A Bulls season of struggles ends where and how it began
PHILADELPHIA — It was all just too fitting in a game that meant nothing to either participant.
The Bulls started their second rebuilding season in Philadelphia back on Oct. 18 with a 19-point loss to a Sixers team hoping to compete for an NBA Championship in 2018-2019. It ended on Wednesday night, as the Chicago team hobbled by injuries were dominated by playoff-bound Philadelphia in a 125-109 defeat.
In the middle, there was a lot of losing, a coaching change, a reported near mutiny, a mid-season trade that sent two players to Washington to get one, a coach that slowly earned respect from his players, and even more injuries.
To be frank, it wasn’t pretty, just as the team’s final game of the season — a team of backups was no match for Philadelphia, who will be the three-seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. As for the Bulls, who hoped for a postseason run when they first took the floor at the Wells Fargo Center, they’re saddled with a historically forgettable season.
Record-wise, the team was the fourth-worst in Bulls history in an 82-game season, finishing with a 22-60 record. Only the three years following the end of the team’s dynasty in the late 1990s were worse – 15-67 in 2000-2001, 17-65 in 1999-2000, and 21-61 in 2000-2001.
The team was 5-19 under Fred Hoiberg until he was fired in early December and was replaced by Jim Boylen. He was 17-41 in his first stint as a head coach in the NBA, overcoming a crisis in his first weekend when players were upset after a film session was called the day after, back-to-back.
Yet Boylen slowly started gaining the respect of the players as shown by a gesture from Zach LaVine, where he offered to pay the coach’s fine after an ejection against the Clippers on March 15.
A trade of Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis to the Wizards for Otto Porter Jr. ushered in the best stretch of the year — six wins in nine games — but injuries crushed any momentum for the rest of March and into April. In the final seven games of the season, Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and Porter were all out of the lineup together.
With Robin Lopez as the only regular starter left, the Bulls lost six of those contests, including the one against the Sixers on Wednesday. Even against the host’s backups, the Bulls never once got the lead as they fell behind by 12 after a quarter and offered little resistance after that. Walt Lemon Jr., the Chicago native whose late-season call-up from the Windy City Bulls was one of the best narratives of the season, led the team with 20.
With the regular season concluded, somewhat mercifully for a beat-up Bulls team, the focus turns toward May 14. That’s the NBA Draft Lottery, where the Bulls have the fourth-best odds to land the No. 1 overall pick, which will likely be Duke phenom Zion Williamson.
Moving up to that spot would be sweet redemption for a most difficult Bulls season, one that ended where and how it began.