The Starting Five: Bulls vs. Cavaliers

The Starting Five: Bulls vs. Cavaliers

Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011
4:20 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

1. As much as Roses offensive game is lauded around the league, his individual defense has also improved under the guidance of Thibodeau, known for his expertise on the side of the ball. His defense looks a lot better to me. I think he's been very consistentI think he's much better on the ball, getting back in front of the ball and the way he's challenging shots right now, he's up on every shot and he's a hard guy to score over if he's up on the shot. He's getting better. His weak-side awareness is much better. Just his overall defense is vastly improved, said Thibodeau. It's not only individual, but it's team. It's tying everybody together. I think his individual defense has improved, but also his team defense and him giving help has improved alsoI think he's taking a lot of pride in it. I think he's really worked at it. Each day, he's come in and he's really worked at it. You can see it in practice. In practice, he's working extremely hard on his defense. Rose says the keys to his improvement have been Just making sure I get into the ball, fighting over screens, not giving up and contesting everybodys jump shot when they come off, although his perfectionist head coach holds him to an even higher standard. Its always, Try harder. It could be where the guys coming off a pick-and-roll and I just contest the shot, and they hit the shot. Ill look at him, hell look at me. Ill say, I contested it. Hell say, Try harder! Im like, Man, you come out here and try. Hes always making sure that Im always out there, giving my all, especially on the defensive end because thats where we really need to get it going, he quipped. One specific area in which hes used his athleticism to become a force is defending his man in pick-and-roll scenarios. Every time people come off picks, theyve got to look for me, especially when they have a little bit of room. Im making sure that Im getting out there, contesting their shot without fouling. Its kind of hard sometimes when theyre in front of you, but Ive j
ust got to find a way to make sure I dont foul them and send them to the line, said Rose. When guys game are usually coming off pick-and-rolls and shooting, when they do that only a couple times during quarters, that tells me Im getting to them.

2. In Luol Deng, while he doesnt garner the same attention as opposing defenses commit to Rose and power forward Carlos Boozer, the teams top two scorers, the Bulls have a luxury with a third scoring option capable of big offensive outputs, as evidenced by his last two games. Obviously Deng and Rose have developed on-court chemistry in their years together, but now Deng has a post-up threat in Boozer to deflect even more pressure away from himnot to mention much-improved effectiveness from 3-point range. Its been a while for me since Ive played with a low-post presence like that. I think the last guy I could say that about is really Eddy Curry, when I had him here my rookie year and my second year. Just getting back to the cutting game, the spotting up and just reading when Booz is being Booz and when the other team is double teaming him. I just feel like its going to come. Were going to get better as a team and were going to get better playing off him, said the small forward, who described playing with Boozer as really easy. He continued: Ive always had my 3-point shot. I always felt like spacing-wisea lot of times in the past, I was in the cornerbut now, Im finding myself floating into it. Im shooting it more in transition. I just know with Derricks penetration, I can widen out the floor for him and its something thats worked well for Derrick this year. Spacing out the floor, hes been able to attack. Teams just have to pick. Take out the threes and spread out the floor, Derrick will attack. A night like tonight, they tried to take it away and we hit shots. Rose acknowledged that when Deng is in his offensive groove, the team functions more smoothly on that end of the floor. We're great, knowing that he's got his flow going, got his game going and he's been doing a great job attacking the basket, where he's trying to get to the line, getting the rebounds. He's big for this team. Everybody comes into the game looking to stop me or Booz. Lu, you see where he'll have a couple of games where he'll score 20-something points or 30 points. That's huge for our team, said Rose. He's doing good, man. He's balling. He's comfortable, I'll say and that's the only thing he should be worried about, being comfortable. Thibodeau added: Lu has been terrific. He's averaging almost 18 points a game and again, I don't measure over one or two games, if a guy isn't making shots. I look at more the total season and 10 or more games, what's going on, but Lu has proven he can score in a lot of different ways for us, whether it's his post-up, the catch-and-shoot, slashing-cutting type game and he's a very efficient scorer, and adding the three, I think has made him even harder to guardYou want your team to play to its strengths and when you look at the strengths of our team--Carlos inside and in the pick-and-roll with Derrick, and of course, Luol has proven that he can score in the pick-and-roll also or catch-and-shoot--the important thing is to play to your strengths. When you look at the top teams in the league, most of them are broken down that way. Three primary scorers get the majority of the shots and often times, it comes down to your ability to get your three primary scorers better than your opponent can get their primary scorers.

3. Rose also discussed his ever-improving chemistry with Boozer, who has been a juggernaut since getting acclimated to his new squad. The duo has been extremely effective in pick-and-roll scenarios, as opposing defenses must choose between Roses devastating penetration ability and Boozers inside-outside offensive capabilities. It will be very tough for teams to stop it because their bigs have to make a choice whether to stop me with the ball and by that time, I'm close to the rim or Booz is going to have a jump shot, or if he's rolling, he's going to have a dunk, said Rose. He kind of rolls like Lakers star Pau Gasol. Gasol doesn't really go too far...usually, when you hit a big rolling, he's close to the basket, but Booz wants the ball a little bit off, so that he could shoot the shot or dribble--one dribble--and get to his left hand. So, it's kind of weird. That's the first big I've ever played with like that, but he's doing a good job at itIt's kind of weird where he catches it because there's a lot of commotion right there--a lot of people moving--but he finds a way to score. Thibodeau believes that the pair also benefits their teammates because of the attention they draw. When you put two primary scorers in the pick-and-roll, it also creates a lot of easy opportunities for others because if they commit to the double team, they put two on the ball and they're rotating quickly to Carlos, that means one guy's open. We have to make quick decisions, hit the open man and sustain our spacing, but I think they've gotten more comfortable with each other, I think it's a hard play to guard and Carlos does a lot of clever things on the pick-and-roll. Sometimes he's going all the way, sometimes he's rolling halfway and sometimes he's popping, so he knows how to read open areas.

4. After their last matchup with Clevelanda too-close-for-comfort affair in the midst of a snowstorm, the Bulls wont take the Cavaliers lightly. However, in the throes of a downward spiral that began with LeBron James return to his home state last month, the visitors have been struggling mightily. With a lineup devoid of a top-tier go-to scorerveteran forward Antawn Jamison appears to be past his prime and point guard Mo Williams is more of a complimentary playerand injuries also proving to be a major issue, Cleveland head coach Byron Scott might have bit off more than he can chew with his newest reclamation project. Still, its a Central Division rivalry game and although the Bulls are clearly superior, they havent been playing up to their potential lately, so another close call could be in order.

5.Dont forget to follow me on Twitter at @CSNBullsInsider.

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.