Bulls, Wizards have little in common

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Bulls, Wizards have little in common

The Bulls' opponent Wednesday night at the United Center, the Wizards, share a few commonalities. The two franchises were the only team Michael Jordan ever played for and both feature explosive point guards who were former No. 1 overall draft picks after being coached in college for a season by John Calipari. That's where the similarities end.

Washington comes to Chicago with a 1-8 record, following Tuesday night's victory over the Raptors. An awful team last season, their performance was chalked up to youth and being a rebuilding year. But the Wizards have outdone themselves this season, as head coach Flip Saunders has basically accused the team of not playing hard or paying attention to scouting reports on opponents, while the players have admitted to playing too much one-on-one basketball.

John Wall, their second-year point guard, has been accused of regressing in his sophomore campaign. I've known Wall since he was an unknown high-school prospect, so I'm admittedly biased, but I know his work ethic (and witnessed it last summer, as he gallivanted across the country in search of competition and workouts to improve his game) and competitive spirit. Clearly, some of the blame has to fall upon his shoulders, as the organization's franchise player and starting point guard, but the Wizards' lack of veteran leadership (reserve swingmen Mo Evans and Roger Mason are quality role players and solid locker-room presences, but it's hard to make your opinion heard when you don't get the opportunity to impact the outcome of game's much) is severely lacking and with Andray Blatche and Nick Young, holdovers from a past, undisciplined and selfish era still aboard, Wall isn't exactly getting great mentoring on a daily basis.

Saunders appears to have lost his team already and will probably follow ouster Kings head coach Paul Westphal as the next NBA coach to be fired, but at least some of the fallout should affect the status of team general manager Ernie Grunfeld, who presided over the rise and fall of the organization in the wake of former All-Star guard Gilbert Arenas' fall from grace. While Grunfeld wasn't allowed to have contact with Wizards players during the lockout, it seems that he was wholly unprepared to make moves that could benefit the organization.

For example, it was well-known that Young, a restricted free agent, wanted out of Washington and one of the team's midseason acquisitions last year, fellow shooting guard Jordan Crawford, looked ready to fill the void, based on a solid end to his rookie campaign. But after other teams showed little to no interest in Young, the Wizards brought him back for his fourth season on a qualifying offer, a move that likely disappointed Young because of the financial ramifications and also won't help the team, as the noted gunner, in a second consecutive contract season, will likely stunt Crawford's development and focus on his individual success at the expense of a team he didn't want to return to.

Then, you have Blatche, who is certainly talented, but hasn't come close to living up to his multi-year contract extension, obtained after a breakout season and preceded by an offseason weight gain and injury. Another promising player, JaVale McGee -- Chicago fans might remember him from his late-game attempts to get a triple-double in the waning moments of a blowout loss against the Bulls last season -- is a rare true center and an athletic freak, whose pure athleticism rivals that of Dwight Howard's, hasn't developed much over his young career.

It isn't yet a lost cause for Wall or the Wizards -- rookies Chris Singleton and athletic Euro big man Jan Vesely both have potential, while second-year players Crawford and workhorse power forward Trevor Booker have excellent motors, if some limitations, and although it's hard to see a high-profile free agent signing with a team so down in the dumps, stranger things have happened to teams with cap space -- but with the direction the team is going in, they'll already have a great shot at the No. 1 overall pick in a loaded upcoming draft, so now is the time to clean house. Saunders is unlikely to finish the season in Washington, but Grunfeld should follow him out of the door and either the remaining personnel staff or whoever is hired to run their basketball operations needs to quickly evaluate who, besides Blatche and Young, doesn't deserve to stay.

But while hope springs eternal, it's unlikely to shine through for the Wizards at the United Center, as a focused Bulls team, even in the third game of their only back-to-back-to-back of the season, won't look to let up after seeing another young team in the Timberwolves, nearly shock them Tuesday night in Minnesota. One thing is for certain, though: when Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson talk about how miserable it was to be a .500 team and barely sneak into the playoffs as an eighth seed just a couple of years ago, all they have to do Wednesday is look at the visitors' bench to know the definition of real misery.

