Bulls survive late scare, beat Orlando

974607.png

Bulls survive late scare, beat Orlando

A struggling, short-handed Bulls (17-13) team put together one of its more gutsy performances of the season Wednesday night at the Amway Center, as Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson, who replaced Joakim Noah in the starting lineup, had season-best outings to lead them to a 96-94 victory over the Magic (12-20). After surrendering an 18-point third-quarter lead, the Bulls defense, always its trademark, came up big at the end to preserve the win, but it took two clutch free throws from Luol Deng to ensure the start of the teams two-game Florida road trip got off to a good start.
Torrid shooting from the Magic to start the game put the Bulls on their heels to start the contest, but behind aggressive play from Boozer (31 points, 11 rebounds) in the early going, the visitors stayed within close contact of their hosts. Boozers strength and experience helped him take advantage of Orlandos young big menveteran Glen Big Baby Davis was sidelined due to injuryand with Noah absent because of flu-like symptoms, the offensive production of the much-maligned power forward was necessary.
However, the Magic stayed hot, as the likes of rookie Andrew Nicholson, second-year big man Nikola Vucevic (20 points, 12 rebounds), leading scorer Arron Afflalo (19 points) and floor general Jameer Nelson (32 points), back from injury, led the way. But the Bulls continued to battle, as Luol Deng (23 points) complemented Boozer as a scorer, Taj Gibson (21 points, 10 rebounds, four blocked shots), starting in place of Noah, helped with the interior duties and the veteran backcourt of Kirk Hinrich (eight assists) and Rip Hamilton (nine assists) set the table for their teammates, all aiding the guests in seizing a 29-28 lead after a quarter of play.
The game remained a close-knit affair early in the second quarter, albeit at a slower pace and with more emphasis on the defensive end, which suited the Bulls. Gibson raised his level of play, as he was very active on the interior, a force on the glass and aggressive on offense, efficiently utilizing his extended playing time and in turn, keeping the Bulls afloat during a stretch in which both teams experienced a significant drop-off in shooting efficiency after red-hot opening periods.
For the Magic, Afflalo started to get hot, keeping Orlando within striking distance, but he was countered by instant-offense scorer Nate Robinson, who knocked down a pair of triples following an 0-for-3 start, while Hinrich and Boozer also got into the act as the quarter waned on. Although the pesky hosts refused to go away, the Bulls appeared to have control of the contest and at the intermission, the visitors held a 54-46 advantage.
After the break, Orlando tried to cut into the deficit behind Nelsons outside marksmanship, but the frontcourt trio of Gibson, Boozer and Deng ensured that the Bulls maintained some breathing room, and then extend the lead to double digits. Gibson, in particular, was outstanding for the visitors, as he dominated the paint on both ends of the floor, rising to the occasion in Noahs absence and getting the best of a generally hard-playing Magic frontline, including Vucevic, his college teammate at USC, who was coming off a team-record 29-rebound outing in a New Years Eve overtime loss to the defending-champion Heat, the Bulls next opponent.
Not to be overlooked was Dengs outside shooting and determined defense against Afflalo, as well as Boozers inside presence, both of which contributed to a comfortable winning margin, though one that was partially diminished after Hinrich picked up his fourth foul, robbing the visitors of one of their chief distributors, even as Hamilton continued to play pass-first basketball. A 9-0 Magic run briefly made it a single-digit game again, but the Bulls recovered and heading into the final stanza, they were ahead, 82-71.
At the outset of the fourth quarter, Orlando kept threatening to make it a tight game, but a mix of solid defense, timely offense and the Magic failing to capitalize on opportunities allowed the Bulls to keep a gap between the two squads. However, the hosts gradually inched closer and by the midway mark of the period, the Bulls lead, which had reached as high as 18 the previous quarter, had been sliced down to two, 86-84, with 5:20 to go, as Vucevic was a major factor.
A subsequent 8-0 Bulls run with Hamilton, previously on a minutes limit after returning from a foot injury, in the game heading into its stretch run briefly made it a double-digit game again, but it didnt last, as the Magic feverishly fought back late, with three-pointers from sharpshooter J.J. Redick and Afflalo sandwiched around a Vucevic dunk to make it a 94-92 contest. But Gibson blocked a Nelson layup attempt with 11.3 seconds left and after a timeout, Nelson missed a jumper to tie the game, Deng corralled the rebound and sealed the deal with a pair of free throws with 4.2 seconds on the clock.

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.