Bulls

Jimmy Butler admits he and former Bulls Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose weren't on same page

Jimmy Butler admits he and former Bulls Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose weren't on same page

The return.

This date has been circled on the calendar since the Bulls’ trading Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah following him to New York weeks later, the day the former Bulls get off the team bus and venture to the visitor’s locker room as opposed to walking another 50 feet to their former domain.

Though obscured by the Cubs’ parade and celebration of winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years, there’s plenty of anticipation surrounding Rose’s return to his hometown — bringing about memories of a Bulls career that started out with a bang and much promise but ended with a whimper and a lot of questions.

“I think they’re gonna get a lot of love. But we have a job to do,” Jimmy Butler said Wednesday night following the Bulls’ narrow loss to the Celtics. “No matter what team steps into the United Center, we’re trying to win. We want to win as many games as we can.

“But they’ll probably definitely get a standing ovation, they’ve done so much for this organization. But even more than that, they did a lot for the community of Chicago.”

Rose and Noah have been active in the community, as Noah’s work with Noah’s Arc Foundation has been lauded both in the NBA and at the grassroots level for his hands-on approach and sincerity about stopping gun violence in Chicago.

Rose, a native son of Englewood, has been one to quietly pay for funerals or attend them to show support for the youths who had their lives cut short.

On the floor, though, is where things have differed between the newest face of Bulls and the previous faces of the franchise. Butler was ascending while Rose was rehabbing his game and his psyche. Butler was rising from being a guy who didn’t play much to developing into an All Star while Noah’s body started to break down due to years of wear and tear, heavy minutes and physical strain from playing on undermanned but competitive and gritty Bulls teams.

“I don’t think guys had different visions on what it took to win. I don’t think everybody was on the same page, truthfully, for what guys’ roles was going to be,” Butler finally confessed to CSNChicago.com. “That’s what it came down to, to tell the truth. I think that you look at the talent each individual had, everybody wanted to show how good they could be on any given night.”

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Rose and Noah struggled on the floor and with their bodies last season while Butler struggled with being a leader for the first time, and both sides were clearly frustrated with the other.

It was obvious last season things had to change directions when the transition by all had been bungled. Rose and Noah weren’t meshing with Butler, remembering their first impressions of him as a guy who couldn’t get on the floor, while Butler wanted to be around guys who were as single-minded and obsessed with dedication as he was.

There wasn’t as much internal conflict and mutual dislike as there was a level of discomfort with the way things were going on the floor and in the locker room. Tense moments, yes, as last year’s team seemed like 12 guys going in 12 directions as opposed to divisions of cliques sniping and pointing fingers at one another.

It’s why the vibe is so stark from this season and last year, because the air is cleared and sometimes change is necessary. It’s why Butler, on media day, made mention of feeling more comfortable with a group of guys who know him as an All Star as opposed to a goofy kid from Marquette just trying to make it.

The changing roles made all uncomfortable and honestly, there didn’t seem to be the right infrastructure to help anyone with a transition that was going to feel awkward no matter what, as Fred Hoiberg was in his first year as coach and didn’t quite know what to make of what he was seeing.

Butler admitted his passion, probably displayed in terms of being more passive-aggressive than straightforward last year, was likely misinterpreted.

“Definitely. You can call it what you wanna call it,” Butler said to CSNChicago.com “But you look around here now, and I guess I learned from my mistakes if I was making mistakes. But I want to win. Everybody wants to win, not saying they didn’t, but everybody in here is studying the game, everybody is working. I have no bad things to say about them two, not about Pau (Gasol) either. But we got a new group of guys, and I like the direction we’re moving in.”

One could say it’s addition by subtraction but the additions have helped with the jelling of these Bulls.

Bringing in Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo as players who know the pecking order of the locker room but also guys who are obsessed with basketball as Butler is have helped more than anything.

Butler isn’t the only one working late at night or watching film, which gives him a level of comfort and trust he didn’t have last season. He’s certainly trying his best not to take shots at Rose or Noah, with it being a sensitive situation on the surface along with the face he holds no actual personal animosity with either.

The sands on the hourglass had finally run its course with that group — as it does with all teams that stay together a period of time.

There are no regrets, but it seems all parties are pleased with where things stand.

