Bulls lock down Bucks, continue central perfection

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Bulls lock down Bucks, continue central perfection

Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011
Posted 9:56 p.m. Updated 11:49 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

MILWAUKEEIf a going on a runas All-Star point guard Derrick Rose proclaimed the Bulls are ready to doconsists of winning in grind-it-out fashion, then perhaps the Bulls (40-17) are poised to do some damage. It wasnt aesthetically appealing, but Chicagos 83-75 win over Central Division rival Milwaukee (22-36)keeping their mark against divisional opponents spotlessSaturday night at the Bradley Center got the desired result, with a balanced offensive effort to boot.

You go into a game against Milwaukee, theyre going to play tough. Youve got to be ready for that. Its going to be a physical, grind-it-out type game, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau for whom, the game was right up his alley. Youre fighting for every inch the whole night. Theyre terrific defensively. I thought the rebounding was huge for us.

Milwaukee came out on the feisty side, perhaps surprising the Bulls with their willingness to push the basketball to create transition opportunities. Forward Luc Mbah a Moute (16 points, eight rebounds, four steals), primarily known as a defensive specialist, was the Bucks offensive protagonist in the early going, scoring double figures in the opening period by showcasing an array of scoring methods.

The big thing you have to analyze is what shots are they getting. Mbah a Moute hit some jump shots and theyre a great drive-and-kick, so the ball moves, bodies move, they make the extra pass and if youre committed to keeping the ball out of the paint, you still have to get back to challenge those shotswhich we could have probably done a little bit better jobbut you have to ask, are they contested twos? explained Thibodeau. If theyre contested twos and theyre making early, youre going to live with that, but what you cant live with are the easy pointsthe layups in transition, the second shots, ball driven to the rimthings of that nature. But if theyre contested two-point shots on the perimeter, thats what our defense is: Five guys tied together, make them shoot jump shots as much as possible and challenge those shots.

Playing behind for most of the period, the Bulls allowed the hosts to enjoy a comfortable cushionmostly due to Chicagos inefficiency shooting the ball compared to Milwaukees superior marksmanshipand while a Rose (17 points, four assists, four rebounds, two steals) breakaway dunk ignited the sizable contingent of Bulls fans at the Bradley Center, late contributions by Bucks rookie forward Larry Sanders kept the visitors on the wrong end of a 25-21 score after a quarter of play.

You had to work this game, said Thibodeau. We didnt like the first quarter defensively. We thought we gave them too much.

Then we seemed to be more locked in, more disciplined and as the game wore on, we were helping each other well.

Although they were unable to truly chip into the Bucks lead early in the second quarter, Luol Deng (19 points, five rebounds, three assists) held down the fort with his scoring while on the court with a reserve-led unit. That momentumthe energetic play of Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson helped the causeled to the Bulls overtaking the Bucks, with Joakim Noahs (eight points, 17 rebounds, three blocked shots) work on the boards also a key factor in the squad starting the period on an 11-4 run, prompting Milwaukee head coach Scott Skiles to call timeout.

I thought Jo was really good tonight, observed Thibodeau. I thought his defense was terrificindividual defense, his team defenserebounding effort.

Added Noah: Im just going out there, trying to play my game, trying to get my wind right and Im just happy we got the dub today.

It felt better. Its going to get better every day. Its still not 100 percent, but Im happy we got the win. I really like our team, he continued to self-evaluate. I feel like it was a team effort again and I think our bench did a great jobthe whole season, reallybut were just getting so much better as a team and weve just got to keep improving to find out how good we can really be.

Even with Noah dominating the backboards in his third contest back from a 30-game layoff, Chicago briefly surrendered its lead to the Bucks, whose swingman duo of Carlos Delfino and former Bull John Salmons (14 points) combined to provide enough offense for scoring-deficient Milwaukee to tie the score at intermission at 39 apiece.

After an almost silent first half, Carlos Boozer (13 points, six rebounds) started to find his groove offensively in the third quarter, enabling the Bulls to effectively use their inside-outside philosophy. Although Noah picking up his third foul put a slight damper on Chicagos surge, the team turned around a lackluster beginning to the period to open up a small cushion, capped by ex-Buck Keith Bogans knocking down a three-pointer midway through the quarter.

Strong, active team defense and offensive balance were the Bulls calling card for the remainder of the period, as the visitors stymied Milwaukee with their defense, won the battle of the boards decisively and with an aggressive Deng stepping up his scoring late in the quarter, the Bulls opened up a double-digit lead. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls held a 70-59 advantage.

Both teams battled being stagnant to start the fourth quarterthrough five minutes of play, they managed only six points between them; C.J. Watson scored all four points for Chicagobut while Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau couldnt have been pleased with the offensive output of his squad, the defensive guru could at least take pride in the fact that Milwaukee couldnt find the range either. Eventually, however, the Bucks chipped into the deficit, making it a single-digit contest, with center Andrew Bogut (six points, 15 rebounds) anchoring the middle.

That seemed to motivate Chicago and with Thibodeau filtering his regulars back into the contest, the Bulls also picked up the scoring pace, with Rose manufacturing baskets. But the Bucks didnt wilt and with diminutive backup point guard Earl Boykins (10 points) running the show, the home team made it a two-possession game with under four minutes to play.

Following a Bulls timeout, sharpshooter Kyle Korver (11 points, four rebounds) knocked down a triple to give the Bulls some breathing room, but even though the resilient Bucks continued to fight back, a Korver pull-up jumper once again gave the visitors a double-digit lead as the games stretch run approached. Chicago didnt exactly close things out in styleunforced turnovers plagued them the entire nightbut in the end, they did enough to cement the victory without much worry, if not perfection.

I think that we played a decent game, just had to get a win, summed up Rose, who described the Chicago-heavy Bradley Center crowd as crazy; it felt like a home game.

More important to the 22-year-old superstar was having the Bulls full lineup intact.

It feels good. We can finally get in a rhythm with everybody back, he said. I think that were playing good as a team.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

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.