Bulls Back in the Playoffs, Are You Excited?


Bulls Back in the Playoffs, Are You Excited?

Friday, Apr. 16, 2010
5:00 P.M.

By Mark Schanowski

Now that the Bulls are back in the playoffs for the second year in a row, it's not unreasonable to ask if the late season-drive to earn the right to play mighty Cleveland was all worth it. Forget about the chance to get into the draft lottery. Only the most optimistic fan could actually believe the Bulls would cash in a less than one percent chance to get one of the top three picks for the second time in the last three years. And, by making the playoffs, the under-publicized part of the John Salmons deal with Milwaukee......the right to swap 1st round draft picks......won't hurt quite as much. The Bulls will now send their number 15 pick to Milwaukee, and pick in the Bucks' slot at number 17. At that point in the draft, there's not much difference in moving down two picks, so it shouldn't have much impact on what type of player the Bulls will get. Besides, don't be surprised if the Bulls package their number 1 pick, plus Kirk Hinrich to a team with cap room. The NBA salary cap is now projected to be around 56 million dollars for next season, so the Bulls might explore various ways to trim their payroll a little further and create the possibility of going after two premiere free agents.

But, let's get back to the monumental task at hand. How many games do you realistically expect the Bulls to win against highly-motivated LeBron James and the Cavs? Please post your predictions in the section below or send me an e-mail. I'm guessing they'll find a way to win one, which means the fight to get into the playoffs will extend the season by about 13 days. And, with the Bulls about to head into one of the most important off-seasons in franchise history, maybe an early exit isn't exactly the worst thing. The Bulls need to move quickly on Vinny Del Negro's status, and do everything in their power to ease concerns around the league that the franchise has become dysfunctional. Former Dallas Mavericks' coach Avery Johnson said on Friday the Bulls will have to repair their image before they can even think about attracting a top level head coach or free agent. And, until the head coaching situation is addressed, that cloud will hang over the Bulls and complicate their off-season plans.

Still, there are positives from the Bulls getting back to the playoffs, most notably the chance for Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to show the rest of the country that they've emerged as elite players at their positions. NBA fans know all about Rose after his outstanding playoff debut against Boston last season, an All-Star appearance this year, and the countless high-flying highlights that have appeared on national sports shows. But not everyone is aware of the monumental strides Noah has made in his career this season. You might have forgotten a lot of Bulls' fans were upset when the team used the 9th pick in the '07 draft to select Noah, and labeled him a bust after a so-so rookie year. Joakim also got off to a slow start in year 2, and was ripped for his poor conditioning. But somewhere in that 2nd season, the light turned on for Joakim, and he's never looked back, emerging as one of the top 10 centers in the league after tirelessly working on his game last summer. Now, he'll get the chance in front of a national audience to show just how much he's improved against one of the best centers ever to play the game, Shaquille O'Neal. Who would have ever guessed the Bulls would have an edge at the center position in this series with Noah facing Shaq? But that's the way I'm looking at it, especially with the way Joakim has attacked opposing centers with his spinning jump hooks and lefty finishes at the rim. He may not be the most graceful big man in the NBA, but Noah has turned himself into an offensive threat, able to drive to the basket and to make that 15 foot jumper, even with the ball spinning sideways! Joakim played with a relentless passion over the last couple weeks trying to get the Bulls into the playoffs, and now that they've arrived, he'll look to "shock the world" in this series.

The same can be said for Rose, who took the offensive load on his shoulders down the stretch, and added the three point shot to his repertoire. As good as Rose was in his rookie season, he's made dramatic improvements in year 2. He's now almost unguardable with his ability to blow by defenders and finish at the rim, plus an outside shot that's become more consistent throughout the season. Rose should be able to score at will against Mo Williams, who's a shoot-first point guard that doesn't like to get worn out by playing defense. I'm sure Cavs' coach Mike Brown will use his big men to "hard show" on the high screen-and-roll, and discourage Rose from penetrating all the way to the basket. But Derrick has so many counter options right now that he'll find a way to get his 20 points or more. The larger questions is, which Bulls players will step up to help him on the offensive end?
1. Don't let LeBron's "supporting cast" get off. You can pencil James in for 30 to 35 points in every game of the series, and that's okay if the Bulls can contain the rest of the Cavs. Antawn Jamison, Shaq and Mo Williams are all former all-stars, capable of putting up big scoring games once they get it going. The Bulls can't recklessly double team James and let one of the other Cavs' starters beat them.

2. Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng must make a high percentage of open jumpers. This has been the biggest problem for the Bulls all season long, lack of a consistent outside shooting threat to go along with Rose. How many times has Derrick broken down the defense and kicked the ball out to an open shooter, only to watch them clank a wide-open jumper? Ben Gordon was huge in last year's playoff series against Boston, and the Bulls found out during the season just how much they miss his ability to light it up from the outside. And, just when John Salmons was starting to pull out of his season-long slump, the Bulls traded him to Milwaukee, where he's averaged 20 points a game in leading Milwaukee to the playoffs. That leaves Hinrich, Deng, and to a lesser extent, Flip Murray. Those 3 guys have to be able to hit the open shots they'll be getting when Rose penetrates into the lane and draws 2 or 3 Cleveland defenders.

3. Avoid foul trouble. Taj Gibson has been a revelation as the number 26 pick in the draft, but his one consistent problem has been picking up early fouls which forces the Bulls to sit him for long stretches of the game. Gibson has a tough match-up against Jamison, a savvy veteran who can bury jumpers from the three point line and also has has a wide array of flip shots and hooks in the lane. If Gibson can't avoid foul trouble, the Bulls will have to turn to Hakim Warrick and James Johnson, and neither of those players is considered a great defender.

4. Don't get intimidated. Cleveland is the favorite to win the NBA title this season, and led by James, they carry themselves with a certain arrogance that can unsettle younger teams. We all remember Noah barking at James for dancing on the court during a Cavs' win over the Bulls earlier this season. James is determined to break through for a championship in his 7th NBA season, just like Michael Jordan did. And, like Jordan, he doesn't want to mess around with a first round opponent that finished with a .500 record during the regular season. The Bulls have to withstand an all-out attack by Cleveland in Game 1, and show the Cavs they are in this series for the long haul.

5. Bulls need bench production. Vinny Del Negro really shortened his bench rotation in last year's playoff series, and I expect he'll do the same this year. So, the Bulls need to get consistent production from veterans Brad Miller, Flip Murray and Hakim Warrick. Cleveland's bench is a lot better than it was last season with the addition of guys like Jamario Moon, Leon Powe and Anthony Parker. Parker will be in the starting line-up, but that allows the Cavs to bring Delonte West off the bench, and personal issues aside, he's an explosive scorer and underrated defender. With West, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anderson Varejao, Moon and "Boobie" Gibson, Cleveland has a 2nd five that should be able to outplay most teams they could run into in the playoffs.

Don't forget to tune in to Comcast SportsNet for expanded pre and post-game coverage throughout the playoffs. Saturday's game is on ABC, but Kendall Gill will join me in studio at 4:30 for all your post-game coverage, including coaches' news conferences and interviews with all the key players. We'll also be streaming the post-game news conferences on CSNChicago.com. Enjoy the playoffs!

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

New teammates, new changes put Jimmy Butler at ease

New teammates, new changes put Jimmy Butler at ease

The earrings were gleaming from Jimmy Butler’s ears, as he was his usual-disarming self with a playful smile and wink during his question-and-answer session with the Chicago media.

At a point, he took a deep breath as he looked around the Advocate Center with some of his new teammates walking around, some of whom had to carry nameplates because they weren’t recognizable faces in this new setting.

And because new faces are in town, it means two things: some faces left town and for Butler’s sake, the new ones will only know him as “Jimmy Butler, All-Star”, not the guy who was a late first-round pick, not the player who couldn’t get off the bench.

Butler didn’t bring up his comfort level, but when asked, he didn’t deny things appear to be a bit easier this time around.

