Lucas III, short-handed Bulls survive lowly Wizards

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Lucas III, short-handed Bulls survive lowly Wizards

The bruised and battered Bulls (10-2) had little reason for optimism heading into Wednesday nights affair, except for the facts that their pride was at stake and they were facing the lowly Wizards (1-9). Led by emergency starter John Lucas III, Chicago made a defensive stand to hold off the visitors, 78-64.

I knew it was going to be a grind-it-out game. It was our third in a row and were hopeful that we can hang our hat on our defense when were not shooting well, said Thibodeau. The defense was, I thought, pretty good. The rebounding was terrific and I thought that was the difference in the game. Theres a lot of fight in our team.

Down both their superstar starting point guardDerrick Roses sprained-toe injury, suffered during the previous evenings win at Minnesotaand his usual backup, C.J. Watson, third-stringer Lucas (25 points, 11-for-28 shooting, eight assists) was the subject of much scrutiny leading up to Wednesdays contest. But the diminutive, yet experienced floor general proved early on that he had the chops to fill in as an emergency starterat least against the lowly Wizards, scoring six first-quarter points and dishing out six assists in a less-than-bashful outing.

I just wanted to go out there and step in, and control the team like Derrick would do and C.J. C.J. went down, I had to come in and get the Bench Mob going. Then, Derrick went down, I had to come in and do what I had to do. My teammates, theyre the best. They had a lot of confidence in me, coaches had a lot of confidence in me and I just had to go out there and perform, said Lucas, who played more than 45 minutes in the contest. I didnt know until I was driving to the arena that Rose wasnt going to play, so it caught me off guard. But youve always got to be prepared, always got to stay focused. I came in the game with the same mindset.

Even without Rose, one thing that remained consistent about the Bulls was their top-notch defense and it held the youthful, trigger-happy visitots to 35-percent shooting in the opening period. Although the home team didnt exactly light it up from the field themselves, a more disciplined style of play led to a 17-15 advantage after a quarter of play.

Washington was sparked by the play of backup guard Jordan Crawford (14 points), center JaVale McGee (10 points, 14 rebounds), who played his high school hoops in Chicago, and point guard John Wall (11 points, eight assists)Wall caught his counterpart, Lucas, with a monster, left-handed fast-break dunk, as the Bulls point guard tried to draw a charge late in the halfin the second quarter, showing fight that reflected their individual talent. However, the continued strong play of Lucas, who played the entire first half, and the scoring and rebounding efforts of Luol Deng (12 points, 15 rebounds) boosted the hosts lead to double digits.

Its a good feeling, but I know that it doesnt stop here, said Lucas. I just want to go out there and play, play in the game. Coach Thibs was just telling me, Just stay aggressive. Dont back off, dont stop shooting. If Im open, shoot it and I felt like I was shooting too much, and then he got on me for not shooting when I was open

Everybodyall 13 of uswe all stepped up tonight, he continued. John Wall and all of them, theyre great players, but when you go against D-Rose in practice, nothing surprises you that steps in front of you, I dont care who it is. Im just happy that Im part of this team and I get to play against him every day in practicealso C.J., whos a terrific playerand it makes me a better player.

Added Thibodeau: Hes not going to leave many bullets in the gun, thats for sure. I give him a lot of credit. He stayed ready. That was a tough game.

Well, actually, I was mad early because off on the pick-and-roll and he was wide-open, and he wasnt shooting and you cant play like that. If youre open, youve got to shoot, he continued. Once he hit a couple, then it changed things. It opened up things a little bit.

Help from the second unit in the form of Taj Gibsons (nine points, six rebounds, two blocked shots) always-energetic play, Kyle Korvers (14 points, six rebounds, four assists) outside marksmanship and Omer Asiks (eight points, 14 rebounds, five blocked shots) interior presenceone of the deepest teams in the league, the Bulls depth was truly being tested on this nightmaintained the winning margin. At the intermission, Chicago was in front by the score of 45-37.

After the break, the United Center guests charged back, apparently finally realizing how short-handed the Bulls were on the evening, and seized the lead midway through the games third frame. The suddenly-unselfish Wizards shared the ball and played to their strengths, led by the explosive Walls penetration and distribution abilities, and their size, length and athleticism on the inside.

It didnt help matters for the Bulls that Joakim Noah was ailing, suffering a first-half strain in his left thumb, but they plodded on, featuring Deng as the go-to scorer on offense and using swingman Ronnie Brewer at the point to spell Lucas. Receiving scoring from a surprising source in Asik, the home team took back the lead and headed into the final stanza with a 57-53 winning margin.

Buoyed by their defense, the Bulls controlled the games tempo in the fourth quarter, limiting impatient Washington to tough shots and using their inexperience against the visitors. At various junctures, Lucas, Deng, Korver, Gibson and Asik all stepped up for the hostsonce again, Noah, limited by the aforementioned injury on this evening, and Boozer were ineffective and pulled by Thibodeau for the defensive-minded duo of Gibson and Asikhelping to keep a comfortable cushion and then watched their lead balloon.

Omer and Taj, when they shut the lane down, its hard to get anything inside on them.

Youre just going with how the matchups are going, how the game was going. We had a six-point lead, so you know you pretty much can have lockdown defense with those guys on the floor, and I thought we could win it with our defense, Thibodeau explained. Were in the midst of a lot of games in a short amount of time, so you just have to go with the guys who have some energy. We need those guys. Carlos and Jo are a huge part of our team. On a lot of nights, they carry us.

In some ways, its good because their minutes arent piling up and we feel the strength of our club is the depth up front, and theyre all different, so depending on what you need, you can go to whatever the skill set youre looking for. If you need more defense, you go one way. If you need more scoring, you go another way. You need playmaking, you can go another way. Theres a lot of versatility, so we want to take advantage of that.

Lucas, despite cramping up late, continued to fire away with accuracy, Korver made timely long bombs, Asik and Gibson were active on the interior and Deng was his usual steady self down the stretch, as the Bulls sealed the hard-fought win. Thibodeau recognized he had the game in hand in the waning moments and inserted fan favorite

Brian Scalabrine, rookie swingman Jimmy Butler and even the newly-acquired Mike James.

Am I winded? I have a newfound respect for D-Rose and all the players who play 45, 48 minutes a game. But you have to grind it out, said Lucas, who played 45 minutes in the contest. Anything for this team. I would stay out there, even though I was cramping up. Thats how much I love this team. Id throw my body on the line anytime for them, he went on.

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.