Bulls in a 'funk' these days, playing down to competition


Bulls in a 'funk' these days, playing down to competition

The end result of Saturdays 91-81 loss to the Bobcats aside, whenever a Bulls team coached by Tom Thibodeau doesnt display maximum effort on the court, its troubling. Sure, there were built-in excuses, such as Kirk Hinrichs absence due to injury or Joakim Noah playing through illnessJo wasnt feeling well today, Thibodeau said afterwards. He gave us what he hadbut this is a team that doesnt use adversity as a reason for losing and besides, they were hosting Charlotte, previously losers of 18 straight games.

Weve just got to work our way out of it, a dejected Thibodeau explained afterwards. Everyone has a job to do. My job is to make sure theyre ready and then, when theyre out there, theyve got to do their job, so we all have to do a lot better and right now, things arent going our way, and weve got to make things go our way.

We put ourselves in a hole right off the bat. The defense and the rebounding and the low turnovers, that has to be there every night and right now, were not getting that done, so weve got to figure out a way to get that corrected. You can live with the shotssome nights, youre going to shoot it better than othersbut the defense and the rebounding is not where it needs to be, he continued. Every team in this league is talented. You look at the guys coming off the bench: Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions, those are two big-time scorers. Kemba Walkers playing well. Youve got three guys who can crack you off the dribble. Henderson has been a very good player in the league for a while now, so theyre good. Youve got to give them credit. They played well, very well.

You cant get discouraged if youre missing shots. Right now, were not a 48-minute team. For some reasonand Ive got to figure this outI have to have us ready at the start of the game. We have to have an edge at the start of the game. We cant ease our way into the game and say, Okay, were good. Well get it corrected. It doesnt work like that.

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Defensively, while the offensively-challenged Bobcats didnt resemble the Showtime Lakers, their ability to get into the paint against the vaunted Bulls defense was alarming, as was the fact that the home team continues to struggle on the glass, though some of that could be attributed to an under the weather Noah, as his coach described him.

On the other end of the floor, there was no cohesiveness and while Hinrich not being availablethe veteran point guard is day to day with a compilation of things, Thibodeau said during his pregame media availability, prior to which Hinrich attempted to warm up, but its suspected that his right knee (which would be his sixth separate injury this season) is the most pressing current issueto run the show didnt help matters, its not as if the Bulls dont experience periodic or even game-long droughts.

Were a desperate team right now. A losing streak is tough on you, so we had tactical stuff we wanted to take care of, but we just wanted to fight more than anything. I think it kind of showed in the way that we played defense tonight because weve been scoring the ball well, but I think our defense has been hurting us a lot. Weve been in a lot of games, but have been giving up points. Its hard to win when youre not playing good defense, relieved Bobcats swingman Gerald Henderson explained.

We played solid all the way through the game. In this entire losing streak weve had, weve kind of been up and down with it, especially at the end of games. We havent taken business on the defensive end, so I think our offense was consistent and they started fouling in the last four or five minutes, so that came down to just being strong, taking care of the ball and hitting our free throws.

Usually, however, the Bulls typical blend of defense, toughness and sheer determination gets the job done. Recently, that hasnt been the case.

Were banged up, but theres still no excuses. Weve just got to play through it and get ourselves out of the funk, Taj Gibson said. Every team has a slow start, but weve got to learn how to pick it up. Nobodys going to feel sorry for us, but weve got to get ourselves out of it.

Luol Deng concurred: Obviously were not playing as well as we can. Weve played better this year, so were not going to make excuses. Weve just got to find our way out of it.

We didnt get stops in the fourth and they went on a little run, got the lead and never looked back, he continued. Weve been there before. Weve just got to play hard. Obviously we want to win. Its not the end of the world. Just stay positive, keep playing together. When youre struggling like that, next game weve just got to come out and play harder.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Celtics trade for Jimmy Butler?


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!