WASHINGTON -- Jimmy Butler summed up the entire Chicago Bulls season to date in one quote after Wednesday night's disappointing 117-96 loss to the Washington Wizards. When asked why the Bulls continue to have the same issues defensively that they've had most of the year, the All-Star swingman didn't hesitate in his assessment.
"We're just not the tougher team," Butler said. "I think all the way down this roster we're not the tougher team every night and it shows from the jump ball all the way to the end. When there's a loose ball we're not getting it. If there's a rebound, people got to fight for it, we're not getting that. We're just not the tougher team. And I think it shows a lot of the time."
It showed again Wednesday night.
The Bulls allowed the Wizards to do whatever they wanted offensively. The mediocre Washington group raced up and down the floor to the tune of 25 fast-break points. Wizards guard John Wall put up a triple-double. The Bulls played with no edge from the beginning, and have been playing the same way throughout much of the last month. Before the All-Star break, the Bulls gave up 101.6 points per 100 possessions, good for 10th in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Since the All-Star break, the Bulls have given up 107.1 points per 100 possessions, good for 19th in the league. They have had held only one opponent to fewer than 100 points since the All-Star break.
"We knew it was coming," Bulls sharpshooter Doug McDermott said. "That was the point of emphasis [rookie coach] Fred [Hoiberg] stressed to us before the game. We just weren't able to execute it so that's on us, it's not on him. They hit some tough shots, but you can't give him those easy ones, especially at home, it gets their confidence going."
Once again, Hoiberg seemed both frustrated and exasperated all in the same moment after the game. He reiterated the same point he has been making all season -- the Bulls just aren't taking the messages they learn in practice and applying them to games.
"It's a concerted effort," Hoiberg said. "We watch a lot of film. We obviously go over it in practice. Went through it in shootaround this morning. It's all we talked about in the pregame."
And all he talked about in the postgame was the same story he has been asked about for the last few months. Why do the Bulls continue to be so bad defensively? McDermott and Butler are both right that the intensity has to come from within. It's a player's responsibility to prepare the right way for what's coming that night. But the problems remain the same for the Bulls. It has become clearer throughout the season that the Bulls just aren't picking up what Hoiberg is putting down.
It's a coach's responsibility to make sure his team doesn't make the same mistakes. You might not be able to coach heart and toughness, but if those issues continue to be prominent, it's up to the coach to change up the rotations and find something to make things work better. Nobody is denying the Bulls have been the recipient of a lot of bad luck on the injury front, but that has been the case for the last few years. There is a deeper problem here for this flawed team and it's one that Hoiberg hasn't been able to fix all season.
Butler admitted being surprised at the way his team has been out-toughed throughout the season.
"Yeah, it does," he said. "Because I think we got a lot of guys that have the potential to go out there and play really hard. We just forget how hard we have to play sometimes, a lot of the times actually."
With four years and more than $20 million left on his contract, Hoiberg isn't going anywhere right now. But he has to find a better way to get his point across. His messages, on both sides of the ball, are not getting through consistently for this inconsistent bunch. Bulls executives Gar Forman and John Paxson have to do a better job over the summer filling the roster with players who are more equipped to run Hoiberg's system, but the onus is on the coach to evaluate what's not working and find a way to fix it. Talent will only ever take a team so far. Sixty-six games into the season, the Bulls still haven't found their way under their new coach.
"It's on everybody to do it themselves," Butler said. "You can't make somebody do it. You can't teach somebody how to do it. You either want to or you don't."