd was out as coach.
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) December 12, 2013
The most admirable and sometimes worrisome thing about Tom Thibodeau is that he always believes the Chicago Bulls have enough to win. Against Milwaukee, Chicago shot 37 percent from the floor, committed 18 turnovers and played without Rose, Deng, Noah and Butler, but Thibs still rode his starters like it was the Eastern Conference Finals. Thibs’ job is safe with this roster, but every game is a never-ending grind for the Bulls now. That’s the only rationale between signing D.J. Augustin and hoping he’s somewhat superior to the poop sandwich of Marquis Teague and Mike James.
Last night, Chicago welcomed back Noah, but Deng and Butler still weren’t ready and the result was even more unbearable. It was Deng’s third missed game in a row, which meant substantial minutes again for Snell and Dunleavy. The Bulls signed Mike’s Hard Lemonade in the hopes he’d provide perimeter shooting, but this worst-case scenario has forced Chicago to rely on him as a primary scorer. So far he’s somewhat risen to the challenge, averaging 20 points on 43 percent shooting in his last three games. But any time you have to rely on Mike Dunleavy as a primary scorer, you’re in trouble. Even Amar’e Stoudemire looked like a viable NBA player against this Dunleavy-led team.
As for Snell, the rookie out of New Mexico still has a long career ahead of him (hopefully. “Long” and healthy careers haven’t really been a thing in Chicago as of late). But he’s struggled pretty mightily in Chicago’s last three games. Asking Snell to step up with no Rose and no Butler was one thing because he wasn’t being asked to significantly contribute other than knocking down good looks and chipping in a few threes. But without Deng, Snell is feeling pressure for the first time in his career. And in the last three games, he’s posting a meager 8.3 points on 30 percent shooting.
The bottom line is, Chicago has now lost back-to-back games against the two teams with the worst records in the Eastern Conference. In both of those games, they’ve failed to reach 80 points, they’ve shot 35 percent from the field and they’ve committed 40 turnovers. Although their late 33-10 nearly got Mike Woodson fired on the spot, Chicago’s last few attempts to take the lead were downright pitiful.
The Bulls are still clinging to the eighth spot in the unbelievably weak East. Chicago has a clear tank strategy they could pull the trigger on, but the Bulls stubbornly refuse to be anything if not competitive. Most teams realize that it takes a little bit of luck to avoid injuries and win an NBA championship. What the Chicago Bulls have learned in the last few years is the inverse: Sometimes, its takes some luck to avoid injuries and sneak into the playoffs.