Bulls

Butler's performance came in front of the influential Jerry Colangelo

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Butler's performance came in front of the influential Jerry Colangelo

The adoration of the Bulls fans in attendance washed over Jimmy Butler as they waited for him to complete his postgame interview on the Wells Fargo Center floor, cheering him as he exited through the tunnel and to the locker room after his 53-point performance.

“It felt good, I’m not gonna lie,” Butler told CSNChicago.com after completing speaking with the media at his locker.

The adrenaline that flowed as he ignored the pain from his sprained right ankle caught up with him as he soaked his feet in the locker room, not ready to put his performance in perspective but well-aware he’d done something special.

Necessary, but special, particularly when he was told who was in attendance for the game: None other than Jerry Colangelo, Executive Director for USA Basketball, the man who holds the biggest piece to Butler’s prospective Olympic candidacy in his hands.

“Oh really? Wow. That’s big time,” Butler told CSNChicago.com. “Hopefully he likes what he saw. It’s my dream to represent this country and some of the best players in the world. It’s a good night to do what I did.”

[MORE: Beyond the Box Score: Analyzing the Bulls' screen defense]

Colangelo has taken a prominent role in the 76ers organization after the neglect with the current regime, and the longtime respected executive was in attendance, flying in from his home in Arizona where he was treated to quite a performance from Butler.

“That’s fine. The bossman was in the building for the USA team,” said Butler, his eyes getting wider and wider. “Just gotta continue to play like that and help us win games. We’ll worry about USA (team) when it gets here.”

In the moment though, Butler’s performance would’ve never been birthed if not for Trevelle Gaines, one of Butler’s trainers, who challenged Butler to play all 82 games this season.

With the way Butler’s right ankle swelled up between Tuesday’s game in Milwaukee and Thursday morning, no one would’ve been surprised if Butler took the night off and rested his body for more meaningful contests.

“Because I have a bet with my trainer (that) I’ll play 82 games,” said Butler with a smile. “When I’m nicked up, my trainer, Mr. Travelle Gaines said ‘we gotta get you to play 82’. So I gotta take care of my body, hydrate, take care of my knees. He said let’s do it.”

And never one to back down from a challenge, the man who didn’t participate in shootaround was introduced with the starting five. Although, playing the game’s final 37 minutes and three seconds was a little more than he likely bargained for.

Butler became the fourth player to tally at least 50 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three steals in the last 30 seasons. Michael Jordan did it twice (1989, 90), along with Chris Webber (2001) and Dwyane Wade (2009).

“He’ll get treatment tonight. Jimmy’s a warrior, he’s out there fighting,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “As the game went on, it almost look like--I don’t know if ‘fresher’ is the word but the ankle kept feeling better and better. And obviously he’s fighting and playing through adrenaline as the game goes to overtime.”

Once he checked back in for Tony Snell with 8:03 remaining in the second quarter, he didn’t miss a second of game action. The Bulls were in critical condition, down 19, and headed toward life support two minutes later when the 76ers took a 24-point lead behind a bunch of players who weren’t exactly household names.

“Me tired? That never happens. No, that doesn’t happen (laughs),” Butler said. “I was tired. When I was tired, my teammates did what they had to do. When I wasn’t tired, they got me the ball and let me attack.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Butler went 15-for-30 from the field and made 21 of 25 free throws, the 21st time in NBA history a player scored 50 or more with 15 field goals or fewer, signifying the contact he took from the 76ers and the work he put in, as opposed to just getting hot.

“They need me to be aggressive every night,” Butler told CSNChicago.com at his locker. “No matter who it’s against, from the jump. That’s gotta be my role on this team, make guys guard me so I can get a lot of guys easy shots.”

But without the prodding of his trash-talking trainer’s voice in his head, Butler could’ve chosen to sit this one out and not given Colangelo a final impression to make decisions for the summer.

Before the game, Colangelo told CSNChicago.com that next week USA Basketball will reveal the 30 players it’ll take to summer camp before making final cuts before the Olympic Games in Rio.
Upon hearing that, Butler’s eyes got wider.

“They’re gonna make some announcements next week? Well, whenever he makes the announcements everybody will find out something, including myself,” he said.

“I gotta needle my way in and out of 30 guys. At first, though, I gotta win some games for the Bulls.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bulls use Lauri Markkanen as centerpiece of a trade to bring in a superstar?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bulls use Lauri Markkanen as centerpiece of a trade to bring in a superstar?

