Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.
It made my bank shot good now," Derrick Rose was saying with a tight smile Monday morning at practice in New Orleans, considering his preseason facial fracture that was the first domino to fall in what became a one-after-another collapse of this Bulls season.
With Indiana's win Sunday night, this was the first time for Bulls players as a group to begin to assess being out of the playoffs as a franchise for the first time in seven years. They registered similar surprise, regret and disappointment as they will now play out the final two games, in New Orleans and at home Wednesday, against Philadelphia with mostly young players and reserves.
Rose said he will sit out the final two games. Coach Fred Hoiberg confirmed, as expected, Taj Gibson and E'Twaun Moore would not return, and Pau Gasol also would sit out the last two games with recurrent knee issues. Joakim Noah is out for the season. Hoiberg said Jimmy Butler would play after skipping the team flight to New Orleans with an excused personal matter.
"Kind of speechless," Rose said, reflecting the general player consensus as the players went though shooting games in a short session. "At the same time, like I said a couple of days ago, we put ourselves in this position and as men we have to deal with it.
"Kind of a weird season, like you couldn't put a finger on it; it was so many things," said Rose of the fall from contending grace. "The only thing I can look back and take away was we played well toward the end. One of our goals was to make it to the playoffs; that's something we didn't do. If anything this should give us fuel to work out extremely hard in the offseason and keep working."
Amidst the gloom, there were positives, especially for Rose, who got through a season for the first time in five years without a major injury, except, of course, for the preseason orbital fracture. Rose played more games than in any season since his 2011 MVP year.
He finished averaging 16.4 points, 4.7 assists and shooting 43 percent, his best in four years. He also improved steadily during the season with his three-point shooting going up every month from 23 percent in November to 41 percent in March.
"I think I played all right," said Rose. "I think I did what I was supposed to do as far as playing as many games as possible. It's a good place to start. Next year just try to keep getting better and keep improving my game.
"Hang with my son (this summer)," said Rose. "It's the most time I'll have in my career; after this I'll probably be in the playoffs until my career ends.
"I think (the eye injury) set me back, but I think everything happens for a reason," said Rose. "I'm still giving my all to the team. I still believe we can win a championship. It's just this year, can't really put a finger on what really happened. We let things slip a little bit too early and it kind of followed us throughout the entire year. Next year we can have a chance. We have to come in and, like I said, this year be fuel to go into the offseason and really work on our games and come back with revenge on our minds.
"Every year I am going to try to add things to my game," said Rose. "The goal is to win a championship and that's what I am trying to get on my resume."
Butler said he would play Monday and Wednesday. He has played 65 games, one fewer than Rose.
"I want to play with my guys," said Butler. "The guys who are going to be out there are probably still going to be out here next year. They need to get comfortable and get momentum and confidence going into next season. I love this game, this organization, my teammates. I just want to play. I feel like I've missed too many games already. Ain't no need to add two more on top of it."
But Butler, who generally is conversational with media, uncharacteristically grew irritated when asked yet again about whether he and Rose do not mesh.
"C'mon, man, that (crap) always comes up when people lose," Butler spat. "I'm tired of talking about that (crap). I ain't answering that."
But Butler did agree it all is very confusing and disappointing.
"The only thing you can say is you have to learn from it," said Butler, who was an All-Star for the second straight season. "We know what we were capable of this season. Obviously, that didn't happen. It is what it is now. You can't pick just one area. It's not always on the floor as well. I think that's the majority of it. I think whenever we step out in between those lines, we have to be together, we have to compete start to finish. Do we have enough? Yeah, most definitely. I just think with the group of guys we have, we have enough talent. I just think everybody has to work hard and stay together throughout this whole thing and not get astray and worry about one self instead of the one team.
"If you don't play as hard as you're supposed to every night, it doesn't matter what kind of talent you have," Butler explained. "Everybody's got talent or you wouldn't be in this league. It's about the guys who compete every single night as hard as you can and do what you're supposed to do at both ends of the floor. A lot of this season, I feel like I could've done more. It's a learning curve for everybody, especially for myself. It's very humbling. You think you're good enough and think you can do this, something like this happens."
Hoiberg said it will be a period of reflection for himself as well.
"It's incredibly disappointing to find ourselves in this position," Hoiberg said. "Looking back on the season, a lot of things contributed to us being in the spot we're in, not taking advantage of a favorable schedule, not closing out games when we had great opportunities to do that. You look at the West Coast swing and we very easily could've been 5-2 and we ended up 2-5 because we didn't close things out. The first person I'm looking at in this whole situation is me. I have to be better. I have to get our guys to play more consistent basketball.
"I'm confident in my abilities, absolutely," Hoiberg said. "I've been in this league a long time. This is my 16th year in the NBA. Obviously, it's my first year as a coach. There are things looking back that I know I can do better and I know I will do better. It's a learning opportunity for all of us, for the guys who will be back in a Bulls uniform next year. We'll try to correct some things. It will be a big offseason for a lot of guys and we'll come back prepared.
"The biggest issue in my mind has been the overall inconsistent play that we've had," Hoiberg said. "I've got to do a better job getting our guys to develop a killer mentality to finish games off where we don't have the inconsistencies over the course of the game, the habits that need to be built. A lot of this summer will be watching the highs and lows of the season. Even after December where we finished 8-7 with a very favorable schedule, we started out very well in the month of January and got ourselves to 22-12. We went back to inconsistencies. That starts with me.
"There's disappointment across the board, especially the guys that have been in the playoffs," said Hoiberg. "There's nothing worse. I was part of a situation in Minnesota where we lost in the Western Conference finals to the Lakers. We were a healthy Sam Cassell away from winning a championship. We went in with high expectations the next year and missed the playoffs. It's going to a painful offseason, for me, especially, because of the expectations that were there when I took over.
"I'm not sure people realize the full extent of Pau and how he's been playing through this knee injury," Hoiberg said. "Every game his knee blows up and you have to manage his swelling. We'll get an MRI on Pau tomorrow and see how he's doing. Our young guys hopefully will play with a lot of energy. We want to finish strong. We did integrate a lot of new players in the lineup. You look at Doug (McDermott) and E'Twaun and Tony (Snell) got opportunities. Tony will play some these last couple games. Justin Holiday coming over at the trade deadline and showing some pretty good things and then the two rookie bigs that showed a lot of flashes. The way I'm looking at it right now, I'm looking at the future. And some guys got valuable experience. We'll have some of our veteran core guys back and hopefully come into camp in a good place."