Bulls

Bulls: Jimmy Butler playing through thigh injury

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Bulls: Jimmy Butler playing through thigh injury

Jimmy Butler wants to play 82 games this season and he’ll be damned if it doesn’t happen, even if his body won’t cooperate.

He woke up Thursday morning with his left thigh locked up after the Bulls’ exhilarating overtime win over the Indiana Pacers, a game that wouldn’t have been won without his heroics down the stretch.

It was bad enough he needed help to get out of bed to make it to the Bulls practice facility, and he was actually listed on the team injury report, although he says he was in no danger of actually missing time.

“It’s not that serious,” Butler told CSNChicago.com after the Bulls’ 108-81 win over the New York Knicks Friday night. “If I can go, I’ll go. I don’t know where it was from, I just woke up in a little bit of pain.”

“I woke up the next morning, feeling it for real. Went and got some treatment, keep it heated, keep it moving, I’ll be alright.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

As long as he stays active, i.e., on the floor and not the bench, he believes the pain is manageable. Butler played 34 minutes Friday, slightly down from his 37.4 minute per game average.

He scored 23 points with six assists and four rebounds, so it doesn’t appear to affect his play thus far. He had a foot injury that he suffered in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors in mid-November that he initially didn’t want to disclose but he was receiving treatment on it.

It prompted Butler to remark how he’s got a bet with one of his trainers that he’ll suit up for every game this season, and he intends to win the wager.

“The foot’s good. It’s great. But it nags,” he said. “I got a bet with (trainer) Travelle Gaines that I’ll play all 82 games. When I’m locked up I gotta try to get out there.”

It’s enough of a concern that Butler was added to the team’s growing injury report, as the Bulls are already without Mike Dunleavy, Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose has missed the last two games with right hamstring soreness.

“Not serious. It’s something we gotta manage,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Jimmy always wants to practice, he wants the reps, he feels it’s great for his timing.”

[MORE: Mirotic, Portis spark Bulls in win over Knicks]

Although he’s been effective despite the injury, he’s felt it pushing off on drives to the basket, which could limit his explosiveness if it persists.

“Without a doubt, I definitely felt it,” Butler said. "(But) I felt like I needed to play. My team really needed me out there and I wanted to play. I wanted to play the game, to give us a decent chance of winning when I’m on the floor.”

Butler has been a stabilizing force in two wins where the bench has taken over the fourth quarter, their comeback win over the Toronto Raptors and Friday’s win where the defense stiffened to hold the Knicks to eight points in the last 12 minutes.

He feels his presence alone can aid while other teammates are recovering from more serious ailments.

“Jimmy, he’s gonna go out there and give it everything he’s got,” Hoiberg said. “He’s gonna come in and get his treatments. Everybody’s gotta come in and get their bodies worked on. We got a big stretch coming up, so it’s important for everybody to get their body right.”

There are 600,000 reasons you won't hear Gar, Pax or Hoiberg discuss losing

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AP

There are 600,000 reasons you won't hear Gar, Pax or Hoiberg discuss losing

The Bulls made headlines on Tuesday when VP John Paxson announced that David Nwaba, Cristiano Felicio and Cameron Payne would be entering the rotation, thus continuing the youth movement in Chicago.

On the surface the moves make sense. The 24-year-old Nwaba, the 25-year-old Felicio and the 23-year-old Cameron Payne will be replacing 28-year-old Justin Holiday, 29-year-old Robin Lopez and 25-year-old Jerian Grant. The Bulls want to see what they have in these younger players who haven't played much; they already know what they have in Lopez and Holiday, and Grant (like the other two) is under contract through next year.

OK, got that? Here's why they're making the move: they're sitting 8th in the NBA Lottery standings and really want to move into the top-5 to give themselves a chance at what should be a loaded front-end of the draft class. It's pretty obvious, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either named Gar Forman, John Paxson or Fred Hoiberg.

