LOS ANGELES — Losing is taking its toll on the Chicago Bulls. During the team’s Monday practice in Santa Monica, Robin Lopez made an aggressive play on Kris Dunn, leading the two to exchange words. Lopez, seemingly angry, left practice for 15 minutes to cool off before returning.
While tough, chippy practices are not out of the ordinary in the NBA, the Bulls are in a particularly tenuous situation. Chicago has lost seven straight games, including a 37-point loss to Golden State, and it has yet to find its identity under coach Jim Boylen, who took over from Fred Hoiberg in December.
“We had a very, very competitive practice,” Boylen said. “I felt like we had some guys who are sick of not winning games.”
Dunn agreed, adding that while the team is staying positive, being tied for second to last in the league is draining.
“It is frustrating to be on a losing streak,” Dunn said. “We are trying to figure out ways to get that monkey off our back.”
Lopez politely declined to speak with reporters on Monday, but Boylen said Lopez told him his discontent stems from not playing as many minutes as he had in previous seasons.
“I’m going to play some different people,” Boylen said. “He has got pride and he wants to play, but he’s all for the team and he understands. You don’t always expect guys to be happy with their situation or their minutes or whatever. That’s not part of this league. What’s part of this league is you have to do what’s best for the team. Rolo has always done that.”
The Bulls are working to get at least a second-round pick in a trade for Lopez and his $14 million expiring contract. But there have also been rumors of a possible buyout as the Feb. 7 trade deadline approaches. If teams sense that Lopez will be bought out, there’s less of an incentive to give up a draft asset before the deadline.
The Bulls would likely only accept another expiring contract back for him in a trade, and getting the money to match up with Lopez’s salary presents a challenge. For now, the Bulls position is that they plan to keep Lopez for the season, barring a trade, because of the veteran leadership he provides on a young team. But the situation appears fluid.
“He said it is not wearing on him,” Boylen said of buyout conversations. “Rolo is a competitive person, he is a great teammate, and I am thankful he is on this team. If something happens, something happens.”
Bulls general manager Gar Forman and Lopez’s representatives with Wasserman Media Group have had several conversations on the issue. In the meantime, Boylen has tried to show the Bulls examples of their stretches of solid play during the losing streak.
“Our goal is to play competitive basketball and break through,” Boylen said. “And I think not breaking through is where some of the frustration comes.”