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CHICAGO — "He plays defense like he's wearing a tux" is one of my all-time favorite sports lines.

It's funnier when opposing players are guilty of it.

But not your Bulls, right?

Fans have waited too long for them to turn the corner toward respectability — missing the playoffs two of the past three seasons, going 68-96 the last two, and not winning 50 games since 2014-15.

Winning starts with defense.

That was the Achilles' heel on last season's 27-55 Bulls team that ranked 27th out of 30 teams in points allowed and 27th in opposing field-goal percentage.

Monday's media day was all smiles, handshakes and happy talk from the front office people, coaches and players. The need for tougher defense got a brief mention, but wasn't worthy of any red flags being waved by management.

Make no mistake. It has to be a concern.

Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn are considered the core group, with free-agent signee Jabari Parker getting a two-year, $40 million deal with a team option in Year 2 that made him the highest-paid Bull.

It's no secret LaVine — now fully recovered from surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament — and Parker — who has endured two such surgeries — are great scorers who have always been subpar defenders.

LaVine’s 114.8 defensive rating, which calculates how many points he would allow on defense over 100 possessions, last season ranked him 508th in the league out of 540 players.

Parker’s 109.5 defensive rating ranked 415th in the league.

Judging by past comments, this is not a priority for the Chicago native, who during an interview in July on 670 The Score, said: "I just stick to my strengths. Look at everybody in the league. They don’t pay players to play defense. There’s only two players, historically, who play defense. I’m not gonna say that I won’t, but to say that’s a weakness is like saying that’s everybody’s weakness. I’ve scored 30s and 20s off of guys who say they try to play defense.”

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They don't pay players to play defense? Well, they're not paid to keep both hands at their side like a penguin, either.

"We should be able to compete on that defensive end with our speed, our length and our athleticism," Parker said Monday. "There's no reason in the world we shouldn't be able to go out and make things tough for the other team.

"It's not about one individual. It's about getting all five on the same page and building the habits."

Six of the final eight teams in last year's playoffs ranked in the top nine defensively, according to Hoiberg, who wants every Bulls player to ramp up that part of their game.

LaVine has already gotten the message.

"Personally I've always been really good on the ball," he said. "But I've always had problems off the weak side. I think it's just knowing the position and not relaxing. Once that ball swings, I relax and that's where I get caught off guard.

"I've watched a lot of film on how to stay engaged and always have your teammates' back."

Dunn, the point guard, calls himself the team's top defender and has never lacked the confidence to be a verbal, in-your-face leader as well.

Teams drove the lane almost at will against the Bulls last season, using their athletic bigs to dominate inside.

"Can't have that," Dunn said. "It's the coach's job to make sure everybody's in the right position and understand what we're doing defensively. But it's for me to communicate, on-court, what defensive schemes we are in and making sure guys are in the right spot."

Parker said Monday he still believes a better offense is what wins championships.

The 2018-19 Bulls are healthy, deeper, a bit more explosive and a long-shot to make the playoffs.

But not until every tux is packed away.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

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