The value of a number: Michael Carter-Williams' decision to wear No. 7

The value of a number: Michael Carter-Williams' decision to wear No. 7

Given the political climate of the day, it’s fitting Michael Carter-Williams’ first lesson as a member of the Chicago Bulls was the art of diplomacy.

In a span of a few short hours, Carter-Williams went from preparing for a game against the Chicago Bulls Saturday night to finding out he was traded to the Bulls and had to deal with everything that came with being traded during the NBA season: Moving on short notice, saying goodbyes while saying hello to new people and experiences.

And in a few short hours Monday night, he went from picking out his old jersey, No. 1, to letting it go and selecting No. 7, after being told by the team he could reclaim the number he had throughout his life and his rookie year.

Whether it was the Twitterverse or the Bulls changing their minds about giving away Derrick Rose’s old jersey number, diplomacy prevailed by 10 p.m.

“I know the discussion is probably gonna be D-Rose’s old number,” Carter-Williams said in the hallway of the United Center while meeting the media for the first time before Monday’s game. “That has nothing to do with D-Rose. He was great for the city, he’s an excellent player. I’m not trying to step on anybody’s toes or boundaries. It’s just a number I like.”

His introduction to the Bulls won’t come with the mixed reaction of being compared to the hometown kid, and one would wonder why, given the bad luck Rose endured after his MVP campaign, Carter-Williams would even want to claim the number as his own again.

“I was (No.) 1 in college, (No.) 1 in Philly,” Carter-Williams said. “I feel like I had success in Philly, Rookie of the Year. I was (No.) 5 in Milwaukee. It’s a new place. I’m trying to get the chip on my shoulder back.”

He couldn’t wear No. 1 in Milwaukee due to Oscar Robertson’s jersey being retired there, and if he asked for it then, he was likely given a history lesson he’ll never forget.

The discussion about jersey numbers temporarily obscured the actual discussion about the Bulls’ acquiring a former Rookie of the Year to bolster their bench as a backup point guard and in addition, changed the narrative for why such a talented and productive player has been traded twice before hitting restricted free agency.

Before then, most discussion revolved around why the Bulls picked up yet another perimeter player whose 3-point shooting was closer to the Mendoza line than the league average.

“I don’t really know. Some places work for some people,” Carter-Williams said. “Some places don’t. I was able to have success my rookie year and I got moved. That’s the business of the game. Crazy things happen in this league. Those are things you can’t focus on.”

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In context, though, the Philadelphia 76ers were trading away and all assets during the short time Carter-Williams was there, as they went through their “tanking for the sake of tanking” phase.

And in Milwaukee, despite playing for a coach whose playing style was similar to his in Jason Kidd, the Bucks found a more dynamic wing man to initiate offense from the point guard spot than Carter-Williams in Giannis Antetokounmpo, making Carter-Williams expendable and thus, available for the Bulls to acquire him in exchange for Tony Snell.

“It really comes down to who fits best around him,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You know, for us, again, it gives us a guy who can facilitate offense. The thing I'm excited about with our group is that we have multiple ballhandlers, multiple playmakers, and Michael certainly fits into that category. He's a guy that can get into the paint and make plays. For us, I think it's a good fit, and I'm excited to see what he brings to our team.”

Perhaps Carter-Williams will become a bit of a defensive irritant off the bench, given his history against the Bulls. In the deciding game of the Bulls-Bucks playoff series in 2015, Carter-Williams took a shot to the jaw from then-Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy on a drive. Subsequently, Dunleavy was speared, wrestling-style, from Antetokounmpo on a 3-point make.

“I think it was a great series, a great learning experience for me and the team then. I got to experience the playoffs. It was a fun series, things get physical. That’s how the playoffs are, guys get physical. That’s the game, the beauty of the game.

Whatever he did it worked. They won by a lot. It’s part of the game, I’m sure (Dunleavy) is a pretty good dude.”

The details of why an incident began were sketchy, but the series was chippy from the start, and Carter-Williams did a good job defending Rose for stretches. He knows that’s a big reason why the Bulls targeted him, in addition to seemingly being injury or disaster insurance for Rajon Rondo.

