CHICAGO -- On the laundry list of injuries the Chicago Bulls have been dealing with this season, the most important one that has been missing on the injury report is heart. The Bulls haven't played with much of it lately, and it has added one more item to a growing list in what continues to look like a lost season.
As respected veteran Taj Gibson hobbled around the locker room on an aching ankle after Wednesday's 113-90 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the veteran of seven NBA seasons, all with the Bulls, acknowledged that it wasn't his foot that hurts most.
"It's frustrating," Gibson said. "It's very frustrating because we have more than enough to win. We used to win games with less than this. I think it's our mental [approach]. It's extremely frustrating and it hurts my heart."
Like the rest of his teammates, Gibson can't pinpoint why the Bulls continue to play as poorly as they have lately, heading into the All-Star break having lost 13 of their past 18 games and sliding to seventh in the East with a 27-25 record.
"I don't think it's quit," Gibson said. "I just think at times we have a little doubt. That's where the talking and leadership -- we're out there, we're talking a lot, but I can't seem to put a finger on it. It's frustrating. I try and tell guys, we've got to get back to playing for each other. Just got to go out there and play, leave your heart out there and just lay it on the line. We got more than enough to win games. It's just frustrating."
At this point, the realization has to come from the front office that this group does not have enough to win with. Changes are in order. Moves have to be made with the trade deadline approaching Feb. 18.
In the short term, that means that Pau Gasol should be dealt by next week. Gasol is too talented an offensive player to continue languishing on a roster that does not have enough to win a title. Bulls general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president John Paxson should get the best return they can for the 35-year-old big man. The argument for keeping Gasol to win and go for a first-round series victory in the playoffs doesn't hold much water these days given the Bulls aren't winning games with him.
Aside from the injuries, the biggest problem for the Bulls is that they don't have a lot of other assets. Nikola Mirotic isn't coming back for a while after an appendectomy and a hematoma removal. Jimmy Butler is probably out for another month because of a knee strain. Joakim Noah is out for the season after shoulder surgery. And Gibson, a valuable asset because of his modest $8 million salary next season, appears to be hampered by the same ankle injury that slowed him last season.
What is the point of keeping the same team intact when that team has proved it isn't consistent enough or mentally tough enough to overcome adversity more than halfway through the season?
"We got to find ourselves," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "I challenged them, whatever they got to do over the break, look themselves in the mirror, find a way to get committed to this team where we can come out and go on a run. And that's all we can do right now is look forward. It's been a bad, bad stretch of basketball. Hopefully we'll get healthy and move forward."
But even when they've been healthy, the Bulls have been inconsistent and don't seem to enjoy playing with one another. To keep that same roster together moving forward seems the wrong way to approach the issues this team has created.
That's why Paxson and Forman need to look in the mirror more than anyone else and give an honest assessment of the roster they have built.
"When we come back, hopefully this break gives us a little time to get away from it," Derrick Rose said. "Come back, got 30 games left and we got to decide whether we want to play or not."
Paxson and Forman have to figure out why the chemistry continues to be so bad on a team full of so many good, character players. And it's very evident in watching Hoiberg's team that those players are not absorbing his message on a nightly basis. The Bulls aren't going to jettison Hoiberg in the first year of a five-year, $25 million deal, especially when they are still paying former coach Tom Thibodeau $9 million over the next two years, so the only recourse Paxson and Forman have is to try to fix the DNA of this team on the fly.
When asked what had to change, Gibson had an answer weighing on his mind.
"The accountability," Gibson said. "And we got to play a lot harder. We got to do what the coach wants us to do. We have to understand when he writes something on the board we have to do it. At the same time, we have to execute and have the heart to just go out there and play. Just get back to having fun."
The truth is the Bulls look miserable out on the floor together. Their games are joyless. They have splintered apart even more than they did at the end of Thibdoeau's last season. If Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf is confident with Paxson and Forman still leading the way, and all indications are that he is, then it's up to the two basketball lifers to change a roster that is badly in need of a makeover.
"It's confusing and frustrating at the same time because we have way more talent than we did the year we went to the Eastern Conference finals, I think." Gibson said. "We just had guys back then that played for each other and willing to do whatever it takes and have fun playing the game. And we got good guys. The thing about it [is] we all get along with each other. Sometimes it just takes ... you need a lot more than just having a like for each other. You got to just really deep down love each other and play hard knowing that that guy's going to battle for you."