Bulls

Rare lackluster Bulls performance doesn't sit well with Thibodeau

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Rare lackluster Bulls performance doesn't sit well with Thibodeau

Following Saturday nights defeat at the hands of the lowly Nets, Tom Thibodeau was understandably frustrated at his teams performance. That disappointment carried over to Sunday afternoons practice at the Berto Center, after which he broke down the lackluster outing from the previous day.

The Bulls performed poorly in every aspect, from getting ready to intensity to defense to offensive energy. There wasnt anything that we did well and we dug ourselves a hole. Down 22-3 after the first five minutes of the game, 34-19 after the first quarter. The first five minutes of the game were poor, the last five of the second quarter were poor, the first five of the third quarter were poor. We were in such a big hole the whole game, we didnt give ourselves a chance, so we have to change that, the coach explained. Its both your offense and your defense because theyre tied to each other. If you dont have offensive energy and floor balance when youre shooting the ball, our spacing is breaking down, were quick-shooting the ball and we dont have floor balance, so it doesnt allow us to have our defense set and were giving up easy baskets. Were not making the effort thats necessary with our smalls being back on the raise of the shot and our bigs sprinting back to get our smalls back out. In this league, if you take shortcuts, youre going to pay for them and we have.

There wasnt one aspect of our defense that was done well. I thought there was one stretch in the third quarter, towards the end, where we picked it up a little bit, but you have to play for 48 minutes and in this league, if you give a team the type of confidence in the first five minutes that we did, youre making it real hard on yourself, which we did, so we have to change that. Weve got to be ready at the start of the game.

That said, Thibodeau said he wouldnt make any drastic lineup changes or anything of that nature, though hes concerned that in three of the Bulls last four contests dating back to last Sundays loss in Boston at the conclusion of the teams nine-game road trip and with the exclusion of Thursdays home win over the Celtics theres been defensive slippage, something thats been a rarity during his tenure in Chicago.

We wont change the lineup. Before you make changes, I always say theres two questions that you always ask yourself. One, are you doing it hard enough and are you executing it properly, he said. If you can answer that youre doing it hard enough and youre executing it properly, then you change the scheme or the play or whatever it is that youre looking at, but if youre not doing those two things, then its hard to judge whether you should change or not because those are the first two things that you have to get right.

If Thibodeau did decide to make a move, an obvious choice would be giving more minutes to 36-year-old veteran Mike James. Currently on a 10-day contract and in his second stint of the season with the Bulls, the backup point guard has provided an infusion of toughness, energy and defensive intensity when on the floor, something Thibodeau expects, as the pair is familiar with each other from their time together with the Houston Rockets.

Im comfortable with him because I know what his strengths are I think he understands what were trying to get done. He needs more reps, he needs a lot of reps, the coach acknowledged. The one thing about Mike is hes going to play hard every time hes out there. You can play him at both guard spots. Hes got experience, too. I like what hes brought to our team.

Another potential adjustment could be the implementation of more zone defense in certain stretches, something Thibodeau has been using more of as of late.

I do like the zone in certain situations, but I think in order to play a good zone, you have to play good man-to-man, so Saturday we did use it some and I didnt think it was very effective, he explained. It depends on who the Bulls opponent have on the floor. Depends on clock, situations like that. It depends on matchups, if you may be small or you may be trying to protect somebody, but I think the hard thing in the NBA is to have a steady diet of long zone because of the amount of shooting thats on the floor.

Right now, most teams have four shooters on the floor and then, youre going to be vulnerable to the second shot. But I do like the concept of the zone. A lot of the principles of our man-to-man also have zone principles, too.

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

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Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

LOS ANGELES—

Jimmy Butler was absent from the scoresheet of the All-Star Game, unless you count a “DNP-Coaches’ Decision” as activity. Whether due to the All-Star festivities of the weekend or even the grinding minutes he plays under Tom Thibodeau, it wasn’t truly surprising to see him want to have a night off of sorts.

But what was mildly surprising was the reflection he displayed on Saturday at All-Star Media Day in reference to his time with the Chicago Bulls. Usually, Butler’s armor is up because of his feelings surrounding his draft-night departure.

“I learned a lot in Chicago,” Butler said. “Just all through the season and life in general. What to do, what not to do and how to adapt to any situation that you’ve been in. I’ve done that to the best of my abilities. I have a ways to go in that.”

It’s clear he’s still grasping the weight of his words as the best player on a team, or at least, the player whose words impact everything around him.

“A people pleaser? No, I just didn’t say much,” Butler said. “Now I just don’t care. I never talked whenever I was in the league at an early age. It really didn’t matter, nothing I did was gonna make or break us when it comes to losing a game. Now it does and I have a lot to say. Half the time it’s not the right time or right way to say it but it’s okay.”

Whether it was the battles with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg or the internal struggles in the Bulls’ locker room through his ascension from bench warmer to rotation player to impact player to now, a legitimate star, he’s modifying his approach—just a tad.

“I’ve never been the best player on my own team. I was in Tomball,” he joked, in reference to his beginnings in small town Texas. “I wasn’t in junior college. At Marquette I wasn’t. I’m probably not now. In Chicago I wasn’t. You just pick up on it, watch others and learn.”

