Bulls

Bulls streak tempting but it shouldn't alter plan

Bulls streak tempting but it shouldn't alter plan

It’s tempting, certainly.

With every Lauri Markkanen glimpse of stardom and every Nikola Mirotic eye-popping triple, it’s temping to picture the possibilities.

The possibilities of bucking the odds and turning your own narrative upside down, from choosing a path on draft night that promised to be ugly to a road where “Parts Unknown” seems optimistic instead of ominous.

But the Bulls need to stay the course they selected five months ago and ignore the desire to see this version of their vision through.

Whatever it requires, however ugly it is, the Bulls must do what needs to be done with this rebuild. If it means sending Mirotic to a good team that needs shooting for a low first-round pick on Jan. 15, so be it.

There’s no prize in constructing a better roster than you planned, one that wins a few more games just to prove to the public that things weren’t as bad as projected.

Because seemingly, it only elevates you to purgatory and not the penthouse.

The Bulls thumped the Indiana Pacers 119-107 at the United Center to register their 10th win in 12 games and seven straight wins at home for the first time since the end of the 2012-13 season and start of the next campaign.

The Pacers were without All-Star candidate Victor Oladipo, but it’s highly unlikely he, at 6-foot-4, would’ve bothered Mirotic’s rocket launches from the perimeter or Markkanen’s smooth release.

The duo combined for 60 points and 13 of the Bulls’ team-record tying 18 triples as Fred Hoiberg keeps throwing out different lineups and they keep working.

Ever since trading Jimmy Butler on draft night and getting Markkanen, Hoiberg had been salivating over using the two big men together—stretching the floor, stressing defenses and scoring at a pace the United Center scoreboard hasn’t been used to considering the previous era of ground-and-pound ball.

“We’ve been trying to play those lineups with those two guys out there at the same time and I thought they were pretty good out there,” Hoiberg said.

Markkanen had a career night with 32 points after there was a school of thought he was headed for an extensive slump no less than four days ago. Like a toddler learning how to walk, defenses can’t keep their eyes off Mirotic for one second or else he’s launching from wherever he catches—or spinning off a defender in the post—or firing a pass to an open shooter in the corner.

“Lauri had an amazing game too. I’m very happy for him,” Mirotic said. “The team is growing, we’re all excited and having fun. Each game we’re understanding more how to play. When he’s rolling and popping, I’m trying to find him in the low post the same way he’s trying to find me.”

And considering the revelation Kris Dunn has become, the point guard many around the league thought was broken after his rookie year and was an afterthought in the Butler deal, one could be seduced into thinking the Bulls are a lot closer to being a playoff team than before.

Even with Dunn being a late scratch, revealing with eight minutes before tipoff his knee tendinitis was too bothersome to play, backup Jerian Grant stepped forward with a career-high 12 assists to go with 11 points and seven rebunds.

Add in the headliner of the Butler deal, Zach LaVine, readying himself for a debut that will drop in athleticism and shot creation to the Hoiberg system, could John Paxson and Gar Forman be talked into taking a shortcut and pulling the plug on securing the (Marvin) Bagley or whatever twitter hashtag will be applied for Luca Doncic and DeAndre Ayton?

Perhaps they could be persuaded, but they shouldn’t be.

They did beat Philadelphia without Joel Embiid and Boston without Kyrie Irving along with the Pacers missing Oladipo, so there could be a little grain of salt in this sweet streak.

“I think if you put the small goals out there, the bigger goals take care of themselves,” Hoiberg said. “If you go out there and play hard and play with great effort have attention to the game plan and the small details, then generally you’re gonna be in it at the end of the game.”

And likely, at the end of the regular season, too.

They’re a different team than the outfit that left Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Dec. 6, losers of 10 straight games and chugging along to the ocean of the Eastern Conference.

“(Since) we had that devastating loss, our guys have really kind of found themselves, found each other and we’ve really made good, unselfish plays,” Hoiberg said.

