A couple of NBA playoff preview stories chose the same adjective to describe the Chicago Bulls — a “mess.”
It’s easy to see why people chose that language. The Bulls did have a messy and public falling out in January, first when Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler criticized younger teammates for not putting enough effort into winning. Rajon Rondo then took to Instagram to unfavorably compare Wade and Butler to his Boston-era veterans, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
But that was January news. By winning the first two games of their first-round series in Boston, the Bulls seemed to prove the locker-room disagreements are in the past.
“I’ve been reading some of that stuff too and I’m surprised,” Nikola Mirotic said after the Bulls’ emphatic 111-97 victory in Game 2. “Absolutely we are having a lot of fun. But people think we don’t have a chance against Boston. We knew that they were wrong. We knew we were going to play hard, prove to people what we are capable of.”
The feeling around the Bulls for the past couple of months was the January incident — which followed a late-game collapse against Atlanta — helped pull the team closer, since it gave players a chance to air out their feelings.
The dynamic on the Bulls was tricky this season, with a couple of veteran stars in Wade and Rondo, a clear star of the team in Butler, then a bunch of mostly young and inexperienced guys.
“I don’t really see it as a mess,” Bobby Portis said. “I think every team goes through something. I feel that all teams go through their own little way, but other teams don’t do the media stuff like ours did.”
There were a few other meaningful moments in the Bulls’ season. When Rondo was taken out of the starting lineup on Dec. 31, it was essentially a demotion and he didn’t play at all for the next five games.
But then he settled into a role as leader of the second group and became a mentor to the younger guys. That’s a role he enjoyed toward the end of his nine seasons in Boston.
“For sure, the young guys, we look up to Rondo a lot,” Portis said. “He’s a guy that always had our back through anything. It’s fun just to sit around with him and not just talk basketball but talk about everything else that’s going on in your life, whether it’s family issues, playing cards together, all those things are big with us.
“D-Wade and Jimmy Butler, those are primarily our leaders, and we look up to those guys, too. We see Jimmy and D-Wade in the gym every night working hard as they can and that kind of fuels us.”
Now that Rondo returned to the starting lineup late in the regular season and is playing well, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg is getting plenty of questions about why Rondo was benched in the first place.
Hoiberg calmly explained that when Taj Gibson was starting at power forward the Bulls needed an outside shooter in the lineup to space the floor. After…