Bulls

Jimmy Butler clearly not right but soldiers on with Bulls in dire straits

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Jimmy Butler clearly not right but soldiers on with Bulls in dire straits

Jimmy Butler stood next to his locker, rocked his head back, pausing at the query placed before him following another abnormal performance since his return from a knee injury.

“It’s not the preseason, it’s not early in the season. This is right now,” Butler told CSNChicago.com when asked if he would be playing with this injury if things weren’t so dire at this juncture of the Bulls’ season.

He doesn’t want to hear what his body is telling him, what everybody is seeing, what is becoming more difficult to hide with each passing day.

His left knee strain isn’t right, and it likely won’t be right until the offseason. So as he sighed, moments after falling on the sword in front of the media following the Bulls’ 115-107 loss to the New York Knicks, he wasn’t ready to admit the painful truth:

That it’s very likely he wouldn’t be playing under other circumstances and that he shouldn’t be playing under these circumstances.

“Yeah I would,” said Butler, before it was suggested he’s stubborn, a trait he readily admits on a good day.

“Call it what you want. They got me here for a reason. Not to sit out if I can play.

“I call it, if I step out there on that floor — 100 percent, 60 percent, 25 percent, 10 percent, whatever it is — I gotta go and help my teammates win. The opposing team don’t feel sorry for me. I gotta play. I’m good enough to play right now. I’m going to figure something out.”

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Making an impact hasn’t been a problem, and the numbers have shown a trend that has been undeniable since the All-Star break, when each of the seven games he’s played has been a “recovery” game.

“I think I’m fine,” Butler said, clearly talking through the pain.

Only one game at 50-percent shooting, two games over 20 points and what’s more, the explosive plays he could produce at an instant are nowhere to be found. Scoring 13, 11 and then seven in his last three games aren’t numbers you come to expect from this version of Jimmy Butler.

Not the guy who’s nipping at the heels of Kawhi Leonard for the title of best two-way player in the league, not the guy who’s neck and neck with Indiana’s Paul George for best in the conference.

“I need to do something to get him going,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I need to get him a few easy baskets to get his confidence up. Once that happens, I’m confident Jimmy will take off.”

He can’t take off when his body is grounded.

He’s not visibly limping, but the plays that came so easy before, plays that were bound to give him and this team a boost are no longer go-to’s.

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The play where he plants left from the free-throw line, faking to the top of the key before quickly changing direction to receive a lob pass at the rim for a dunk, likely from the sure passing of Pau Gasol?

Yeah, he tried that a couple times Wednesday, being thwarted by the ground-bound combination of Sasha Vujacic and Jose Calderon.

“You see the way I’ve been playing lately,” Butler said to the media contingent a few minutes earlier. “It’s saddening. It’s piss-poor, it’s terrible. My teammates won’t say it, my coaches won’t say it. I’m a realist. If I continue to play like this, I’m hurting the team.”

Before Butler came to his locker from the showers, Taj Gibson was explaining Butler’s situation from his eyes, that every great player goes through it, that seemingly every player who’s worn a Bulls uniform the last few seasons has had to endure playing through pain — and not feeling like himself through the process.

And what’s more, Butler doesn’t want to disrupt the flow of the offense by forcing it early, so he’s battling rhythm, health and likely, doubt.

“I need to continue to get the ball to guys to get them going,” Butler said. “I think I should be able to score the ball at any time. Right now, pass the ball to guys who are making shots. I have to keep this group of guys in this locker room focused on making the playoffs. Even if I’m not making shots but we’re winning games, I can’t overthink this.”

Making of a Chicago legend: A look back at Jabari Parker's decorated Simeon career

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AP

Making of a Chicago legend: A look back at Jabari Parker's decorated Simeon career

From the moment Jabari Parker started his local basketball career, he's been a special talent who has produced at every level. Parker's signing with the Chicago Bulls this offseason brings back a lot of memories of his decorated four-year high school career at Simeon.

For Bulls fans who didn't follow Parker before Duke or the NBA, here's some of the notable moments from four years in the Public League.

As a freshman with the Wolverines, Parker was seen as one of three big incoming freshman in the area for the Class of 2013, along with forward Alex Foster and center Tommy Hamilton. Although all three players had the size and skill level to be varsity contributors, it was Parker who was special from his debut game.

Coming off the bench for a top-5 Simeon team against a top-10 Thornton team at Chicago State, Parker had 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting with two 3-pointers as the Wolverines went on to win in his first game in high school. Eventually becoming the first Wolverine freshman to start on varsity, Parker piled up high-major scholarship offers and national acclaim, as he was the team's second-leading scorer behind Brandon Spearman.

But Parker was hurt on the eve of the IHSA Class 4A state championship weekend and was on the bench injured as Simeon went on to surprisingly win the state title after some late-season slip-ups. Parker contributed heavily to Simeon winning the state title during his first season, however, as he was leading scorer in six games during that season.

