Bulls

It's time for the Bulls to free a healthy, eager Denzel Valentine

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USA Today

It's time for the Bulls to free a healthy, eager Denzel Valentine

It’s time for the Bulls to do the right thing and trade Denzel Valentine.

To be clear, this is not the scenario Valentine wanted or envisioned. He enjoys living in Chicago, where his brother, Drew, is an assistant coach for Loyola. He remains respectful of the organization that used the final lottery pick in 2016 on him and would love to represent it on the court.

But that’s the thing: Valentine isn’t playing. Like, at all. And that’s after sitting out an entire season following reconstructive ankle surgery and listening to how much his shooting ability and court vision could help the 2019-2020 Bulls.

It did — for a while.

After logging just 44 total minutes through November and even playing one game in the G League, Valentine averaged 15.5 minutes in 14 December contests. He averaged 7.6 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 0.9 steals as the Bulls went 7-7.

Plus, Valentine played with unbridled emotion and joy, and added a swagger that injected some life into a moribund season. Granted, Valentine crossed a line with his first-ever ejection after drawing two technical fouls in a home loss to the Warriors.

But Valentine did what pros are supposed to do: He stayed ready despite inactivity and produced when given the chance.

Look at him now, even. He’s on his feet often during games to cheer on teammates, engaged and enthusiastic, despite knowing whatever playing time comes his way will almost assuredly be mop-up minutes. Perhaps he let some frustration creep into his decision to sit out a Jan. 5 practice with knee soreness; only he knows his body.

But Valentine’s benching remains one of the more mysterious developments of this season. He’s fully healthy, saying recently that his surgically repaired ankle feels great.

When first questioned about Valentine not being in the rotation back on Nov. 11, coach Jim Boylen grew uncharacteristically evasive. Here’s the exchange:

Reporter: Why is [Valentine] out of the rotation?

Boylen: Because I said so.

Reporter: Is there something specific that he needs to improve?

Boylen: I think he needs some seasoning and he needs to play and he needs to grow.

Reporter: Grow in which areas?

Boylen: All areas.

Reporter: Why didn’t you play him at end of the [blowout] Rockets game?

Boylen: Because I didn’t want to.

Boylen has expressed concern to people about Valentine’s lack of explosiveness and athleticism. There likely are defensive concerns, as well. And in Boylen’s defense, he has used a 10-man rotation all season. You can’t play everybody, and somebody will always be looking in from the outside.

But for a team that has emphasized shooting the 3-pointer more consistently, ranking ninth with 35.1 attempts per game, it has always felt odd to see Valentine sit. The Bulls rank 19th at 34.8 percent from 3-point range.

This is a small thing, but making the whole situation even odder is Boylen’s association with Michigan State, where Valentine earned Player of the Year honors. Boylen actually served as an assistant coach for Denzel’s father, Carlton, during his senior season at Michigan State as Boylen began his coaching career as a graduate assistant.

Plus, Tom Izzo, whom Boylen worked with and is close to, loves Denzel Valentine.

Sources said at least one team has expressed interest in Valentine. It’s also possible the Bulls could package Valentine with Thad Young.

Bulls management actually has a history of trying to do the right thing for players as long as it doesn’t harm the future. Think: Honoring Nikola Mirotic’s request for a trade in light of Mirotic’s altercation with Bobby Portis.

It’s time to free Valentine and trade him somewhere he can play. Under Boylen, it’s clearly not here.

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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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