There have been many times this season when Billy Donovan has used encouragement to pick up a team that looked mentally fragile at times.
With just 27 games left in the regular season, however, the Bulls coach was past that.
It was time to be a realist.
Just because the Bulls added five new faces and finally had them all in uniform in an eventual 116-102 loss to Golden State on Monday night, the rest of the league wasn’t going to bow down or hand them anything. Yes, on paper, Donovan’s group is better than it was a week ago. But it’s up to the team to show that.
He made that message loud and clear.
“Adding talent doesn’t take away your problems, and if you think you’re adding talent so it becomes a lot easier, it doesn’t,” Donovan said. “There are things we have to do that were no different than the things we had to do with the previous roster.
“We’ve still got to run back in transition. If we play defense the way we did against San Antonio [on Saturday], we’re not going anywhere. If we run offense the way we ran offense [against the Spurs], we’re not going anywhere. Now, in fairness to them, it was the first time they were playing together, and we’ve got to work out some of those things.”
The Bulls will be able to get a practice day in again Tuesday, play the Suns on Wednesday and get another practice in Thursday before the finale of this road trip Friday in Utah.
That’s as much practice time Donovan’s crew has seen since before the All-Star break. And it’ll need every bit of it.
Newly acquired Nikola Vucevic looked more comfortable in his second game with the Bulls (19-26), but he still was getting a grasp of terminology. Thad Young was inserted into the starting unit over Lauri Markkanen as Donovan continued to play mad scientist with his frontcourt combinations.
And while it didn’t help that Coby White sat out with a sore neck — his first missed game as a Bull — and Garrett Temple left in the second quarter with a strained right hamstring, it did allow Troy Brown Jr. and Javonte Green a chance to get some minutes.
But poor defense and untimely turnovers continued to haunt this team, no matter how many new names were on the back of jerseys. Add in Zach LaVine, who’s dealing with a sore ankle, failing to score at least 20 points in both games with this new-look roster, and it’s obvious that there’s some fixing to do, both old problems and new.
“We’re still going to have to figure out how we can be the best version of ourselves,” Donovan said. “I’ve been around enough teams and seen enough basketball, there are teams that are really, really talented that don’t do anything. And there’s a lot of teams … I’ll give you an example, like last year at OKC, we weren’t supposed to be any good. Chris Paul wasn’t tolerating that. He wasn’t walking in there and saying, ‘Oh, OK, we’re not supposed to be as good. We lost Paul George, we lost Russell [Westbrook].’ No, these guys are professionals. They’ve got a lot of pride.
“I think you want to set that kind of standard all the time. That was something that was powerful inside our locker room was [Paul’s] internal belief of, ‘Hey, listen, when I’m on a team, we’re competing.’ ”
The hope is Vucevic has that kind of mentality and it permeates.
Coming out against the Warriors (23-24) and scoring nine first-quarter points was a nice early message from Vucevic, who finished with 21. But Donovan wants his entire team to play with that kind of swagger, especially with the Eastern Conference standings so log-jammed.
“It was much better,” Vucevic said of his second game. “I’m really happy with where I’m at with where I fit with the team, and I think we’ll grow as a team.
“We just all need to figure it out and get comfortable with each other.”