The Chicago Bulls have been one of the most disappointing teams in the NBA this season, and arguably the most disappointing aspect of their campaign is their highly touted backcourt's continued failure to jell.
Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler have each shown glimpses (in Butler's case, a lot more than that) of individual brilliance, but the whole has never quite equaled the sum of its parts. Injuries to both have limited the amount of time they've been able to play together, but even when both have suited up, the Bulls are just 27-27 - no better than their record when at least one of them sits (12-12) - and the team's net rating when they share the floor (minus-3.4) is worse than its overall mark (minus-2).
"It's been a tough dynamic," head coach Fred Hoiberg admitted Wednesday, according to ESPN's Nick Friedell.
Hoiberg, though, doesn't see that tough dynamic as evidence that the partnership can't succeed in the future. Though their inability to mesh has created a heightened sense of mystery, scrutiny, and speculation about the pair's relationship, he points to their injuries as the chief culprit.
"Derrick will miss three or four games and then put him back in and then just the style of play that you have is different," he said. "You have to integrate him back into the lineup. And then Jimmy misses a few games and then gets back in. So it's been a tough dynamic, and I think you saw a little bit of that (Tuesday) night with Derrick coming back for the first time.
"As far as anything between the two of the them? No. And I think if you asked those two guys, they'd tell you the same thing."
With Rose returning from a two-game absence Tuesday against the Memphis Grizzlies, Butler - who averaged 26.5 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists in those two Rose-less games - went dead quiet, registering five points on eight field-goal attempts. The Bulls lost what was essentially a must-win game to a depleted team that had lost six straight and 10 of 12 coming in, all but extinguishing their already guttering playoff hopes.
Butler put the onus for the loss on himself, deflecting attention from whatever it is that continues to stunt his and Rose's on-court chemistry.
"That was just me being very passive," Butler said.
"I didn't play well. I didn't play like I'm capable of playing. It has nothing to do with him. It has nothing to do with them. It has nothing to do with my coaches. It has everything to do with me. So it's not, 'if we can co-exist.' It's, 'Jimmy Butler has to play better; Jimmy Butler has to do whatever it takes to help this team win.' He can't do anything about that. That has nothing to do with Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose. It has everything to do with just Jimmy Butler. (I'm) not being selfish but it's the truth."
Hoiberg, who has reportedly had his own chemistry issues with Butler, told Friedell he met with his All-Star swingman after Tuesday's game, but didn't specify what the two discussed behind closed doors.