‘Frustrated’ Bulls Players Meet After Blowout Defeat In Opener

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The Chicago Bulls players were in the middle of a conversation when coach Billy Donovan entered the locker room after his team’s 124-104 season-opening loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. They asked if they could have a private room to chat among themselves.

“Guys want to win,” Bulls guard Zach LaVine said after Wednesday’s game. “You put up a game like this in game 1, you’re going to have some conversations. Guys are frustrated and you should be. … It’s a good thing, but sucks that it happened game 1. It happened, and we got to go from there.”

Chicago did not envision their season beginning with a players-only meeting following the opening game, following the return of the bulk of their roster. The Bulls doubled down on roster consistency, bringing back their top seven players by minutes played from the previous campaign while also adding two reserves in Torrey Craig and Jevon Carter.

But on Wednesday night, the Thunder outmatched the Bulls. After the first quarter, Chicago was up 35–33, but in the next three quarters, they managed just 69 points. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander ended with 31 points, 10 assists, and five rebounds, and the Bulls had no answer for him. With 20 points, DeMar DeRozan led the Bulls.

“We just didn’t respond once they did that run in the second half,” said LaVine, who finished with 16 points on 4-of-16 shooting. “Wasn’t a great showing from us. Didn’t shoot the ball well. Don’t feel like we played with enough heart. And that’s on us. Terrible way to come out and start the season, but it gives us opportunity to bounce back the next game.”

On Wednesday night, Bulls players vented their emotions outside of the locker room.

Donovan got into a heated argument with center Nikola Vucevic on the team bench during the third quarter. In the aftermath, Vucevic admitted to having voiced his emotions “maybe a little more aggressively than I should have.”

“Those happen in the heat of the moment,” Vucevic said. “You’re trying to win, you’re trying to do what you can to help your team win. I didn’t like what was going on.”

Donovan added: “I got all the respect in the world for Vooch. He felt a certain way and I said what I felt. And he’s probably not wrong for feeling the way he did, but how do you channel that in a way that galvanizes the group and lifts them up. In the moment, maybe I could’ve handled it better with him and maybe he could have handled it better with me. It wasn’t anything disrespectful or anything else. I think he was just kind of frustrated with the way we were playing, and I didn’t blame him.”

In spite of the two exchanges, Donovan expressed satisfaction with the manner the Bulls were talking about their problems on Wednesday night, particularly in contrast to the team he described as being silent the previous season. The Bulls, who lost in the play-in tournament and missed the playoffs the previous season, are attempting to improve their performance with a nearly identical squad.

Although Donovan refrained from referring to the locker-room meeting after the game as a team meeting, he expressed his satisfaction that the Bulls were having tough talks at the beginning of the season.

“I’m not going to sit there and say that it was bad, like people were tearing up the locker room,” Donovan said. “It was nothing like that. They were in there talking. I walked in and they said, ‘Hey, Coach, can we talk?’ I said sure and I left.’

“There’s nothing personal about any of this stuff. These guys do care, and they want to be better, but they know there’s habits they’ve got to change, and they’ve got to break. And they’re talking about trying to do that collective as a group.”