Bulls Show Signs of Life in Loss to Lakers

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Bulls Show Signs of Life in Loss to Lakers

Wednesday, December 16
By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

Okay, let's start with the premise there are no moral victories in professional sports. But with that being said (apologies to Larry David & Curb Your Enthusiasm), it looks like the Bulls are trying to go back to the defense-first style that helped them get off to a 6-4 start this season. Led by an inspired effort by Joakim Noah, who finished with 11 points, 20 rebounds and 6 blocked shots, the Bulls outrebounded the league's tallest team and outworked them on both ends of the floor. Problem is, the Lakers have Kobe Bryant and the Bulls don't, and there-in lies the fundamental problem for your 2009-2010 Chicago Bulls.

This Bulls' team is offensively challenged. They shoot a low percentage from the field and the three point line, and they don't have a go-to scorer who can create his own shot or get to the free throw line down the stretch of close games. Granted, Derrick Rose is trying. The reigning NBA Rookie of the Year has been much more aggressive over the last few weeks, taking close to 20 shots per game, and his scoring average is climbing steadily. But Derrick still looks at himself as a point guard first, and he just doesn't have that selfish streak you find in so many of the game's great scorers (like Kobe). It was great to see him take the final shot of regulation against Golden State last Friday night. And, even though he missed the shot, it showed he's starting to realize how the Bulls' fortunes are riding on his performance.

Another issue for the Bulls is the puzzling season-long slump of John Salmons. One of the reasons the Bulls decided to let Ben Gordon go in free agency was the outstanding play by Salmons late last season and in the playoff series against Boston. The coaches and front office hoped Salmons would build off his career season, and become a consistent 18 to 20 point scorer while playing 35-plus minutes as the Bulls' starting shooting guard. But 23 games into the season, Salmons is still searching for his shooting stroke. He only played 29 minutes against the Lakers last night, and managed just 2 points on 1-5 shooting from the field. After last Saturday's loss to Boston, Salmons admitted he's struggling to get anything going and he looked devastated while acknowledging his numbers are down in all the key offensive categories. Maybe we were all fooled by his great play at the end of last season. After all, over his 7-plus seasons in the league, he's a 9 point a game scorer, and 44 percent shooter from the field. Now, the danger for the Bulls is that Salmons won't opt out of the final year of his contract, which would put them on the hook for his 6.7 million dollar salary, and prevent the Bulls from having enough cap room to make a maximum salary offer to one of the elite free agents.

But that's a problem for another day. Right now, the Bulls are looking forward to the return of Tyrus Thomas in about 2 weeks, which will give them the fresh legs off the bench they've been looking for during the current slump. During training camp, the coaches thought they were two-deep with quality players at every position, but the injuries to Thomas, Kirk Hinrich and Jannero Pargo have seriously cut into that depth and forced Vinny Del Negro to play his starters for heavy minutes. Now, we're hearing about Joakim Noah's rotator cuff injury, which required a cortisone shot. Noah has been the team's MVP, but the strain of playing big minutes against bulkier centers is obviously taking its toll. Getting Thomas back will allow Del Negro to give Noah more rest, and hopefully keep him healthy for the second half of the season.

Given the woeful state of the Eastern Conference, this season is far from over for the Bulls. They're only 2 games out of the final playoff spot, and judging by last night's effort against the Lakers, it looks like the worst is over. The schedule is much more favorable in the weeks ahead, starting with Thursday's visit by the New York Knicks. I'll see you courtside with Kendall Gill to preview the game during Sportsnite at 6:30, then Neil Funk and Stacey King have the call at 7 on Comcast SportsNet.

As always, your comments and e-mails are welcome. Here's to better Bulls' basketball over the holidays and into the New Year!

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.”