Bulls pass out Christmas gifts to Chicago youth on Sunday

Bulls pass out Christmas gifts to Chicago youth on Sunday

It was hard to tell who was more excited Sunday afternoon: the Bulls players or the 400 kids who stopped by the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry as the team passed out Christmas gifts for kids who reside in the Chicago family housing development.

Robin Lopez was carrying about Benny the Bull, much to the surprise and delight of many kids who were in attendance, while Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo took photos and passed out gifts to every child.

Rondo established roots in Chicago long before becoming a Bull, but has become entrenched in the months since signing with the franchise, being a part of the 17th annual holiday party.

“It’s definitely an honor. An honor to be a Bull,” Rondo said. “Since Day 1 when I got here I thought they were the best organization as far as giving back to the community, and it shows. They do it without hesitation.

“Very welcoming. The people have been great. The kids have been here since Day 1 supporting us as well. It’s very exciting.”

Bulls volunteers served lunch provided by Papa John’s, Coca-Cola and Edy’s Ice Cream, as the holiday party is one of the 30 events the Bulls are organizing as part of the team and NBA Cares’ “Season of Giving.”

“It’s no problem for any of us,” Lopez said. “Look at Raj, look at Jimmy, they’re having a blast out there. They’re having as good of a time as the kids out there.”

Being a California native, the newfound snowfall added to the atmosphere for Lopez.

“This really feels like Christmas,” Lopez said. “I can feel the spirit inside with the kids and the looks on their faces when they walk in and see the toys, they see Jimmy Butler and they’re so excited to be a part of it.”

Whether it was Barbie Dreamhouses, or Nerf basketball rims, the kids were ecstatic to see the Bulls and to pick out the toys being distributed by the Bulls’ stars.

“Very humbling. Over 400 kids. And every kid comes through all smiling and excited,” Rondo said. “Some of them don’t get toys all year and this time of year is about giving. I’m very humbled.”

Butler has been around Bulls Charities since being drafted in 2011, so although this is old hat, he hasn’t lost any of the spirit that comes with doing events like this year after year.

He posed with kids for photos and cracked jokes to the younger basketball fans.

“Feels good. I just like being here. It’s what this time of year is all about, seeing these kids smile,” Butler said. “I love kids, I love this city, I want everybody to be happy all the time. However I can make that happen, especially around Christmas and the holidays, I’ll do.”

Lopez is quiet to many who see him on the floor, but his eyes lit up around the kids and made Benny the Bull his personal prop by picking him up and carrying him through the museum.

“Every time I see it, it’s a wonderful feeling. To think I’m a small part of it, I can’t begin to describe it,” Lopez said. “Any opportunity I get to work with kids, that’s always easy yes in my book. I’m a big kid at heart. Any time I can go play, I’m in.

“It’s indescribable. I got so many great gifts as a kid, and blessed in so many ways. Just to be able to give back in any facet, that’s an easy yes.”

Sunday's event leads up to Monday's Chicago Bulls Charities Night at the United Center. The Bulls host the Portland Trailblazers at 7 p.m. on CSN.

Tune in tonight for Chicago Bulls Charities Night

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Tune in tonight for Chicago Bulls Charities Night

The Bulls are looking to bounce back Monday night against the Blazers, with coverage on CSN beginning at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live.

And once the game gets underway, make sure you're tuned in as we and other affiliates participate in Chicago Bulls Charities Night.

Throughout the game we'll be highlighting the work that the Bulls organization has done in the Chicago community this past year, including taking part in more than 200 programs that the team says has impacted more than 87,000 Chicagoans.

You too can make an impact by checking out the Bulls Charities silent auction, going on until Dec. 6.

You can also make a donation of any size to Bulls Charities to be entered into a raffle to win a basketball autographed by this year's Bulls team.

Also, Bulls Charities will be hosting a ping-pong tournament next month to raise money. Winners of the tournament will get a chance to play against the Bulls! Learn more about the event, which will take place at Spin, here.

Learn more about Bulls Charities and the work the team does in the community here.