Bulls fall hard in surprising, disappointing defeat to Nets

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Bulls fall hard in surprising, disappointing defeat to Nets

By Aggrey Sam & Christopher Cason
CSNChicago.com

Readiness to play and preparing for each and every game the same way are some of the mottos that the Bulls (25-8) have abided by under Coach Tom Thibodeaus reign.

Even with the challenges of the most games played at the midway point of the season having also played the most road games out of any team at this point the Bulls have always prided themselves on being ready to play when the ball is thrown up, which is why Saturdays 97-85 matinee loss against the New Jersey Nets (9-23) was so depressing.

I dont think you can change game-to-game. I think you have to prepare for each game the exact same way, said Tom Thibodeau.

Everyone in this league is extremely talented and capable of beating you; it doesnt matter who it is. This isnt like college where you may have twenty-points more talent than somebody. It doesnt work that way, theyre all pros. If youre not ready to go, youre capable of being beaten and thats what happened.

Amazing happens is the NBAs motto and while the beginning of the contest was a tad shy of truly remarkable, the fact that the woeful Nets jumped out to a 15-2 lead including 13 unanswered points after the two teams exchanged buckets to start the game was certainly a shocker.

But even after a Thibodeau timeout in an effort to rectify the situation, New Jersey, behind All-Star point guard Deron Williams (29 points, 5-for-9 three-point shooting, eight assists) outside shooting and playmaking, as well as contributions from Kris Humphries (better known as the ex-husband of reality-TV star Kim Kardashian, the power forward was booed by United Center fans, as he is in every arena), built on its double-digit cushion.

While ball security was an issue for the Bulls in the early going, there appeared to be a lid on the basket and disjointed offensive execution was also problematic things that occasionally occur to the squad that entered the day with the leagues top record the surprising aspect of the hosts slow start was a lackluster defensive effort, leading the visitors to shoot 14-for-21, compared to the Bulls 7-for-22, in the first quarter.

After permitting the Nets to run crisp plays that led to easy scoring opportunities, get out in transition and attempt wide-open jumpers, at the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls trailed, 34-19.

Sometimes, the game is won in the first quarter, said Mike James who contributed 16 points. You can sometimes have rallies towards the end of the game but its hard because this is the NBA. Even though, the Nets record is what it is, they still have pretty good players. If anybody start getting confidence, knocking down shots, its hard to get them out of that rhythm and they got into their rhythm early and kept their rhythm.

Thibodeau emphasized James point by saying; It was too big of a whole hole to get out of. If you study the statistics, theyre going to tell you that most teams that are leading after the first quarter are the teams that win. Readiness to play is huge.

Thibodeau lost patience with his starters midway through the first quarter and inserted an all-reserve lineup and it began to pay dividends toward the end of the period, as Taj Gibsons (14 points, eight rebounds) typically energetic play made an impact, then carried over to the second stanza.

With fellow backup big man Omer Asik (eight rebounds) providing a rebounding and defensive presence, sharpshooter Kyle Korver and a dual point-guard set featuring John Lucas III and James (seven assists), the Bulls trimmed the deficit to make it a competitive affair.

I was just searching for energy somewhere, said Thibodeau. We had a couple of chances to maybe get back into it.

Thibodeau reinserted his re-energized regulars, but kept James fast becoming a fan favorite due to his tough defense, fearless drives, intelligent passing and timely shooting on the court and combined with C.J. Watsons usual instant offense, Luol Dengs (14 points, eight rebounds) scoring and Carlos Boozers (16 points, nine rebounds) rebounding and mid-range shooting, the Bulls made it a single-digit contest.

But with Williams accurate outside marksmanship and Humphries (24 points, 18 rebounds, five assists) work on the interior, the guests remained in command and the Bulls went into the intermission facing a 59-45 deficit.

Our defense wasnt very good, acknowledge Boozer. We pretty much spotted them a twenty-point lead and we tried to fight back. We did fight back and then they went right back up at the half.

Although New Jerseys once-gaudy shooting percentage dropped precipitously after the break, a blend of the Bulls turnover problems resurfaced and an inefficient offense allowed the visitors advantage to balloon. Humphries high activity level was the difference for the Nets, whose defense and rebounding factored into the hosts offensive struggles.

As the third period waned on, however, Boozers jump-shooting prowess reared its head, as the Alaska natives mid-range game from the baseline and elbow was the Bulls most consistent offensive weapon in making the deficit more manageable.

