When the Chicago Bulls started the season 3-20, nobody was surprised that they stunk. Everything was fine. They were supposed to stink. That was the entire reason they traded away Jimmy Butler for younger players in the first place. They wanted got their rebuild underway in earnest.
The wrinkle in this story is, of course, that the Bulls really don’t stink at the halfway point of this season. However, they are still incredibly young, which could make it an odd place for a veteran player like Robin Lopez to play. Instead, he’s actually enjoying his season with the rebuilding Chicago Bulls a lot more than some might expect.
“There’s just a positive atmosphere on this team,” Lopez told Basketball Insiders. “I’ve been on some really bad teams where it’s been kind of a toxic environment, but that’s not a situation we have here right now. I mean, I’m in a positive situation, I’m playing basketball for a living, playing good minutes, and I’ve got a lot of great guys on this team, so right now I’m really just enjoying myself.”
It helps that the team has worked its way back toward respectability, despite its youth. According to Lopez, it’s that “positive atmosphere” that has made all the difference this season.
“We have a great sense of camaraderie,” Lopez said. “I don’t think anybody ever gets down on themselves, we know we’re going get better as the season progresses, we know how good we are now, and we know where we want to improve. We’re pushing each other, we’re trying to make everybody better, and that’s how it is playing on the floor.”
Before the season started, a meme circulated around social media suggesting that Lopez, after an early-season question about his being the team’s leader, looked around the room and asked, “Oh God… am I… am I the best player here? Oh God.”
It was funny at the time because it captured some of the humor of Chicago’s dire-looking situation. But Lopez claims he absolutely never said that and has no idea where the meme started.
“No, that’s not a real quote,” he said, chuckling. “It’s not really in my alley to call myself the best player on any team, especially in a manner that’s going to put down my teammates, but it was somewhat humorous.”
And in truth, it has proven not to be the case anyway thanks to the emergence of Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen, the reemergence of Nikola Mirotic, and now the return of Zach LaVine.
“The young guys have been so great,” said Lopez. “I mean obviously, a lot of guys on this team don’t have large track records, so they’re coming out this season, they’re playing to establish themselves, and I love that everybody’s doing it within a team setting. People are playing pretty freely right now. We’re playing a lot more freely than we were earlier in the season, and you know winning games will do that, and experience will do that. It’s fantastic. It really is a lot of fun.”
In the meantime, Lopez knows a trade could happen before next month’s deadline, but he’s trying to appreciate his time with this team right now. He enjoys being the veteran presence on a roster that shows so much promise in the form of youth.
“I’m just trying to provide a steady presence, a little bit of wisdom, what little wisdom I have, and go game by game.”
The Chicago Bulls are a lot better than we all thought they would be, and the steady presence of Robin Lopez could very well be one of the more underrated reasons as to why. He won’t be here when it all comes together, but there’s a certain appreciation for playing such a big role in its genesis.
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