Bulls blown out by Wall, Wizards in DC

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Bulls blown out by Wall, Wizards in DC

WASHINGTON If any contest could be circled on the schedule as a so-called trap game, it would be Saturday nights affair at the Verizon Center.

With the Bulls (26-17) flying high, riding a three-game winning streak and coming off a game in Chicago the previous evening, the upstart Wizards (11-31), who have been playing much-improved basketball as of late, pulled off a shocker, winning 86-73, spoiling Joakim Noahs stellar all-around outing and a game-high scoring effort from Nate Robinson.

Propelled by point guard John Wall (15 points, seven assists), in his second start of the regular season the former No. 1 overall draft pick has led Washington to a 5-3 record since returning from a knee injury, the same number of wins the team had in the first 33 games of the campaign the Wizards jumped out to a quick start.

Forced to play catch-up, the Bulls made it a close-knit affair, led by balanced scoringaided by Rip Hamilton, Kirk Hinrich and Carlos Boozer continued their recent scoring upticks and Noahs (nine points, 17 rebounds, 10 assists) blend of rebounding and playmaking.

Still, the hosts maintained a narrow edge over their guests, as the likes of veteran center Emeka Okafor (15 points, 16 rebounds), who contributed solid interior play, made an impact, though the visitors overall lackluster play certainly had an influence, too.

But despite their apparent lack of focus in the early going, the Bulls escaped the opening period with a 24-23 advantage, following a bank shot by backup point guard Nate Robinson (19 points) with 1.9 seconds left in the first quarter.

Bench production from Robinson, backcourt partner Marco Belinelli and reserve big man Taj Gibson sparked the Bulls at the outset of the second quarter, though their efforts were countered by Washingtons cadre of reinforcements.

Second-string point guard A.J. Price and the frontcourt trio of Trevor Ariza, Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin technically a 2010 Bulls draft pick, the center was sent to the Wizards with Hinrich, ending the veteran floor generals original Bulls stint valiantly made it a back-and-forth affair, until Robinsons blend of playmaking and instant-offense scoring gave the visitors some breathing room.

Washington responded, however, going on an 11-0 run to suddenly turn the tables and getting a rise out of the largely apathetic crowd, via Walls playmaking, veteran big man Nenes (16 points) work in the paint and backup guard Jordan Crawfords explosive scoring.

Robinson ended the spurt with a triple and the teams exchanged baskets for the remainder of the half, sending the Bulls into the intermission trailing, 50-44.

After the break, the Wizards, led by the big-man tandem of Okafor and Nene, picked up where they left off, going on a 10-2 run at the outset of the third quarter to put the visitors in a double-digit hole, prompting a timeout by Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.

Perhaps a bit frustrated, Boozers elbow connected with Okafors face as the former tried to gain post-up position, resulting in a flagrant foul, subsequently followed by Boozer again leveling Okafor on the next possession.

Boozer was hit with a technical for his actions, as well as his fourth foul Nene seemingly retaliated by knocking down Noah, who played peacemaker in the aforementioned situation, showing that tensions had escalated on both side but regardless of any potential altercations, Washington was still in control of the contest, also enjoying a gradually-ballooning lead.

Aside from the on-court drama, the Bulls also struggled with ball-security issues, defensive lapses the Wizards dominated their guests in the paint, usually a point of pride for the visitors vaunted defense and generally sloppy play, leading to a 73-55 deficit heading into the final stanza.

Although the Wizards briefly enjoyed a 20-point lead early in the fourth quarter, the Bulls fought back, going on a 7-0 run to make their uphill battle more manageable with a lineup that featured recent acquisition Daequan Cook.

With Robinson leading the charge and pressure defense applied to their opponents, the Bulls continued to chip away, making it a 10-point game with 7:12 remaining in the contest, making it a question of whether the visitors had enough juice to pull off a comeback, assuming the hosts ran out of gas.

Heading into the games stretch run, the Bulls couldnt make up enough ground to seriously challenge Washington, which played stout enough defense and made enough timely shots to keep the visitors at bay, despite Robinsons virtuoso scoring efforts and Noahs yeoman-like performance on the glass and as a playmaker, as well as extended pressure by the team on the defensive end of the floor.

As it finally became apparent that the Bulls wouldnt be able to make the comeback, Thibodeau inserted deep reserves like rookie Marquis Teague and backup center Nazr Mohammed, putting an end to a rough night.

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.

Watch some of new Bull Zach LaVine's best dunks

Watch some of new Bull Zach LaVine's best dunks

Zach LaVine quickly made a name for himself as a prolific, epic dunker.

The recently acquired Bull won both the 2015 and 2016 Slam Dunk Contests and has plenty of awe-inspiring in-game dunks as well.

The video above has a few of LaVine's best efforts.

His signature dunks in the dunk contests were the 2015 dazzler when he caught the ball from behind the backboard and went through his legs before slamming it and the through the legs from just inside the free throw line dunk in 2016.

For in-game dunks, the time he posterized Alex Len in November was an instant-classic. It's not everyday a 7-footer gets dismissed with such authority.

Of course, LaVine's ability to dunk at this prodigious level is in question after he tore his ACL this past season. If LaVine can come back to anywhere near full strength, look for some impressive highlights from the former dunk champ in a Bulls uniform.