CHICAGO -- Jimmy Butler understands the sounds he heard emanating from all over the United Center after Friday night's embarrassing 95-69 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. The boos coming from Bulls fans were as striking as the lack of effort from their favorite team throughout another lackluster game.
"Don't nobody come out to watch us get beat the way we got beat," Butler said. "The way that we've been playing, it's unacceptable, especially for this city."
For the second consecutive night, the Bulls were outhustled and outclassed by the Bucks. At least the Bulls showed some signs of life during a fourth-quarter burst on Thursday night in Milwaukee, when they cut what had been a 27-point lead to nine. Friday's performance was even more cringeworthy, because the Bulls never fought back. They played as if they didn't want to be there.
It was the low point of Fred Hoiberg's tenure in Chicago.
The Bulls were lethargic from the start, allowed the Bucks to run up and down the floor, and repeatedly looked at each other on the defensive end as if they were lost. Having bad games here and there happens to every team in the league over the course of an 82-game season, but having them on consecutive nights against the same team -- days after a total collapse against the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves and former coach Tom Thibodeau -- is a major indictment for a group that has lost its way.
The Bulls have lost six of their past eight games and don't seem to know exactly how to fix their problems. The defense has been bad, the offense has stalled and the morale that was so high a few weeks ago has flatlined.
"It starts with communication," Hoiberg said. "We've taken a step back in that area. We've got to get back to talking to each other. Getting in our coverages early, and we're not doing that right now."
Hoiberg is kidding himself if he actually believes better communication will cure what ails his team. The reality for the Bulls is the same one it has been since before the season started: The talent on the roster simply isn't good enough from top to bottom.
For all the flaws Hoiberg has shown in his first season and a half in Chicago, specifically in his inability to consistently get his players to carry out what he expects from them on the floor, losses like the Bulls have experienced in recent days run deeper than the head coach.
Bulls general manager Gar Forman said over the summer his team was going to get "younger" and "more athletic." Forman's favorite talking point was that the Bulls had 10 players on their roster with three years or less of experience, and he was confident they would produce with another season in Hoiberg's system. A quarter of the way through, Forman has proved to be wrong. Doug McDermott, Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis, Cris Felicio, Isaiah Canaan, Jerian Grant and Niko Mirotic just haven't been very good.
The reserves, along with little-used Paul Zipser, combined to go 10-for-35 from the field on a night when the Bulls as a team shot just 30.4 percent. No Bulls player played particularly well on Friday, but the continued reliance on Butler and Dwyane Wade has taken its toll on a starting group that has seen its production fall recently.
Wade, who turns 35 next month, had little bounce in his step and looked tired playing his third game in four nights. He was just 5-for-14 from the field, which was exacerbated by Butler's 3-for-14 display. Rajon Rondo was once again a nonfactor, as teams repeatedly dare him to shoot from the outside.
As much blame as Hoiberg deserves for not being able to get through to his team at times, Forman deserves even more, because he and executive vice president John Paxson built this roster. They were confident in the younger players, and they were the ones who signed Rondo over the summer.
Just as telling, Forman and Paxson signed off on Hoiberg, selling him as both an offensive guru and a player's coach who would be respected within the framework of the Bulls' locker room. That has not been the case, as evidenced by Chicago's recent play.
Despite all the issues the Bulls are facing, however, Butler does not believe it's time for his team to have a players-only meeting.
"It's all hype, man," said Butler, in his sixth season with Chicago. "It's all hype. We know what we're capable of, we know what to do. Go out there and execute, do what we're supposed to be doing. We don't need to sit in a circle and hold each other's hands and talk about all of that. We don't talk that much out there on the floor. That's where the problem begins. We got to help each other, we got to be vocal, we [don't need to] feel sorry for ourselves and sit in a circle and pat ourselves on the back."
Even when the Bulls were winning games earlier in the season, the flaws within this team were hovering just below the surface. The Bulls' starting five was shouldering too much of a burden, the reserves weren't developing and the long-range shooting that was a problem coming into the season remained a problem after a hot start. The difference now is that Wade isn't producing at the same level and teams focus their game plans on Butler more than ever and throw a body at him wherever he goes.
At 13-13, the Bulls are exactly what so many people around the league thought they would be when observers watched Forman and Paxson put this group together over the summer: a mediocre team that would play up-and-down basketball all season. The problem for the organization is that while the Bulls are younger on paper, they aren't that athletic, and they aren't much better than they were a season ago. They might even prove to be worse. The young core isn't good and struggles even more when juxtaposed against a Bucks core that includes players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Chicago's Simeon Career Academy product Jabari Parker.
That's why the boos around the arena on Friday night were so telling. Fans were upset about the effort and execution, but they continue to see a glimpse into the future -- and it doesn't look good. No amount of All-Star-caliber performances from Wade or Butler can cover that up much longer. The Bulls are stuck in the worst place to be in professional sports -- the middle -- and Forman and Paxson are the ones who built the roster and chose the coach that got them there. In the wake of the Bulls' worst performance in recent memory, they are the ones that deserve more blame than anybody else.