The message to come out of last week’s team meeting was nothing new.
It’s been the same message that’s been preached since Day 1 of training camp, but for some reason hadn’t gained a foothold with this roster.
The one that existed before executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas brought in five new players on Mar. 25, and the post-trade deadline roster the Bulls have been left with.
What matters to guard Garrett Temple is it’s being heard now.
Over the last two games, the veteran has watched his teammates dive for 50-50 balls, play with urgency, understand what’s at stake, and guard as good as they’ve guarded all season long.
“That’s what happens in the NBA when you have a young team, a new staff,” Temple said, when asked why it took so long for this group to be accepting of doing the grimy things to win a basketball game. “It doesn’t happen overnight. Hopefully, those [messages] are finally seeping in. Obviously, we’re in a fight for our life. We want to continue to strive and get to the playoffs if we can. We have to win games to do that. Hopefully, guys are understanding how important these games are. Every detail, every play matters. Guys are playing really hard. And I like that.”
There aren’t many in the current travelling party that aren’t embracing that mentality finally being shown.
Holding Cleveland and Boston to 96 points in back-to-back games is a small sample size, but with just 15 regular-season games left, it’s the only sample they really have to try and build on.
Where it will get interesting, however, is what happens when a certain No. 8 is ready to return?
The Bulls had their team meeting after an embarrassing loss to Orlando, and have played three games since Zach LaVine went into the league’s healthy and safety protocol, first losing to Memphis, and then putting together their best back-to-back defensive efforts of the year.
To a man, no one inside the organization feels like the roster is better without LaVine. It’s not. The Association is still a score-first, ask questions later league, and LaVine is one of the elite players at carrying out that art form.
“I would not sit there and say with our current team, if we take [LaVine] off our current team that we’re a better team without him,” coach Billy Donovan said Tuesday. “I wouldn’t agree with that. I do think that because of maybe the last two games defensively, what the numbers look like and because Zach’s not here, it may look like, ‘OK, that’s the case.’ But I don’t necessarily agree with that at all.”
With LaVine possibly out for up to five more games, however, what if the winning with a defensive-first mentality continues? Would LaVine, who has improved that part of his game but still has a ways to go, see the lesson that’s being taught in his absence?
Donovan not only feels that it won’t be an issue, but that it hasn’t been part of his mentality throughout this year.
“I think he’s really searching for ways that he can help us win and win at a higher level,” Donovan said of LaVine. “He’s done a lot of things to carry us in a lot of different ways. And that load that he’s carrying, as someone that’s trying to get into that next level of player, it’s a learning curve for him. I’ll be totally honest with you – there is a learning curve. But I don’t see him being the kind of guy that says, ‘You know what? I’m a scorer. That dirty work is for somebody else, I’m not doing that.’ That’s never been his disposition or his attitude.”