Bulls' Jimmy Butler on loss to Hornets: 'We were soft'


Bulls' Jimmy Butler on loss to Hornets: 'We were soft'

The numbers were alarming and the way it was done is even more a cause of concern for the Bulls, five games into the season.

But Monday’s non-competitive blowout 130-105 loss to the then-winless Charlotte Hornets exposed some flaws that were covered up in the first few games, ones that looked like fool’s gold in hindsight.

In some twisted way, Jimmy Butler has been expecting a game like this since the preseason began, when the Bulls showed some bad habits they didn’t have any urgency on fixing.

“It was gonna happen sooner or later,” Butler said as he got dressed inside the Time Warner Cable Arena locker room, still smarting from a shocking loss in which he scored a quiet game-high 26 points. “Fifth game in? We can fix it. I can tell you one thing, Thursday it can get ugly very quickly if we don’t guard.”

[MORE: Bulls suffer worst loss of season to Hornets]

Ahh, Thursday. That only brings in the two most dynamic scorers not named Stephen Curry in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook from the Oklahoma City Thunder on the national TV stage, a team that can light the Bulls up for 130 without having a special night.

It’ll just be a random Thursday.

“We didn’t stop nobody, they put up 130,” Butler said, referring to the actual 130 points the Hornets put on the Bulls. “We gotta nip that in the bud now. That’s not winning basketball, it’ll never be winning basketball here, never has been winning basketball here. We always prided ourselves on playing hard and not being pretty. Tonight we were pretty, we were soft. Got our (butts) whipped.”

The recent Bulls teams wouldn’t dare allow themselves to be called soft, let alone allow it to have a grain of truth to it. The Hornets drove to the basket without feeling an opposing player breathe on them, much less fear retribution at the rim, much less being misdirected to take another route to their destination.

Bulls’ basketball used to be about detours, and Butler fears the muscle memory is disappearing way too easily. It’s a simple solution, he feels.

“Effort. Effort will fix all of that on the defensive end,” Butler said. “It’s all if you want to do it, to tell you the truth. We have a lot of guys capable of it. I think we focus too much on offense a lot of the time.

“Not most of the time, a lot of the time and we forget about what you gotta do on the other end of the floor. Speaking for myself and a lot of guys on the team, we gotta guard, that’s where it’s gotta start for us. We gotta be the dogs that everybody in Chicago knows we are and always been. Just some hard-playing guys that play harder than everybody.”

The paradigm shift that’s taking place hasn’t been an easy transition, going from a primarily defensive team to one that tries to outscore people. The lineup change that puts Joakim Noah on the bench for the talented Nikola Mirotic is exhibit A in the change.

[RELATED: Bulls' defense carrying the load thus far; Dunleavy on the mend]

The freedom that comes with a change on the sidelines from a buttoned-up Tom Thibodeau to a buttoned-down Fred Hoiberg can be intoxicating. And right now the Bulls are drunk off the hooch, perhaps seduced by the numbers that said they were just as potent a defensive team through four games as they had been last year.

“We haven’t been playing (any) defense,” Butler said. “Other teams just been missing shots, to tell you the truth. We (have to) get to guarding, we score enough points, that ain’t the problem.”

Telling from their defensive effort Tuesday, one wouldn’t think they treat defense serious enough from the roots, but Butler said they go after each other harder in practice than they do against an actual opponent, when the games count.

Wednesday’s noon session sounds like a showdown at the O.K. Corral, which from the looks of their recent performance, is a necessary expense.

“It’s more important to go in practice and compete,” Butler said. “Man up, roll that ball out and be dogs, y’all go dive on that ball, y’all play one on one, get a basket, get a stop.”

“Until we start competing the way we’re supposed to compete, ain’t no film, no talking gonna get you to do that. You gotta go out there and compete. The way we compete in practice, everybody’s going hard, hitting each other, fouling, we gotta do that to the opposing team not just each other.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

In his comments, Butler made sure to include himself in his assessments, as not to separate himself from his teammates. And he didn’t give the slightest indication about individual agendas, but the transition is indeed a transition.