On this episode of SportsTalk Live, Hub Arkush (670 The Score/Pro Football Weekly), Danny Parkins (670 The Score) and Lauren Comitor (The Athletic) join David Kaplan on the panel.

Manny Machado Mania continues in Chicago. Do the Cubs even need to trade for him to win the World Series this year?

Ricky Renteria has to bench another player for not hustling. Is this becoming a problem on the South Side?

Plus, Lauri Markkanen is named to the All-Rookie team. Could he be the centerpiece of a trade if the Bulls want to acquire a superstar or move up in the draft? 

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

NBA 'promises' to potential draft picks not unusual

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USA TODAY

NBA 'promises' to potential draft picks not unusual

Bulls Twitter went on high alert after last week's national report that the front office had made a "promise" to draft Boise State small forward Chandler Hutchison if he was still on the board at No. 22 in the first round. Weren't the Bulls supposed to be interested in SF prospects like Michael Porter Jr., Mikal Bridges and Miles Bridges with their own first round selection? Did a "promise" to Hutchison mean the Bulls would go with Wendell Carter, Trae Young or Collin Sexton at No. 7?

The simple answer is the Bulls haven't made any final decisions on either pick. They still plan to bring the top prospects in for workouts and interviews before June 21 and will continue to take a close look at players likely to be available in the 18-30 range.

And, like any professional sports franchise, the Bulls aren't about to confirm or deny they've made a commitment to Hutchison or any other player. Drafts are fluid, and invariably players will rise and fall throughout the workout/interview process as teams try to get their boards lined up for the big night.

The main reason a team will make a "promise" to a player is to eliminate his incentive to work out for other franchises. In the case of Hutchison, he's obviously received assurances from a team or teams that he will be drafted in the first round. Hutchison cancelled his plans to participate in last week's NBA Draft Combine, and most likely will only work out for teams drafting ahead of the franchise that said they would select him.

Jerry Krause would famously try to hide his interest in players he coveted in a particular year and persuade them not to work out for other teams. The best example came in 1987 when a little known player from Central Arkansas named Scottie Pippen became an obsession for Krause, and the Bulls GM tried everything in his power to keep Pippen under wraps. Problem is, Pippen did attend the scouting combine and quickly became the hot topic among NBA scouts and executives. It took some intense work on Krause's part to arrange for the draft night trade that brought Pippen to Chicago for Olden Polynice. Krause also added Horace Grant later in that same draft, and the foundation was built for the Bulls' first three championship teams.

So, the idea of a team making a "promise" to a player they like is certainly nothing new. What's important to understand is that doesn't guarantee the team will follow through on that promise when they're on the clock. Back in 2013, the Bulls got word to Louisville big man Gorgui Dieng they were interested in taking him with their No. 20 pick in round one. But when the Bulls were on the clock, the front office decided they would rather have New Mexico swingman Tony Snell who was ranked higher on their draft board. The Bulls drafted Snell, much to Dieng and his agent's surprise. Dieng wound up going to Utah with the next pick and was traded to Minnesota. He's still with that franchise today, although in a reduced role after the Timberwolves signed Taj Gibson as a free agent last summer.

With so much uncertainty in this year's draft, it seems unlikely the Bulls would "promise" to select Hutchison five weeks before the selection process was going to begin. Hutchison and his agent most likely received assurances from NBA executives that he would be drafted in the 20-30 range, and that was enough to get him to drop out of the combine. But just like in 2013, if the Bulls see a player ranked higher on their draft board fall to 22, that's the player they're going to take.

Hutchison is a good prospect, a 3-and-D player who would fit well with the team the Bulls are building. But he's also a 22-year-old senior without the upside of some of the younger prospects who might be available with the Bulls' pick late in Round 1. Both Hutchison and the Bulls have to reserve the right to protect their own best interests. Hutchison will most likely agree to work out for teams drafting earlier than 22, and he'll have to understand if the Bulls decide to go a different direction on draft night, no matter what kind of previous discussions his agent may have had with the front office.

At this point in the pre-draft process, a "promise" can only be seen as a team's legitimate interest in a given player and an indicator of how the first round is likely to play out. But a lot can and will change before Phoenix goes on the clock on June 21.

