Optimism overflowing at Bulls' Tip-off Luncheon

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Optimism overflowing at Bulls' Tip-off Luncheon

Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010
8:30 PM

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

Ive had the chance to attend a lot of these events over the last 20 years, and invariably, the coaches and players talk about how excited they are for the upcoming season. But for the first time since 2007, the Bulls enter the new season with hopes of being a top 4 team in the Eastern Conference and having a realistic shot at advancing beyond the opening round of the playoffs.

What are your goals for this Bulls team? What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses? Can they win 50 or more games? Please post your comments in the section below.

The optimistic view on this years team centers on an improved defense and a share-the-wealth offensive system introduced by new head coach Tom Thibodeau. If youve been watching the pre-season games, youve seen Derrick Rose pushing the ball at every opportunity with a free-flowing half-court offense that will bring out the skills of players like Luol Deng and Kyle Korver.

Deng, in particular, looks like a new man. Under Vinny Del Negros system, Deng was often asked to go to the weak-side corner and wait for passes off the high screen-and-roll the Bulls ran so often in half-court situations. Now, hes moving off the ball, coming off screens and driving hard to the basket. He looks like the player NBA general managers were calling a future All-Star back in 2006 and 2007. Deng has even added a three point shot to his game and hes connecting at a better than 50 percent clip during the preseason.

Korver should be a big factor in the Bulls offense, once he recovers from a cyst on his ankle thats limited his mobility. Kyle told me after the luncheon his ankle is feeling a lot better after receiving a cortisone injection and hes hoping to play in the final preseason game against Indiana Friday night. He said if this was the regular season, he probably would have played through the pain. But once hes 100 percent healthy again, Korver will give the Bulls half-court offense the long range shooter theyve desperately needed. His quick release allows him to get shots off quickly coming around screens and we all know he set an NBA record for 3-point accuracy last season.

The Bulls are deep at the guard position with Keith Bogans, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson battling for playing time opposite Rose. And, once Carlos Boozer returns from his hand injury, theyll have more depth up front than weve seen in a long time with the addition of 7-foot center Omer Asik and veteran big men Kurt Thomas and Brian Scalabrine.

The biggest concern right now is injuries. Korver is feeling better, and Brewer is making progress from a strained hamstring, but now Bogans is having problems with a stiff back and Joakim Noah is out with flu-like symptoms. Lets hope the worst is behind the Bulls and theyll be able to get through a tough opening month without Boozer. The schedule is loaded with home games in December, with should give the coaches a chance to work Boozer into the offense and find a consistent rotation.

AROUND THE NBA
With opening night less than a week away, its looking like Boston and Orlando will provide a stiff challenge to Pat Rileys traveling all-stars down in Miami. The Magic have won an incredible 21 straight preseason games over the last three years and Vince Carter is playing like he discovered the Fountain of Youth. Orlando is deeper than ever with the addition of solid veterans Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon and theyre determined to show the rest of the league they still have the best team in the state of Florida.

Boston went 7-1 in the exhibition season and it looks like Shaquille ONeal is planning to catch Kobe Bryant with five championship rings. Shaq is starting in place of the injured Kendrick Perkins and once Perkins returns, the Celtics will be able to call on Shaq, Jermaine ONeal and Big Baby Davis for size off the bench with wing players like Marquis Daniels, Nate Robinson and Delonte West also available in reserve. Boston came within minutes of beating the Lakers in Game 7 of the Finals back in June and they look better than ever this season. Reports out of Boston say Kevin Garnett has his explosiveness back after a long rehab from knee surgery and thats bad news for the rest of the league.

As for the Heat, theyve been dealing with a variety of injuries in the pre-season. Dwyane Wade has missed almost all of the exhibition games because of a hamstring pull and its no secret his body is starting to break down after carrying a mediocre Heat squad over the last couple seasons. Miami added veteran Mike Miller to provide a three point shooting threat for the Big 3, but now Miller is hurt again and could miss several weeks of action after injuring his thumb in practice on Wednesday. Even the King himself, LeBron James, strained a hamstring in a preseason game, but he recovered quickly. Miami will win a lot of regular season games, but dont be surprised if they come up short against either the Celtics or Magic come playoff time.

Out West, it still looks like the Lakers and everyone else, but L.A. is also dealing with injury concerns. Kobe Bryant is playing limited minutes while continuing to rehab a knee and center Andrew Bynum again will miss extended time because of his continuing knee problems. Ron Artest switched numbers again, going back to the 15 he wore as a rookie with the Bulls and from what Ive seen in the preseason, hes dropped a lot of weight and is playing a lot more fluidly than he did the last couple seasons.

The Lakers should prevail in the West, but dont count out teams like Dallas, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Portland. Denver could tumble this season, especially if they decide to trade Carmelo Anthony, and it will be interesting to see if Jerry Sloan can work his magic with the talented--but underachieving--big man Al Jefferson in Utah.

The regular season is almost here and if youre like me, it cant come soon enough. Well have a one hour preseason special before the Bulls home opener on October 30th, live on the United Center concourse at 6 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet. If youre going to the game, stop by to say hello.

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNet Central, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.

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.