CHICAGO -- In the midst of describing his team's struggles on the defensive end in another lackluster, 105-102 loss to the lowly Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg summed up his group's season as a whole.
"We had no togetherness at all," Hoiberg said. "We had no toughness."
When the eulogy of the 2015-16 Bulls is written at the end of the season, that may well be the opening line.
All the flaws the Bulls were supposed to fix in the wake of Jimmy Butler calling out his new head coach after Saturday's loss to the New York Knicks were as clear as they ever were on Monday. Players coasted through much of the game against a weaker opponent. Rotations and pairings didn't have consistency and went through spells of inefficiency. The defense, which has been solid much of the season, was porous most of the night. For all the talk and good vibes emanating from the Advocate Center on Monday morning after Butler said he cleared the air with both his teammates and coach, the Bulls still looked like a team with no identity and no answer on how to find one.
"What was missing tonight, I feel, has been missing a lot of the games," Bulls big man Pau Gasol said. "I think it's just a sense of urgency. We cruise for most of the game and then when we have our backs against the wall we turn it up, we pick it up and we try to give ourselves a chance. But some of those times it's just too late and then other teams are in rhythm, they're confident, and you lose games like this one."
Losing games is one thing; losing games fewer than 48 hours after your best player called out your first-year head coach is another. For the Bulls to perform this way against a Brooklyn team that came into this game with a 7-20 record and a five-game losing streak is embarrassing to a group of players that came into this season believing they could contend for a championship.
"We were outplayed in every aspect of the game," Butler said.
When asked for an explanation as to why the intensity isn't there consistently for this group, Butler didn't have a good answer.
"There is no explanation, truthfully," Butler said. "It's supposed to be there all the time. We talk about it. Obviously it's not. It is a concern. We have to fix it as a group."
In order to fix these problems, that would mean the Bulls would have to come together as a group. With the way they have performed this season, and for much of last season, there's no reason to believe that's actually going to happen. The Bulls look like a group that doesn't like playing with each other. The unity that was prevalent in years past is gone. Butler has been vocal about being the leader of this group, but in order to be the leader players have to want to follow what a person says. Up to this point in the season, the Bulls still don't have a leader. They haven't taken to Hoiberg's system and they haven't responded to Butler's challenges.
"We all have to take responsibility," Gasol said. "We all have to take it personally. This has to hurt. If it doesn't hurt, then we have a problem that might not be correctable."
That's the problem for the Bulls. They say the right things but they don't follow the words up with the right actions. When asked about Butler's comments, Gasol, who wasn't in New York City on Saturday after being given the night off to rest, actually seemed to agree with Butler's sentiment. The veteran believed Butler should have kept his commentary "indoors" but didn't condemn him the way he could have.
"I don't mind those comments," Gasol said. "I think those comments are positive. Those comments and those attitudes doesn't raise my eyebrows. I think it's good that certain guys want to take ownership and say, 'Hey, let's go.' But that also comes with responsibility. It's not just on the floor, but off the floor in everything you do. So from that standpoint, absolutely, go ahead. I don't disagree with it. I think Jimmy's obviously one of the main guys here. But that's not singling out who's the leader, who's the biggest star, who's the whatever. It's a team sport. It's a team game and we all have our role and we all have to do it well in order for us to function and win."
But the Bulls aren't functioning well. They look unhappy on and off the floor.
"We wasn't on the same page," Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said.
He was talking about Monday night's loss, but just as easily could have been describing most of the Bulls' games. The Bulls keep talking about coming together, but their play is pulling them further apart.