Bulls

Bulls: Hoiberg banking on fortunes changing with Butler's return

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Bulls: Hoiberg banking on fortunes changing with Butler's return

When Jimmy Butler emerges as the fourth announced starter for tomorrow night’s game against the Houston Rockets for his first game in nearly a month, he won’t be wearing a cape.

But Fred Hoiberg is certainly putting a lot into Butler’s return after his left knee strain, hoping it’ll mean a return to a defensive mindset that has waned in Butler’s absence.

Honestly, it’s been nonexistent since the first month of the season but their issues have become more magnified since Butler went down in the second quarter of a loss in Denver in early February.

Although both sides have hedged their bets, it’s a certainty Butler will play Saturday night, and his return couldn’t have come at a more critical time.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

The Bulls’ coach had plenty of time for reflection during his drive in Chicago traffic to Friday’s practice, hoping the emergence of better weather clicking a light on with the players to let them know the playoffs are around the corner.

In other words, as the weather gets warmer, the good teams flow with it and the bad teams use it as a tool to get ready for the offseason.

“The sun's shining, I think it's supposed to be 65 degrees next week, and it's such an exciting time of year,” Hoiberg said. “I was a part of some really good teams playing, and I was a part of some stinkers. It's that time of year right now where if you're not making the playoffs and you're not playing the right way, you're counting down the days for it to be over.”

The Bulls have struggled for awhile since their 22-12 start, going 8-18 since—and Butler has been on the floor for a decent amount of those losses, although Hoiberg is willing to cede that Butler’s form of leadership can be necessary.

[MORE BULLS: Jimmy Butler will return Saturday vs. Rockets]

“We've harped on that all year with this group, talking to each other in a constructive way and not taking it personal. Jimmy will help with that,” Hoiberg said. “He's good at it. It'll get in somebody's face. Pau (Gasol) will help with that as well. He's good at it. If that coverage isn't called, you've got to be able to say something to your teammate and correct it.”

Butler, who caught some criticism in the media by calling out Hoiberg when things hadn’t yet turned as tenuous as it is now, sees opportunity, even as the Bulls are in a dogfight to even qualify for spring baskeball.

“I don’t know. I live for those moments,” Butler said. “I want everybody else to wake up right now and realize how important each and every one of these last 22 games are.”

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski sits down with Kendall Gill and Will Perdue to discuss all the need-to-know topics to get you ready for the season opener. The guys analyze how Lauri’s injury will make its mark on the early season rotation, whether Jabari will return to the starting unit or embrace the 6th-man role and why Portis betting on himself is the right move. Plus, Kendall has the key to unlock a “6th Man of the Year” award for Portis this season.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls

'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls

It's been a whirlwind of a summer for point guard Tyler Ulis, but he finally feels like he's found a home. Literally.

The 5-foot-9 point guard was cut by the Suns in late June, latched on with a training camp invite by the Warriors and was subsequently waived on Friday. It was then that Ulis, working out in California, received a call from his agent. He had been claimed on waivers by the Chicago Bulls. His hometown Bulls.

"I grew up watching (the Bulls)," he said after his first practice on Tuesday. "Growing up in this city, you always want to be a Bull and you’re always willing and hoping that you’ll be here one day...I'm home now. It's a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to it."

Ulis is back in Chicago for the first time since he was breaking records for Marian Catholic High School. Ulis became a five-star recruit for the Spartans and in 2014 signed on as the next point guard in the long line of successful floor generals under John Calipari and Kentucky.

Ulis backed up the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, as a freshman but saw his role increase as a sophomore. He blossomed, earning Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors in the SEC. Only Anthony Davis had ever earned both honors in a single season.

He declared for the 2016 NBA Draft with hopes of becoming a first-round pick. But unlike the Calipari point guards before him, Ulis slipped all the way down to the second round before the Phoenix Suns scooped him up with the 34th pick.

"Honestly I really did think (the Bulls) were going to draft me," Ulis said on Tuesday when recalling the 2016 NBA Draft. The Bulls took Denzel Valentine with the 14th pick. "But I'm here now so that's all that matters."

In 132 games, Ulis averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 assists in 21.1 minutes. He started 58 of those games, and while his shooting left plenty to be desired he handled the offense well and brought that same pesky defense he showed off at Kentucky. It wasn't enough, even for the guard-deprived Suns. They released Ulis before free agency this summer - which ruffled the feathers of franchise guard Devin Booker - in a rather unexpected move.

"My Mom always taught me (to) never expect anything," Ulis said of his release from the Suns. "When you're on a losing team like that anything can happen. I feel like I showed I could play at this level but they went a different way."

The Suns' loss - they may resort to starting 38-year-old Jamal Crawford at point guard this year - could be the Bulls' gain. Expectations should be harnessed for Ulis, especially with him joining the roster this late in the preseason, but the Bulls, like Phoenix, have question marks at the point.

Kris Dunn is entrenched as the starter, but Cameron Payne struggled mightily in the preseason and Ryan Arcidiacono doesn't project as a contributor. That leaves an opening for Ulis to potentially fill on the second unit, and apparently he's making a statement early in practice.

"Tyler had a real good practice," Fred Hoiberg said. "I think I think he changes the pace when he’s out there on the floor. He picks up full-court, he gets up underneath you. He can make a shot. He’s got good vision and can make a play with the ball in his hand. So I was very impressed with his first workout."

Ulis is working on a 45-day two-way contract, so it's unknown how much he'll contribute. He could be shuttled back and forth between Chicago and the Windy City Bulls, but there's certainly an opportunity for him to stick. He'll be playing catch-up and learning on the go, but doing so in his hometown wth friends and family around him for support will work to his advantage.

"Being a smaller guard growing up in a big man’s sport, you get looked over. So I’m the underdog," he said. "And I feel like this team is an underdog, so we should all be excited to get the season started and prove people wrong."