Jerian Grant benched for Rajon Rondo as musical chairs continue for Bulls

Jerian Grant benched for Rajon Rondo as musical chairs continue for Bulls

CHARLOTTE—Confusion.

That’s the prevailing feeling among the Bulls players these days so as Jerian Grant was removed from the starting lineup by Fred Hoiberg for Rajon Rondo, Grant didn’t seem the least bit surprised.

He doesn’t know when he’ll play or if he’ll play in Monday’s game against the Charlotte Hornets but considering the musical chairs the Bulls have employed at the point guard spot, it’s par for the course at this point of the season.

“I think I felt it coming,” Grant said at his locker at the Spectrum Center. “Obviously the last two games, I’ve probably played a combined 15 minutes if that. I kind of felt like something was coming and it’s been the point guard spot.”

Hoiberg said the change had to deal with pushing the pace and Grant also added it was to get Jimmy Butler some easier shots. Rondo is more of a natural playmaker than any of the point guards they’ve employed as a starter—which would be Rondo, Carter-Williams and Grant.

“The biggest reason I guess I want to try and get a little bit more pace out of the gate,” Hoiberg said. “You know we’re struggling to get easy baskets, obviously in that first group.”

The Bulls scored just nine points in the first quarter of their blowout loss to the Celtics Sunday afternoon, and Grant said the point guard position is the easiest to blame.

“Just the cycle,” Grant said. “When things go wrong, it’s the point guard’s fault. That’s how it is on most teams so that’s how it is here too.”

Except things in Chicago with the Bulls are a little different than most teams, with Hoiberg playing 12 players in first halves in the attempt to “evaluate” while the players are trying to win games and impress the front office.

Grant thought he impressed someone with his fourth quarter play in Orlando when he scored half of the Bulls’ points last week. Then two days later, he was yanked after two and a half minutes for Michael Carter-Williams and hasn’t seen much time since.

“That was a tough one for sure to understand. Don’t really completely understand it but it’s Coach’s decision. Can’t really go against that,” he said. “It’s super tough. You’re labeled as a starter but when you’re only playing 10-12 minutes a game, that’s not really how it is. The Orlando game, I had a pretty good game. The very next game, you come out within 2 minutes and it’s definitely tough to get into a rhythm and give yourself confidence when you’re getting pulled like that.”

Wednesday on CSN: Bulls back at it against Magic

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Wednesday on CSN: Bulls back at it against Magic

Watch as the Bulls take on the Magic on Wednesday on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1. Breaking out of that slump. After their best stretch of basketball all season long the Bulls, of course, have now lost three of four. They're back below .500 for the sixth time this season. With Houston and Boston awaiting them, they'll want to pick up a victory against the lowly Magic.

2. Terrence Ross heating up for the Magic. Since coming over from Toronto in the Serge Ibaka deal Ross hasn't been great, but he does have games of 20 and 24 points. It also came against solid competition in the Hawks and Wizards. He hasn't been consistent, but he can go off at a moment's notice. The Bulls will need to know where he is on the floor at all times.

3. Jimmy Butler back to his old self? He still isn't playing like the All-Star starter he was back in February, but Butler's performance against the Pistons - 27 points while going 12-for-13 from the line - was a sight for sore eyes. Yes, he's seeing more double teams, but the Bulls need him to stay aggressive as possible if they want a chance to win these games.

4. Playoff positioning...again. With the loss to the Pistons the Bulls are now in the No. 8 spot in the East, and that's just 1.5 games ahead of the surging Heat and Bucks. While the Bulls still have a 66.7 percent chance of making the playoffs, per basketball-reference, their March schedule is incredibly tough. Games like Wednesday against the Magic are really must-wins because of the steeper competition they'll face down the stretch.

5. The point guard carousel...again. Depending on how much Rajon Rondo plays, it could be another steady dose of both Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne. The former scored 7 points while Payne tallied 14 points but needed 14 shots to do it. Regardless of how the season plays out, the Bulls want to see what they have in these two young players. Their improvement is crucial as the Bulls look for a long-term answer at the point.

