Bulls

'I'm sold on the Baby Bulls,' a conversation with The Basketball Analogy's Black Tray

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USA TODAY

'I'm sold on the Baby Bulls,' a conversation with The Basketball Analogy's Black Tray

You may have heard Black Tray - yes, he really does introduce himself like that - interject his patented "shouts to (fill in the blank)" one-liner before on ESPN's The Basketball Analogy podcast.

In recent episodes, he's chimed in with a facetious "shouts to bullying" and "shouts to gentrification." And just Monday, he fired a "shouts to the real MVP, Solange. Off of that elevator scene, we got three great albums."

Yes, this type of analysis can be found in an ESPN production.

The episodes he appears in - better known as Black Opinions Matter Monday - conflate NBA and pop culture to a degree where the audience knows Tray's unmistakable fandom for Tupac and the Bulls.   

He recently gave CSN Chicago a shout to discuss being sold on the rebuild, players he irrationally loved to watch play and, of course, Gar/Pax. 

You introduce yourself as Black Tray to people, right? 

Black Tray: “Absolutely. Absolutely.”

Why?

BT: “I mean if people are going to hear it, they’re going to be asking questions. And I kind of just eliminate the questions before you can even ask. If I say, ‘Hey, I’m Tray,’ and then my friends say, ‘Yo, Black Tray come here,’ I might as well just introduce myself from the jump. Women can sometimes get annoyed by it, but it’s not like I’m trying to talk in third person or anything like that. It’s just a nickname that just kind of carried through and you just kind of roll with it. It’s super funny because there’s always jokes about it. ‘Hey, you’re really not that black.’ I’m not like a darker skin tone. It’s pretty funny to go about it.

“There’s some symbolism behind it as far as my avatar, and I don’t really show my face and stuff that much. So I really want people to tune in just ‘cause of my opinion or what I have to say versus the image. You know what I mean? With Black Opinions Matter, it’s really everybody. We’re just getting our point across. It’s, ‘Oh, we’re talking about durags. White guys can’t wear durags.’ No that’s not true. I don’t care who wears a durag. If you wear it well, you wear it well. But at the end of the day, we’re just speaking like, ‘Hey, we wanna be heard, too.’ I mean obviously you wouldn’t want to hear White Opinions Matter Monday. That’s gonna sound crazy. Isn’t that kind of the default?”

How'd you first get on The Basketball Analogy? 

BT: “I really wasn’t high on doing podcasts. (ESPN's) Amin (Elhassan's) a good friend of mine. We’ve been following each other on Twitter for several years, and he reached out and said, ‘hey, I would like to have you on’ because at the time Brandon Jennings was playing for the Knicks. That’s one of my best friends. At the time, they wanted an inside opinion on it, like talking about the coaches. Black Opinions Matter hadn’t even had a name or anything. I was just coming on the show to do an episode, and we had a good episode. The next week I didn’t come back on. First of all, I wasn’t invited but then also I really just wasn’t sold on podcasts. Then he asked me to come back, and I had a guest and it was Chris Childs. It was more so just the feedback that got me back on the show. I was really receptive to it. I read every mention. I look at everything. I’m always open to giving my opinion on stuff that I actually have knowledge on and the stuff I don’t I won’t speak on.”

Are you surprised with how the pod took off? 

BT: “Pretty much so. I had never listened to a podcast before. I didn’t even listen to my own podcast after I did it. I just kind of let go. I just do it and then scroll through my mentions and if I had a cool one-liner, I’ll retweet it here or there.”

You're from California, so why'd you become a big Bulls fan? 

BT: “My fandom for the Bulls began in ’91. I was about 6 years old and at the time Magic (Johnson) had the HIV virus, but L.A. was still coming off the Showtime Lakers. I was always the person in my family that goes and chooses outside of what everybody else likes. So at the time Michael Jordan was like really fun to watch, and all I can remember is me sticking my tongue out and imitating him by doing reverse layups on my Fisher Price hoop. He was my idol – the only person I kind of admired. I was unaware, at the time, that Michael Jordan was 6’6 and I was like, ‘well I wanna be as tall as him.’"

