Bulls

Butler waves bye-bye to Clips, hello to Bulls

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Butler waves bye-bye to Clips, hello to Bulls

Thursday, March 3, 2011Posted: 2:12 p.m. Updated: 11:51 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

ORLANDO--He may not be the high-profile name Bulls fans longed for, but with all of the buzz in the Windy City about the acquisition of Rasual Butler, one wouldn't know the difference. Truth be told, if the Bulls suited up one of their three assistant coaches that used to play in the NBA--Ed Pinckney or former Bulls Adrian Griffin and Rick Brunson--there would probably be a similar hullabaloo.

That's no knock on Butler, a solid NBA player throughout his eight-year pro career (as were the aforementioned trio), but the state of excitement surrounding the Bulls these days is such that even the signing of a player that saw limited minutes for the Clippers before being bought out--don't read too much into the fact that he averaged only five points per game for a team already out of the playoff chase, as Butler has playoff experience and put up almost 12 points an outing just a season ago, a career-high number--garners significant attention. That's the mark of an acknowledged contender, regardless of some observers continuing to insist they're supposedly flying under the radar.

Think about it: Chicago has the league's MVP frontrunner in All-Star point guard Derrick Rose, a Coach of the Year favorite in first-year head coach Tom Thibodeau and with a fully-healthy roster--specifically the inside tandem of power forward Carlos Boozer and center Joakim Noah--for the first time all season, the Bulls have rightfully become the NBA's "it" team of the moment. Add in Luol Deng having his best all-around (and injury-free) season, a cast of selfless and capable role players, a deeply-ingrained defensive identity, a beautifully team-oriented brand of basketball and a short memory of both highs and lows--which will be tested in the aftermath of Wednesday's disappointing collapse in Atlanta--and preseason prognostications of merely advancing to the postseason's second round seem like an insult.

However, to quote a fictional superhero's uncle, with great power comes great responsibility and as superhuman as Rose appears on some nights, the 22-year-old has just two teammates, ancient veteran Kurt Thomas and little-used fan favorite Brian Scalabrine, that have appeared in the NBA Finals, which has increasingly gained steam as a realistic goal for the Bulls. It's not a now-or-never thing for Chicago, not with a large window for the team's core nucleus--in addition to Rose, Noah and Deng are both only 25, while Boozer, at 29, in his prime--but if indications that the other Eastern Conference powers (Miami, Boston, Orlando and now New York) have exploitable flaws are correct, then, as Rose famously queried on media day, "Why not?"

Which brings us back to Butler. No, the 6-foot-7 swingman isn't a game-changing player on his own, but in the arms race that's occurred in the East since the whirlwind trade deadline and has carried over to lockout-driven buyouts, the sharpshooter could be another valuable weapon.

Opposing defenses will undoubtedly gear up to stop Rose's penetration and clog the lane, which serves the dual purpose of helping to neutralize Boozer and Noah (not to mention active young big men Taj Gibson and Omer Asik) on the interior. While Rose has greatly improved his jumper, Boozer is a threat from the mid-post, Deng has extended his range and Noah can knock down the occasional 15-footer, the Bulls' lone true long-ball specialist is currently Kyle Korver.

The addition of Butler, a career 36-percent shooter from deep, provides Chicago with another deep threat, as well as an adequate defender at both wing spots, something essential if he intends to crack Thibodeau's rotation. While he isn't a great shot-creator, his length, experience and ability to play off elite playmakers--Butler thrived as a catch-and-shoot player with Chris Paul in New Orleans--will, at the very least, give the Bulls added depth for the upcoming battles of the postseason.

Sure, picking up Butler--not the defender Ronnie Brewer is and slightly below the caliber of marksman Korver is, but able to do a little bit of what each backup swingman brings to the table--isn't the big, over-the-top splash some had hoped for, but the Bulls have potentially improved, at little to no risk, without mortgaging their future, namely Gibson or Asik. And in April and May (maybe even June), the benefit of a seemingly small move could be bigger than expected.
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.

Bobby Portis apologizes to teammates as Bulls continue to deal with all-around complicated situation

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AP

Bobby Portis apologizes to teammates as Bulls continue to deal with all-around complicated situation

The mending hasn’t yet begun for the Bulls, but perhaps a good sign in moving forward from the Bobby Portis punch that delivered a concussion and broken facial bones to Nikola Mirotic is that it isn’t being ignored.

Fred Hoiberg is being tight-lipped about where matters stand, but he did at least say Portis returned to practice and apologized to the team Friday afternoon. Hoiberg wouldn’t reveal the contents of Portis’ apology and Portis didn’t address the media, but it’s clear things aren’t business-as-usual at the Advocate Center.

“Bobby was back at practice. It was good to have him back in here,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously, everybody’s looking forward to having Niko back in here, as well, hopefully soon.”

When asked about Portis’ spirit, Hoiberg deflected and preferred to talk about what adjustments the team will have to make in the immediate future, especially with rookie Lauri Markkanen having to go against Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge in the home opener Saturday night.

“That’s the biggest thing we have to do as far as preparing until we get our guys back, is throwing different lineups out there and hopefully getting better with our execution,” Hoiberg said.

Justin Holiday admitted that things aren’t normal, saying the actual games to start the season won’t serve as a welcome distraction because this isn’t something that can just be treated trivially.