“I think I’m a defensive guy, pretty good at pressuring the ball, forcing turnovers,” Carter-Williams said. “Offensively, getting in the lane, getting rebounds and pushing it up the floor and finding my teammates.”

“I think I’m a basketball player and basketball players can adapt to any situation. I have been fortunate to start a lot in my career. I’m looking to learn a lot from Rondo.”

Learning the Bulls’ system and his teammates is priority number one, as Carter-Williams said, “We’re definitely a playoff team, so I’m looking to help the team in any way I can. That’s my main focus.”

Battling the ghost of the old number one wasn’t a battle worth fighting, showing if nothing else, he’s a quick learner.

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

MINNEAPOLIS—The applause was thunderous on the welcome back for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, two Timberwolves draft picks sent away when the chance to acquire Jimmy Butler came along.

But some of the air was taken out the Target Center due to the absence of Jimmy Butler, who’ll miss the next several weeks after deciding to have surgery on his right meniscus following an injury Friday night.

So while there was no rematch of the thrilling contest the two teams had in Chicago, some things were very much the same.

Lauri Markkanen’s struggles continued.

LaVine showed more flashes of his complete game and Dunn had a couple moments of his own.

And on the other side, Tom Thibodeau kept his starters in the game with victory secured and his team up 20 points in the Timberwolves’ 122-104 win over the Bulls Saturday night.

The Timberwolves broke the game open in the fourth quarter with some key shot-making from veteran Jamal Crawford, as he was one point short of the Timberwolves having four 20-point scorers on the night.

Jeff Teague, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins combined for 70 points in their first game of many without Butler.

LaVine was a main reason the Bulls stayed afloat in the first 36 minutes, finishing with 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his first game back in front of the Minneapolis crowd he spent his first few years playing for.

Going head-up with his former teammate Wiggins for a stretch, the two seemed to relish their practice matchups. Wiggins was doing a lot of pure scoring while LaVine seemed to enjoy probing the defense and making plays for teammates, taking more of a ballhandling role as opposed to floating around the perimeter for 3-point attempts.

“He’s doing a much better job not settling for tough shots,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s attacking the basket much better than he was. You can just see him getting his legs, getting more comfortable. It was good to see him as a playmaker, he was terrific.”

Perhaps the Bulls are unlocking something with LaVine, getting him the ball in different places and on the move, where he made some nifty passes in traffic, exercising patience and maturity.

“I liked it. Hopefully we get a little bit more of it,” LaVine said. “But it’s working. Should’ve stuck to it.”

They didn’t, as the Bulls didn’t look as organized as they have previously. Dunn looked extremely motivated and aggressive but it seemed to work against him at times as Teague took advantage of Dunn being too quick for his own good. So hyped up, Dunn blew a breakaway dunk in the first half, but luckily Nwaba was right behind him for a putback.

That type of energy was expected for Dunn and LaVine, maybe even moreso for Dunn considering his underwhelming rookie year where he didn’t get much chance to play as a top-five pick.

Dunn finished with 10 points on four of 12 shooting while Cameron Payne scored 11  in 19 minutes, but the decision making from both point guards left plenty to be desired—which is to be expected given the lack of veterans on the floor.

Their starting unit again struggled as Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez again sat as the evaluation of the younger players continued.

Cristiano Felicio had a better outing than his foul-plagued game against Philadelphia, scoring 11 points but had his hands full on the other end. David Nwaba impressed for the second straight game as a starter, getting in the open floor to force the action, scoring 14 with nine rebounds in 34 minutes.

“The second quarter, I thought, was one of our better quarters of the year,” Hoiberg said. “As bad as we played in the first quarter, I thought we were down 20. We just didn’t sustain it. Against a great team like that, it’s gonna cost you.”

Nwaba, along with Bobby Portis, was a big reason why the Timberwolves couldn’t run away from the Bulls until well into the fourth quarter, even after taking a double-digit lead in the first quarter and sending Hoiberg scrambling for early timeouts.

“You can expect it because you haven’t played with that group before,” LaVine said. “We’re gonna get that chemistry down. We (only) had a couple practices with that lineup.”

Whether it’s the lineup change or just the rookie blues, the year has clearly caught up with Markkanen, who only made one field goal in 32 minutes.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Markkanen has gone one-for-eight in each game coming from the All-Star break and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”