NBA not only game making noise this time of year

435391.jpg

NBA not only game making noise this time of year

Monday, April 4, 2011Posted: 4:00 p.m.

By Aggrey SamCSNChicago.com
While the Bulls were making quick work of the Timberwolves in Minnesota last Wednesday, basketball fans at the United Center were treated to a glimpse of the future. The 2011 McDonald's All-American Game was held in Chicago for the first time in two decades and judging from the sellout crowd, it won't take as long for the annual high school all-star game to return to the Windy City.

The East team knocked off its West counterparts, 111-96, but as it goes in these type of affairs, the talent on hand was more important than the final result. New Jersey native Michael Gilchrist, a 6-foot-7 Kentucky-bound small forward that has drawn Scottie Pippen comparisons and James McAdoo, a skilled 6-foot-9 power forward from Virginia who's headed to North Carolina--like his famous uncle, former NBA scoring champion and current Miami Heat assistant coach Bob McAdoo--earned game co-MVP honors.

Perhaps the most impressive player, however, from a potential standpoint, was a Chicago resident. Anthony Davis, who attends Perspectives--a charter school that's far from a city basketball powerhouse--is a versatile forward with the rebounding and shot-blocking ability of the big man combined with perimeter skills of a guard.

In fact, the 6-foot-10 Kentucky recruit--the Final Four team had four players in the game, with Indianapolis point guard Marquis Teague (brother of Atlanta Hawks reserve Jeff) and Oregon forward Kyle Wiltjer joining Davis and the aforementioned Gilchrist--actually was a guard until an eight-inch junior-year growth spurt transformed him from a run-of-the-mill high school player into one of the nation's top prospects, especially after he dominated summer All-American camps and AAU tournaments. With Davis' length, athleticism, non-stop motor and tremendous upside--he's often compared to a young Kevin Garnett--some observers believe he's an early favorite to be the top pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.

Davis scored 14 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked four shots Wednesday.

Another Chicago prospect, 6-foot-5 Wayne Blackshear of Morgan Park High School, also participated in the game. Despite suffering a shoulder injury in the practices leading up to the main event, the Louisville-bound swingman started the contest, although he only scored two points in limited minutes.

Another player in the game with Windy City ties was Austin Rivers, regarded by many as the nation's top overall prospect. An exciting 6-foot-4 scorer, the Duke recruit is the son of Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers.

The elder Rivers--who sat courtside at the game--participated in the event himself during his days as a prep standout at Proviso East High School in nearby Maywood, which also produced former NBA player Michael Finley, Lakers guard Shannon Brown and Kansas State star Jacob Pullen.

Michigan State recruit Branden Dawson, an athletic, 6-foot-5 wing from nearby Gary, Ind., also played in the game.

McDonald's has hosted a girls game for some time now and this year's event featured one local prospect, Ariel Massengale from Bolingbrook High School. The three-time state champion and Tennessee-bound point guard was Illinois' Ms. Basketball, and only added to her long list of accolades by leading the East to a 78-66 victory over the West Wednesday night.

Her counterpart for the boys "Mr. Basketball" award--shared with Stanford recruit Chasson Randle of Rock Island--Ryan Boatright of East Aurora High School, was a surprise snub in the minds of many observers. An electrifying 5-foot-10 guard with an incredible knack for scoring, jaw-dropping leaping ability, tremendous ballhandling skills and the speed of a sprinter, the Connecticut-bound showman was the biggest attraction in the Chicagoland area this past high school season.

At UConn, he will attempt to fill the big shoes of another small guard with a huge heart, All-American Kemba Walker. Walker's entire season--particularly his run from the Big East Tournament to Monday night's NCAA championship game--has been awe-inspiring. A big-time scorer this season, NBA personnel types are quick to forget that his point production on an inexperienced Huskies team is out of necessity; he was a playmaking, defensive-minded point guard prior his first two years in college, something that should aid his transition to the next level.

One of Walker's young teammates, freshman wing Jeremy Lamb, has been receiving rave reviews throughout the postseason, in which he has emerged as an excellent secondary scorer. At 6-foot-4, with excellent athleticism, length and range, he has shot up the boards as a prospect, although his slender frame may make at least another year in the college game in his best interests.

UConn's championship-game opponent, Butler, is no stranger to the big stage--the Bulldogs also made it to the finale last season, losing to Duke after current Utah Jazz rookie Gordon Hayward's halfcourt heave rattled out at the buzzer--and pro scouts are likewise familiar with their star junior guard Shelvin Mack. But while a significant amount of time throughout the season is spent evaluating college prospects, NBA executives are only human, leading to Mack's potential pro stature suddenly rising, albeit in a shallow pool of a guard class.

Mack's teammate, senior forward Matt Howard fits the NBA prototype even less--mainly due to his lack of explosiveness--but his skill, strength, ability to knock down jumpers, toughness and various intangibles have also been winning scouts over as of late, despite a collective insistence that clutch performances in the "Big Dance" don't make a difference come draft day.

March Madness, indeed.

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.