But the mini-run was eventually stymied partly of their own doing; adding injury to insult was Watson getting drilled in the face by Williams, leading to the latters steal and fast-break dunk, killing the Bulls momentum and through three quarters of play, the Bulls still faced an uphill battle, being on the wrong end of a 73-56 score.

The final period didnt immediately yield better results for the hosts, as rookie MarShon Brooks (19 points) and starting center Shelden Williams (eight points, 14 rebounds) were productive for the Nets early in the quarter, ensuring that their lofty winning margin remained intact.

Never known to give up on a game until the final buzzer, the relentless play of Gibson and James persisted, and coupled with Deng rediscovering his hot hand a dunk, plus the foul, for an old-fashioned three-point play, followed by an actual three-pointer, ignited the All-Star unearthed signs of life within the Bulls at the halfway mark of the frame.

Unforced miscues and the inability to string together multiple defensive stops, both issues all game long, were the home teams ultimate undoing, as they couldnt pull off a miraculous late run to get back into striking distance.

We had a bad day, were not denying that, said Deng. We have no excuses, we played terrible. Were going to look at game tape, get better and bounce back the next game. Its just a lot of things went into tonight. We just have to bring a better effort.

Already needing no further motivation after the loss, the Bulls seem to have already put the loss behind them and began to look ahead.

Well have a great practice tomorrow, dust this game off and be ready for the Hawks. Theyre a very good team who smacked us the last time we played them we havent forgot that and be ready for Monday.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Celtics trade for Jimmy Butler?

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Celtics trade for Jimmy Butler?

On the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Kevin Anderson, Vincent Goodwill and Kendall Gill welcome in SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell to discuss the Celtics' motivation to trade for Jimmy Butler. 

The guys also break down whether the league is undervaluing the Bulls All-Star. 

Later, they debate the contant Lebron James vs. Michael Jordan comparison and ask if it's fair after the King's poor showing in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. O'Donnell also analyzes the NBA Draft. He believes Terrance Ferguson is the right pick for GarPax. 

Finally, a behind the scenes look at Goodwill vs. Kendall on the court, and Kendall on the right way to parent a young athlete. 

Listen to the Bulls Talk Podcast below. 

NBA Buzz: Financial and competitive realities could lead to Jimmy Butler trade for Bulls

NBA Buzz: Financial and competitive realities could lead to Jimmy Butler trade for Bulls

Watching LeBron James tear through the Eastern Conference playoffs the way Michael Jordan used to do in his prime, it's become increasingly apparent other teams in the East will be chasing James and the Cavaliers for the next 3-5 years.

With that in mind, you have to wonder what kind of conversations are going on inside the walls of the Advocate Center as the Bulls' front office prepares for the June 22nd draft and the start of free agency on July 1st. 

Jimmy Butler earned third-team All-NBA honors on Thursday, putting him in position to earn the Designated Veteran Player Extension with another All-NBA selection in either 2018 or 2019. Under terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, that could mean a contract starting at $42 million in 2019-20 with a total five-year value of over $246 million.

Are the Bulls prepared to pay that kind of money to a player who has logged big minutes over his career and will turn 30 just before the 2019-20 season?

If not, the best time to deal Butler would be right now. Butler is coming off the best season of his NBA career, including a starting spot for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game. Plus, he still has two more guaranteed years on his contract at far below market value for one of the top 15 players in the league.

Tuesday's draft lottery pretty much eliminated Boston from a potential Butler trade. Celtics' GM Danny Ainge loves Washington point guard Markelle Fultz and is locked in to drafting him with the number one pick. Boston's future couldn't look brighter after finishing with the best regular season record in the East, advancing to the Conference Finals, and winning the lottery.

The Celtics will add Fultz and still have enough cap room to offer a max deal to free agent swingman Gordon Hayward, who played collegiately for Boston coach Brad Stevens at Butler. How does a starting line-up of Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Hayward, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley sound, with a second unit of Fultz, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Kelly Olynyk? It might not be good enough to take down the Cavs or Warriors, but should position the Celtics for a long run as a serious contender.

So, if the Celtics are out, where would the Bulls look for a possible Butler deal? Phoenix probably holds the best combination of assets, starting with the No. 4 overall pick. If point guards Fultz, Lonzo Ball and De'Aaron Fox go 1-2-3, the Bulls could grab Kansas forward Josh Jackson, an Andrew Wiggins-clone who could wind up being the best player in this draft.