- Check out the latest stats and standings to make sure you’re ready for action

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

- NBC Sports App FAQ: All your questions answered

- Latest on the Bulls: All of the most recent news and notes

Michael Carter-Williams thriving in latest game of Bulls musical chairs

Michael Carter-Williams thriving in latest game of Bulls musical chairs

SACRAMENTO — As Jimmy Butler walked gingerly to the Houston Rockets’ training room with longtime Rockets trainer Keith Jones last Friday night, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg sat in his office in the locker room and called Michael Carter-Williams into it.

Within a couple minutes, Carter-Williams’ face lit up. Carter-Williams was back in the rotation as Butler’s right toe contusion put him out and the Bulls’ third-year guard was back with another chance to definitively be back in the land of the living.

And thus, the Bulls’ game of point guard musical chairs has taken a new beat with Carter-Williams putting together his best stretch of back-to-back games since being acquired late in the preseason.

Scoring 23 that night while gamely defending James Harden — fouling out when Harden literally jumped on his back in overtime — and following it up with 21 against Sacramento solidified himself as someone capable of minutes, no matter who’s on the floor.

But it’s taken plenty of time to get to this point, if he’s fully in the stage of some real consistency. Being a restricted free agent after the season, the uncertainty of not playing for a stretch would get to anybody looking to secure his future.

“It only naturally can. I can only control what I can control,” Carter-Williams told CSNChicago.com in Houston after the Bulls’ narrow loss. “The guys tell me, control what you can control and when you get your opportunity, try to take advantage of it the best you can. Of course it gets frustrating sometimes. I know I'm being watched all the time. It's 30 teams in this league. All it takes is one team to like me.”

If he keeps playing with the aggressiveness and zeal that he’s displayed recently, one would think he wouldn’t be going anywhere. Slashing to the basket for scores, defending, hedging and helping, he’s playing more far more confidence in the two-game sample size than he did in his first 18 games or so after coming back from an early injury.

He was inserted as a starter when Hoiberg was fed up with Rajon Rondo and the lack of fit in the first unit, so it wasn’t exactly a move of merit with Carter-Williams’ play; He was just the next man up.

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So when Carter-Williams’ flaws began to hurt the Bulls — flaws that never disappeared — being yanked from the starting lineup for Jerian Grant in the next game of musical chairs seemed to leave him confused.

And it wasn’t just that he was yanked out of the lineup, he stopped playing completely and without a clear enough explanation.

He was asked if clarity was too much to ask for.

“It's not too much to ask at all,” Carter-Williams said. “It's not that me and Fred don't speak. We talk often. Fred tells me what he thinks in different situations. Some things I disagree with, some things I agree with. But at the end of the day, I respect him and what he says and I'm in this for the team.”

Whether he received an explanation to his satisfaction doesn’t matter. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t be the first player to drive himself crazy over a coach’s decision but it would cost him plenty in a number of ways.

“It's not the first time it's happened,” Carter-Williams said. “In college, I didn't play my whole freshman year (at Syracuse). The thing I'm still learning and gotta learn is to not understand why. Just let it go. If you keep trying to understanding why, you'll drive yourself crazy.”

“If you keep searching for that answer, if you keep thinking about it and not focus in on the right things, It can play with your head a little bit.”

Now he’s put the onus back on Hoiberg to figure out a way to keep Carter-Williams playing aggressively when Butler returns, and he’ll have to balance Carter-Williams, Grant and Rondo’s minutes as the game of musical chairs rages on to the All-Star break.

“I wanna be as good as we can be,” Carter-Williams said. “I wanna be in the playoffs. I wanna experience winning and (Hoiberg)’s not doing things to lose. Whatever he's doing, he's believes we can win the best that way. Just gotta trust him.”