'Captain Kirk' leads Bulls to win over Lakers

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'Captain Kirk' leads Bulls to win over Lakers

With the likes of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash on the court, as well as more scoring-proficient teammates Carlos Boozer, Rip Hamilton and Joakim Noah leading scorer Luol Deng missed his second consecutive game with a strained right hamstring Kirk Hinrich might have been the least likely player one would have predicted to have a scoring explosion.But Monday night at the United Center, the veteran point guard showed that when called upon, hes still capable of being a force to be reckoned with, as his 22 points on 9-for-11 shooting, as well as second-year swingman Jimmy Butlers solid defense on Bryant, propelled the Bulls (24-16) to a 95-83 triumph over the reeling Lakers (17-24).The hosts scored the first six points of the contest, four of which were by Noah (13 rebounds), who obviously wasnt in danger of being benched again by Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau after sitting out the final 22:53 of the squads previous outing, Saturday nights overtime loss to Memphis.Noah, who also made his presence felt with his typically high activity level on both ends, received offensive assistance from veterans Hamilton (13 points) and Boozer (14 points) in the early going, though they were countered by the outside marksmanship of floor general Steve Nash, the aggressive play of former Bull Metta World Peace (12 points) and the contributions of fellow forward Earl Clark (12 points), who started in place of Pau Gasol (15 points, 12 rebounds), now relegated to a reserve role.Hinrich (eight assists, seven rebounds, 3-for-4 3-point shooting), usually the fifth scoring option out of the Bulls starters, didnt permit the Lakers to disregard him offensively, knocking down a pair of early triplesbefore picking up his second foul, continuing his trend of early foul troubleto help the home team build a slim cushion.Hamilton, who looked to drive to the basket more often than usual, continued to be a factor on offense, while Noah played with a lot of energya foregone conclusion, not only because of the aforementioned benching, but his matchup with Howard, as Thibodeau frequently used the departed Omer Asik to defend him in the pastand along with the support of their teammates, the Bulls held a 27-20 advantage at the conclusion of the opening period.Backup point guard Nate Robinson (11 points) took his turn at sparking the Bulls next, hitting a pair of three-pointers, in addition to a late first-quarter triplenot to mention an emphatic post-whistle blocked shot on Howard (eight points, nine rebounds), which energized the crowdto help the hosts, who also got a lift from an active Taj Gibson, acquire a double-digit lead.Veteran Nazr Mohammed was inserted into the contest specifically to defend Howard, leading to the two centers getting tangled up midway through the second period, with the result being a technical foul on the Chicago native.Bryant (16 points on 7-for-22 shooting) started to heat up for the visitors as halftime drew closer and along with the long and athletic Clark, helped narrow the gap, minimizing the Bulls loyalists previously frenzied state.But the hosts maintained their separation from their guests and at the intermission, the Bulls led, 47-40.After the break, the Bulls combination of defense and transition playa sequence in which a Noah block led to a textbook fast break, resulting in a Hinrich layupset the tone and helped the hosts again briefly possess a double-digit winning margin.The Lakers, buoyed by World Peaces hard-nosed style and the continued contributions of Clarkthrough the midway point of the third quarter, Bryant was mostly passive on offense and Howard was a non-factordidnt let things get out of hand, but with the veteran backcourt of Hamilton and Hinrich leading the charge, the Bulls appeared to be in control.The visitors fought back, however, slicing into the deficit, as Nash (18 points, six assists) and Bryant focused on playmaking and Gasol, gave them a boost off the bench to gradually make it a close-knit affair.Although the Lakers briefly seized their first lead of the evening on a Bryant transition layup with less than a minute to play in the period, it was fleeting, as two Butler (10 points, eight rebounds, four assists) free throws tied the score for the Bulls, but still, heading into the final stanza, the game was knotted up at 69 apiece.Butler, who played dogged defense on Bryant all night long, sparked the Bulls at the outset of the fourth quarter and while the game remained tight, working against the hosts was Noah picking up his fifth foul at the 7:26 mark of the period, though Howard was whistled for a fifth of his own with 6:41 remaining, putting both starting centers on the bench as the game entered its stretch run.Hinrichs scoring remained a theme for the Bulls, who bought themselves some breathing room, as the likes of Butler and Belinellithe latters clutch three-point shooting extended the lead to double digitsalso hit timely deep jumpers to keep the visitors at bay for the time being.Another Hinrich jumper, over the defensively-deficient Nash, with 1:56 left, seemed to be the Lakers death knell, as it was followed by a Boozer jumper to give the Bulls a 14-point lead, the biggest spread of the evening.Following a Gasol dunk, Boozer knocked down another free-throw line jumper with under a minute on the clock and it was all academic after that, with the Bulls claiming a victory over the leagues most talented, yet dysfunctional squad.

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.