Boozer, Bulls escape Toronto with win over Raptors

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Boozer, Bulls escape Toronto with win over Raptors

TORONTOPay attention to anything but the final score these days, and the Bulls (22-15) might give you a heart attack.

Playing a team with inferior talent, the Bulls squandered what appeared to be an insurmountable third-quarter lead to allow the woeful Raptors (14-25) to send the game into an extra session of play, before surviving to win a wild, 107-105 affair Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre.

Carlos Boozers (36 points, 12 rebounds) solid stretch continued, as the power forward shouldered the load for the Bulls in the early going.

Toronto hung tough, however, propelled by the scoring of their starting backcourt of athletic wing DeMar DeRozan and floor general Jose Calderon.

The visitors kept feeding the hot hand throughout the opening period and Boozer delivered, whether knocking down his mid-range jumper or finishing on the interior, and aside from scoring, contributing on the glass and remaining an unselfish passer.

While the Bulls defense wasnt at the level of their historic previous outing Monday night, with Boozer carrying the offenseafter a floater with a second remaining in the frame, he finished with 17 in the framethey still held a 29-22 advantage after a quarter of play.

The interior tandem of Joakim Noah (16 points, 14 rebounds) and Taj Gibson attempted to pick up where Boozer left off at the outset of the second quarter, as the Bulls emphasized inside play against the Raptors inexperienced big men.

That approach wasnt the most effective, though, as Toronto began the period on an 11-4 run to tie the contest before overtaking its guests, as reserve guards Kyle Lowry (26 points)the feisty point guard was coming off a sprained ankle suffered during Mondays loss in Brooklyn, although he returned to that contest to score 19 fourth-quarter pointsand former D-Leaguer Alan Anderson (27 points) both caught fire.

While it was a close-knit affair upon Boozer and fellow starting forward Luol Deng (19 points, six rebounds, seven assists) returning to the floor, their presence seemed to give the Bulls a wake-up call, as Deng took his turn at asserting himself as a scorer, while Boozer showed that he still had the hot hand and Noah also made his presence felt.

The teams defense also stepped it up a notch, while Boozer, en-route to a 25-point half, revisited his first-quarter stretch as halftime approached, helping the Bulls go into the intermission with a 52-42 lead, even after Calderons jumper with 0.7 seconds left in the quarter.

After the break, the Bulls successfully pushed the pace to build a double-digit lead, as the post duo of Noah and Boozer were again focal points, while the visitors suffocated their hosts on the defensive end of the floor.

Boozer remained dominant offensively, but the Bulls got additional firepower in the form of veteran Rip Hamilton (15 points, five assists), who came alive after a quiet first half, only adding to the Raptors woes.

With Hamilton raining in jumpers from the perimeter in the third quarter, the game started to get out of hand, as the Bulls built a more than comfortable cushion, though Toronto chipped into the deficit by getting out on the break and converting transition opportunities.

The hosts momentum persisted and despite a technical foul on Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, the combination of Anderson and Lowry led the hosts back to make it a single-digit game, though following a dunk by rookie reserve Quincy Acy with 0.9 seconds left in the period, the Bulls maintained a 79-73 edge heading into the final stanza.

Gibson was a force for the Bulls early in the fourth quarter, playing his typical hard-nosed game, mixed in with some nifty footwork and post moves, to counter the Raptors equally aggressive Lowry, a point guard unafraid of going into the paint, ensuring the visitors kept some breathing room.

But Toronto kept gradually slicing into the deficit, making it a two-possession affairputting a little bit of salt in the wound was Boozer picking up his fifth foul before the period was even halfway throughas the game headed into the stretch run.

Deng stepped into what has become his role as the Bulls go-to guy late with Derick Rose sidelined to make some clutch baskets late, though the diminutive Lowrywho fouled out starting point guard Kirk Hinrichkept coming, hoping to make the visitors squander Boozers big game.

Down to the wire through the final minute of the contest, after Raptors big man Amir Johnson was fouled on an offensive rebound with 12.1 seconds remainingGibson fouled out on the playand split a pair of free throws to tie the game at 100 apiece, Belinellis jumper to win it was off the mark and the game headed to an extra session.

The beginning of the extra session could most positively be termed a defensive struggle, though it would be more accurate to describe it as sloppy with inept offense on both sides.

A Boozer layup, giving the big man a career-high point total, in a Bulls uniform, with 1:51 left gave the Bulls more of a cushion, but it was subsequently erased by an Anderson floater, making it a 104-103 game with 1:32 to go.

Following a Raptors turnover, another official review, this time giving the ball to the Bulls, occurred, and on the subsequent possession, Belinelli was fouled, splitting a pair from the charity stripe to give the guests a two-point advantage with 15.1 seconds on the clock.

Toronto went to Lowry the next time down the floor and the pitbull of a point guard delivered once again, hitting a teardrop at the 8.7-second mark of the overtime period, prompting a Bulls timeout.

Then, Deng rose to the occasion, making a pull-up jumper with 3.3 seconds remaining, silencing the boisterous Canadian audience.

The Bulls fouled Johnson on the floor with a second left and after Calderons heart-stopping game-winning three-point attempt at the buzzer missed its mark, the visitors survived.

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.