Chicago basketball report: Bulls chase consistency after rocky start — and could Skylar Diggins-Smith join the Sky?

The Chicago Bulls are looking to set things straight after an up-and-down first week of the regular season highlighted by a blowout loss and buzzer- beater win.

The Chicago Sky are looking ahead after naming a new head coach and general manager.

Every Wednesday throughout the season, Tribune writers will provide an update on what happened — and what’s ahead for the Bulls, Sky and local hoops.

Chicago Bulls finish whirlwind first week of the season 2-2

The Bulls could not have gotten off to a rockier start — a blowout loss and a players meeting on the first night of the season. Players were furious after taking an “unacceptable” 124-104 beating from the Oklahoma City Thunder at home. They responded two nights later by scrabbling for an overtime win punctuated by an 18-point fourth quarter from DeMar DeRozan and a game-winning 3-pointer by Alex Caruso.

But the win didn’t shake off any of the uncertainty facing the Bulls. They dropped a 118-102 loss to the Detroit Pistons on Saturday despite a career-high 51-point performance from Zach LaVine, then grinded out a 112-105 win over the Indiana Pacers on Monday by slowing things down on the defensive end.

Despite very little turnover in the roster, things still aren’t clicking for the Bulls. Their offensive rating is sixth-lowest in the league (104.5) and their defense hasn’t been as smothering as it was last season. The offense has succeeded in taking more 3-pointers only to see their accuracy plummet to 29.4%.

“It’s something that we have to figure out,” LaVine said after the loss in Detroit. “The first through games, we haven’t gotten 100% of it yet. We’re trying to figure out something that isn’t working. We’re gonna stick with it though.”

Chicago Sky find their new head coach and general manager

The Chicago Sky set the stage for a new era over the past week as they filled the head coach and general manager positions.

Teresa Weatherspoon introduced herself to Chicago last Tuesday in a news conference with chairman Nadia Rawlinson and star Kahleah Copper. Weatherspoon will be a first-time coach in the WNBA after serving as head coach for Louisiana Tech and an assistant coach for the New Orleans Pelicans. The Hall of Famer’s selection as head coach was met with immediate enthusiasm from Copper and her teammates, who feel Weatherspoon’s vision for the Sky fits their identity as players.

“From the very first conversation, we connected over energy,” Copper said. “I’ve never had a coach that could really match my energy and that really hit me.”

On Tuesday, the Sky named Jeff Pagliocca their new general manager. This will be the first time the franchise has split the positions of general manager and head coach. Pagliocca worked with the Sky over the past four seasons as a player development coach and adviser to the head coach. His experience as a talent scout and skills coach will be critical for the Sky to acquire and develop the correct personnel to fit with Weatherspoon’s system.

What to know about the NBA in-season tournament

The Bulls play their first game of the in-season tournament Friday against the Brooklyn Nets. The night will feel like any other regular-season game — except the jersey and courts will be different and the stakes will be higher for players.

The in-season tournament is a new addition for the NBA designed to raise the interest and competition level of games throughout the first three months of the season. Teams were seeded into groups of five based on their record in the 2022-23 season. The Bulls are in Eastern Conference Group C with the Nets, Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Orlando Magic.

Each team will play four group-stage games and the top team will advance to a knockout round, along with an additional wild-card team from each conference.

The Bulls will play three more group-stage games this month:

Nov. 17 vs. Orlando Magic
Nov. 24 at Toronto Raptors
Nov. 28 at Boston Celtics

If they win their group, they will advance to the quarterfinals which take place on Dec. 4-5. The semifinal and final games of the tournament will be hosted at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

The league is incentivizing player performance in the tournament through financial prizes. Each player on the championship team will receive $500,000; players on the second-place team will receive $200,000; players on the losing semifinalist teams will receive $100,000; and players on the losing quarterfinalist teams will receive $50,000.

Could Skylar Diggins-Smith join the Chicago Sky?