The Bulls had another 30-plus assist evening, with 31 helpers on Friday and averaged 25.8 assists in the 11 games since the heartbreaker to the Pacers. They’ve averaged 108 points and shot 47 percent in that period, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a Eastern Conference Coach of the Month who also presided over the top three pick in the next season’s draft—yes, Hoiberg will likely come away with the coaching hardware for December, as he should.

He’s found a way to integrate Mirotic into the rotation, pairing him with Bobby Portis and magically, it’s worked. His positive, encouraging style has helped rebuild Dunn into a player who doesn’t look over his shoulder, into a player who plays empowered.

Hoiberg’s competence and effectiveness as a coach has been just as much a discovery to the general public as Dunn has been. The most recent vision of Hoiberg was the coach standing on the sidelines, helpless as the Boston Celtics embarrassed the Bulls in Game 6 of their first-round series last April.

The chants of “Fire Hoiberg!” were so audible, Celtics coach Brad Stevens was seen muttering “shut up” under his breath as an act of mercy to his comrade in the profession.

Now, for the first time in his three years as Bulls coach, Hoiberg’s job performance isn’t being questioned as the team heads into January. For the first time, it’s being lauded—and deservedly so.

But a long rebuild shouldn’t hinge on a streak that looks good and feels good in the moment. Hoiberg and Dunn being evaluated this positively is almost gravy for the franchise but they shouldn’t push their luck.

Do what you set out to do.

After 30 years, Hank Gathers is never far from Bulls' Chip Schaefer's mind

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NBC Sports Chicago

After 30 years, Hank Gathers is never far from Bulls' Chip Schaefer's mind

It doesn’t take an anniversary for Chip Schaefer to think about Hank Gathers.

“It’s never really far from my mind,” Schaefer said in a recent interview.

Schaefer is the Bulls’ director of sports performance, working his second stint with the franchise after serving as the athletic trainer for the dynasty. But one of the Deerfield, Ill., native’s first jobs was athletic trainer and strength coach at Loyola Marymount University from 1987-90.

In fact, Schaefer was the first non-player to Gathers’ side on that fateful March 4, 1990 day when the star forward collapsed on the court during a West Coast Athletic Conference tournament game and died moments later due to a heart condition called cardiomyopathy.

Wednesday marks 30 years since Gathers’ death. On Saturday, Loyola Marymount will unveil a statue honoring him. The family invited Schaefer to the ceremony, no small gesture in Schaefer’s world.

But with the Bulls in New York and Schaefer having already squeezed a trip into Los Angeles this week for Kobe Bryant’s memorial service, Schaefer merely sent his appreciation and respects to the family.

“It doesn’t take much for me to think of him,” Schaefer said. “Every time we’re in Philadelphia, his hometown, I think of him. Every time I flip around the TV and see a Loyola Marymount game, I think of him. I run into people, Jay Hillock, one of (the Bulls’) scouts, was an assistant coach on the staff, and I think of Hank. He was special.”

Schaefer isn’t merely referring to Gathers’ athletic ability, which had NBA talent written all over it.

“He was really an extraordinary personality,” Schaefer said. “He had just an unbelievable sense of humor and a wonderful gift for mimicry.

“I remember one year we had the typical college, end-of-season awards night. It was supposed to be MC’d by one of the local sports anchors. He had to cancel at the last minute. Hank wound up MC’ing it. And he killed it. He could’ve done Vegas with the bit. He had a whole (Muhammad) Ali- (Howard) Cosell bit. It was just unbelievable. He had something funny for every player. And he was riffing, completely spontaneous. I remember nights like that where his rich personality and wit and intelligence was on full display.”

Much like with Bryant, who Schaefer worked with for 12 seasons with the Lakers, he is trying to remember the happy times. When Loyola Marymount hired Schaefer from the esteemed Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic in Los Angeles, he was only a few years older than Gathers.

“Hank was actually a patient that I met at the clinic. I think he had patellar tendinitis. And we really hit it off,” Schaefer recalled. “That Spring, the athletic trainer before me (at Loyola Marymount) was let go. Hank came in all bubbly and was all excited about me applying for the job.

“So we had the next three years together where we continued to build the special relationships you often build in this field. There were a lot of really personal moments. Hank and Bo (Kimble) grew and we kind of shocked the world in the NCAA tournament that 1987-88 season. We built a national spotlight.”