So give me a Bulls player you irrationally like?

BT: "Larry Hughes. With the Bulls, he was not amazing, but he was okay. But I’m a Larry Hughes fan. I was like all for Larry Hughes. Huge Khalid El-Amin guy. I call the Bulls ‘Point Guard U’ for troll’s purpose. A.J. Guyton, El-Amin, Jamal Crawford going down the line Jay Williams. Tons of heartbreak. I tweeted out not too long ago about our under-20 win seasons. We’ve had multiple. It was during the time I was in high school so I really wasn’t watching at all. I was like ‘Oh, basketball doesn’t exist.’" 

What're you thoughts on now? What'd you think about the trade? 

BT: “I’m sold on the Baby Bulls. I’m bringing the Baby Bulls title back. I call Lauri (Markkanen) Lauri Kukoc. What can we really do? You just gotta be positive about everything. I can’t really wear a paper bag or anything. I like that they brought back (Cristiano) Felicio. I like the Justin Holiday signing. Justin’s a great guy and, honestly, I thought we got him for cheap for what he brings. He just knows how to play the game. High IQ guy, won’t hurt his team on the floor. So I’m praising the offseason right now just because I know what direction they’re going in, but I’m still kind of anti Gar/Pax."  

What about Hoiberg? 

BT: "Hoiberg is like a cool-ass stepdad to me. He’s like, ‘Hey I know you guys aren’t 21. You’re not supposed to be drinking, but hey you can drink inside the house.’ You know what I mean? He doesn’t have the full authority with it as I want him to be. That’s why I said I’m not mad at Jimmy trying to call him out sometimes because he doesn’t hold him accountable. You gotta check them, you can’t be a fan of them.”

Were you on board when they brought in Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade last offseason? 

BT: “I wish what we were doing now happened last year. Now it’s the heartache and pain of we made the playoffs and we’re going to abandon everything.”

Are the Bulls winning that first-round series with the Celtics if Rondo doesn't go down, though? 

BT: “Absolutely. My thing was I think he just had intimidation. He basically played mind games with those guys like Avery Bradley. He still had that over them, he had those guys on the ropes. He was just leading the right way, he had everybody on board. Once he went down it’s like not so much because we had nobody at the point guard position.”

How do you think Zach LaVine will fit? 

BT: “Looking back at the trade, that trade should have happened last year. LaVine was rumored to come to the Bulls before. LaVine’s agent is my guy, that’s my friend, so I’m all for the LaVine trade and he’s looking good as far as recovery. He’s got tons of potential and was playing very well before he hurt his knee, so I’m on board. I don’t think he’s going to be an immediate All-Star, but he could be in the 17 to 20 points per game range. He’s not a slouch."

So how long for this rebuild then? 

BT: “Three years.”

Three Years? That's optimistic, don't you think? 

BT: “Hey, I trust it. Look at it like this: You can’t really lobby off, ‘Hey, Chicago’s a great city. Come here and play.' It has to be draft, teach, play. Throw in a couple veterans and go through that process.”

Come spend the winter in Chicago is probably not a good selling point.

BT: "I lived in Milwaukee for one year. I understand it.”

Three Things to Watch: Bulls visit Raptors in season opener

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls visit Raptors in season opener

Here are Three Things to Watch in the Bulls' season opener against the Toronto Raptors tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live.

1. Pace and Space

The Bulls offense had a distinctly different feel to it this preseason than in years past. Yes, the lack of Jimmy Butler certainly had something to do with that. But it’s evident that Fred Hoiberg is getting closer to coaching the brand of basketball he’s most comfortable with. The proof is primarily in the 3-point shooting. To put it lightly, the Bulls have been chucking from deep.

Here are some of the raw numbers. The Bulls averaged 32.8 3-pointers per game in the preseason, which ranked fifth in the NBA. And it wasn’t just one or two players taking outside looks. The Bulls had seven players attempt 3.4 triples or more per game. They ranged from point guard (Grant) to shooting guard (Valentine) to small forward (Zipser and Holiday) to power forward (Mirotic, Portis and Markkanen). These long-distance shots are coming from all over.

