Schanowski: Can Bulls contend for title this season?

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Schanowski: Can Bulls contend for title this season?

Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011
12:02 p.m.

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

With Derrick Rose putting up an MVP-worthy season at the age of 22, some NBA observers are wondering if the Bulls might be ahead of schedule in their plan to build a title-contending team. Even with the long-term injuries suffered by Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, the Bulls have the 3rd best record in the Eastern Conference, and already own victories over both Boston and Miami. Question is, could they beat either of these teams in a best of 7 series? What do you think? Please post your comments in the section below.

Noah surprised reporters by announcing hes hoping to return to action before the NBAs All-Star weekend, which starts on February 19th. That would give the Bulls almost two full months to get their team fine-tuned for the start of the playoffs. Amazingly, the Bulls have gone 15-6 since Noah went out with a torn ligament in his right thumb, which leads everyone to wonder just how good this team can be at full strength. Kurt Thomas has done an excellent job of holding down the center position in Noahs absence, but once Joakim returns, the Bulls will have the kind of frontcourt depth and versatility that few teams can equal.

Of course, there is that nagging lack of production at the shooting guard position, but dont look for the Bulls to make a major move before the February 24th trade deadline, unless Detroit decides to buy out Richard Hamilton, which isnt likely. With the league facing a difficult round of collective bargaining in the off-season, the Bulls and most other teams dont want to be stuck with long-term salary commitments for past their prime veteran players.

If David Stern and the owners are successful in instituting a hard salary cap in the new collective bargaining agreement, many teams could be forced to trade or release players just to get their rosters to comply with new league rules. And, with the Bulls planning to offer Rose a contract extension before next season, they need to make sure their roster isnt overloaded with long-term, big money deals. Adding another 8 million plus per year contract like Hamilton, Jamal Crawford or Stephen Jackson could actually prevent the Bulls from working out a new contract with Rose, and obviously, that would not make any sense for the future of the franchise.

So, the next time you wonder why Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer are failing to provide the offense youd expect from the shooting guard position, just remember building a championship roster isnt normally done in just one season. The Bulls decision makers know they need to add another reliable shooter to the mix, but because of the labor issues, it probably wont happen this season. Rest assured, Gar Forman and John Paxson are making their calls around the league, trying to find creative ways to improve the roster. But the reality is, any big move isnt likely to happen until next year, when the Bulls will have more roster flexibility.

Now, that doesnt mean the Bulls couldnt add another shooting guard before the trade deadline. Moderately priced players like Anthony Parker and Courtney Lee might be available, as well as guys in the 5 to 7 million range like Mikeal Pietrus, J.R. Smith and Leandro Barbosa. The problem is, any team talking trade with the Bulls is likely to ask for Taj Gibson as part of the package coming back. And, with the injuries suffered by Boozer and Noah this season, plus the inexperience of Omer Asik, it would be tough to give up such a valuable frontcourt reserve.

Its always difficult to be patient, especially with the Bulls exceeding pre-season expectations at this point. But if the Bulls could potentially add another All-Star caliber player at next years trade deadline, or in the summer of 2012, maybe patience is the best course right now.

As always, we appreciate your feedback and suggestions. Should the Bulls wait until they have the cap room to make a major upgrade at the shooting guard position, or would you like to see something done before February 24th? And, can the Bulls contend for a championship this season, or do they still need more talent and experience? Please post your comments in the section below.

Ill see you Friday at the United Center when the Bulls get another litmus test against Dwight Howard and the new-look Orlando Magic.

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 p.m.

New teammates, new changes put Jimmy Butler at ease

New teammates, new changes put Jimmy Butler at ease

The earrings were gleaming from Jimmy Butler’s ears, as he was his usual-disarming self with a playful smile and wink during his question-and-answer session with the Chicago media.

At a point, he took a deep breath as he looked around the Advocate Center with some of his new teammates walking around, some of whom had to carry nameplates because they weren’t recognizable faces in this new setting.

And because new faces are in town, it means two things: some faces left town and for Butler’s sake, the new ones will only know him as “Jimmy Butler, All-Star”, not the guy who was a late first-round pick, not the player who couldn’t get off the bench.

