Beyond the Arc: Noah returning just in time

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Beyond the Arc: Noah returning just in time

Monday, Feb. 21, 2011
8:58 a.m.

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

Don't be misled by the fact the Bulls put together a 22-8 record without injured center Joakim Noah in the lineup. The truth is, the team isn't nearly as good without the 4th year pro from Florida protecting the paint, grabbing rebounds and finishing on the fastbreak.

Kurt Thomas and Omer Asik have done a good job filling in, but Thomas is 38 and Asik is an untested rookie still trying to adjust to a new country and the speed of the NBA game. Noah has developed into one of the league's most versatile big men. Sure, his jumper looks funny and he's not going to command a double team when he catches the ball in the low post, but Noah makes the Bulls a much more dangerous team on both ends of the floor.

You all know Joakim is one of the NBA's leading rebounders, but his uncanny ability to grab loose balls and offensive rebounds gives the Bulls a handful of extra possessions every game. And, since the Bulls are not a good shooting team, those extra possessions are crucial, especially in close games against quality opponents.

Noah's presence also upgrades the Bulls' overall defense. Right now, Tom Thibodeau's squad ranks 2nd in the NBA in both points allowed and opponents' field goal percentage. And they're doing it without a legitimate shot blocker in the starting line-up. Noah's return will give them an elite low post defender who can cover up for some of Carlos Boozer's weaknesses on that end of the floor.

If you've been watching the games closely, you'll see that Boozer has trouble staying with quicker power forwards, and doesn't do a great job of sliding over to help against penetration. With Noah back, that weakness won't be as big of an issue. Thibodeau often turned to Taj Gibson to help out against high-scoring power forwards over the last few weeks, sending Boozer to the bench. Now, Noah will be there to help Boozer, who's low post scoring ability is so important to give the Bulls some balance on the offensive end.

BULLS MIGHT SIT OUT TRADE DEADLINE FRENZY

Speaking of offensive balance, Gar Forman and John Paxson would love to add another perimeter shooter before the February 24th trade deadline, but it doesn't look like they have the ammunition to make a significant deal.

You've already heard the names. Houston's Courtney Lee, Portland's Rudy Fernandez and Memphis' O.J. Mayo are probably the three guys who best fit what the Bulls are looking for in terms of affordability and potential impact. But Houston wants a big man in any deal for Lee, and the Bulls don't want to give up on the potential of Asik, who turned in some strong games off the bench before the All-Star break.

Fernandez might not be available either because of Brandon Roy's knee problems, and Memphis may have to reconsider their plan to trade Mayo because of an injury to Rudy Gay, which could move Mayo back into the Grizzlies' starting line-up.

There are shooting guards available like Cleveland's Anthony Parker, Denvers J.R. Smith, Detroit's Richard Hamilton and Charlotte's Stephen Jackson. But Smith, Hamilton and Jackson are too expensive, and as far as Parker is concerned, is he really that much of an upgrade over Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer?

In case you haven't noticed, Bogans has really turned around his game since the calendar flipped to 2011. He's shooting 48 percent from beyond the arc since January 1st, and has done a solid job defensively against some of the league's most athletic players.

Brewer has been exactly what the Bulls hoped for when they signed him to that free agent contract back in July. He's a rangy, active defender who knows how to get into passing lanes and create fastbreak opportunities. He's also done a nice job of working the baseline for momentum changing dunks, and knows his limitations on the offensive end.

Bottom line, unless the Bulls can get Lee from Houston for James Johnson and a draft pick, or work out a package for Mayo that doesn't destroy their frontcourt depth, they're probably better off standing pat at the deadline.

Ask anyone who's close to the team, and they'll tell you the Bulls' chemistry is as good as they've seen around the league in recent years. There's no sense disrupting that chemistry to add another player who isn't likely to make a significant impact this season. If the Bulls acquire another shooting guard, that could mean Bogans goes from starter to the inactive list, and how will that be received in the locker room?

