No clowns on Bulls' pivotal Circus Trip

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No clowns on Bulls' pivotal Circus Trip

Monday, Nov. 15, 2010
11:18 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

The November circus trip is here. Starting Tuesday in Houston, the team will play seven straight road gamesincluding three sets of back-to-back contestsconcluding Nov. 27, with the next game at the friendly confines of the United Center not until Dec. 1, when Orlando visits Chicago.

Success on this annual trip has been fleeting for the squad in recent years, but its understood throughout the organization that its key to perform well, as a disastrous journey could put them behind the eight-ball when jockeying for playoff position in a campaign with high expectations later in the season Facing a murderers row of opponentssuch as the Texas Triangle of Houston (the first game of the trip).

Were just going to take it one game at a time. Were not worried about anybody else on the road trip but Houston. Weve got to focus in and key in on them. They have very good guard play and they have a threat on the insidethats Scola and if Yao plays again, hell be a threat on the insidebut our focus is just on that one game, said Derrick Rose after Saturdays win over Washington. One game at a time. We cant look ahead. We know that were playing against some good teams, but we still have to take it one game at a time, just prepare ourselves and focus in on that one team.

Its really going to help our team. This year we have a lot of good guys that like hanging with each other. Were young, were getting into a little groove, so I think that should help us, our vets, we can relate to them. They have young spirits, were always hanging around them, so I know everybodys going to be hanging with everybody this trip, he continued. I think its all discipline. Were going on the West Coast, of course the weathers going to be different, you want to go out more, so I think its all about discipline. Dedicating yourself and sacrifice by not going out and getting some rest.

This is a new year. Im not worried about last year, last years over with. I know I have a new team, new coaching staff and thats how were looking at it.

Added Taj Gibson: Right now were just focused on one team at a time, the same way we did last year when we went on that awesome winning streak over there. Just one game at a time, you cant focus on the overall thing about games in the past or how our team did in previous years.

If the players sound focused, their coach should get some credit, as the unified message from the team first emanated from Thibodeau immediately after Saturdays win.

All the stuff about the road trip, Im concerned more about our practice and Houston. All the stuff about going on the road, the circus, all that stuff, Im not concerned with that. Im worried about the next game.

And with that, heres a look at the Bulls upcoming slate:

@ Houston-Nov. 16:

Yao Mings shaky health statusand frustrating minute-limithavent exactly been a boon to the Rockets, who have gotten off to a rough start. Although the Rockets have often played spoiler and embraced the role of giant-killer during their centerpieces numerous injury stretches in past seasons, they simply lack firepower with floor general and former Most Improved Player Aaron Brooks sidelined. Houston is getting excellent production out of inside-outside duo Luis Scola and Kevin Martin, and diminutive undrafted point guard Ish Smith is teaming up nicely with backup Kyle Lowry in Brooks absence, but not reaching an agreement with free agent center Erick Dampierwho would have formed a tag-team duo with former Bull Brad Miller behind (or for) Yaohurts them in the paint.

@ San Antonio-Nov. 17:

The Spurs, currently on a seven-game winning streak, have shown signs that they may be gearing up for one last gasp as a true championship contender, reprising the role theyve played for the majority of the last decade and change before the past few good, but not great seasons. Even with future Hall of Famer Tim Duncans numbers taking a slight dip, Tony Parker is healthy again and Manu Ginobili has been quietly superb to start the season. With Richard Jefferson finally settling in after a dismal debut campaign a year ago and a cast of role playersrugged second-year big man DeJuan Blair and 26-year-old rookie sharpshooter Gary Neal, to name a fewcontributing nightly, longtime San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovichs squad certainly wont be an easy out for the Bulls.

@ Dallas-Nov. 19:

During the preseason, the Bulls got two looks at the deep and talented Mavericks, who are touting defensestop if youve heard this before in regards to an early-season Dallas teamas their calling card. With two above-average seven-footers manning the middle in ex-Bull Tyson Chandler and backup Brendan Haywood, the back-line support, defensive presence and rebounding chops to be a long-term threat this season certainly exist. Mavs superstar Dirk Nowitzki is showing no signs of slowing down, Jason Kidd is still a consummate floor general and scorers galoreJason Terry and Caron Butler, not to mention veteran energy guy Shawn Marionalso abound, making the final stop in the Texas Triangle another doozy.

@ Lakers-Nov. 23:

While the Bulls will get some much-needed days off upon their arrival on the West Coast, a formidable challenge in the form of the two-time defending champion Lakers comes with the trip to Los Angeles. Even though the Lakers are no longer undefeated, one can make the argument that they have been the most impressive team in the league at this point in the young season. Kobe Bryant has been better than many observers expected him to be with his litany of nagging injuries, Lamar Odom has been in playoff form after a summer of USA Basketball, Pau Gasol looks like the leagues best big man on most nights and Ron Artest picked up from the high note he left off in June. Additionally, newcomers Steve Blake and Matt Barnes have fit in well and Andrew Bynums absence has hardly been noticed, making for an already-dangerous bunch with a high ceiling for improvement.

