11 reasons why the Bulls are struggling

Even with Derrick Rose back on the court, the Bulls are failing to live up to lofty expectations. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Derrick Rose can't pinpoint why the Chicago Bulls play hard sometimes and languish at others.

He cited a lack of "effort" and "communication" on defense on Wednesday, after a loss to the Houston Rockets, as the biggest reason the Bulls have struggled recently, having lost three straight and gone just 8-10 since Jan. 1.

Rose also acknowledged that it's been a while since the Bulls have been this frustrated.

"It's been a minute," Rose said. "It's been a long time, but it shouldn't be anywhere near that knowing how talented we are, knowing that guys want to really win. It's just that we didn't get things clicking yet. We got time, we just got to make sure we give it our all in practice, shootaround, and in the games and figure a way out."

The Bulls (30-20) are still hopeful that they will turn things around as they get set for their final 32 regular-season games. What do they need to fix, beginning with Saturday's game against the New Orleans Pelicans? Let's take a look at 11 of the biggest issues facing the Bulls in a season that started with championship expectations:

1. Lack of defense

If the Bulls don't turn it around and win a championship this season, the obituary will lead with their inability to play defense like they did in the first four seasons of Tom Thibodeau's tenure. The Bulls used to punch teams in the mouth during games. Now they are giving up 102.4 points per 100 possessions, 13th-best in the league. That's 4.6 more per 100 possessions than last season, when they ranked second.

The Bulls have also given up 100 or more points in 25 games already this season. Last season, they gave up 100 or more in 16 games.

2. Lack of effort

Maybe more damning is the fact that the Bulls look lifeless through long stretches in games.

"It's a compilation of things," Thibodeau said, when asked why the intensity continues to disappear for stretches. "Where do you get your intensity from? You get it from your concentration and maximum effort. And how do you build that habit? You build it through repetition like you do through everything else. Practice is important. Practicing together is important. All those things are. Your meetings are important. Shootarounds are important. It's all important."

Thibodeau has repeatedly referenced practice, and repetition, as a big part of his team's struggles, but playing hard is just as important as skill. And the Bulls aren't performing up to their capabilities in this area.

3. Reliance on offense

When describing their woes, many players have talked openly about relying too much on offense. After lacking it over the past few seasons, especially when Rose has been out, the Bulls now have an embarrassment of riches on the offensive end. The Bulls are averaging 105 points per 100 possessions, just shy of their best in the Thibodeau era (105.7 in 2011-12).

"As I say, you can't shortcut the process," Thibodeau said. "The process is the whole thing. We got to put the work into it. We can't pick and choose when we're going to do things. The only way you can improve and execute is through repetition. You can't get around that."

4. Where's the fun?

Ask yourself this question: When was the last time you saw this group having fun on the floor together?

There hasn't been much to enjoy lately (5-10 over their past 15 games), but it also doesn't look like this group enjoys playing together as much as they used to. Have the players tuned out Thibodeau? If that were the case, the Bulls would just roll over on the veteran coach completely. They've still been able to get wins against good teams like San Antonio, Dallas and Golden State. But the argument could be made that they aren't listenting as intently as they did in years past, and bad losses to Miami and the Los Angeles Lakers in the past week and a half point to that.

Jimmy Butler has a simple theory as to how his team can start having fun again.

"Win," he said. "That's the fun part of this game is winning, bottom line, however you want to put it. We got to figure out a way to win games because whenever you're winning that's fun, whenever you're losing, that sucks."

5. Noah and Gasol don't mix

The Bulls already already 50 games into the season, and Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah are not playing well together. They don't seem to know where to be when they are on the floor together, and the spacing -- on both ends -- is impaired because of it.

Gasol's personal numbers are up and he has admitted several times he feels rejuvenated in Chicago. But Noah's numbers are down and he doesn't look like the first-team All-NBA center and reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Yes, he has been hurt much of the season and is still trying to find his form, but his incompatibility with Gasol is becoming more apparent. In the duo's 810 minutes together, the Bulls are 0.7 points per 100 possessions worse than their overall level of performance, according to NBA.com/stats.