The Bulls' front office is well aware they could use more scoring, and they're probably still one impact player away from contending for championships. But with a new collective bargaining agreement coming, and the possibility of a hard salary cap, the Bulls don't want to make a bad short term move that might impact their ability to sign Rose to a long-term, maximum contract extension.

You can bet Forman and Paxson will be on the phone this week, but don't expect a big money veteran to join the Bulls for the stretch run. So, what do you think? Should the Bulls make a trade before the deadline, or are you content with the team they have in place now that Noah is healthy again? Can the Bulls contend for the Eastern Conference Championship right now?

Please post your comments in the section below, and we'll see you Wednesday, when the Bulls start the 2nd half of the season against the Toronto Raptors. It's a 6 p.m. tip-off on Comcast SportsNet.

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNet Central, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10 p.m.

It sure sounds like Jimmy Butler regrets being labeled as the face of the Bulls franchise

It sure sounds like Jimmy Butler regrets being labeled as the face of the Bulls franchise

Jimmy Butler didn't come close to following in his trainer's footsteps, but Mr. G. Buckets Unplugged still proved enlightening.

Following a wild Thursday, Butler hopped on the phone Friday afternoon from Paris to chat with Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times about the deal that sent the former face of the Bulls to rejoin Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota.

Butler wanted to be labeled as the face of the franchise, but his comments seem to reflect the old adage "be careful what you wish for."

"It doesn't mean a damn thing. I guess being called the face of an organization isn't as good as I thought. We all see where being the so-called face of the Chicago Bulls got me. So let me be just a player for the Timberwolves, man. That's all I want to do. I just want to be winning games, do what I can for my respective organization and let them realize what I'm trying to do.

"Whatever they want to call me... face... I don't even want to get into that anymore. Whose team is it? All that means nothing. You know what I've learned? Face of the team, eventually, you're going to see the back of his head as he's leaving town, so no thanks."

Whoa.

Butler also spoke about trying to block out all the trade rumors while on vacation in France:

"I mean, I had so many people telling me what could possibly happen, but I just got to the point where I stopped paying attention to it. 

"It's crazy because it reminds you of what a business this is. You can't get mad at anybody. I'm not mad - I'm not. I just don't like the way some things were handled, but it's OK."

Butler doesn't have to be the sole face of the franchise in Minnesota on a team that has two of the top homegrown young stars in the game in Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

Bulls have emerged from a ball of confusion to parts unknown

Bulls have emerged from a ball of confusion to parts unknown

The big red button was pressed and Jimmy Butler was ejected from the Chicago Bulls’ present and future as they finally made the decision to rebuild after two years of resisting.

Trading Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the ability to draft Lauri Markkanen represents the Bulls committing to the draft lottery and fully going in on the Fred Hoiberg experience for the foreseeable future, as the prospect of trying to improve through shrewd moves in the East while also facing the likelihood of Butler commanding a $200 million contract wasn’t palatable to their pocketbook or their sensibilities.

On one hand, making a decision — any decision — can be applauded on some levels after years of their relationship with Butler being complicated at best. But the idea of rebuilding and the application of it are often two separate ideals, because the evaluation of a rebuild can often be as murky as the land the Bulls just left.

“What we’ve done tonight is set a direction,” Bulls Executive Vice President John Paxson said. “We’ve gone to the past where we make the playoffs, but not at the level we wanted to. You know in this league, success is not determined that way. We’ve decided to make the change and rebuild this roster.”

“We’re gonna remain patient and disciplined. The development of our young players is important. The coaching staff has done a phenomenal job. We’re gonna continue down that path. We’re not gonna throw huge money at people.”

The Bulls aren’t exclusive to this territory, the land in which they’ve inhibited for the last couple seasons, which makes the Butler trade about more than one thing.

Not equal parts but part basketball, part fiscal, part narrative and finally, masking some mistakes that have been made over the years but are not as easily rectified. Trading Butler seemed to be the easiest vessel used as an elixir to wash away missteps. Trading a star in Butler is also the easiest way to get heat off a coach or front office in today’s NBA, because few franchises like to make wholesale changes midstream or early in it.

