Rose's return fit for a King, gives Bulls winning trip

325927.jpg

Rose's return fit for a King, gives Bulls winning trip

Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010
Updated 2:25 AM
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Through the middle of the third quarter, it seemed as if the Bulls' positives strides on their current seven-game road trip were all for naught.

Then, the determination witnessed on the treacherous stretch kicked in, and buoyed by the return of Derrick Rose to the lineup, Chicago (9-6) utilized a sustained fourth-quarter run to get out of town with a 96-85 victory over the Kings (4-11).

Rose (30 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) returned to the lineup and picked off where he left off, making the game's first basket, as well as his next four shots.

"When I saw him walking around, he looked a lot better today. When I saw him walking around, he said he felt a lot better," said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau about his star point guard, who was a game-time decision after sitting out Friday's buzzer-beater loss to Denver with a sore neck. "After he warmed up, I asked him again. He said he felt great, so I wasn't really concerned about it."

"I thought we were tired. Derrick really helped us a lot -- he had fresh legs -- he helped us a lot in the first half," added teammate Luol Deng. "I think Derrick is the best point guard in the league right now, as long as he just keeps playing like this. He carries us a lot and he's making a lot of us better."

Against the lowly Kings, it seemed as if the Bulls -- injury-riddled or not -- could cruise to an easy victory to close out their arduous road trip. However, Sacramento point guard Tyreke Evans (17 points, nine assists, six rebounds) -- Rose's fellow Rookie of the Year and successor at the University of Memphis -- had different ideas, matching his counterpart's effort with his own personal scoring binge to give the home team a slim winning margin.

Evans' smooth drives to the basket and transition scoring ability got a young Sacramento squad going, giving the sparse Arco Arena crowd something to cheer about. With momentum clearly working against them, Chicago trailed, 28-21, after a quarter of action, mostly by virtue of the Kings' aggressive play and inadequate Bulls defense.

Reserve swingman Ronnie Brewer (eight points, 10 rebounds, three assists) keyed a Bulls' second-quarter push with his aggressiveness and playmaking, capably aided by Joakim Noah's (17 points, eight rebounds, five assists) always-energetic interior play.

"I think he's in really good shape right now and the first half, he was the only one really on the board," Thibodeau said of Brewer. "They were knocking a lot of balls out of our hands and some stuff like that, but Ronnie, he was rebounding in traffic and his energy was real good. I wanted to get him quickly in the second half to get that energy back in the game.

"We have a number of players who have started a number of games in this league, so you know if you're down a guy or a guy gets into foul trouble, that whoever is going in is capable of playing well and I think it's been proven throughout the year so far."

Sloppy turnovers, however, led to the Kings countering their guests with easy fast-break opportunities, resulting in the home team maintaining their slight cushion and even extending it, despite Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau reinserting his regulars.

Behind the likes of frontcourt youngsters Jason Thompson (18 points, nine rebounds), Donte Greene (13 points, seven rebounds) and Omri Casspi -- as well as Evans in the backcourt and veteran center Samuel Dalembert (12 points, six rebounds) -- the Kings simply outworked Chicago, leading to a the visitors facing a 57-44 halftime disadvantage.

After intermission, the Bulls attempted to chip away at the double-digit deficit, but Sacramento's persistent energy and ability to get high-percentage looks made that task nearly impossible. In the midst of trying to build an identity as a defensive-oriented team, Chicago appeared to be taking a step back in that department, possibly due to tired legs from the long road swing.

In their typical fashion, the Bulls would make an inevitable run, using a quicker lineup and an increased tempo to decrease the gap against their inferior opponents, although Thompson and Dalembert, in particular, continued to play well for the Kings. The opportunistic Bulls, seemingly over the lethargy that plagued them through the first half, trailed, 76-69, after three quarters.

Chicago's charge resumed at the start of the final stanza, with Deng (22 points, nine rebounds, four assists) leading the way offensively and a much-improved defensive effort (the Bulls forced multiple 24-second violations) leaving Sacramento stymied.

An emphatic Noah dunk off a nifty spinning post move -- part of 7-0 run to start the quarter -- tied the game, and the atmosphere in the arena was noticeably different.

"In the first half, it was hard to really judge anything we were doing defensively because the intensity wasn't there and our technique wasn't there. In the second half, once the intensity picked up and the technique picked up, it was better," said Thibodeau. "I didn't think our pressure was good enough in the first half -- in the second half, our pressure was much better and Derrick was tremendous. I thought Ronnie Brewer played with great energy. I thought that was a big lift and then Luol got going a little bit in the second half."

The Bulls' lead was short-lived, as the Kings refused to relent, perhaps smelling a rare victory on the young season was in their grasp. The game developed into a chippy, tightly-knit affair with hard fouls galore on both ends of the court.

More experienced in those situations, the Bulls began coming up with a knack for making the majority of the contest's pivotal plays -- grabbing loose balls, taking charges, hitting free throws -- down the stretch, with usual suspects Rose and Noah contributing heavily.

Rose's razor-sharp ballhandling allowed him to get into the lane and score with ease, while Noah's grit, defensive presence and finishing ability made an equally significant impact.

"Noah's never gassed. He played tough. He played a lot of minutes and the breakaway -- normally, that's a dunk -- but I thought his defense in the second half was tremendous," Thibodeau remarked about the charismatic center. "Multiple effort -- he was everywhere, he's challenging at the rim, he made it hard and -- that's what we need from him every night."

Brewer's first-half success carried over, as the offseason acquisition showed an increased comfort level in creating opportunities for himself and others, and Deng's timely scoring only helped the Bulls widen the gap between themselves and the young Kings.

The tables had turned, and what had been a nip-and-tuck battle turned into a comfortable Bulls lead going away as Sacramento derailed down the stretch to go 4-3 on the circus trip -- the first winning record on the annual road swing since the 1997-98 season, the last year of the Bulls championship dynasty.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's 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.

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.