WNBA free agency is only months away and one player in particular has become an item of interest in Chicago: Skylar Diggins-Smith.

It’s clear that Diggins-Smith will not return to Phoenix after her relationship with the team and fellow star Diana Taurasi grew contentious over the last two years. The six-time All-Star took to social media last week and asked fans to submit their pitches for which teams she should look at as she enters free agency this January.

Diggins-Smith would be an asset to any team, but especially for the Sky, who spent most of last season scrambling for a solution at point guard. The Sky spent most of this year converting Courtney Williams from shooting guard to point guard, a challenging transition that didn’t allow high-scoring stars like Marina Mabrey and Kahleah Copper to play to their full potential.

The Sky need to make a change at point guard. Could Diggins-Smith be the answer? The key is making the right pitch to one of the most sought-after free agents this winter.

Weatherspoon brings a new level of recruiting star power to the Sky front office — and also has a long-standing relationship with Diggins-Smith. Copper also embraced the idea in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.

“Skylar would be a great fit,” Copper said. “I think she would help us get another championship.”

Signing Diggins-Smith could have another impact on the Sky roster — the future of Dana Evans, another local point guard from Indiana.

Evans has been patiently waiting in the wings for three seasons, holding down a key role as the first player off the bench for the Sky last season. But if the Sky commit to yet another starting point guard in free agency, Evans could become antsy to find a new home where she has a more visible path into the starting lineup.

Number of the week: 51

Zach LaVine scored a careerhigh 51 points in Saturday’s loss against the Detroit Pistons. His scoring made up exactly half the Bulls’ total offense — which finished with 102 points — but wasn’t enough to lift the team to a win.

LaVine went 19-for-32 from the field and also tallied four rebounds, but did not register a single assist in the game. He was the first player to score more than 50 points without an assist since 2018, when Klay Thompson accomplished the same feat with the Golden State Warriors.

The explosive scoring session came after a sluggish start for LaVine, who scored a combined 24 points on 7-for-30 shooting through the opening two games of the season. LaVine has been dealing with back stiffness throughout the opening week, which partially impacted his play. Despite being listed on the injury report due to back spasms on Saturday, he chose to play the second game of a back-to-back on the road in Detroit.

“Obviously, I wasn’t happy with the way I was performing and the way the offense was looking,” LaVine said. “I came out wanting to be real aggressive. Obviously, I got it going. It’s upsetting, you have a performance like that and lose. It sucks.”

Week ahead: Bulls

Wednesday: @ Dallas Mavericks, 7:30 p.m., NBC Sports Chicago
Thursday: Off
Friday: vs. Nets, in-season tournament, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Chicago
Saturday: @ Denver Nuggets, 8 p.m., NBCSCH+, NBA TV
Sunday: Off
Monday: vs. Utah Jazz, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Chicago
Tuesday: Off

What we’re reading this morning

Zach LaVine frustrated with shaky Bulls offense after his career night: ‘We’re trying to figure out something that isn’t working’
Column: Teresa Weatherspoon is here to ‘stir things up’ for the Sky, but the GM will be key to the recipe
Can anyone challenge Purdue? A team-by-team look at the Big Ten for the 2023-24 season.
Who can catch Iowa in the Big Ten women’s race? Ohio State, Illinois and Indiana are eager to mix it up.
Caitlin Clark’s production and panache make her a women’s basketball ambassador, a role she embraces at Iowa
Column: There’s nothing wrong with trash talk in women’s sports — it’s the reactions to it that sometimes turn ugly
‘There’s a defiance to him’: How Coby White redefined his game to get a 2nd chance as the Bulls starting point guard
What to know about the Bulls roster — and the expectations for the 2023-24 NBA season


“I am one who has been told many times, ‘no.’ I am one who has (seen) doors closed many times. If you don’t get in the door, you got to get in a window. So I’m coming through the window. They don’t call me Spoon for nothing, I’m here to stir things up.” — Chicago Sky coach Teresa Weatherspoon


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