The Chicago Bulls' recent on-court struggles have garnered a lot of negative attention but trading a budding superstar and verbally trashing the competition isn't the way to remedy the situation.
Coming off back-to-back losses to the New York Knicks in a home and home series last week, the Bulls fell 1.5 games back for the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff scene. Frustrated by the team's disappointing play, veteran swingman Taj Gibson voiced his disappointment.
In his seventh season with the Bulls, Gibson explained to ESPN how proud he is to wear the Chicago red and how “embarrassed” he is by the team's recent struggles.
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“And it's frustrating when we come up short, and we look at ourselves, we're losing to ... I don't want to criticize any[body], [but] trash teams,” said Gibson. “Everybody's in the NBA for a reason, but we're playing against teams that are not playing for anything, and we're just laying down.”
At the moment, the Bulls and their 38-37 record has them one game behind the Indiana Pacers for the final spot in the Eastern Conference. With just seven games left in the regular season, the Bulls will have little margin for error if they hope to extend their campaign. Yet, with the playoffs in their grasp, Jimmy Butler's future in the Windy City is now in doubt.
Chris Mannix of The Vertical reported this past Thursday that there is “legitimate interest in Chicago in potentially dealing Jimmy Butler this offseason.” Butler signed a five-year, $92.34MM deal with the Bulls last summer, so if the team does want to trade him, they shouldn't find it too difficult to unload the 26-year-old. But why would the Bulls want to trade a player who is currently enjoying career-high averages of 21 points and 4.4 assists per game?
Perhaps the Bulls are looking for a scapegoat to take the brunt of the blame. While Butler is enjoying the best season of his career, he has drawn some criticism as well. In late December last year, Butler made public remarks about coach Fred Hoiberg, questioning his laid-back approach as a coach. Then, a left knee injury sidelined Butler for a month this season, paving the way for the Bulls' struggles.
However, despite his diminished production since returning from injury, Butler is not bothered by the rumours. He made it clear to ESPN after Thursday night's 103-100 win over the Houston Rockets that he wants to remain in Chicago.
"That's why I'm here," said Butler."I don't plan on going anywhere. I can't control what everybody else does. I know that this is the city that I love, Chicago. And I want to wear that jersey. I want to wear that name on the front, and I wear it proudly. All I got to do is continue to control what I can control. That's try to help this team win games."
The Bulls had their chance to call the 2015-16 NBA season a lost cause. Veteran big man Pau Gasol was expected to be traded at the deadline and a Mannix report mentioned that several teams inquired about Butler, too. Instead, the Bulls elected to hold onto their core of players and compete for a playoff spot.
Now, in the season's final games, the Bulls need a leader and not a scapegoat. Despite everything, the team is on the brink of a playoff berth and blaming any one person will not improve their record. Finally, the key for them going forward will be playing one game at a time; not looking too far ahead and not too far behind.
While the Bulls' record isn't where they would like it to be, most of the players on the team are enjoying solid seasons. And despite his name being in trade rumors, Butler is confident with his team.
"You'll never hear me say that we're going to lose,” Butler said to ESPN. “This is my team. This is our team. I like the group of guys that we have. I'm confident that we'll continue to win games and we'll find ourselves in the playoffs."