“I know what everybody’s mindset is, it’s to win,” Butler said. “At times people take it on themselves, ‘I’m gonna get this basket, I’ma do this, do that’. We gotta focus on team. On offense, on defense, it’s five guys out there.”

“We got a play for one another. We can never get lost in the fact we’re all good players, we’re a really good team, a deep team. When we buy into that team aspect, and everybody goes toward that common goal, we’re gonna be tough.”

Considering Butler has made such a big to-do about being more of a vocal leader this season, he was asked if this was his time to speak up, but he said he has to be the change he wants to see in everyone else—before expecting it of his teammates.

“This is the time most definitely,” Butler said. “But I think it’s gonna start for me on the floor. You can talk about it all you want, yadda, yadda, yadda, until I man up and start locking my man down and set the example, this is how you do it, I can’t say too much.”

Wendell Carter Jr. is showing significant signs of growth in his second season, both on and off the court

Wendell Carter Jr. is showing significant signs of growth in his second season, both on and off the court

When the Bulls selected Wendell Carter Jr. with the seventh overall pick in the 2018 draft, John Paxson and Gar Forman talked about his rare intelligence, mental toughness and maturity for a 19-year-old prospect.

We saw signs of Carter Jr.’s leadership ability during his 44-game rookie campaign. He took the losses as hard as anyone in the locker room and spoke candidly about the need to change the mindset and focus of everyone on the roster. Carter’s first season ended early because of a broken thumb, but his emergence as a strong voice among the players was only beginning.

With the Bulls getting off to an unexpected slow start to the 2019 season, the now 20-year-old Carter has been a prominent voice in the locker room, saying the players need to feel the pain of the constant losing and do everything possible to turn things around.

Carter has certainly done his part, taking a significant step forward through the first 11 games of his second season. The former Duke star is averaging 13.2 points, 9.7 rebounds and has already notched seven double-doubles — the first Bulls center to accomplish that since Joakim Noah in the 2010-11 season.

After experiencing the physicality of NBA post play as a rookie, Carter put in extra work in the weight room this past summer, and showed up for training camp at a solid 265 pounds. He’s used that extra strength effectively on both ends, banging with the league’s biggest centers under the basket, while also maintaining his ability to switch onto smaller players in pick-and-roll coverage.

Carter also got advice from Bulls television analyst and former NBA player Stacey King to always run hard down the middle of the court after a change of possession to set up opportunities for easy baskets and offensive rebounds. With the Bulls playing at a faster pace this season, Carter's ability to beat opposing centers on the offensive end has already resulted in more scoring chances.

The Bulls coaching staff is still hoping Carter will develop his shooting range to the point where he can be a consistent threat from three-point territory, but at this point that’s not a high priority in the offense. Carter is outstanding in the pick-and-roll, setting solid screens and then rolling hard to the basket for lob passes. He also has the ability to pop out to the elbow area for midrange jump shots.

With all the preseason conversation focused on the possibility of Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen making the jump to All-Star consideration, Carter is the player making the biggest leap early in the season. And his increased production is coming without designed plays being run for him.

The Bulls’ offense doesn’t call for multiple entry passes into the low post, but we saw during Carter’s one season at Duke that he has a nice touch shooting jump hooks from close range with either hand. Carter’s offensive game figures to expand in the coming seasons, but his skill in protecting the rim and controlling the defensive backboard already makes him extremely valuable to what the Bulls are trying to accomplish.

Plus, we already know that a competitive fire burns deep inside the 20-year-old Carter. After former teammate Bobby Portis torched the Bulls for 28 points and 11 rebounds in a come-from-behind victory for the Knicks at Madison Square Garden last month, Carter vowed it wouldn’t happen in Tuesday’s rematch at the United Center. 