“Does it make me feel more comfortable? I mean, to an extent, yeah, because then you can never say how you may have think that I’ve changed,” Butler said.

Butler’s ascension rubbed some the wrong way last season, and it’s been spoken about ad nauseam, whether it was true or not. But the moment of honesty wasn’t so much a shot at Derrick Rose or Joakim Noah, who departed for the Knicks in various forms; however it was an admission to his level of security, one that perhaps can lead to a more peaceful existence with all the core pieces.

The one way he’s always lead and will always speak to, is by example and work ethic. It’s one that turned him into an All-Star and Olympian.

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“I think everybody that’s on this roster now just knows how hard that I’ve worked to get to this spot that I’m at,” Butler said. “They’ve seen it. They’ve witnessed it. All they’ve been around for me is this point of my career. I don’t know if it sounds bad. But I think that all these guys look at, ‘If Jimmy works like that and if I work like that, I’ll be in the same position that he’s in.’ I’ll be more than happy to let you have that position because I think hard work can get you anywhere that you want to get to.”

So with that, Butler volunteered himself to Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, to be the sacrificial lamb of wrath if need be. Easy to say if he doesn’t actually believe Hoiberg is capable of going from nice guy to madman at a moment’s notice but Butler laid it out for the record.

“I told Fred, ‘As much as you can, use me as an example. I want you to really get on my tail about every little thing.’,” Butler said. “Because if Doug or Tony or whoever it may be is watching coach talk to me like that, it’s going to be like, ‘If he can talk to Jimmy like that, I know he’s going to come at me a certain way.’ That’s what I try to remind him every day. I think he’s ready for that. I’m a player. I’m coachable like everybody else. I want that. I need that.”

The additions of Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo add championship receipts to a locker room that needs it, considering the Bulls want to play their young pieces. Wade and Rondo, the Bulls privately believe, will help Butler deal with everything that comes with a new role of leadership — and by proxy, Butler’s relationship and expectations of Hoiberg.

“He was put in a position last year he wasn't familiar with and I think we'll see growth from it,” Bulls general manager Gar Forman said. “The great thing about Jimmy is you know he comes in each and every day and gives 100 percent. He gets better every year and I think we'll continue to see that growth in his game and him as a person. I think that experience with USA basketball was real positive for him.”

Whether the trio lives up to the “Three Alphas” nickname remains to be seen, but after having a locker room with too many low-pitched voices, perhaps the change in pace — any change in pace — will be a welcome one for Butler.

“The Alpha thing, I think we’ll be just fine. Everybody is going to have something to say,” he said. “As long as everybody is listening and is willing to take some criticism if you’re doing something wrong, just like if you’re doing something right I’m going to tell you, there’s good and bad in everything you do. At the end of the day, as long as we win games, it won’t matter.”

Bulls' Jimmy Butler wants tough coaching from Fred Hoiberg this season

Bulls' Jimmy Butler wants tough coaching from Fred Hoiberg this season


Much was made of the Jimmy Butler-Fred Hoiberg dynamic last year.

As the duo head into Year 2 together with a very different Bulls roster, Jimmy Butler was very clear about one thing he wants out of his coach this season.

“I told Fred, ‘As much as you can, use me as an example,’” Butler said during the team’s media day on Monday. “I want you to really get on my tail about every little thing because if Doug (McDermott) or Tony (Snell) or whoever it may be, if watching coach talk to me like that he’s going to be like ‘If he can talk to Jimmy like that I know he’s going to come at me a certain way.’ So that’s what I try to remind him everyday. I think he’s ready for that. I’m a player. I’m coachable like everybody else, but I want that. I need that.”

Butler’s show of confidence in his coach didn’t stop at his belief that Hoiberg could follow through on Butler’s desire to be coached hard. The All-Star believes Hoiberg has improved as a coach heading into his second year on the job.

“It was his first year last year and I think he studied himself and us and the way we were up and down in so many areas of the game last year,” Butler said. “He’s trying to correct it. That’s just like anybody going into the offseason. He didn’t just not work. He studied and got better at what he needed to get better at. I think he’s ready moving forward.”