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Wendell Carter Jr Calls Out Leaderless Bulls

The Bulls are missing a big voice while Kris Dunn recovers from injury. Until then, it’s on Wendell Carter Jr to lead his team despite his young age.

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“When the times get hard, I feel like we start to separate. And I feel like those are the times we need each other the most.”

Wise words from an NBA vet-errr, never mind. Those wise words were spoken in the visitor’s locker room at the TD Garden in Boston last night by Chicago Bulls rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Yeah, that 19 year-old kid. Remind me who the leader is on this listless team right now?

The 4-11 Bulls are looking anywhere and everywhere for answers during a brutal stretch of their schedule; trying to stay afloat while they wait for key pieces like Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine to get healthy. Zach LaVine is doing everything he can to lead their scoring efforts on a nightly basis. But when LaVine has an off-night, things get ugly rather quickly. That’s exactly what happened last night in Boston, as LaVine’s 20-point game streak came crashing to a halt and the Bulls mustered just 82 points in 48 minutes. For those keeping score at home, that’s 10 points fewer than they surrendered to the Golden State Warriors in 24 minutes of basketball earlier this season.

As Will Perdue said, where was the pride of this young and undermanned group that night at the United Center when Klay Thompson went nuts? Why did no one step up and say, “I don’t care how, but we do NOT let that guy break the 3-point record in OUR house”? It goes back to the sentiments the Bulls’ youngest player expressed after their 11th loss last night. When things take a turn for the worse, they separate instead of coming together.

“It’s not so much an offensive or defensive thing. Just coming out of timeouts, we go our separate ways. Instead of huddling as a team, we only huddle when the coach – when it’s a timeout. And I feel like that’s important. Just to talk to one another, interact with one another throughout the game so we get a feel for one another and know that we got each others’ back. I feel like that’s where we struggle right now.”

How is it that a 19 year-old rookie sounds like the most mature and insightful person in this locker room? It’s a great sign for the future of the Bulls’ most recent lottery pick. This kid has “veteran leader” written all over him. But is there no one else to do the leading in a season when his focus should be developing his NBA game? Who might that be?

The obvious options are LaVine and Dunn. One is clearly the team’s best offensive player, while the other anchors the team’s defense when healthy. LaVine deserves credit for shattering expectations early this season, scoring at will from all over the floor. But there’s little evidence of him being the vocal leader on the floor, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s no written rule saying your team’s best scorer must also serve as the vocal leader. (Let’s remember that a young Derrick Rose was not the leader of the Bulls teams of yesteryear. No, that role belonged to Joakim Noah and Luol Deng.)  Honestly, LaVine should get some measure of a pass for not being a vocal leader on the defensive end given everything being asked of him on offense.

The front office duo of John Paxson and Gar Forman repeatedly laud Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez as veteran leaders for this very young team. But is there much evidence of them serving those roles on the court? Holiday might be among the team’s leaders in minutes played, but that doesn’t mean he’s leading them in any other way. Lopez has been in and out of the rotation, and it’s hard to be a leader if you’re not regularly on the floor.

Dunn is the vocal leader this team is missing. He spoke during the offseason about wanting to take on that role, and his teammates were ready to fall in line. Bobby Portis praised Dunn for helping him understand his defensive role as a big manning the baseline, recalling Dunn’s comparison to a quarterback who can see the whole field. LaVine expressed his gratitude to Dunn for calling out his defensive shortcomings after Dunn suggested to Zach that his length and athleticism should allow him to be just as strong as Dunn on that end of the floor.

But while Dunn nurses his sprained MCL, who has taken on that responsibility of holding teammates accountable? Making sure the whole team is communicating during the game and in timeouts? According to Wendell, the answer is sadly: no one.

“It’s hard. I guess it does kind of start with one voice. And we’re looking for that voice right now.”

Guess what, youngin? I think we found the voice. It’s you. Tell your teammates to fall in line until Dunn gets back.

Have thoughts on last night’s game or Wendell’s postgame comments? Comment below or continue the conversation with me on Twitter @Bulls_Peck.

In addition to Locked On Bulls, Matt is the host of Bulls Outsiders on NBC Sports Chicago, which follows Bulls Postgame Live after every Bulls game. He also hosts The 312 on AM 1590 WCGO on Saturday afternoons, covering all 5 of Chicago's major teams. His work has been featured in the Chicago Tribune, Bleacher Report, NBA.com and FanRag Sports. The only things he loves more than Chicago sports are grilled meats and his adorable niece.

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Game Recap

Bulls offense getting a boost from Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine

Coming into last night’s game, head coach Jim Boylen let the media know that the Bulls were had the best offensive rating in the NBA over the last five games.

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Bulls offense is getting a boost from young guns Markkanen and LaVine - Locked On Bulls

On today’s episode of Locked On Bulls, Matt goes solo and breaks down the Bulls’ Monday night loss to the East-leading Milwaukee Bucks.