@ Phoenix-Nov. 24:

The loss of Amare Stoudemire has been noticeable on a squad that already struggled with interior defense and rebounding. With Steve Nash still running things, however, Phoenix is never out of a gamejust ask the aforementioned Lakers, against whom the Suns hit 22 3-pointers Sundayand with a versatile array of underrated offensive talent around him, this game could be a shootout for the Bulls. Depending on which of last weeks games against run-and-gun opponents Chicago chooses to modelthe ugly loss to New York or the defensively-dominant win over Golden Stateit could either be a pleasant Thanksgiving for the team or a somber holiday in the Rockies.

@ Denver-Nov. 26:

The combination of mile-high altitude, an always-intense Denver home crowd and a chance of post-Turkey lethargy could all be factors in this contest. The Nuggets precarious health situation could give the Bulls a boost, but a revenge-minded team playing in front of their fans might balance things out. Duplicating the defensive effort made against Carmelo Anthony in Chicagosans his explosive third-quarter scoring burstis a tough task, but necessary for a team with big aspirations and a prideful defensive philosophy.

@ Sacramento-Nov. 27:

The weakest opponent on the trip is the final foe, which already sets off a red flag as a potential trap game, even keeping in mind memories of the Tyreke Evans-led 35-point Kings comeback win at the United Center last season. Sacramento, considered a Western Conference sleeper by some entering this season, has experienced issues with inexperience, discipline, chemistry, a porous defense and an off-key offense. Still, its a team with some talentchiefly Evans, fellow second-year player Omri Casspi, blue-collar power forward Carl Landry and high-risk, high-reward rookie big man DeMarcus Cousinsand the anticipation of returning to the Windy City is a dangerous distraction.

Prediction:

Given their difficulties on this trip in the pastand the fact that theyre still without Carlos Boozerfinishing 4-3 would be considered successful for the Bulls. In order to do that, winning two of the three Texas Triangle games will be key; Houston is winnable enough, but beating Dallas or San Antonio will be tough. Even with their lone significant break of the trip taking place in L.A., beating the defending champs will be an uphill battle, so a win in Phoenix the following night will be of the utmost importance with the post-Thanksgiving rematch against Denver looming. Obviously not looking past Sacramento before coming home will be significant, as the team will want to be on an upward swing upon returning to Chicago. A guess: 3-4, which is still respectable and would leave the Bulls relatively unscathed with hopes of Boozers imminent return.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Celtics trade for Jimmy Butler?

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Celtics trade for Jimmy Butler?

On the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Kevin Anderson, Vincent Goodwill and Kendall Gill welcome in SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell to discuss the Celtics' motivation to trade for Jimmy Butler. 

The guys also break down whether the league is undervaluing the Bulls All-Star. 

Later, they debate the contant Lebron James vs. Michael Jordan comparison and ask if it's fair after the King's poor showing in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. O'Donnell also analyzes the NBA Draft. He believes Terrance Ferguson is the right pick for GarPax. 

Finally, a behind the scenes look at Goodwill vs. Kendall on the court, and Kendall on the right way to parent a young athlete. 

Listen to the Bulls Talk Podcast below. 

NBA Buzz: Financial and competitive realities could lead to Jimmy Butler trade for Bulls

NBA Buzz: Financial and competitive realities could lead to Jimmy Butler trade for Bulls

Watching LeBron James tear through the Eastern Conference playoffs the way Michael Jordan used to do in his prime, it's become increasingly apparent other teams in the East will be chasing James and the Cavaliers for the next 3-5 years.

With that in mind, you have to wonder what kind of conversations are going on inside the walls of the Advocate Center as the Bulls' front office prepares for the June 22nd draft and the start of free agency on July 1st. 

Jimmy Butler earned third-team All-NBA honors on Thursday, putting him in position to earn the Designated Veteran Player Extension with another All-NBA selection in either 2018 or 2019. Under terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, that could mean a contract starting at $42 million in 2019-20 with a total five-year value of over $246 million.

Are the Bulls prepared to pay that kind of money to a player who has logged big minutes over his career and will turn 30 just before the 2019-20 season?

If not, the best time to deal Butler would be right now. Butler is coming off the best season of his NBA career, including a starting spot for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game. Plus, he still has two more guaranteed years on his contract at far below market value for one of the top 15 players in the league.

Tuesday's draft lottery pretty much eliminated Boston from a potential Butler trade. Celtics' GM Danny Ainge loves Washington point guard Markelle Fultz and is locked in to drafting him with the number one pick. Boston's future couldn't look brighter after finishing with the best regular season record in the East, advancing to the Conference Finals, and winning the lottery.