“No words need to be said. We’re not letting that happen,” Carter said to reporters. “Bobby is going to want to put on a show. I’m not going to have it. I hope he’s watching this. I ain’t having it.”

Portis’ stat line in the Bulls’ blowout win following those comments? In 19 unproductive minutes, he tallied just 7 points and 3 rebounds on 3-of-9 shooting.

The Bulls’ 20-year-old locker room leader made sure he backed up his pregame comments. Now, he says he’ll look for something to fire up his teammates for every game left on the schedule.

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Kris Dunn continues to buy into role — and the Bulls are better for it

Kris Dunn continues to buy into role — and the Bulls are better for it

Jim Boylen has plenty of pet phrases. Role acceptance is one of them.

And if you want to get the Bulls coach rolling, ask him about Kris Dunn’s performance in that department.

“Big time. Big time,” Boylen repeated, for good measure. “He just wants to win. He’s the first guy in the breakfast room. You have to be in the building 45 minutes before [practice]. He’s in 1 hour, 45 minutes before. He does his workout 45 minutes before everybody else with Coach [Nate] Loenser. He is locked in. He cares. He always cared. And he’s playing winning basketball. I’m really happy for him.”

There may be no greater compliment from a coach to a player than to say one is playing winning basketball. Relayed Boylen’s comment, Dunn didn’t take it lightly.

“That means a lot. That’s what I try to do,” Dunn said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. “I come from a winning program at Providence. I know what winning looks like. And I know what it takes to win.”

Right now, that involves Dunn accepting his role as a reserve aimed at wreaking defensive havoc on opponents. When Dunn scores 13 points, as he did in Tuesday’s victory over the Knicks, it’s a bonus.

There’s a lot going right with Dunn’s game these days. He leads the NBA with 25 steals, posting multiple steals in seven of 11 games. He has tallied 30 assists to just nine turnovers in 224 minutes, emblematic of solid decision-making. And he’s shooting 47.1 percent from the field — a figure made even more impressive by his anemic 17.6 percent shooting from 3-point range.

“I take pride in my defense,” Dunn said. “The second unit, I think we have good defenders in our group. Archie [Ryan Arcidiacono], he’s a dog. Thad [Young], he’s a dog. Coby [White], he’s a dog. I could go on and on. We try to come in and bring great energy and try to maintain the lead or, if we’re down, try to get it back.”

But Dunn’s biggest area of growth has been his role acceptance. It’s not easy losing a starting job, particularly when it comes on the heels of executive vice president John Paxson publicly challenging Dunn. And then the Bulls acquired Tomas Satoransky in a sign-and-trade transaction, drafted White and re-signed Arcidiacono.

Multiple outlets reported over the offseason that Dunn and his representatives wanted a change of scenery. The Bulls, league sources said in July, held trade talks with several teams, including the Grizzlies, regarding a sign-and-trade transaction for Justin Holiday.

Instead, Dunn returned. And since the first day of voluntary September workouts, he has maintained a positive attitude.

“It’s a good team we have. I just wanted to be a part of it. We have a lot of talented players, a good group of guys. I wanted to buy into what Coach is preaching, buy into the system,” Dunn said.  “All in all, I feel my game can go anywhere — starting, coming off the bench. Wherever you put me at, I’m a hooper.”

This example hasn’t been lost on young players like the rookie White.

“That’s my dog,” White told NBC Sports Chicago. “We’re part of the bench mob. Ain’t that right, KD? I love playing with KD. I know he’s going to compete at both ends. If things aren’t going well, he can turn the game around with his energy. He’s passionate. You love to play with people who play hard and want to win.

“Our relationship has grown on and off the court. He has instilled confidence in me. I haven’t been shooting it well before [Tuesday night]. KD told me to keep being aggressive and keep shooting. He’s always encouraging his teammates. When one of us does something good, he’s the first to hype us up.”

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