He wouldn’t venture into getting into his teammates’ head, saying “Bobby came into today like Bobby. We’re not quite sure what he’s thinking mentally. We can’t assume that.”

But one thing that can’t be assumed is a sweeping under or pretending.

“I mean I don’t necessarily think this is a situation for us to get past,” Holiday said. “I think it’s a situation that obviously (needs) to be brought to the forefront. It’s a situation that needs to be taken care of for those two to be able to come together and be brothers again. I don’t think we’re trying to get past it.”

Holiday has been a leader during this early time, so his words and definitive tone were noticeable.

“They say sometimes you need time to heal,” Holiday said. “Again, we have to think about both situations in this. One guy is trying to get back healthy. And again, I don’t know. I wish I did. I wish we could just fix this the right way, but that’s not the case.”

It’s complicated all around, with no real precedent.

For Hoiberg, his handling has two faces. Since Portis is able to practice but has to sit out seven more games on a team-mandated suspension, he has to walk the line of incorporating Portis in daily drills and activities but also has to prepare a team that wasn’t prepared for two power forwards being out for an extended period.

That was on display Thursday as Quincy Pondexter likely played that position for the first time in his career, and it’s highly unlikely Paul Zipser practiced there at all with the depth the Bulls had until now.

“We have to get our guys ready to play positions that they haven’t played,” Hoiberg said. “We’re getting them in here early. We’re getting a group in to work on our execution. Quincy not only hasn’t played in two and a half years but I don’t know if he has ever played the 4.

“You just have to do the best with what you have.”

Emotional return to the court for Quincy Pondexter after missing two seasons: 'The journey is worth it'

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USA TODAY

Emotional return to the court for Quincy Pondexter after missing two seasons: 'The journey is worth it'

Quincy Pondexter’s trade to Chicago makes him a newcomer. His birth certificate makes him a veteran. But it’s his story that makes him worth listening to.

Even in the eye of team chaos, Pondexter’s debut with the Bulls had such a special meaning that when he entered the game to start the second quarter, he thought he would come to tears.

Having been out of basketball the last two years after knee surgeries went bad, Pondexter came close to dying in a New York hospital in January when his organs began to fail after a MRSA infection.

Catching MRSA can often lead to death.

“It wasn’t looking good,” Pondexter said. “It was tough. I prayed. My family was there close to me. Being able to play basketball again in less than a year is crazy. It’s all God. This journey has been amazing.”

His journey took him from being in New Orleans, where his knee troubles started, to being an addition to the Bulls in a trade months ago when the Bulls picked up cash and a second-round pick from the Pelicans.

Pondexter joined high school teammate and close friend Robin Lopez on a team needing some leadership, and due to the punch Bobby Portis threw to Nikola Mirotic Tuesday afternoon, it put Pondexter in position to get on the floor as a backup power forward behind rookie Lauri Markkanen.

If the Bulls were smart, they’d probably put Pondexter in a room to talk to his teammates about his struggles, especially the two teammates who may have to share the same floor in several weeks.

“The competitive nature of our team has been really terrific and we wouldn't want to trade that for anything,” Pondexter said. “It hurts those two guys aren't here right now. But we love them and we love what they brought to this team.

“I think my age on my ID solidifies me as one of the veterans. When you do things the right way, that's what it means to be a veteran. Show up first, last one there. That's what it means to be a veteran. Establishing myself there and doing things that are right, the guys have followed and listened and embraced me and I love it.”

No word on whether Pondexter got teary-eyed when he got a breakaway steal and dunk for his first points since the 2015 playoffs, when the Pelicans were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual champion Warriors.

“I know I’m going to get emotional on the court later on and probably tear up,” Pondexter said after the morning shootaround. “I told Robin that a thousand times. People don’t know what you’ve been through. There are a lot of times they’re not there besides your close family and friends. I appreciate them carrying me through this whole process.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg can relate to Pondexter, with Hoiberg’s heart ailment cutting his career short. When the Bulls coach speaks about the frailty of the game and how precious things are in the NBA, Pondexter is living, breathing proof.

“I’m really really happy for Quincy. For a time there, his life was in danger with his infection. I know he’s really excited to get his career going again,” Hoiberg said. “I never got that opportunity to get back out there. I tell these guys to cherish it ever day. You never know when it can end. All of a sudden. For Quincy to get this chance, it’s awesome.”

Pondexter, with the straightest of faces, called basketball his “obsession” and he felt happy to get back on the floor, if even for a few minutes.

“I love it to death. It’s my life,” Pondexter said. “Basketball is what got me through it---my family and basketball. It was like, ‘How can I make this story even better? Do I quit?’ No. I watched so many inspirational movies, 'Hacksaw Ridge.' They get you through tough times because you say, ‘That’s going to be me.’ I’m going to be able to inspire someone down the road. That’s really helped me.”

A hamstring injury slowed Pondexter in training camp, which would explain his lack of explosive lift in the season opener.

No one was really sure if the Bulls would hold onto him for the season, but it’s clear he holds value beyond the box score. When he finished his media session, Lopez turned to Pondexter and said, “Now you’re stuck with me”, putting his arm around his teammate.

“Being able to play after two and a half years, it feels like hundreds of surgeries, getting traded to this organization. It's been a lot,” Pondexter said. “I wouldn't trade any of that for this moment right now and how I feel in my heart. I can't wait to get on this floor and play with my teammates and try to do something special. The journey is worth it.”