6. Rose isn't the same

The good news for the Bulls is that Rose is healthy after missing most of November with various injuries. The bad news is that he hasn't shown to be the same player he was before his first knee injury in April 2012.

Rose is still knocking the rust off his game and holds firm to the belief there is another level he can get to this season. But he continues to settle for way too many jumpers and doesn't drive as much to the rim as he did in years past. The 26-year-old has already taken 223 3-pointers this season, the most he's ever had in 50 games during a season in his career, and has attempted 55.4 percent of his shots from outside the paint this season, according to ESPN Stats and Info -- the most in any season of his career.

After going 2-for-9 from beyond the arc in Wednesday's loss, Rose is now shooting just 29.6 percent from 3 on the season. He continues to say those are the shots that are given to him, but that doesn't always mean he should take them.

7. Mirotic is still a rookie

Nikola Mirotic has had some very good games and some very bad ones this season. In other words, he's a rookie. But the Bulls were relying on him to be a big part of their rotation. After a strong December, Mirotic has scored just 81 points over his past 15 games, an average of 5.4 points a game. What compounds the issue is that Thibodeau still doesn't trust Mirotic defensively, hence the lack of minutes in recent weeks for the soon-to-be 24-year-old.

8. Hinrich has lost a step

Kirk Hinrich is one of the most respected players in the Bulls' locker room and is trusted implicitly by Thibodeau. But the 34-year-old guard is struggling this season. Aside from the fact that Hinrich is shooting just 36.5 percent from the field and 33.8 percent from the 3-point line, he looks a step slow defensively. The effort is there most nights, but the timing on the defensive end is not. His PER is just 7.11, the ninth-lowest rating in the league out of 345 qualifiers. He is averaging 27.3 minutes a game.

9. Snell and McDermott are not contributing

The Bulls' last two first-round picks are not giving them anything at the moment. They haven't exactly been given a chance by Thibodeau, but it's evident the head coach doesn't trust either player much on the floor right now, especially defensively.

Tony Snell has played at least 20 minutes in 10 games in the past month. In those 10 games, he is averaging 7.5 points a game. But since Jan. 1 there have also been four games in which he didn't play at all because of a coach's decision.

As for Doug McDermott, Thibodeau gave him some rotational minutes early in the season but he did not produce. He was getting open looks, but he didn't knock them down, shooting just 22.2 percent from beyond the arc in his first month. McDermott has played a grand total of two minutes since returning from a knee scope late last month. Thibodeau admitted Friday that there is a chance the Bulls may send McDermott to the D-League to get some more minutes after the All-Star break.

"We'll probably get to the break and then look at all the options from there," Thibodeau said. "I think the big thing, particularly with a rookie where he missed all that time, you still want to have your hands on him here and then if we feel like the playing time is a priority we'll go from there."

10. Injuries take a toll

Like every other team in the NBA, the Bulls have dealt with their share of injuries. Until the last week or so, Noah hadn't looked right physically after offseason knee surgery. Rose was in and out of the lineup in November because of various ailments. Gasol, Butler and Taj Gibson have missed a combined 15 games as well. Mike Dunleavy has missed 17 straight games because of a nagging right ankle injury.

All of these health-related problems are a factor, but this roster is too talented not to be able to overcome the hurdles. So often in Thibodeau's tenure, he and his players have viewed injuries more as a hurdle to clear. This season, all parties seem to be using the setbacks more as a crutch.

11. Thibodeau and the front office are at odds

The tension between Thibodeau and the Bulls' front office is at an all-time high. With all the speculation regarding Thibodeau's future in Chicago and the Bulls underperforming, Thibodeau, Bulls general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president John Paxson are all feeling the heat. But the in-fighting and frustration behind the scenes isn't serving anyone well. The argument could be made that players don't care about the relationship between a coach and his front office, that it doesn't make a difference in regard to on-court performance. But it doesn't help either. To think that the players, and those in their inner-circles, aren't aware of what's going on behind the scenes would be naive at best.

As tough as it may be for them, Thibodeau, Forman and Paxson should come to a truce, at least until the end of the season. The trust may be broken forever, but it shouldn't impact the short-term future of the organization. Hard feelings should be pushed aside for the greater short-term goals of the team.