Bulls: Fred Hoiberg calls for accountability during recent slide


Bulls: Fred Hoiberg calls for accountability during recent slide

It’s happened more than a few times this season, instances where adversity hits the Bulls and they fold, rather than fighting through it, leading to disappointing losses and cryptic comments thereafter.

Wednesday’s eye-opening, eye-popping loss to the Golden State Warriors prompted the players to verbalize the usual rhetoric about not communicating, and perhaps it made Fred Hoiberg do a little soul searching as well in the aftermath.

Getting beat by 31 points on national TV tends to bring about that kind of action, and Hoiberg said he’s no longer letting the players off the hook, believing the players should take more ownership of what’s going on.

“It starts with me. There’s no doubt about it,” he said. “I need to do a much better job of when the communication isn’t there of holding the guys more accountable with that.”

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Players and coaches alike all have said the practices are spirited and productive, but the lethargic efforts have been noticeable, particularly on the defensive end. So to hear Hoiberg preach about accountability is a change in philosophy.

“I’ve done a poor job of bailing them out sometimes by talking too much in practice or having an assistant coach talk too much,” he said. “We almost have to be silent. And it has to come from the players. Because it’s pretty glaring when we’re not doing it and the gym is silent from the coaches.”

That silence on the floor has led to some extended runs for opponents, and just situations in general that a usually-resilient bunch would bounce back from. Now, they seem to cower in the corner.

“We need to do a better job of battling through adversity. Tough times are going to hit you pretty much every time you step on the floor,” Hoiberg said. “We didn’t get off to a great start against Detroit. We got down double figures. We bounced back and had a great last three quarters. You hope that carries over to the next one. We got off to a solid start last night. We had a lead in the first quarter with under six minutes to go. And then they jumped on us. And we didn’t respond well.”

Nikola Mirotic is one of the players in need of response, one of four Hoiberg likely described as having a new role for the first time in his career. After a strong start to January, his production has gone from a slump to something deeper in the last four.

His totals are just as disturbing as Wednesday’s 31-point beatdown to Golden State: 19 points and 14 rebounds on five of 28 shooting (17 percent) and two of 12 from 3-point range (17 percent).

For someone who came into the season depended on as a valuable cog, that’s not the kind of production the Bulls can win with.

“It’s true that I started off a little bit better in 2016, especially for the first week,” Mirotic said. “I was playing with a little more confidence, you know? Playing the three, playing the four, too, but again I’m struggling a little bit now. I’m not shooting the ball well. I’m not feeling the same confidence like I was feeling before, but it could happen.”

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Whether starting or coming off the bench, the lack of confidence has been startling. The hesitation, not knowing where to be on the floor on either end, is all on full display and it looks like he’s not shaking himself from it anytime soon.

“I’m playing with more confidence at the four because that’s my natural position that I’ve been playing all of my life, but believe me it was a good experience for me playing the three,” Mirotic said. “I think after a couple of weeks I adjusted a little bit. So now I’m playing just the four again, so whatever coach needs me to play.”

The man who dazzled last March when the Bulls were without Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler is a shell.

“I was playing with a lot of confidence that month,” he said. “Playing a lot of minutes. Having a great feeling you know. I’ve been shooting a lot from three, playing in the low-post, different game. Today, I’m not scoring easy baskets. I’m not running like before. I’m not making those open threes. I’m not doing things in the low post. But if I can do it last year in March, I can do it this year, too. It’s a little bit confidence, a little bit more working out, and I think it will come soon.”

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend


Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler was absent from the scoresheet of the All-Star Game, unless you count a “DNP-Coaches’ Decision” as activity. Whether due to the All-Star festivities of the weekend or even the grinding minutes he plays under Tom Thibodeau, it wasn’t truly surprising to see him want to have a night off of sorts.

But what was mildly surprising was the reflection he displayed on Saturday at All-Star Media Day in reference to his time with the Chicago Bulls. Usually, Butler’s armor is up because of his feelings surrounding his draft-night departure.

“I learned a lot in Chicago,” Butler said. “Just all through the season and life in general. What to do, what not to do and how to adapt to any situation that you’ve been in. I’ve done that to the best of my abilities. I have a ways to go in that.”

It’s clear he’s still grasping the weight of his words as the best player on a team, or at least, the player whose words impact everything around him.

“A people pleaser? No, I just didn’t say much,” Butler said. “Now I just don’t care. I never talked whenever I was in the league at an early age. It really didn’t matter, nothing I did was gonna make or break us when it comes to losing a game. Now it does and I have a lot to say. Half the time it’s not the right time or right way to say it but it’s okay.”

Whether it was the battles with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg or the internal struggles in the Bulls’ locker room through his ascension from bench warmer to rotation player to impact player to now, a legitimate star, he’s modifying his approach—just a tad.

“I’ve never been the best player on my own team. I was in Tomball,” he joked, in reference to his beginnings in small town Texas. “I wasn’t in junior college. At Marquette I wasn’t. I’m probably not now. In Chicago I wasn’t. You just pick up on it, watch others and learn.”

He admitted to writing in a journal and reading self-help books now that he’s in Minnesota. The novel he’s reading now, “Faith, Forward, Future” is authored by Chad Veach, a Los Angeles pastor and the subtitle of the book says “Moving past your disappointments, delays and destructive thinking.”

Whether he started the book following a slow start with the Timberwolves in November, where his nightly numbers looked like one of a high-level role player, he took some self-evaluation before leading the charge since, playing like an MVP candidate with 25.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 49 percent shooting since the start of December.

“It’s relatively new. Yeah, basketball is still basketball but it’s hard when somebody else is coming in and roles change overnight,” Butler said. “You gotta see where you fit in with the group. At the end of the day you gotta win. I didn’t feel the way I was playing was our best opportunity to win games.”

Bringing along the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, with Towns being a fellow All-Star for the first time, has been a process.

“I’ve never actually had to be a leader,” Butler said. “I just always done what I was supposed to do, didn’t say much and played hard. Now you know, everybody wants to call someone a leader.”

He disputes taking a softer hand, especially as Towns and Wiggins seem to struggle with sustaining concentration at critical moments. The Timberwolves won’t be able to make those mistakes during the playoffs, but he’s being more selective with his words.

“I’m not soft,” he said. “If I see something wrong, I speak on it. If you don’t like it, oh well. You’ll get over it.”

One thing he could take a bird’s eye view of was the aftermath of LeBron James and Kevin Durant’s comments to the “Uninterrupted”, where they were criticized by cable news hosts for speaking out against President Donald Trump.

No stranger to criticism, Butler would likely have the same approach if he dipped his toes into that arena.

“I like it. You got the right to say what you want and you speak on what you think is right,” Butler said. “Good for them. And they are magnified in a very big way. They embrace it and they’re doing the right thing, I’m all for it.”

And if the day comes where he doesn’t stick to sports, Butler’s directness and lack of diplomacy would certainly cause an interesting reaction.

“I don’t care. Whatever I believe in, I believe in,” Butler said. “Everybody else does it. You see everybody on Twitter and the Internet doing it and saying what they want to say. We just have a different job than the person to our left and right.”

Well, not quite a warm and fuzzy Jimmy Butler.

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment


Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”