That could be a reason that the Bulls’ pace was way up from last year’s regular season. Now, pace (how many possessions a team averages per game) doesn’t necessarily mean a team is running fast breaks and hoisting shots at the earliest opportunity. But what it does mean for the Bulls is they’re getting quick open looks from beyond the arc. Their pace in the preseason ranked 12th in the NBA, but at 105.2 possessions it was much quicker than a year ago (97.72). It’s still preseason, so all paces are up around the league, but you can tell this Bulls offense looks different.

2. The Holiday Season

You’ll probably be sick of “holiday” puns by the end of the month, but it’s Opening Night so let us slide by just this time. There was optimism when the Bulls signed Justin Holiday that the 28-year-old could be a rotation player and a fill-in while Zach LaVine recovered from ACL surgery. Never an efficient offensive player, the Knicks were much better defensively with him on the floor last season, and on a Bulls team losing Butler there was a need for a wing defender.

And if the preseason proved anything it’s that Holiday is going to be more than a rotation player. That’s not saying all that much on a Bulls roster void of premier talent, but Holiday is likely the Bulls’ best healthy player at this point. He was stellar in the preseason, averaging 17.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals. He shot 57 percent from beyond the arc and averaged a team-high 29.3 minutes. Holiday simply looked the part.

Expect Holiday to lead the Bulls in field goal attempts most nights, and expect him to defend the opposition’s best player (DeMar DeRozan tonight). Again, this isn’t to say he’s necessarily a building block for the future or is going to make fans forget about Jimmy G. Buckets. But it’s nice to know the Bulls seemed to have hit on a free agent this offseason. Holiday enters the regular season with plenty of confidence.

3. Looking for progress

Unless he explodes in a good way, it’ll be too early to tell this year whether Lauri Markkanen is a piece of the future. He’s 20 years old and needs to put on muscle and learn the NBA before we decide what he’ll be. The same can’t be said for the other Bulls’ first-round picks.

Valentine is just in his second season, but he’ll also be 24 years old in less than a month. Drafting a college senior in the first round means he needs to be ready to play right away. Thus far, that hasn’t been the case. Valentine had an up-and-down preseason: He made 46.2 percent of his 3-pointers, but he only took 16 2-pointers in 112 minutes, showing a lack of diversity to his game. The speed just isn’t there. Perhaps Kris Dunn’s injury will allow him to facilitate some. Defensively, he still needs to show improvement. This will be a big year for the second-year guard. Now is his time to show he can be part of the rebuild.

Lastly, Jerian Grant wasn’t a Bulls first-round pick but when you deal Derrick Rose (albeit the non-MVP version) you need to have something to show for it. Grant looked the part in preseason and probably would have won the job over Dunn even if Dunn didn’t dislocate his finger. But Grant, as a combo guard, could be part of the team’s future as a reserve that gives Hoiberg options in the backcourt going forward. He was good in the preseason and will get his chance to shine in a starting role. What he does with it will be something to watch for, and he gets a big test tonight against Kyle Lowry.

Looking for culture reset, Bulls find themselves in the middle of more drama

Looking for culture reset, Bulls find themselves in the middle of more drama

It was supposed to be an uneventful and culture-resetting season for the Chicago Bulls, but that ended the moment Bobby Portis’ hand connected with the sweet spot on Nikola Mirotic’s face.

Now a light is shining on an unwilling franchise and rightful questions are again being asked about what led to the event, rather than the result.

Mirotic will be out four-to-six weeks with facial fractures and a concussion to boot and Portis was suspended for the first eight games of the season, leaving rookie Lauri Markkanen to man the power forward spot against the likes of Serge Ibaka and LaMarcus Aldridge his first two games.

Welcome to the NBA, kid.

It’s likely he received his wake-up call when he saw his teammates exchange friendly fire, though, considering the witnesses said Mirotic and Portis had been at it for awhile before Portis took one swing to conclude matters.

