The Chicago Bulls have lost six games in a row. After months of vacillating between losing to bad teams and defeating elite rosters, the floor has collapsed, and they are finding out what lies beneath their odd purgatory. Fans whose interest in the team was rekindled by the Bulls’ 46-win effort last season have stuck around through a lot of this, but they’re starting to head for the exits, and what remains will be a brand of basketball flotsam that only the most hardcore of Bulls heads will be able to speak on, years down the line. They are now the seventh worst team in the NBA, and trending downward. To be around for this grants one a perverse, particularly shiny badge of fandom.

From a raw talent standpoint, there is plenty there for the Bulls, but it adds up poorly. Zach LaVine is the only guy around who can shoot threes accurately and at volume, and also the sole creator of rim pressure in their offense. This was less true last year, when Lonzo Ball was active—Ball had become one of the best three-point shooters in the sport. Only Buddy Hield and Desmond Bane, who co-exist in the silver-medal tier of volume and accuracy beneath Steph Curry, are doing this season what Ball did last year. Ball was also an essential pace-pusher, making the most of a bench unit rich with aerially inclined full-court athletes who mostly become useless when the offense slows into half-court sets.

One of those is Javonte Green, who hasn’t played for Chicago since 2022, and has logged less than half of the season overall. He’s a role player, of course, but he’s also been a key part of the Bulls’ identity when he’s right, and without him there isn’t nearly enough ferocity to them. LaVine does his thing, DeMar DeRozan does his, and Nikola Vucevic does his, and these three acts only sometimes interact positively. The latter two players are elite artisanal bucket getters, and have better judgment than LaVine as passers, but they aren’t collapsing defenses enough to consistently make life easier for everyone else. Vucevic comes closest, but for whatever reason, he is regularly looked off in pick-and-roll actions, and the team rarely runs their offense through him, despite the clear success that’s had when they do.

Enter Billy Donovan. His third year in Chicago has been easily his most challenging. His post-game breakdowns of why the team underperformed are lucid, and music to a frustrated fan’s ears. Yes, this guy gets it. But why isn’t the team doing what they’re supposed to do? He seems to wonder this same thing during games, chewing gum frantically as the season slips away. But what would probably be most comforting to Bulls fans, should they accept it, is that this roster simply isn’t good enough. It’s a combination of veteran fringe All-Stars and young talent that, while good, will probably never reach that level. This makes for an interesting enough mix of talent to reach the playoffs in past iterations of the NBA, but it’s 2023, and the league is as competitive as ever.

Ball was the rare player who made it all work. He provided both ballast and seasoning to a dish that, without him, really just looks like some ingredients. You’ve got to go back to the store, and return to the kitchen too. The Bulls are the worst three-point shooting team around, by far. While they’re middle of the pack in percentage, they only attempt 28 per game, which is a number that actually seems high if you watch them regularly. They’re also bottom three in offensive rebounding, mostly due to how many three and four-guard lineups they have; lack of size, too, is an issue. What’s left is a pitiful offense in which mostly high-difficulty mid-range shots are the only source of sustenance. Not good.

Bulls fans, these days, are mostly young enough that their memories of the 1990s are fuzzy, and the 21st century version of the team is what they truly know. As such, there is a kind of honor in the pain of seasons like this one, which are nothing new. Add in that the Bulls’ draft pick this June is owed to the Orlando Magic unless it’s a top-four selection, and you’re looking at some prime opportunities for anguish transformed into sick pride. This is a comfortable place for Bulls fans; they know it well. The 2020 reboot of the franchise was going well until it wasn’t, and we’ll probably have to wait until next season to see if they can get it back on track. If not, there’s a different kind of warmth in this sink into the NBA nethers.