Trading Butler — along with shipping their second-round pick in a box marked for the Bay Area — was also financial, considering many felt if he made it through the tumultuous evening that he would finish his career as a Bull, raking in a hefty sum of cash on the back end.

It’s because of these factors that the evaluation of this trade and subsequently, a painful rebuild, cannot be in a vacuum. (Note: No rebuild is painless, it’s the size of the migraine a team can endure that determines the type of aspirin necessary).

Just taking a look at the players the Bulls got back in the Butler trade illustrates the gray area they’ve now immersed themselves into. The Bulls fell in love with Dunn before he came to the NBA, and aren’t as bothered by him being a 23-year old second-year player who struggled mightily in his rookie year.

Zach LaVine is an explosive athlete who can put up 20 every night — when he’s on the floor. Recovering from an ACL injury is no given, as evidenced by a young phenom who once graced the United Center hardwood before his body betrayed him.

And Lauri Markkanen is a rookie with promise, but nobody can make any promises on what type of career he’ll have, or if he’ll fulfill that promise with this franchise in the requisite time.

“There’s always risk in anything,” Paxson said. “But here’s a guy that’s 22 years old and averages 20 a game (LaVine). He can score the basketball, he can run. He can shoot the basketball. He shot over 40 percent from three. That’s an area we’re deficient in. Markkanen shot over 40 from three in college. Again, it’s an area where we’re deficient. It’s trying to find the type of player that fits the way that we want to play going forward.”

[RELATED: Jimmy Butler bids emotional farewell to Chicago]

General Manager Gar Forman stated after the announcement of the trade that the Bulls would have to hit on their next few draft picks to stop this rebuild from being elongated, but even then there’s no guarantee.

The Sacramento Kings drafted a rookie of the year, then two future max contract players in the same year, followed by another player who’ll command close to max money very soon. But nobody remembers Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, Hassan Whiteside and Isaiah Thomas leading the Kings from the wilderness and into glory, unless recent memory has been scrubbed away from everyone.

Inconsistencies in organizational structure combined with multiple coaching changes and an inability to develop the right young players kept the Kings on the dais of the draft lottery every April.

The Timberwolves, heck, nobody could say they missed when selecting LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns and getting Andrew Wiggins in a trade for Kevin Love. It’s because it takes more than the right draft picks, or in the Sacramento Kings’ case, the right infrastructure and environment, to foster an atmosphere of winning.

The Bulls were ready, despite their claims that this was a decision that came across their table right before the draft, because common sense has to be applied. No team makes knee-jerk, franchise-altering decisions that will have reverberations for years to come on the whim of a trade offer from Tom Thibodeau. This was likely decided when the Bulls went out with a whimper in the first-round after shocking the NBA world in the first two games against the Boston Celtics, when their fortunes changed on the trifle of Rajon Rondo’s broken wrist.

It was decided that Hoiberg, the man who endured chants calling for his firing in the second half of the decisive Game 6 loss, needed to have the right type of roster to be accurately judged as a successful hire or failure, and Butler couldn’t be part of those plans.

And just as Hoiberg has been dealt an uneven hand, Butler wasn’t given the type of roster that would accurately judge how he could flourish as a leader, max player and face of the franchise — and probably had less time to show one way or the other relative to his coach.

The longer Butler stayed, the more empowered he would become as his individual accomplishments would rack up because of the dedication he applied to game, the drive he had to place himself in the upper echelon of NBA players.

The better Butler got, the more pressure Hoiberg would be under to mix and match his roster and to foster a relationship with Butler he might’ve been ill-suited to fix. The better Butler got, the more pressure the front office would be under to maximize a prime it didn’t see coming, a prime they can’t truly figure when there’s an expiration date on given Butler’s unlikely rise to stardom.

So getting rid of Butler was the solution and the Bulls have now chosen their path, definitively and with confidence. Emerging from a ball of confusion to parts unknown, from one land of uncertainty to another.