The conversation starts with a close look at the way Zach LaVine has increased his assist numbers while maintaining his efficient scoring streak and his growing chemistry with Lauri Markkanen. Matt notes the poor shooting night from Lauri Markkanen but discussed the ways in which the Finnish kid positively affected the game despite the 6-21 shooting. Notably, his continued success grabbing rebounds, and his willingness to put the ball on the floor to jump-start transition offense opportunities after corralling boards.

In the second segment, Matt discusses Jim Boylen’s latest attempt at a small-ball lineup from last night, which saw Otto Porter Jr. getting minutes at the 5. With Cristiano Felicio essentially being unusable in an NBA game, Boylen has started to use more small looks with Markkanen and now Porter at the center position for certain stretches. Unfortunately, the Bulls are so weak in their second unit that the Porter-Luwawu-Harrison-Selden-Arcidiacono experiment last night looked awful. But when the Bulls hopefully add some better depth to this roster, they should – with or without Boylen – continue to experiment with these small-ball kinds of lineups.

And finally, Matt wraps up the show questioning the latest head-scratching decision by Boylen and his staff to let an injured player keep playing. Kris Dunn took a nasty fall and landed on his backside. Despite being invisibly serious pain and taking a trip to the locker room, Dunn came back into the game in the 4th quarter. He looked immobile. Why was he out there? It’s yet another example on the heels of Zach LaVine playing through a re-aggravated ankle sprain and Chandler Hutchison fighting through 41 minutes with a broken toe. For a team with just 13 wins nearing the All-Star break, Matt asks: what is the point of this, and why is no one telling Boylen to stop?

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Game Recap

Boylen’s Bulls were supposed to be filled with spirit and passion…

The Bulls were booed off their home floor last night for the third time under Jim Boylen in a 112-84 loss to the Magic.

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Jim Boylen's Bulls were suppose to be filled with spirit and passion - Locked On Bulls

Locked On Bulls is back with a fresh episode, the guys kick off the show talking about the Bulls and Orlando Magic last night. A discussion about how things spiral out of control, the lack of offense, and making the Magic look like one of the best teams in the East. The guys talk about a solid first half for Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, and Zach LaVine – who shot 12-20 from the field and lead the team in scoring. The guys talk about Boylen’s lineup choices, needing to see Hutchison more, and why Carter was benched last night.

Are the Bulls playing Holiday and Robin Lopez more over the last few weeks to increase trade value? The guys talk about how Jabari Parker was not used even in a blow out last night and what Boylen said he plans to do going forward. Should Bulls fans be concerned with the way Carter is playing right now? Jim Boylen explains why he thinks you can learn more from sitting on the bench than playing in the game. The guys compare Carter’s numbers under Hoiberg and Boylen so far this season.

In a small sample size, Kris Dunn has shown improvement finishing at the rim this season. Locked On Bulls discusses his jump in numbers, what he needs to improve on, and how Boylen will use him will be key to his success.

Locked On Bulls talks about how the players are reacting to Boylen’s style, how night’s like last night is about as bad as the loss to the Celtics. If the Bulls continue to lose games at a high rate it may bring a top pick but will also come with some consequences. To wrap up the show, the guys talk about LeBron James’ comments on being the greatest player of all time. The guys compare that to when Michael Jordan was asked in 2009 about calling himself the goat. All of this and so much more on Locked On Bulls.

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Game Recap

Did Bulls show some spirit and passion after brawl, blowout vs. Thunder?

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Bulls-Thunder spills over into near brawl, Robin Lopez ejected - Locked On Bulls

Locked On Bulls is back with a fresh episode, the guys have plenty to talk about after being off on Monday. The guys get to last night’s Bulls-Thunder game in which tension boiled over into a near brawl. The guys break down who really started it, Robin Lopez getting in the mix and eventually ejected, and Jim Boylen right in the middle. Did the Bulls show spirit and passion by fighting back or is this eyewash for toughness?

They start first with the Bulls 21-point comeback win against Jim Boylen idol’s San Antonio Spurs. How the Bulls dug themselves such a hole and were able to climb out of it. Does Kris Dunn have the clutch gene? Yes? No? Too early to tell? The guys break down Markkanen and Dunn’s performance being able to get them back into the game.

Locked On Bulls has a conversation about the Bulls advanced metrics, how they stack up during the Boylen Era vs. the rest of the NBA. The guys talk about the usage of Wendell Carter Jr., his first-half foul trouble leading the NBA, and some explanation on why it might be happening.

The weekend brought rumors about the Bulls taking calls on Jabari Parker from as many as 15 teams according to sources. Are the guys buying 15 teams being interested? Will the Bulls be willing to talk on bad money? Probably not, they also talk about the most likely team involved in talks and how a buyout with Parker is still the most realistic option. To wrap up the show, the guys talk about quotes from Gar Forman in the LA Times. All of this and so much more on Locked On Bulls.

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