“Yeah, you get it. It’s like a family,” Wade said to CSNChicago.com “You got through things as a family. As much as we’re around each other as we are. I wasn’t there so I don’t know what happened. But you go through things. At the end of the day, it’s still love and respect. It was time for that group. I think both sides are happy where they’re at. I think it’s gonna be a hell of a game, very competitive.”

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

This is part of a four-part series looking back at the historic career of Michael Jordan and the legacy he left on the game of basketball. It all leads up to Saturday when we unveil his top 5 moments on his 55th birthday. Here are 55-4544-23, and 22-6.

5. Jordan wins fourth title and finishes greatest individual season ever, June 16, 1996

It’s hard to comprehend just how much Jordan accomplished during the 1995-96 season. We’ll try:He won his fourth championship, was named NBA Finals MVP for a record fourth time, won All-Star Game MVP, won a record 72 games, was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, was the league’s leading scorer and became the Bulls’ all-time leader in games played. So when he dropped a casual 22 points in Game 6, it marked the end of one of the greatest seasons in NBA history. Oh, and Space Jam came out a few months later.
 
4. Jordan hits six triples, scores 35 points in first half against Blazers, June 3, 1992

During the 1991-92 regular season, Jordan never made more than three 3-pointers in a single game. In fact, the most 3-pointers he had in any two-game stretch that year was four. So when he began burying triple after triple in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, even Jordan couldn’t believe it, giving a shrug toward the NBC announcers as if to say, “I don’t know, either.” Jordan finished the first half with six triples and scored an NBA-record 35 points. The Bulls cruised in the second half, so Jordan finished with only 39, but his shrug remains one of the most iconic NBA Finals moments in history.
 
3. Jordan battles the flu, scores 38 in Game 5 on his way to fifth title, June 11, 1997

The Flu Game. Jordan was battling a nasty illness in the lead-up to a pivotal Game 5 in Utah, and there were concerns about whether he would even suit up. Hours before tip Jordan got out of bed and made his way to the arena, looking to halt Utah’s momentum after it had taken Games 3 and 4 to tie the series. The Jazz came out red-hot while Jordan looked sluggish, but he responded with 17 points in the second quarter alone to give the Bulls a halftime lead. Jordan then keyed a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to erase a Jazz lead, and he hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to give the Bulls a three-point lead. The Bulls hung on, and Jordan collapsed into Scottie Pippen’s arms walking off the floor. His final line? 38 points, 13 of 27 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Two days later the Bulls won the title in front of a sellout Chicago crowd.

2. Jordan scores 63 points against Celtics in playoff loss, April 20, 1986

Jordan had just turned 23 years old when he took to the Boston Garden floor to face Larry Bird in his prime and the Celtics. These Celtics had gone 40-1 at home, led the NBA in field goal percentage defense, started FOUR future Hall of Famers and had a fifth come off the bench. They would ultimately go down as one of the all-time greatest teams, and Jordan made them look absolutely silly. He played 50 minutes in the double-overtime thriller, shooting 22 of 41 from the field and making 19 of 21 free throws, including the last two with no time on the clock and the Bulls trailing by two at the end of regulation. He scored 54 in regulation, added five in the first overtime and four in the second. He also led the Bulls with six assists. It still stands as the NBA record for most points in any playoff game. Twenty-three years old. Twenty. Three.

1. Jordan scores 45 in final game with the Bulls, securing sixth championship, June 14, 1998

Jordan’s final game with the Bulls was iconic. Like so many of these moments, die hards know exactly where they were. The 45 points were majestic, and while he only had one rebound and one assist he affected just about every possession on both ends. But what we’ll remember most is the final 37 seconds. Jordan drove to the basket for layup that cut Utah’s lead to one, then stripped Karl Malone from behind on the next trip down. That gave the ball back to the Bulls with 20 seconds left. Jordan let the clock tick down to around 9 seconds before making his move from the left wing, driving right on Bryon Russell, (maybe pushing off) and pulling up for a jumper at the foul line. The shot was good with 5.2 seconds remaining, and John Stockton’s ensuing 3-pointer was off the mark. It gave Jordan and the Bulls their sixth NBA title, and marked the perfect ending to his Bulls career: getting it done on both ends, in the clutch, and finishing with a victory. Because it encapsulated so much of his 14-year career in Chicago, it’s our top Michael Jordan moment.