This date has been circled on the calendar since the Bulls’ trading Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah following him to New York weeks later, the day the former Bulls get off the team bus and venture to the visitor’s locker room as opposed to walking another 50 feet to their former domain.
Though obscured by the Cubs’ parade and celebration of winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years, there’s plenty of anticipation surrounding Rose’s return to his hometown — bringing about memories of a Bulls career that started out with a bang and much promise but ended with a whimper and a lot of questions.
“I think they’re gonna get a lot of love. But we have a job to do,” Jimmy Butler said Wednesday night following the Bulls’ narrow loss to the Celtics. “No matter what team steps into the United Center, we’re trying to win. We want to win as many games as we can.
“But they’ll probably definitely get a standing ovation, they’ve done so much for this organization. But even more than that, they did a lot for the community of Chicago.”
Rose and Noah have been active in the community, as Noah’s work with Noah’s Arc Foundation has been lauded both in the NBA and at the grassroots level for his hands-on approach and sincerity about stopping gun violence in Chicago.
Rose, a native son of Englewood, has been one to quietly pay for funerals or attend them to show support for the youths who had their lives cut short.
On the floor, though, is where things have differed between the newest face of Bulls and the previous faces of the franchise. Butler was ascending while Rose was rehabbing his game and his psyche. Butler was rising from being a guy who didn’t play much to developing into an All Star while Noah’s body started to break down due to years of wear and tear, heavy minutes and physical strain from playing on undermanned but competitive and gritty Bulls teams.
“I don’t think guys had different visions on what it took to win. I don’t think everybody was on the same page, truthfully, for what guys’ roles was going to be,” Butler finally confessed to CSNChicago.com. “That’s what it came down to, to tell the truth. I think that you look at the talent each individual had, everybody wanted to show how good they could be on any given night.”
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Rose and Noah struggled on the floor and with their bodies last season while Butler struggled with being a leader for the first time, and both sides were clearly frustrated with the other.
It was obvious last season things had to change directions when the transition by all had been bungled. Rose and Noah weren’t meshing with Butler, remembering their first impressions of him as a guy who couldn’t get on the floor, while Butler wanted to be around guys who were as single-minded and obsessed with dedication as he was.
There wasn’t as much internal conflict and mutual dislike as there was a level of discomfort with the way things were going on the floor and in the locker room. Tense moments, yes, as last year’s team seemed like 12 guys going in 12 directions as opposed to divisions of cliques sniping and pointing fingers at one another.
It’s why the vibe is so stark from this season and last year, because the air is cleared and sometimes change is necessary. It’s why Butler, on media day, made mention of feeling more comfortable with a group of guys who know him as an All Star as opposed to a goofy kid from Marquette just trying to make it.
The changing roles made all uncomfortable and honestly, there didn’t seem to be the right infrastructure to help anyone with a transition that was going to feel awkward no matter what, as Fred Hoiberg was in his first year as coach and didn’t quite know what to make of what he was seeing.
Butler admitted his passion, probably displayed in terms of being more passive-aggressive than straightforward last year, was likely misinterpreted.
“Definitely. You can call it what you wanna call it,” Butler said to CSNChicago.com “But you look around here now, and I guess I learned from my mistakes if I was making mistakes. But I want to win. Everybody wants to win, not saying they didn’t, but everybody in here is studying the game, everybody is working. I have no bad things to say about them two, not about Pau (Gasol) either. But we got a new group of guys, and I like the direction we’re moving in.”
One could say it’s addition by subtraction but the additions have helped with the jelling of these Bulls.
Bringing in Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo as players who know the pecking order of the locker room but also guys who are obsessed with basketball as Butler is have helped more than anything.
Butler isn’t the only one working late at night or watching film, which gives him a level of comfort and trust he didn’t have last season. He’s certainly trying his best not to take shots at Rose or Noah, with it being a sensitive situation on the surface along with the face he holds no actual personal animosity with either.
The sands on the hourglass had finally run its course with that group — as it does with all teams that stay together a period of time.
There are no regrets, but it seems all parties are pleased with where things stand.
“Yeah, you get it. It’s like a family,” Wade said to CSNChicago.com “You got through things as a family. As much as we’re around each other as we are. I wasn’t there so I don’t know what happened. But you go through things. At the end of the day, it’s still love and respect. It was time for that group. I think both sides are happy where they’re at. I think it’s gonna be a hell of a game, very competitive.”