The Celtics will add Fultz and still have enough cap room to offer a max deal to free agent swingman Gordon Hayward, who played collegiately for Boston coach Brad Stevens at Butler. How does a starting line-up of Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Hayward, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley sound, with a second unit of Fultz, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Kelly Olynyk? It might not be good enough to take down the Cavs or Warriors, but should position the Celtics for a long run as a serious contender.

So, if the Celtics are out, where would the Bulls look for a possible Butler deal? Phoenix probably holds the best combination of assets, starting with the No. 4 overall pick. If point guards Fultz, Lonzo Ball and De'Aaron Fox go 1-2-3, the Bulls could grab Kansas forward Josh Jackson, an Andrew Wiggins-clone who could wind up being the best player in this draft.

The Suns also have a pair of intriguing young power forwards in Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, both top 10 picks a year ago. Plus, Phoenix could include 23-year-old small forward T.J. Warren and Chicago native Tyler Ulis in the package going back to the Bulls.

Suns GM Ryan McDonough is reportedly under pressure to show significant improvement next season after winning just 47 games combined over the last two years. Adding another young player to the roster isn't the best way to improve the team immediately, so don't be surprised if the Suns make a pitch to acquire Butler in the days leading up to the draft.

Similar story in Philadelphia, where the Sixers own the third overall pick next month. Under former GM Sam Hinkie, the "trust the process" approach led to a roster purge and the acquisition of lottery picks. Right now, the Sixers are overloaded with young players like Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Justin Anderson and Nik Stauskas.

Would current GM Bryan Colangelo be willing to trade the pick, along with Okafor and Anderson in a package for Butler? The Bulls could choose between Jackson and Kentucky's lightning-quick point guard Fox with the draft pick they’d acquire, potentially adding three young starters to a new-look line-up. 

Given all the trade rumors surrounding Butler in the past, you can expect a number of teams will be calling the Bulls leading up to the draft, including Tom Thibodeau's Timberwolves, coming off a disappointing season with assets to offer like Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the seventh overall pick. 

Ultimately, it comes down to which direction the Bulls' front office wants to go. Try to build a contender around Butler, or use him as the trade asset to start a full re-build. We should get our answer in the days leading up to the draft.

Around the Association

Thursday's All-NBA announcement could lead to a pair of All-Star forwards changing teams this summer. We already mentioned Hayward's situation in Utah. Without the designated veteran player extension, he might be seriously tempted to join his old college coach in Boston. 

Hayward could sign a one year contract with a player option for a second season in Utah with hopes of earning the DVPE next summer, but if Hayward hits the open market, it's clear he'll be the number one target for the Celtics this off-season. 

Paul George also could be in play after failing to make one of the three All-NBA teams. The Pacers were hoping to sign their All-Star forward to a max five-year extension at over $200 million, but George isn't eligible now. George still could sign an extension with Indiana, but not at the dollars he would have received had he made All-NBA. 

Rumors of George's desire to join his home-state Lakers in free agency after the 2017-18 season continue to grow, especially with Magic Johnson likely to add dynamic point guard Lonzo Ball in next month's draft. The Pacers might be forced to trade George to get some assets now, rather than let him walk away for nothing in free agency next summer.

Back to the Bulls, who will bring in dozens of prospects to Chicago to work out at the Advocate Center before the draft. Unless they make a major trade to move up, the front office almost has to go "best player available" with their picks at Nos. 16 and 38. Look for them to focus on an athletic wing in the first round with Louisville's Donovan Mitchell, Indiana's OG Anunoby, Duke's Harry Giles and Australian pro Terrance Ferguson among the likely options. 

But if the team decides to part company with restricted free agent Niko Mirotic, that could open the door for the Bulls to select a power forward like Cal's Ivan Rabb, Wake Forest's John Collins, Utah's Kyle Kuzma or UCLA's T.J. Leaf. They could even draft an athletic young center like Jarrett Allen of Texas, Creighton's Justin Patton or UCLA's Ike Anigbogu.

In Round 2, the Bulls might look to add another young point guard to the mix like Oklahoma State's Jawun Evans, Iowa State's Monte Morris, Villanova's Josh Hart, Gonzaga's Nigel Williams Goss or Big 12 Player of the Year Frank Mason from Kansas.

Quotes of the Week

The Celtics might have edged Cleveland out for the top seed in the East during the regular season, but after watching Game 1 Wednesday night, it's clear Brad Stevens’ team will be lucky to get a win in the series.

This from Stevens about the NBA's version of Benjamin Button, LeBron James. "It's hard to believe, but he's better than when I got into the league. A lot better."

Still, Celtics' star Isaiah Thomas isn't about to concede the series just yet, saying, "We're not afraid of Cleveland. They're not the Monstars."  

Well, Thomas might be right about the rest of the Cavs. But if you remember the movie "Space Jam", I'm pretty sure James would be a good fit in that Monstars line-up. And the Celtics don't have Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny or Bill Murray!