He admitted to writing in a journal and reading self-help books now that he’s in Minnesota. The novel he’s reading now, “Faith, Forward, Future” is authored by Chad Veach, a Los Angeles pastor and the subtitle of the book says “Moving past your disappointments, delays and destructive thinking.”

Whether he started the book following a slow start with the Timberwolves in November, where his nightly numbers looked like one of a high-level role player, he took some self-evaluation before leading the charge since, playing like an MVP candidate with 25.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 49 percent shooting since the start of December.

“It’s relatively new. Yeah, basketball is still basketball but it’s hard when somebody else is coming in and roles change overnight,” Butler said. “You gotta see where you fit in with the group. At the end of the day you gotta win. I didn’t feel the way I was playing was our best opportunity to win games.”

Bringing along the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, with Towns being a fellow All-Star for the first time, has been a process.

“I’ve never actually had to be a leader,” Butler said. “I just always done what I was supposed to do, didn’t say much and played hard. Now you know, everybody wants to call someone a leader.”

He disputes taking a softer hand, especially as Towns and Wiggins seem to struggle with sustaining concentration at critical moments. The Timberwolves won’t be able to make those mistakes during the playoffs, but he’s being more selective with his words.

“I’m not soft,” he said. “If I see something wrong, I speak on it. If you don’t like it, oh well. You’ll get over it.”

One thing he could take a bird’s eye view of was the aftermath of LeBron James and Kevin Durant’s comments to the “Uninterrupted”, where they were criticized by cable news hosts for speaking out against President Donald Trump.

No stranger to criticism, Butler would likely have the same approach if he dipped his toes into that arena.

“I like it. You got the right to say what you want and you speak on what you think is right,” Butler said. “Good for them. And they are magnified in a very big way. They embrace it and they’re doing the right thing, I’m all for it.”

And if the day comes where he doesn’t stick to sports, Butler’s directness and lack of diplomacy would certainly cause an interesting reaction.

“I don’t care. Whatever I believe in, I believe in,” Butler said. “Everybody else does it. You see everybody on Twitter and the Internet doing it and saying what they want to say. We just have a different job than the person to our left and right.”

Well, not quite a warm and fuzzy Jimmy Butler.

Unfinished Bears job a 'bitter pill' for John Fox, but the legacy lies beyond just the W-L record

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Unfinished Bears job a 'bitter pill' for John Fox, but the legacy lies beyond just the W-L record

When John Fox succeeded Marc Trestman in 2015, neither he nor the Bears were looking at the situation and Fox as any sort of “bridge” hire – a de facto interim coach tasked with winning, but just as importantly, developing and getting a team turned around and headed in a right direction.

The heart of the matter is always winning, but in the overall, the mission statement also includes leaving the place better than you found it. Fox did that, which is very clearly the sentiment upstairs at Halas Hall as the Bears move on from Fox to Matt Nagy.

“It would’ve been nice to see it through,” Fox said to NBC Sports Chicago. “That’s kind of a bitter pill but you sort things out and move forward.

“I do think it’s closer than people think. We inherited a mess... but I felt we were on the brink at the end. I think that [Halas Hall] building is definitely different; they feel it. I do think that it was a positive.”

(Fox is probably not done coaching at some point, but that’s for another time, another story, and anyway, it’s his tale to tell when he feels like it. Or doesn’t.)

One measure of the Bears change effected: Virtually the entire Trestman staff, with the exceptions of receivers coach Mike Groh and linebackers coach Clint Hurtt, was jettisoned along with Trestman. By contrast, Nagy has retained not only virtually the entire Fox defensive staff under coordinator Vic Fangio, but also arguably the single most important non-coordinator offensive coach by virtue of position responsibility – Dave Ragone, the hands-on mentor of quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

Obvious but extremely difficult decisions are coming, as to shedding personnel and contracts – Josh Sitton, Pernell McPhee, Willie Young being among the most difficult because of tangible intangibles that no organization wants to lose.

“Bridge” results

Fox was never intended as a bridge coach but the results point to that function having been served. To exactly what end remains to play out under Nagy and the quarterback whom Ragone and Fox’s handling began developing.

Rick Renteria was one of those “bridge” guys for the Cubs, intended to be part of pulling out of or at least arresting the slide into the Mike Quade-Dale Sveum abyss, and leaving something for Joe Maddon. The late Vince Lombardi effectively served as that, at age 56 and for an unforeseen one-year for a Washington Redskins organization that’d gone 13 years without a winning season before Lombardi’s 1969 and needed a radical reversal. The culture change was realized over the next decade under George Allen and Jack Pardee, much of the success coming with the same players with whom Washington had languished before the culture change.

The Bears were in that state after the two years of Trestman and the three years of GM Phil Emery, certain of whose character-lite veteran player acquisitions (Martellus Bennett, Brandon Marshall) and high-character launchings (Brian Urlacher) had left a palpable pall over Halas Hall. A Fox goal was to eradicate that, which insiders in Lake Forest say privately was accomplished even amid the catastrophic crush of three straight seasons of 10 or more losses, and with injuries at historic levels.

What happens next is in the hands of Nagy and GM Ryan Pace, after a third John Fox franchise turnaround failed to materialize. Or did it? Because much of the core, from Trubisky through the defensive makeover, came on Fox’s watch, like him or not.

“You wish some things would’ve happened differently obviously,” Fox said, “but there was a lot positive that happened.”