During his sophomore season, Parker blossomed from a prospect into a full-blown star as Simeon once again captured a state title. By this point in his career, Parker was a consensus top-5 national high school prospect in his class as he regularly led a loaded Simeon team in scoring. Parker eventually averaged 15.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game as he won ESPN High School 2011 Sophomore of the Year national honors, while also Simeon won a title at the prestigious Pontiac Holiday Tournament.

The summer of 2011 saw Parker become a contender for No. 1 in his class -- and regardless of class at the high school level -- as he dominated the summer circuit against his peers and older players.

Making the 2011 USA Basketball U16 team, Parker won MVP honors at the FIBA Americas U16 Tournament as the USA team captured a gold medal. Parker also had big performances at the Kevin Durant and LeBron James Skill Academies before winning the MVP at the Nike Global Challenge in August against mostly older players.

Before entering his junior season at Simeon, some national scouts believed Parker was the best prospect in either the junior or senior national classes. With Parker garnering so many accomplishments as an underclassman, he had a huge reputation already as Simeon was an established national powerhouse.

Parker helped the Wolverines capture a third straight state title, a city title and another title at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, as they went 33-1. Simeon didn't lose to an Illinois opponent Parker's junior year (they only lost to nationally ranked Findlay Prep) with Parker setting a school record of 40 points in only 21 minutes against Perspectives on Dec. 19. For his junior season, Parker put up 19.5 points, 8.9 rebounds per game as he became the first non-senior to win Mr. Basketball in Illinois honors.

Gatorade also declared Parker the national boys basketball Player of the Year for that high school season as he became only the fourth non-senior to win that award. Sports Illustrated put Parker on its cover and proclaimed him as the best high school basketball player since LeBron James.

Facing an enormous amount of pressure during his senior year, Simeon played a national schedule and went 30-3, winning a fourth consecutive IHSA state title with Parker as he put up 18.4 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.

Becoming the only player besides Sergio McClain to start on four straight IHSA state title teams, Parker secured back-to-back Mr. Basketball in Illinois honors while also making the McDonald's All-American Game, Jordan Brand Classic and the Nike Hoop Summit. Parker played all over the country during his senior season, with nationally-televised games and packed crowds filled with fans.

Reclassifications and the emergence of other contenders, coupled with Parker's foot injury before his senior season, dropped Parker below the No. 1 ranking to end his high school career. But he still finished as a consensus top-5 prospect in the class who eventually rose to the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft in 2014.

Now that Parker has signed with the Bulls, he has a chance to resurrect his career in Chicago, the place where he had his most basketball success.

Would Wendell Carter Jr. be picked higher if the NBA Draft was today?

Would Wendell Carter Jr. be picked higher if the NBA Draft was today?

According to Bleacher Report, Wendell Carter Jr. would be taken fourth overall by the Memphis Grizzlies if the NBA were to redraft this year’s class based off of Summer League performances.

It may sound like a crazy concept (and it is), but Carter Jr. averaged the second most points, 14.6, through five July games in Las Vegas. He also averaged 9.4 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the field while averaging 28.8 minutes in his glamorous first-stint with Chicago. Those numbers are even more striking if you consider Carter Jr.’s 42.9 percent shooting from behind the three-point line.

Carter Jr., the real seventh overall pick of this year’s NBA Draft, looked like the all-around player the Bulls were hoping to get this offseason. He made his blocking abilities as a center known from the moment he stepped on the court in Summer League.

In their re-draft, Bleacher Report had Chicago using the No. 7 pick on the New York Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson, who was actually taken 36th overall in last month’s Draft.

Robinson, a center, averaged 13 points and 24.8 minutes per game over five Summer League contests. He was the best rebounder on his team with an average of 10.2 in the five games that the Knicks played.

The 20-year-old took the second most shots on the Knicks and had the highest field goal percentage at 67 percent, but Robinson did not have any three-point attempts.  What made his recent production seem even more surprising was the fact that the 7'1'' big man did not play a single minute of college basketball.

But would Robinson fit in the Bulls’ system?

Chicago has taken on an offense-first mentality, so Robinson would not be as great of a fit in the Bulls lineup as Carter Jr., but he would still be an impact player. He can be compared to the Bulls’ current center Robin Lopez, who averaged a similar amount of points per game (11.8 points in 26.4 minutes) last season as Robinson’s Summer League average (13 points in 24.8 minutes). And like Lopez, Robinson will likely be most effective around the basket and in the pick-and-roll.

Robinson would also have to learn the defensive concepts that a veteran like Lopez has mastered over his 10-year career.

Next season, the Bulls will have an exciting scoring trio of Jabari Parker, Lauri Markkanen and Carter Jr. in the frontcourt. And the fact that Carter Jr. is getting so much love in the national spotlight is yet another reason for Bulls fans to be excited about this upcoming season.