And here's why: On Wednesday Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined a whopping $600,000 by the NBA for comments he made on a podcast regarding tanking. The Mavericks are currently 18-40, the third worst record in the NBA. This comes a season after they finished 33-49, netting them the No. 9 pick that turned into talented point guard Dennis Smith Jr.

So when Cuban was asked about the best interests of his Dallas team, which touts young talent but clearly isn't headed for the postseason in 2018, he said this on the House Call with Dr. J Podcast:

"I'm probably not supposed to say this, but, like, I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night, and here we are, you know, we weren't competing for the playoffs. I was like, 'Look, losing is our best option. [Commissioner] Adam [Silver] would hate hearing that, but I at least sat down and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we're not going to tank again. This was, like, a year-and-a-half tanking, and that was too brutal for me. But being transparent, I think that's the key to being kind of a players owner and having stability."

Cuban isn't wrong, and the Mavericks sure as hell aren't the only team tanking. But to come right now and admit that losing is the team's best option wasn't, as Cuban predicted, going to sit well with the league office.

Commissioner Adam Silver sent out a memo with the fine that said Cuban's comments "which concerned his perspective on the team's competitive success this season" were "detrimental to the NBA."

So while the Bulls are going about their business in trying to lose as many games down the stretch as possible, don't expect anyone to admit it's the reason behind their personnel moves. There are 600,000 reasons why.

NBA Draft Tracker: Michigan State's Miles Bridges

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USA TODAY

NBA Draft Tracker: Michigan State's Miles Bridges

NBA general managers were fully expecting to see Miles Bridges declare for the 2017 draft after a solid, but unspectacular freshman season at Michigan State. Bridges arrived in East Lansing as one of the nation’s top prospects, and his impressive leaping ability led to a number of highlight reel plays for Tom Izzo’s Spartans.

Problem is, Bridges didn’t show much versatility to his offensive game because of an inconsistent outside shot and inability to create shots off the dribble. Bridges probably would have been a late lottery pick last year on athletic talent alone, but to his credit, he decided to go back to Michigan State for his sophomore season and work on some of his weaknesses.

Unfortunately for Bridges, he really hasn’t shown much improvement year to year. Yes, he’s leading the Big Ten in free throw shooting at 89%, but his other numbers are basically flat from season to season. Bridges averaged 16.9 points a year ago, 17.1 this season. He shot .486 from the field in 2016-17, .477 this year. Even with all the work he put in on his 3 point shooting, his percentage has dropped slightly this season, from .389 to .376. Rebounding is also down slightly, from 8.3 to 6.8. 

Bottom line, Bridges is once again projected as a late lottery pick.

How does he fit for the Bulls? It’s no secret small forward and center are the two positions of need heading into the 2018 draft, and the 6-7 Bridges would give the Bulls another athletic frontcourt player who fits the pace and space game Fred Hoiberg prefers. Bridges could be a real weapon running the floor with Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine for alley-oop dunks, and he should continue to improve as a 3 point shooter.

The Bulls are hoping to land a top 5 pick to add one of the elite players in this draft, and unless the Pelicans drop into the late lottery, Bridges will probably be gone by the time that selection comes up. He’s probably a bit of a reach in the 6 to 10 range, but if positional need and athletic potential are the most important factors for the Bulls, Miles Bridges could be the choice if they don’t improve their position in the current lottery watch standings.

Personally, I would prefer either Kentucky’s Kevin Knox or Villanova’s Mikal Bridges (no relation) over Miles Bridges as a small forward prospect, but all 3 players offer different skill sets that could be helpful to a young, developing team like the Bulls.

The dream scenario would be drafting a young center like Deandre Ayton, Jaren Jackson Jr. or Mo Bamba with a top 5 pick, then coming back to add one of those 3 small forward prospects with the 1st rounder they acquired in the Niko Mirotic trade with New Orleans. We’ll all have to wait until the lottery is held on May 15th to see if the Bulls are in position to add two more foundation pieces to their rebuilding project.