Thibodeau, Bulls ready for final 'Bench Mob' reunion with Lucas

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Thibodeau, Bulls ready for final 'Bench Mob' reunion with Lucas

TORONTOThe last of the Bulls reunions with the departed members of the Bench Mob will occur Wednesday evening at the Air Canada Centre.

John Lucas IIIs squad hosts his former team and while the reserve point guard doesnt get a lot of playing time for the Raptors, his ex-teammates still acknowledge the impact he made during his stint in Chicago.

John was fun. Hes a great scorer. He could get off anytime. He won us some games, where he came in and hit some big shots for us, Luol Deng said before the Bulls morning shootaround. Ive watched him a little bit. I know hes not playing much, but hes still staying professional. Hes staying consistent with what he does.

Jimmy Butler chimed in: Just his energy, man, and how great of a teammate he was, and how he wanted for himself to do well and also for his teammates.

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Lucas may have been third on the depth chart behind Derrick Rose and C.J. Watson, but his infectious personality and knack for stealing the showwhether it was out-dueling LeBron James for a Bulls home win over the Heat or playing virtually the entire contest for the short-handed team during an improbable victory over Washington at the United Centermade him a beloved figure in the Bulls locker room after a less than memorable debut with the team.

Two seasons ago, after being cut after the preseason, Lucas was summoned to Denver to play against the Nuggets in a November road game, due to Rose being sidelined with a neck injury. Lucas missed two clutch free throws, eventually leading to a one-point loss when Carmelo Anthony nailed a buzzer-beater.

For most fringe NBA players, that game could have been a death knell. But most fringe NBA players didnt have a supporter like Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, who previously coached Lucas in Houston and was an assistant coach for the players father while in Philadelphia, when the younger Lucas was just a kid.

When Lucas signed a two-year contract with Toronto in July, Thibodeau was both privately disappointed that the Bulls didnt retain him and proud of the journeyman--as was Rose, who was the first to contact his best friend on the team after hearing about the deal--finally getting some security in the league. However, things havent gone as planned for the Raptors, as Lucas has again been relegated to the third-string roleToronto traded for Kyle Lowry in the offseason and incumbent starter Jose Calderon, who was expected to be trade bait, held on to his joband in 10.9 minutes per game, Lucas is averaging 4.2 points and 1.7 assists a night.

He hasnt played a lot because when you have Calderon and Lowry in front of you, youre talking about two starting point guards, so theres not a lot of minutes, but every time hes been called upon, hes done a good job for them, Thibodeau explained. Thats who he is. John stays ready and then, you have to be ready whenever he does come in the game, if he does come in. If you give him space, hes going to make you pay.

Professionalism, intelligence, ability to shoot, readiness to play, adds a lot to your team. Type of guy who doesnt play for five games, 10 games, then if hes called upon, hes ready and those guys are invaluable. He did a great job for us and hes doing a great job for Toronto, he continued when asked about the qualities that endeared Lucas to him.

Its not just in the games, but those guys bring a lot to practice and they help lead your team. They help push your team and so, he did that for us. Every day he came in ready, alert, early, stayed late. The one thing about John, you never had to tell John, Hey John, youve got to go hard today. Thats in him. Thats who he is. Great energy, great teammate, did his job extremely well for us.

With a little help from perhaps the one NBA coach who truly believed in him.

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USA TODAY

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Bulls' Jimmy Butler mum on trade talk as deadline approaches

Bulls' Jimmy Butler mum on trade talk as deadline approaches

NEW ORLEANS—The trade talk is swirling and unavoidable, as it’ll be a topic of discussion through All-Star weekend as Jimmy Butler enters his third All-Star weekend and first as a starter.

Certainly not the only one who has to deal with such a thing, as Carmelo Anthony has a bigger mess on his hands with the Knicks and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins is always mentioned as being in the periphery of changing addresses.

In his true politically-correct mode, Butler couldn’t decide if the constant trade talk was a compliment, a distraction or none of the above.

“I don’t know. I think that as long as somebody is reading, talking about something it makes for a great story,” Butler said at All-Star availability in New Orleans Friday afternoon. “I don’t know if I deserve to be traded? I don’t know. It’s not my job. It’s my job to play basketball to the best of my abilities.”

He took slight umbrage to the notion that the Bulls were a better team when Butler got there and before he emerged as an All-Star player compared to them hovering around .500 for the last two seasons.

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“So I should get worse and the team will be better?” he queried.

But there is a big school of thought that the return on a Butler trade will be better for the Bulls in the long run, as if he’s holding the development of the franchise back with his play.

The Boston Celtics are Butler’s biggest suitor but certainly haven’t put all their resources to the center of the table, leaving Butler dangling in a sense. A reporter who worked for the Celtics brought up the emergence of Isaiah Thomas, the NBA’s leading scorer, and called Thomas “a teammate” of Butler’s.

Knowing how the comment would be taken if it wasn’t corrected, Butler said Thomas was his teammate “this weekend” and not trying to speak any speculation into existence.

Although he spoke glowingly of Thomas when prompted, he wasn’t going to give any conversation any more real estate than necessary. He hears enough trade talk on the regular and it’s hard for even the best person to tune it out.

“I don’t pay attention to it. Obviously it comes up. Control what you can control,” Butler said. “You can’t control what people write, what people think should happen. Majority of the time, it doesn’t happen. Sometimes it does, majority of the time it doesn’t.”