Bulls

Hard work pays off for Bulls' Butler

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Hard work pays off for Bulls' Butler

It wasnt the contract extension that would have made the most noise Tuesday that award would have gone to Taj Gibson, still without a deal but the Bulls continued to shore up their future by picking up a third-year option on small forward Jimmy Butler.

As a rookie, Butler averaged 2.6 points and 1.3 rebounds in 42 games last year. Butler will make a little more than 1.17 million in 2013, and has a team option for 2014.

Following Tuesdays practice, Butler spoke off to the side with Bulls general manager Gar Forman about the option.

Im blessed to be here, for one, but I just got through talking to Gar and thanking him for the opportunity to be here and be around these great players, great basketball people, and an amazing organization, Butler said.

Like all rookies, Butlers first season was put into motion before he had a time to acclimate to the pro game. Last seasons lockout wiped out training camp and the preseason, so Butlers first real taste of the NBA was regular season game action.

Because of that, he was unable to carve out a real niche playing behind Luol Deng, Ronnie Brewer and Korver. But with latter two departing via free agency, Butler knew a bigger role was in store in 2012. So he dedicated himself during the offseason to improve his game to match his increased responsibility off the bench.

I found myself in here each and every day, whether it was in the weight room or on the court, Butler said of the offseason. It was always something that (Tom Thibodeau) wanted me to do better. And whenever he felt like I was OK at that, he raised the bar even more. So if it was ball-handling, shooting, attacking the rim or pick and roll, it was always another notch from him that I could be better at.

Butler averaged 20.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in four Las Vegas Summer League games, and 5.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals in seven preseason games, including one start.

That improvement and commitment to learn from his veteran teammates, Butler said, were reasons the Bulls decision to pick up his option through next season became an easy one.

They see how hard I work, how much I want to stay here, and day-in and day-out Im here early and leave late, he said. But I learn a lot, too. So I thank my teammates every day for giving me an opportunity, because they show me how hard you have to work to stay here.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

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USA TODAY

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

There's not often hype surrounding a game between two of the NBA's worst teams, but Tuesday's Bulls-Lakers matchup was intriguing to many because it offered a chance to see a pair of top rookies compete. 

Oh, but you didn't think we meant Lonzo Ball and Lauri Markkanen, did you?

Nah, it was two different, less-touted first-year players that ended up stealing the spotlight at the Staples Center. 

Kyle Kuzma and Antonio Blakeney may not be household names, but they sure played like they were in the Bulls' 103-94 loss. 

Kuzma, the Lakers rook drafted 27th overall, has been a spark for Luke Walton's squad all season long. Boasting a terrific scoring arsenal, the Utah product carried the load for the Lakers' offense in the first half, dropping 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting. He finished the game as L.A.'s leading scorer with 22 in 40 minutes. But if you still need a more in-depth scouting report on Kuzma, just let Lonzo break it down:  

More importantly for Bulls fans, though, was the play of their undrafted guard who's signed to a two-way deal. 

Blakeney, the unofficial Summer League MVP, came off the bench on Tuesday and immediately left his mark on the game. The 21-year-old out of LSU posted 15 in the first half, finishing through contact as well as connecting on outside jumpers. 

Blakeney's shooting isn't reliable quite yet, but his energy has clearly influenced Hoiberg's rotation. The guard went from playing one NBA minute in the Bulls' first 11 games to playing 75 in the last four. Given that his two-way deal allows him to only spend 45 days with the team, it'll be fascinating to see how creative Gar Forman and John Paxson will get with his contract if this type of production continues. 

In a season that's obviously going to have its share of rough moments, an offseason flyer hitting is a huge plus for the rebuild. 

As for the recognized rookies, Lonzo's shooting woes persisted and Markkanen had maybe his worst offensive performance of his young Bulls career. Combined, they finished 7-for-30 with 21 points. Not ideal. 

White Sox Talk Podcast: Class A manager Justin Jirschele, youngest manager in professional baseball

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White Sox Talk Podcast: Class A manager Justin Jirschele, youngest manager in professional baseball

27-year-old Justin Jirschele made quite an impression in his first season as manager of the White Sox Class-A affiliate in Kannapolis. He helped lead the Intimidators to the South Atlantic League championship, and was named White Sox Minor League Coach of the Year. Jirschele came on the podcast to speak with Chuck Garfien about how he went from playing minor league baseball with the White Sox to coaching in their system. He talks about how growing up with a dad who was coaching minor league baseball helped mold him as a manager who is wise beyond his years. Jirschele also gives a report on some of the top White Sox prospects he managed last season such as Jake Burger, Alec Hansen, Dane Dunning and Miker Adolfo.