Noah, France battle Russia in EuroBasket finals

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Noah, France battle Russia in EuroBasket finals

Friday, Sept. 16, 2011
Posted: 11:43 a.m. Updated: 3:12 p.m.

By AggreySam
CSNChicago.com BullsInsider Follow@CSNBullsInsider
It's not quite dj vu for Joakim Noah, but nobody would blame him for feeling as if he's in a similar situation to the one he and the Bulls were in this past spring. After dispatching Russia, 79-70, Noah's France squad will take on tournament favorite Spain, equipped with star power not dissimilar to the NBA's Miami Heat -- at least as far as international basketball goes -- in the EuroBasket gold-medal game Sunday in Lithuania.

Noah contributed seven points and eight rebounds to France's win, but as astute Bulls fans know, the center's value is often worth more than what the box score says. As usual, France was paced in scoring by Spurs guard Tony Parker, who had 22 points, while Trail Blazers wing Nicolas Batum added 19, to go along with a well-rounded seven boards, four assists and two blocked shots. Russia was led by Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko's 21 points and Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov chipped in with 12 points for a team coached by American David Blatt, the head coach of the famed Israeli franchise Maccabi Tel Aviv and one of the most lauded professional coaches not in the NBA.

Although Spain struggled with lightly-regarded Macedonia -- led by New Orleans native Bo McCalebb, a star point guard in Europe -- throughout much of Friday's first semifinal, their talent was too much to overcome for the upstart squad. Lakers big man Pau Gasol came up with 22 points and 17 rebounds, while his brother Marc, the Grizzlies' center, added a double-double of his own (11 points, 10 rebounds), but they were carried by former NBA guard Juan Carlos Navarro, who scored 35 points.

The embarrassment of riches on Spain's roster is also quantified by the likes of Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (a native of the Congo, but a naturalized Spaniard, due to playing professionally in the country prior to making the jump to the NBA; he contributed 11 points Friday), Raptors point guard Jose Calderon, Mavericks swingman Rudy Fernandez and 2009 Timberwolves draft pick Ricky Rubio, who is expected to make his NBA debut next season, whenever that is. Rubio, in particular, has struggled in the event, marking a downward spiral for the point guard prodigy -- he's been playing professionally since his early teens -- since his impressive performance in the 2008 Olympics, in which he played beyond his years against future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd and All-Stars Chris Paul and Deron Williams in Spain's championship game loss to gold-medalist USA.

Getting back to France, Noah, who scored five points and snatched eight boards -- as well as coming up with a key steal late -- in France's quarterfinal win over Greece Thursday, must be a force on the glass and on defense, but the bulk of the scoring responsibility for France rests upon the shoulders of Parker, the leading scorer still playing in the tournament (Bulls small forward Luol Deng was the leader in that category, but his Great Britain squad exited after the first round) and to a lesser extent, Batum. France also boasts the likes of Bobcats forward Boris Diaw, Wizards big man Kevin Seraphin and former NBA swingman Mikael Gelebale on its roster, but Diaw has been inconsistent, Seraphin is inexperienced and Gelebale has been nursing a recent injury.

It's not the NBA, but unless you''re in Las Vegas for Impact Basketball's Competitive Training Series (in which Bulls backup point guard C.J. Watson is competing; former NBA coach and player John Lucas recently announced plans for a similar event in Houston) or up for a trip to one of the exhibition games later this month in New York, Philadelphia or Indianapolis, this is as close as one will get. International basketball might not have the same on-court excitement fans are used to, but the national pride, passion and importance of the games--trips to the Olympics are on the line--make it fun to watch.

Are you a diehard fan who takes your basketball any way you can get it, especially with a key Bulls player like Noah involved? Or are you preoccupied with the NFL or college football and putting the NBA on hold until the lockout is over?

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.

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.”