Indeed, Gathers led the nation in scoring and rebounding in 1988-89. And then Kimble led an emotional run to the Elite Eight in 1990, shooting a free throw left-handed to honor Gathers’ memory.

Schaefer attended Bryant’s memorial service by taking a red-eye flight so as not to miss any Bulls’ commitments. Saturday’s game against the Knicks doesn’t allow him to do the same for Gathers, although he grew emotional when asked what the invitation meant to him.

After all, since Schaefer was one of five people who worked on Gathers outside the gym after his collapse, he was named as one of 10 people and three medical practices in a lawsuit. Schaefer knew he did nothing wrong and followed proper emergency protocol by the book, and Gather’s mother, Lucille, ultimately settled the $32.5 million wrongful-death lawsuit for $545,000.

“I’m the one there along with the doctors on the floor trying to help revive and resuscitate him, so you never know how a family is going to react to anybody that is associated with that,” Schaefer said. “But I’ve heard from Hank’s brother, Derrick, occasionally with warmth and affection and magnanimity and grace. That’s really something. After three decades, that Lucille would even remember my name much less think, ‘It would mean a lot to have him here,’ I’m touched beyond words about that.”

Jim Boylen takes positive approach to injuries, Bulls' disappointing season

Jim Boylen takes positive approach to injuries, Bulls' disappointing season

One thing that has stood out throughout this disappointing Bulls season is Jim Boylen’s positivity.

Following most every game, he has highlighted in-game moments that he feels are signs of progress, even if they’re as basic as winning a quarter. He has praised players for their care factor and development.

The approach, like many of Boylen’s, has bothered some fans and observers. Perhaps not to the degree that his late-game timeout usage or rotational decisions or systems have, but the trait has caused some angst nonetheless.

It also stands in contrast to when Boylen first took over for the fired Fred Hoiberg. You remember his “shock and awe” campaign, the one where he openly questioned his players’ conditioning, made them do push-ups and in general sounded like a drill sergeant.

But the approach has at least served Boylen well as the Bulls have endured yet another stretch of injuries that has bordered on ridiculous. Wendell Carter Jr. is aiming for a Saturday return, while Otto Porter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen are trending in the right direction.

But the Bulls weren’t expecting to be playing two-way player Adam Mokoka rotational minutes in February, particularly alongside Cristiano Felicio and Shaq Harrison.

“What I’ve learned to do from people I’ve worked for and from being in this business is I take it as it comes,” Boylen said following Thursday’s practice at Advocate Center. “I try to stay in the moment, do the best I can to help this team get better and grow. I do not worry about tomorrow and I try to stay right in where we’re at. And where we’re at right now is banged up.

“I cannot wallow in that negativity or the things I can’t control. Otherwise, I don’t do as good a job on that floor teaching the guys that are practicing and are playing and staying positive and upbeat. And that’s what I get paid to do. I take a lot of pride in my attitude in these moments. That’s what this league is about to me. It’s easy when your team is healthy and you’re playing good and you’re winning games. But a lot of us in the league right now are going through these moments. And that’s part of it.”

So Boylen will continue stressing whatever he sees as positive, trying to set an example for his young team. On Thursday, that featured more talk of the Bulls’ shot profile. The Bulls rank second in shots from 5 feet or less and ninth in 3-point attempts.

“We have areas on the floor that we really value. A rim-2, which is right at the rim in the restricted area, or a corner 3, those are your highest-valued shots. Then you have a mid shot and an above-the-break 3. There are four distinct areas that we talk about,” Boylen said. “You would like more of the rim-twos and the corner 3s because those are the most valuable shots.”

The next step is converting them. The Bulls rank 26th in shots from 5 feet or less and 22nd in 3-point percentage.

“You hope to make those good looks you get. You hope to finish plays at the rim. And we’re working to do that,” Boylen said. “And that’s strength and youth and toughness and all those things we’re developing, You would say Coby White’s finishing has improved dramatically as he’s grown in the system. Our shot profile is very good.”

At 19 games under .500, that’s more positivity from Boylen.

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