Butler shining in Deng's absence

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Butler shining in Deng's absence

The Bulls knew coming into this season that they were going to need to count on everyone.

With superstar Derrick Rose out for a majority of the season, the other players had to step up their production even more so.

Jimmy Butler started his third game in place of the injured Luol Deng and finished the Bulls 85-82 win over Detroit with 18 points and a career-high nine rebounds in 46 minutes of action.

His corner three-pointer with 1:51 remaining gave the Bulls an 82-80 lead and was all the more impressive considering he had gone 1-for-8 from the field in the first half, including missing three of his outside attempts.

Jimmy struggled early and he just kept working the game, coach Tom Thibodeau said. He probably settled early on -- Tayshun Prince is a tough cover -- but he never gets down. He just keeps battling and in the end, he figured it out. He got some good shots -- high percentage shots -- his defense improved as the game went on and he made some big-time plays for us.

Butler converted on five of his six field goal attempts in the second half and has shown true resiliency during his time in the starting lineup, overcoming some rough starts.

Hes just like that, said Joakim Noah. Hes a resilient guy and I love playing with Jimmy. He just has that toughness about him, that it just fits the Bulls perfect. Im so proud of him because its tough sometimes to play behind Luol. But hes someone whos always in the gym, working hard. Even though he might not be getting the time in the game he wants, hes somebody whos always been a team-first guy. For him to be shining like this and helping us in this way, it means a lot. Im really proud of him.

Im not surprised at all, he continued. We knew coming into this year that we were going to count on him to do a lot of things. Even last year he showed signs. He had some games where he played some really solid defense for us. He hit a huge three today, a huge shot against the Lakers hes really playing solid basketball for us.

Admittedly tired after the game, Butler deflected praise away from himself and attributed not getting down on himself early to having watched Deng do it so often.

He does so much for this team, Butler said. Im not trying to be a mini-Lu. He scores, guards, rebounds, passes, the energy. He does it all for this team.

I did start off kind of slow. I was frustrated, went over to the bench and my teammates were like keep shooting, theyre going to fall. When that shot in the fourth came, all I can hear in my head was shoot the open one. I knew Nate Robinson was going to throw it to me and Im so glad it went in.

When Deng returns, Butler has proven hes more than deserving of more minutes, but that decision is up to Thibodeau.

He plans to bring the same effort and energy he has during his short stint in the starting rotation and has impressed his teammates and coaches.

Obviously there are a lot of things that he has to improve upon, but hes not afraid of the big moments, Thibodeau said. He has a lot of courage and toughness. Those characteristics go a long way in this league and he competes on every play. We want him to keep improving and studying.

In this league, usually at the two and three, you have primary scorers your tough matchups. Hes taken the challenge and I like the way he is approaching things. Hes never satisfied, comes in the next day, and he wants to improve and thats important.

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.

Watch some of new Bull Zach LaVine's best dunks

Watch some of new Bull Zach LaVine's best dunks

Zach LaVine quickly made a name for himself as a prolific, epic dunker.

The recently acquired Bull won both the 2015 and 2016 Slam Dunk Contests and has plenty of awe-inspiring in-game dunks as well.

The video above has a few of LaVine's best efforts.

His signature dunks in the dunk contests were the 2015 dazzler when he caught the ball from behind the backboard and went through his legs before slamming it and the through the legs from just inside the free throw line dunk in 2016.

For in-game dunks, the time he posterized Alex Len in November was an instant-classic. It's not everyday a 7-footer gets dismissed with such authority.

Of course, LaVine's ability to dunk at this prodigious level is in question after he tore his ACL this past season. If LaVine can come back to anywhere near full strength, look for some impressive highlights from the former dunk champ in a Bulls uniform.