Coach Billy Donovan was trying to play the role of optimist.
After all, someone in the Bulls’ organization had to do it.
He was asked about the Zach LaVine trade talk infecting the locker room, slowly poisoning the well, and dismissed the likelihood of any such scenario taking place.
“I spent quite a bit of time with Zach this summer,’’ Donovan said. “I went out two different times to [Los Angeles] and visited with him.
‘‘He’s great. He has always been very welcoming when I’ve come out there. We’ve always had really, really good conversations. He’s always responsive to text messages and phone calls and things like that.
‘‘So I’ve not seen anything where it’s like, ‘OK, this guy has really pushed himself all the way over here. He’s just totally disconnected from everybody.’ I have not seen that at all.’’
That might be the case, but there definitely was something going on in the Bulls’ 96-94 loss to the Magic on Wednesday, and it wasn’t pretty.
In one of the worst games of the Donovan era, the Bulls (4-8) looked lifeless on both ends — especially in the first half — against a team that was playing the second night of a back-to-back and had to travel from New York.
Sure, there was no DeMar DeRozan, who was away from the team for personal reasons, but it was set up for LaVine to play leading man and put his teammates on his shoulders.
With seven seconds left, it seemed like he would. LaVine made a clutch three-pointer to tie the score in a game in which the Bulls trailed by 17 in the third quarter. But Orlando’s Paolo Banchero had the last laugh, all but ending the game with a seven-foot turnaround.
“One of those things that [Banchero] got there [in the paint],’’ Donovan said. “We probably needed to bring a few more hands there. We should have had multiple contests late.’’
As for LaVine, his seasonlong struggles continued. He had 19 points but shot 6-for-16 from the field after starting off 2-for-8 in the first half.
“He’s missing shots at the backboard,’’ Donovan said.
Donovan couldn’t explain why exactly, but he didn’t see a guy who was distracted.
Considering the Bulls scored only 33 points in the first half, the entire rotation seemed distracted.
“There’s no solution to shooting the basketball,’’ Donovan said. “If you go back to the Milwaukee game, we got hurt in transition and with fouls, and [this game] we got hurt with offensive rebounds.
‘‘We need to get our focus off shooting and focus on the things we can control. When you can take your mind off shooting, you understand there are other ways to win.’’
The Bulls did get some good news before the game: Alex Caruso returned from a toe injury that cost him two games.
Donovan said there wasn’t a minutes restriction for Caruso, but the Bulls have a back-to-back starting Friday, and that could be the real test of how many minutes they want to play their first-team All-Defensive guard.
There have been multiple reports that LaVine never got over Donovan benching him in the final minutes of a Nov. 18 loss to Orlando last season, and that was brought up to Donovan again.
“I would check with Zach if he’s reporting that,’’ Donovan said. “I haven’t heard that from Zach at all. I think at the moment, he was upset. He’s a competitive guy. He wants to be out there for 48 minutes. But I haven’t heard that at all from him.’’