Combine notes

Since most of the projected first round picks do little or nothing at the combine, it's left to the second-round guys to try to improve their draft stock with a strong showing in the scrimmage games. Last year, it was Kyle Kuzma working his way into the first round with a dazzling performance at the combine, and this year, the big winner might be Villanova shooting guard Donte DiVincenzo.

The NCAA Tournament hero impressed everyone with his athleticism on both ends and his ability to knock down open shots. DiVincenzo told me his 31-point performance in the title game against Michigan convinced him he had what it takes to apply for early entry, and his strong showing last week probably convinced him to hire an agent and remain in the draft.

Much like Kuzma, DiVincenzo had been projected as a likely second-round pick before the combine. Now he's looked at as a probable first rounder, going somewhere in the 20-30 range, which means he's likely headed to a good team that can ease his transition to the pro game. Not bad for a guy who came off the bench most of the season for the eventual NCAA champs and probably never imagined he would be leaving early for the NBA until that magical night in San Antonio.

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Other players who improved their draft stock last week include USC combo guard De’Anthony Melton, Maryland swingman Kevin Huerter, Tulane shooting guard Melvin Frazier, Cincinnati swingman Jacob Evans and another Villanova product, point guard Jalen Brunson.

Brunson didn't play in the scrimmages in Chicago, but he showed well in the physical testing, displaying the kind of athleticism every team is looking for at the point guard position. It looks like Brunson will definitely be a first round pick.

Similar story for Evans, who averaged a modest 13 points a game for a top 10 Cincinnati team, but impressed the NBA execs at the combine with his tenacious defensive play and offensive potential. Evans could be a possibility for the Bulls at 22.

Maryland's Huerter showed scouts he's more than just a standstill 3-point shooter. The 6-foot-6 sophomore averaged just under 15 points a game last season, shooting almost 42 percent from 3-point range. Huerter's solid play at the combine gives him a chance to be drafted at the end of Round 1.

Frazier also showed enough in games last week to have his name called among the top 30 picks. At 6-foot-6, he has excellent size at the shooting guard position. Frazier averaged just under 16 points a game during his junior season at Tulane, shooting almost 56 percent from the field.

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But the most interesting story involves Melton, who was held out by USC last season because of his connection to the FBI's investigation of corruption in college basketball. Melton maintained his innocence all along, and said the university was just doing what it had to do, fearing additional trouble with the NCAA over allegations a friend of Melton's had accepted money to try to steer Melton to an agent.

Still, even without playing competitively last season, Melton probably cemented a first round selection with his play at the combine. The 6-foot-4 combo guard flashed on both ends, scoring 15 points in a game last Friday playing alongside DiVincenzo in the backcourt.

Melton told USA Today he compares himself to other two-way standouts like Dwyane Wade, Kawhi Leonard and Avery Bradley. That's some pretty impressive company. Melton might be worth the investment of that No. 22 pick by the Bulls.

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Kudos to all the players who took part in the two days of media interviews last week. Almost all of them came off poised and well prepared. Among the top ten picks, I was especially impressed with Michael Porter Jr., who patiently answered all the questions about his back surgery and confidently said he considered himself the best player in the draft without sounding cocky.

Of course, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Trae Young also proclaimed themselves the best player in the draft, and projected top 10 picks Mo Bamba, Wendell Carter Jr. and Collin Sexton also came across as supremely confident.

The latest Basketball Insiders Mock Draft has the Bulls taking Bamba at 7 and Chandler Hutchison at 22, which would make the front office and a lot of Bulls fans very happy. But just to show you the wide range in how draft experts are evaluating the top prospects, Basketball Insiders currently has Jackson Jr. going 11 to Charlotte, and it's hard for me to imagine him staying on the board past four.

Brace yourself for all kinds of wild speculation over the next four weeks.

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Finally, May 22 turned out to be quite a day for Lauri Markkanen. Not only is Markkanen celebrating his 21st birthday, but he found out he was voted to the NBA's All-Rookie first team after averaging 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds.

Markkanen joined Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum and Kyle Kuzma from the extremely talented 2017-18 rookie class.

And the second team isn't bad either with Dennis Smith Jr., Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, John Collins and Bogdan Bogdanovic.

Given Markkanen's talent and work ethic, it's very easy to see him making multiple All-Star Game appearances down the line. The Bulls can only hope they come up with another foundation player like Markkanen when they draft seventh for the second year in a row.