The Suns also have a pair of intriguing young power forwards in Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, both top 10 picks a year ago. Plus, Phoenix could include 23-year-old small forward T.J. Warren and Chicago native Tyler Ulis in the package going back to the Bulls.

Suns GM Ryan McDonough is reportedly under pressure to show significant improvement next season after winning just 47 games combined over the last two years. Adding another young player to the roster isn't the best way to improve the team immediately, so don't be surprised if the Suns make a pitch to acquire Butler in the days leading up to the draft.

Similar story in Philadelphia, where the Sixers own the third overall pick next month. Under former GM Sam Hinkie, the "trust the process" approach led to a roster purge and the acquisition of lottery picks. Right now, the Sixers are overloaded with young players like Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Justin Anderson and Nik Stauskas.

Would current GM Bryan Colangelo be willing to trade the pick, along with Okafor and Anderson in a package for Butler? The Bulls could choose between Jackson and Kentucky's lightning-quick point guard Fox with the draft pick they’d acquire, potentially adding three young starters to a new-look line-up. 

Given all the trade rumors surrounding Butler in the past, you can expect a number of teams will be calling the Bulls leading up to the draft, including Tom Thibodeau's Timberwolves, coming off a disappointing season with assets to offer like Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the seventh overall pick. 

Ultimately, it comes down to which direction the Bulls' front office wants to go. Try to build a contender around Butler, or use him as the trade asset to start a full re-build. We should get our answer in the days leading up to the draft.

Around the Association

Thursday's All-NBA announcement could lead to a pair of All-Star forwards changing teams this summer. We already mentioned Hayward's situation in Utah. Without the designated veteran player extension, he might be seriously tempted to join his old college coach in Boston. 

Hayward could sign a one year contract with a player option for a second season in Utah with hopes of earning the DVPE next summer, but if Hayward hits the open market, it's clear he'll be the number one target for the Celtics this off-season. 

Paul George also could be in play after failing to make one of the three All-NBA teams. The Pacers were hoping to sign their All-Star forward to a max five-year extension at over $200 million, but George isn't eligible now. George still could sign an extension with Indiana, but not at the dollars he would have received had he made All-NBA. 

Rumors of George's desire to join his home-state Lakers in free agency after the 2017-18 season continue to grow, especially with Magic Johnson likely to add dynamic point guard Lonzo Ball in next month's draft. The Pacers might be forced to trade George to get some assets now, rather than let him walk away for nothing in free agency next summer.

Back to the Bulls, who will bring in dozens of prospects to Chicago to work out at the Advocate Center before the draft. Unless they make a major trade to move up, the front office almost has to go "best player available" with their picks at Nos. 16 and 38. Look for them to focus on an athletic wing in the first round with Louisville's Donovan Mitchell, Indiana's OG Anunoby, Duke's Harry Giles and Australian pro Terrance Ferguson among the likely options. 

But if the team decides to part company with restricted free agent Niko Mirotic, that could open the door for the Bulls to select a power forward like Cal's Ivan Rabb, Wake Forest's John Collins, Utah's Kyle Kuzma or UCLA's T.J. Leaf. They could even draft an athletic young center like Jarrett Allen of Texas, Creighton's Justin Patton or UCLA's Ike Anigbogu.

In Round 2, the Bulls might look to add another young point guard to the mix like Oklahoma State's Jawun Evans, Iowa State's Monte Morris, Villanova's Josh Hart, Gonzaga's Nigel Williams Goss or Big 12 Player of the Year Frank Mason from Kansas.

Quotes of the Week

The Celtics might have edged Cleveland out for the top seed in the East during the regular season, but after watching Game 1 Wednesday night, it's clear Brad Stevens’ team will be lucky to get a win in the series.

This from Stevens about the NBA's version of Benjamin Button, LeBron James. "It's hard to believe, but he's better than when I got into the league. A lot better."

Still, Celtics' star Isaiah Thomas isn't about to concede the series just yet, saying, "We're not afraid of Cleveland. They're not the Monstars."  

Well, Thomas might be right about the rest of the Cavs. But if you remember the movie "Space Jam", I'm pretty sure James would be a good fit in that Monstars line-up. And the Celtics don't have Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny or Bill Murray!