Butler didn’t bring up his comfort level, but when asked, he didn’t deny things appear to be a bit easier this time around.

“Does it make me feel more comfortable? I mean, to an extent, yeah, because then you can never say how you may have think that I’ve changed,” Butler said.

Butler’s ascension rubbed some the wrong way last season, and it’s been spoken about ad nauseam, whether it was true or not. But the moment of honesty wasn’t so much a shot at Derrick Rose or Joakim Noah, who departed for the Knicks in various forms; however it was an admission to his level of security, one that perhaps can lead to a more peaceful existence with all the core pieces.

The one way he’s always lead and will always speak to, is by example and work ethic. It’s one that turned him into an All-Star and Olympian.

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“I think everybody that’s on this roster now just knows how hard that I’ve worked to get to this spot that I’m at,” Butler said. “They’ve seen it. They’ve witnessed it. All they’ve been around for me is this point of my career. I don’t know if it sounds bad. But I think that all these guys look at, ‘If Jimmy works like that and if I work like that, I’ll be in the same position that he’s in.’ I’ll be more than happy to let you have that position because I think hard work can get you anywhere that you want to get to.”

So with that, Butler volunteered himself to Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, to be the sacrificial lamb of wrath if need be. Easy to say if he doesn’t actually believe Hoiberg is capable of going from nice guy to madman at a moment’s notice but Butler laid it out for the record.

“I told Fred, ‘As much as you can, use me as an example. I want you to really get on my tail about every little thing.’,” Butler said. “Because if Doug or Tony or whoever it may be is watching coach talk to me like that, it’s going to be like, ‘If he can talk to Jimmy like that, I know he’s going to come at me a certain way.’ That’s what I try to remind him every day. I think he’s ready for that. I’m a player. I’m coachable like everybody else. I want that. I need that.”

The additions of Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo add championship receipts to a locker room that needs it, considering the Bulls want to play their young pieces. Wade and Rondo, the Bulls privately believe, will help Butler deal with everything that comes with a new role of leadership — and by proxy, Butler’s relationship and expectations of Hoiberg.

“He was put in a position last year he wasn't familiar with and I think we'll see growth from it,” Bulls general manager Gar Forman said. “The great thing about Jimmy is you know he comes in each and every day and gives 100 percent. He gets better every year and I think we'll continue to see that growth in his game and him as a person. I think that experience with USA basketball was real positive for him.”

Whether the trio lives up to the “Three Alphas” nickname remains to be seen, but after having a locker room with too many low-pitched voices, perhaps the change in pace — any change in pace — will be a welcome one for Butler.

“The Alpha thing, I think we’ll be just fine. Everybody is going to have something to say,” he said. “As long as everybody is listening and is willing to take some criticism if you’re doing something wrong, just like if you’re doing something right I’m going to tell you, there’s good and bad in everything you do. At the end of the day, as long as we win games, it won’t matter.”

Bulls' Jimmy Butler wants tough coaching from Fred Hoiberg this season

Bulls' Jimmy Butler wants tough coaching from Fred Hoiberg this season

 

Much was made of the Jimmy Butler-Fred Hoiberg dynamic last year.

As the duo head into Year 2 together with a very different Bulls roster, Jimmy Butler was very clear about one thing he wants out of his coach this season.

“I told Fred, ‘As much as you can, use me as an example,’” Butler said during the team’s media day on Monday. “I want you to really get on my tail about every little thing because if Doug (McDermott) or Tony (Snell) or whoever it may be, if watching coach talk to me like that he’s going to be like ‘If he can talk to Jimmy like that I know he’s going to come at me a certain way.’ So that’s what I try to remind him everyday. I think he’s ready for that. I’m a player. I’m coachable like everybody else, but I want that. I need that.”

Butler’s show of confidence in his coach didn’t stop at his belief that Hoiberg could follow through on Butler’s desire to be coached hard. The All-Star believes Hoiberg has improved as a coach heading into his second year on the job.

“It was his first year last year and I think he studied himself and us and the way we were up and down in so many areas of the game last year,” Butler said. “He’s trying to correct it. That’s just like anybody going into the offseason. He didn’t just not work. He studied and got better at what he needed to get better at. I think he’s ready moving forward.”