CHICAGO — When head coach Billy Donovan walked into the locker room after the Chicago Bulls lost 124-104 to the Oklahoma City Thunder in their season opener, Bulls players were already talking and asking Can the coach give them a room? Talk among themselves.
“Everybody wants to win,” Bulls guard Zach LaVine said after Wednesday’s game. “You have a game like this in the first game and you’re going to have some conversations. People are frustrated and you should be frustrated… It’s a good thing, but it’s terrible that it happened in In the first game. It happens and we have to go from there.”
Holding a players-only meeting after the first game was not the way Chicago envisioned starting the season after bringing back its core players. The Bulls brought back their top seven players in minutes from last season, adding two reserve players in Jevon Carter and Torrey Craig, but otherwise doubled down on continuity.
However, the Bulls were defeated by the Thunder on Wednesday night. After the first quarter, Chicago led 35-33, but only scored 69 points in the final three quarters. The Bulls had nothing to do with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who finished with 31 points, 10 assists and five rebounds. DeMar DeRozan scored a Bulls-high 20 points.
“We didn’t respond after they ran like that in the second half,” said LaVine, who finished with 16 points on 4-of-16 shooting. “We didn’t perform very well. We didn’t shoot well. It felt like we didn’t play hard enough. It’s our responsibility. It’s a bad way to start the season, but it gives us a chance to bounce back in the next game.”
The locker room wasn’t the only place where Bulls players showed their emotions Wednesday night.
In the third quarter, Donovan and center Nikola Vucevic got into a heated argument on the team’s bench. Vucevic later admitted that he expressed his feelings “maybe a little more aggressively than I should have.”
“These all happened in the heat of the moment,” Vucevic said. “You’re trying to win, you’re trying to help your team win. I didn’t like what happened.”
Donovan added: “I have all the respect in the world for Watch. He felt a certain way and I said how I felt. His feelings may not be wrong, but how do you lead in a motivational way?” This feeling?” team and encourage them. In that moment, maybe I could handle him better, and maybe he could handle me better. It’s not any disrespect or anything. I think he was just a little frustrated with the way we played, and I don’t blame him. “
Despite the two exchanges, Donovan said he was pleased with the way the Bulls discussed matters Wednesday night, especially compared to what he said was a quiet team last season. The Bulls missed the playoffs after missing out in last season’s play-in round and are trying to do better with a nearly identical roster.
So while Donovan stopped short of calling the postgame locker room meeting a team meeting, he did say he’s glad the Bulls are starting to have tough conversations early in the season.
“I’m not going to sit there and say it’s bad, like people are tearing up the locker room,” Donovan said. “That’s not what happened. They were 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 get better, but they know they have to change some habits that they have to break. They’re talking about trying to get this done as a collective.”