Bulls

Bulls get what they want in matchup with LeBron, Cavaliers

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Bulls get what they want in matchup with LeBron, Cavaliers

 

MILWAUKEE—This is what Joakim Noah wanted, a trip to Cleveland.

It’s what the NBA likely wanted, and for once there will be no outside accusations of league manipulation in terms of making sure Bulls and Cavs happened.

The two teams who love to hate each other in the East, in a matchup that seemed preordained from the moment LeBron James announced he was taking his talents back to Ohio and reinforced once James the executive pulled off some roster-changing moves to ensure the Cavaliers would have a championship-ready roster moves, bringing in Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert via trade.

“You know what? I never thought I'd say this, but I'm very excited to go to Cleveland."

Of course that was Noah, who found his game at the right time in Game 6 against the scrappy, pushy Milwaukee Bucks with 11 points and 10 rebounds, giving credit to assistant coach Ed Pinckney for the work they put in during the two days leading to Game 6.

[MORE: Bulls storm into matchup with Cavaliers with laugher in Milwaukee]

By the time halftime rolled around in Milwaukee, you can bet the Bulls’ thoughts shifted to Cleveland and the inevitability of said matchup. They can drop the niceties about not thinking about the Cavaliers, and focusing solely on the team in front of them.

After Game 6, they sounded like they had a full scouting report on their rivals, starting with the absence of Kevin Love—whose shoulder injury will cause him to miss the entire series, leading many to believe the Bulls and Cavaliers are now even, despite the Bulls’ struggles with the Bucks in round one.

“It's a little different when you take the range shooting 4 out,” Derrick Rose said. “You don't know what they're gonna do or what sets they're gonna (run) or strategy they're gonna have. It's gonna take going up there and playing them. When you don't have a player like Kevin Love, it's something to worry about a little bit.”

After two shaky games and a shaky finish to Game 4 where he let Jerryd Bayless sneak behind him for a game-winning layup, Rose is back staring down that old nemesis who always seems to be in his way in James.

[WATCH: Antetokounmpo tackles Dunleavy, gets tossed from Game 6]

James is the main reason the Bulls can’t play the “we took them too lightly” card that seemed to be within reach during their slip-ups against the Bucks. When a man puts you out of the playoffs seemingly every other year, you can’t forget him, you can’t avoid him.

James averaged 28.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists in four games against the Bulls this season, so whatever slippage people think exists with James in his 12th season, it doesn’t show on the stat sheet.

“Just make it hard on him. I'm not gonna sit here and say we have the game plan to stop him,” Rose said. “But he's gonna bring it. He's gonna play hard. He's won championships so you gotta give it to him. He's a hell of a player. So when we play against him, we just gotta make it tough. Nothing easy for him, make sure he sees bodies.”

They’ll need Rose and Jimmy Butler at their best and most efficient, and one wonders if it’s too much to ask those two to be superstars every night against James and Kyrie Irving—especially with the damning evidence the Bulls presented in terms of inconsistent performances against the Bucks.

“We know they're a great team. We're gonna have to play very well for 48 minutes,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We're gonna have to be ready from the start. They're well-rested, they've been sitting there.

“They have a lot of weapons, it's a lot more than LeBron and Kyrie. They play very well as a team, share the ball. They've got length at the rim, good competitors. We're gonna have to be ready.”

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

How sweet would it be for these Bulls to put away these Cavaliers? The players won’t say, but the eyes of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, two players who’ve had to endure James sending them away for the summer three times before, can’t lie.

Gibson wants to make sure every possible thing that can work in the Bulls’ favor will, starting with the famous “limit the distractions” speech.

“Every game is different; especially in the playoffs everybody adjusts; like Thibs said everybody has to sacrifice, focus on doing the right thing." Like Derrick said, "put away the poison. Take away everything your friends, your family, the girls, you have to put all that stuff away and focus on the team.”

As they say all the time, no excuses, because they’re showing up at the door of a bad man ready to send them back away with a bad feeling.

Let’s get it on.

Report: Butler camp upset with "ownership mouthpieces"

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USA TODAY

Report: Butler camp upset with "ownership mouthpieces"

In a report released Friday morning, Chicago Sun-Times reporter Joe Cowley stated that sources close to Jimmy Butler's camp think that "ownership mouthpieces" have "manufactured" rumors that Butler's number one concern in demanding a trade was money.

In response, the Butler camp has stated that Butler's reasons for wanting to leave are about having a serious shot at competing:

According to the source, this is about a philosophy in making an impact in the Western Conference, and in Butler’s mind you can’t run down a dynasty like Golden State when two of the so-called dogs in the pack are in fact kittens.

-Chicago Sun-Times reporter Joe Cowley

With the nature of public trade demands, it is tough to sort out what is true. And with Butler helping Minnesota end the NBA's longest playoff drought, it is clear that the Timberwolves have enough talent to be a playoff contender.

None of the team's on Butler's list of preferred destinations would have a serious shot at taking down the Warriors, or even making an Eastern Conference playoff run.

From the outside, it would appear that reported friction between Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns is the true reason the rift has become this big of an issue. But Butler maintains that this is not the case.

If Butler is not moved by Monday's media day in Minnesota, things could get (even more) messy.

With the ongoing public feuds between Andrew Wiggins and Stephen Jackson, the Butler camp and the TWolves organization, and the Towns contract extension situation, more drama is the last thing Minnesota  needs.

Thibodeau doesn't want to trade Jimmy Butler, owner Glen Taylor getting involved

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USA TODAY

Thibodeau doesn't want to trade Jimmy Butler, owner Glen Taylor getting involved

The Jimmy Butler saga continued on Friday, taking an interesting turn when ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Minnesota's front office had not been trying hard to trade Butler, but that in fact, they were doing quite the opposite:  

It is quite easy to believe that President of Basketball Operations and head coach Tom Thibodeau would be reluctant to move him.

They have an extensive history together, and Butler was the driving force behind Minnesota ending the NBA's longest playoff drought. But the thought of holding on to Butler past Monday's media day seems outrageous given the amount of negative attention already surrounding the franchise. 

Thibodeau is the decision-maker in this matter, but Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor could step in should this situation drag on longer, as he has in the past. Taylor gave the final OK when the franchise traded past stars Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love, and he will certainly get involved if Thibodeau is turning down quality trade offers. And reports state that Taylor is getting involved, as they likely try to get a deal done soon.

Thibodeau has multiple years left on his contract, so it is unlikely Minnesota lets him go, even if he takes a decidedly anti-trade stance on Butler.

Butler has made his list of preferred teams known, but as we saw in the Kyrie Irving deal, those list rarely are a factor. No matter what, it will be tough for Minnesota to get a deal comparable to what Chicago received for Butler, seeing as he is now older, and still somewhat injury-prone. But making sure to wait for the best trade available will heavily impact the long-term outlook of the Timberwolves.

Denying that you have interest in trading a player who has publicly demanded a trade is perhaps the most on-brand thing Thibodeau has ever done. But for once, he may be thinking about the future, as this lack of interest in trading Butler could just be a tactic to further drive up the asking price. 

Either way, stay Thibs, Thibs.