Mountain finally too high to climb for resilient Bulls?

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Mountain finally too high to climb for resilient Bulls?

From bad to worse, to terrible.

Instead of a third-quarter collapse, it was a fourth-quarter failure.

Instead of Derrick Rose going down with a torn ACL, it was Joakim Noah with a severely sprained ankle.

And instead of a repeat trip to the Eastern Conference Finalsstill a possibility after Roses injury; vanquishing the 76ers appeared to be a foregone conclusionthe Bulls are now in danger of losing in the first round.

Its tough, acknowledged Kyle Korver. Thats just the way our years been.

Indeed, it seems like what began as such a promising season and still seemed like it could end up with a title run, despite Roses multiple injuries, might just not be in the cards. The Bulls have beaten the odds all year, but even their tremendous resiliency might be stretched too thin by the recent run of misfortune.

Next man up. Its the way it is. Weve got more than enough to win with. On the road, youve got to play 48 minutes and going into the last two minutes, the game was right there, right there to be had. Weve got to find a way to win. Find a way to win, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. Weve got to be ready. Thats our job. Weve got to be ready to go. Cant feel sorry for ourselves. Weve got one day to make some corrections and then be ready for Sunday.

It sounds good, but looking at Thibodeau, his face didnt contain that same fighting spirit and while interpreting facial expressions shouldnt be left to journalists, simply observing him on the sidelines during Game 3 spoke volumes. Sure, hell be questioned for allowing Noah back into the game after his gruesome injurythough the center wouldnt have been able to play if he didnt insist on it and the teams medical staff didnt allow itbut more than anything, it appears that last seasons NBA Coach of the Year just doesnt have any more rabbits to pull out of his hat.

Everyones got to play to their strengths and theyre not here by accident. Every player has strengths, so weve got to play to their strengths and weve got to find a different way to score, and weve got to do it quickly. Theres going to be a quick turnaround here. We cant feel sorry for ourselves. Sunday, when that ball goes up, weve got to be ready to go, said Thibodeau, still refusing to bend to what everyone else can see is a stacked deck. Injuries are part of the game, so youve got to have a mental toughness to get past all that. Weve had injuries all year and you just deal with it, but if you look, you can find something every night, every game. Short-handed, regular season back-to-back, early start, late start, whatever it is, or you can find a way to win and thats what you need. You need guys that have great will to win and no matter what the circumstances are, will find a way to win.

Hey, at least if the captains going down with his ship, his crew is staying on board with him.

Weve got to get one here, right? queried Kyle Korver, ironically a former 76er. So if we didnt get tonight, weve got to get it on Sunday and go back home tied 2-2, home-court advantage, so thats our focus.

Thats the way it is with this Bulls team. Unfortunately, good intentions wont make up for the loss of arguably their two most important players, after back-to-back crushing defeats.

Report: Pau Gasol tells Bulls he has declined option, becoming a free agent

Report: Pau Gasol tells Bulls he has declined option, becoming a free agent

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, but Pau Gasol is hitting the market.

Gasol told the Bulls that he has declined his option for the 2016-17 season and will become a free agent, according to ESPN's Marc Stein.

The 35-year-old signed a three-year, $22.3 million deal with the Bulls in the summer of 2014.

In two seasons with the Bulls, he averaged 17.6 points per game and 11.4 rebounds and made an All-Star appearance.

Bulls: NBA Validation for Valentine came in the United Center last season

Bulls: NBA Validation for Valentine came in the United Center last season

Denzel Valentine’s annual growth had long been noticed by NBA executives but perhaps fittingly, it was a game in Chicago that served as the reinforcement he needed to know the NBA was in his sights.

On a national stage and on the United Center floor last November, Valentine put up one of the best stat lines in college basketball, leading Michigan State to a comeback 79-73 win over Kansas, a team ranked No. 4 in the nation at the time.

If he had any doubts about his future, a 29-point, 12-rebound and 12-assist performance served as the confirmation he was on an upward trajectory.

“I knew I could play in the NBA when I started my career at Michigan State,” Valentine said to CSNChicago.com after his introductory news conference. “Playing against guys like (Victor) Oladipo, (Cody) Zeller and those guys, I knew I could play in the NBA but I didn’t know I would be a first round, 14th pick. But I realized that this year after my triple double against Kansas.

“I realized I could be the best player in the country. It was very important because I got off to a good start and it helped me throughout the year.”

That night, the Bulls were rolling right along at 7-3, headed out West for a four-game trip and looking every bit like a team that would be in the thick of Eastern Conference contention. The likelihood of a marriage between a player billed as a mid-lottery pick and the Bulls seemed improbable if not damn near impossible.

But the Bulls hit several roadblocks and landed in the draft lottery, while Valentine put together one of the more complete statistical seasons in recent memory, averaging nearly 20 points and almost eight rebounds and eight assists.

Valentine hit a roadblock of his own with draft preparation, as word about prospective teams red-flagging his left knee began to trickle out, raising questions about his long-term availability.

At least one team in the lottery definitively passed on Valentine because of fears surrounding his knee, which was surgically worked on in high school and followed by a minor procedure in December, causing him to miss four games.

“It did surprise me because I’m healthy now,” Valentine said. “I only missed four games. I can control what I can control and let the chips fall that it may. I was a little surprised, a little angry that people were texting me asking if I were hurt. And I was like ‘what?’ But at the same time, I could control what I could control and I’m happy to be here.”

Missing a few practices here and there seemed to be the biggest side effect for Valentine through the season, as accolades followed nonetheless with him winning National Player of the Year over Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, who went sixth in last Thursday’s draft.

“He’s gonna go out there and fight,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s been in so many high-pressure games at Michigan State. For a guy that played in Final Fours, made big play after big play. He’s been a part of winning cultures since high school. That’s huge, great experience for Denzel. If he can suit up, he can play.”

The awards are certainly not a precursor for pro success, as more than a few collegiate POY’s have wound up as professional carcasses in an unforgiving game.

But the qualities Valentine was noted for in college could translate to the NBA, and from the sounds of things he’ll get every opportunity with the Bulls to show off his versatility.

He’ll be thrown into the shallow end of the pool, so to speak, in Summer League next month. New acquisition Jerian Grant (via the Derrick Rose trade), Cristiano Felicio, Bobby Portis and Spencer Dinwiddie (acquired for Cameron Bairstow) will also join Valentine in Las Vegas.

“He's a basketball player,” Hoiberg said. “That's the big thing I got from talking to coach (Tom) Izzo, is you can play him all over the court. He's a facilitator. He's an excellent positional rebounder. He can bust out with the ball. And he gives you the opportunity to play in so many ways.”

Valentine wasn’t given a definitive position, and perhaps there’s no natural one over the other. But having the ability to be a floor-spreading point guard with Jimmy Butler handling or even a small-ball power forward leaves Hoiberg and the Bulls plenty of options.

“And I think how we want to play with our young core, how Fred we wants to play, we think it's a perfect fit in regards to his skill level and his basketball IQ and what he brings to the floor,” Bulls GM Gar Forman said.

Bulls: Fred Hoiberg, Gar Forman excited for Denzel Valentine's versatility

Bulls: Fred Hoiberg, Gar Forman excited for Denzel Valentine's versatility

The Bulls introduced their newest member on Monday at the Advocate Center.

Denzel Valentine, the Bulls' first-round draft pick, showed off his new No. 45 Bulls jersey for the first time in Chicago.

See what Gar Forman, Fred Hoiberg and Valentine had to say in the video above.