“Both players owned responsibility in the incident itself but only one player threw a punch. And that punch connected. For us, that is inexcusable,” Bulls Vice-President John Paxson said. “It’s not who we are.”

But when there is no discernable identity, and there’s a coaching staff who’ve witnessed these two go at it for well over two years you have to ask if this is who the Bulls are.

Not in the way of fighting but a team that collectively stands by idly while a situation builds and builds before it explodes, then is forced to clean up the carnage while having to explain and react to an unnecessary event.

Jimmy Butler, gone. Ditto for Derrick Rose. Tom Thibodeau? Dumped too before he picked up what the Bulls didn’t want in Butler on draft night, jump starting this process of the Bulls headed to Parts Unknown.

All have been blamed at some point for the state of affairs. Rose’s knees, Butler’s mouth, Thibodeau’s unwillingness to bend.

Butler took a tongue-in-cheek shot directly across the bow of his former franchise when asked about the incident involving his former teammates, saying “All I know is I’m not to blame for this one”, a nod to the narrative surrounding his trade to Minnesota.

Now who’s left to blame and what happens from here is anybody’s guess.

“When’s the right time to step in? I saw it on the best teams I played on, where you had that competitive spirit,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You have to have it to have any chance at all. So sure, looking back on it, would we have handled the situation differently? Maybe. I don’t know.”

Both Paxson and Hoiberg expressed the rightful disappointment in Portis while also saying Mirotic had a hand in what occurred. Portis will ultimately bear the responsibility, with his eight-game suspension coming at the worst possible time as his option for next season hasn’t been picked up yet, as it’s hard to see he and Mirotic sharing the same space in a locker room whenever Mirotic returns.

And if he is still around, it’ll be on the players to keep a team from splintering — as if the expected losing won’t be depressing enough.

“As teammates, we're certainly supporting Bobby and supporting Niko,” said Robin Lopez, a de-facto leader on a young roster. “We're going to let them know that what they did, the way they messed up, wasn't right, but we're definitely supporting them.”

Lopez, along with many others, said the confrontation has been brewing for some time, that the pushing and shoving wasn’t anything new. From a human standpoint it’s understandable to sense tension as Portis has been itching for playing time for two years after playing behind veterans, anxious to cement himself on a team that drafted a player at his position four months ago.

Mirotic came in as a golden boy of sorts, handed a starting spot by Hoiberg two years ago and given every chance to snag a starting spot last year before Taj Gibson aggressively stepped in.

His up-and-down performances were rewarded with a $12-plus million deal this offseason and although players usually don’t count each other’s money, they take note of who’s favored and who isn’t.

Mix in competition and ego days before the season began and it’s not surprising something was on the horizon.

But it’s up to a coaching staff to step in, as assistant coach Randy Brown did before the parties were separated in the hope things would settle down.

They didn’t, and now Hoiberg will start yet another season having his aptitude to coach a professional team questioned before he can call an official play or lay out a rotation — because Portis laid Mirotic out on the Advocate Center floor.

Hoiberg desperately wants to change the narrative surrounding his first two years, eager to prove his system can work and that he’s capable of commanding a team that plays hard and organized on a nightly basis.

Whether this is an omen or a random event, it certainly doesn’t bode well for Hoiberg to his detractors.

He stood to the side while Paxson addressed the media, appearing both bewildered and shocked he was having to address such a rare situation a little more than 24 hours before his season-opening cleanse was to occur.

“I’m very disappointed in what happened,” Hoiberg said. “Now, my job is to not let this moment derail us. My job is to get these guys prepared to go out and fight and play as a group, and I’m confident our guys will do that. They’ve shown that going all the way back into late August.

“I’m confident our guys will rally around each other. I’ve seen how much these guys care for each other, and we’re going to go into Toronto tomorrow as a group. We’re going to learn from this. We’re going to grow from this. We’re going to compete, I promise you that.”

It’s clear the Bulls want to extricate themselves from the past couple years and now recent events, but when things are swept under the rug they have a funny way of reappearing at the weirdest times.