Bulls

Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose help Bulls deliver Showtime to Los Angeles

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Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose help Bulls deliver Showtime to Los Angeles

The stars come out in Los Angeles and the Lakers have played easy fodder for visiting teams, even during Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour.

It took some prodding but the Bulls played 30 minutes of cohesive ball and 90 seconds of devastating play after an extended lull that gave the Lakers hope, concluding matters with a 114-91 win at Staples Center.

Pau Gasol got more cheers than the Lakers’ starting center Roy Hibbert all night, and the crowd’s appreciation belied the fact he was better than any frontcourt player wearing gold, as he toyed with his former team for 21 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in 31 minutes.

Gasol caught his former teammate Bryant on the post on an opening possession and spun on him for a layup, much to the outward delight of both. Bryant had some bright spots but like he has all season, struggled from the field to score 10 points on four of 13 shooting.

The Bulls’ backcourt, who barely combine for half the playing experience of Bryant, played some of the most efficient basketball of the season and did it together, along with the last-second addition of E’Twaun Moore to the starting lineup in place of Tony Snell.

[MORE: Jimmy Butler named to All-Star team while Pau Gasol misses out]

It led to more ball movement and easier shots all around—along with the Lakers’ lackadaisical defense.

“I thought it was important to get off to a good start in the first quarter,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We did that, we had nine deflections. Got some run outs, got some confidence. The ball was moving much better, 29 assists, 11 turnovers. That’s a great sign.”

Derrick Rose, who returned after missing most of Monday’s loss to Miami with hamstring soreness, made his first five shots of the game and scored 16 with seven rebounds and five assists in 29 minutes.

Butler, who was announced as an All-Star reserve earlier in the day, lived up to the billing with 26 points, 10 assists and five rebounds, hitting 11 of 17 shots in 31 minutes and was a game-high +31 while on the floor.

Wherever the Bulls are going to go, if anywhere, come April and May, Rose and Butler will be the driving forces.

One can wonder if the growing chemistry has more room to grow than previously thought.

“It’s always gonna improve. It’s new for me, it’s new for him,” Rose said. “Playing with an elite guard, we’re very young. The way he’s playing is great, I want him to shoot more but I love his shot selection. The way he’s driving and getting to the lane, it’s helping our team all along.”

It’s not a coincidence, it seems, that since Rose’s play and aggressiveness has picked up since Christmas, Butler has played more facilitator, tallying his best assist games in the last three weeks.

“We were talking about it before the game, laughing about it,” Butler said. “Saying the more games we get under our belt, the more comfortable we’re gonna be. I love playing with him, he’s super aggressive, he’s taking great shots. That’s what we need. As long as I follow his lead on that style of play we’ll be good.”

The Bulls lead by 22 late in the second quarter and held the lead for most of the night, even sitting Butler and Gasol as the game seemed secure and the Bulls were laughing it up on the bench in their first game without Nikola Mirotic, who’s out until the All-Star break with acute appendicitis.

“You can tell the way they’re talking to each other, communicating while on the bench,” said Hoiberg of Butler and Rose. “They had a couple lobs in transition, and played off each other beautifully. When those two are playing with that attack mentality, we’re pretty good.”

[SHOP: Buy a Jimmy Butler jersey]

But you couldn’t tell he was missing with the way the Bulls shared the ball better than they had all season, with 29 assists and before their extended lull, one could say they played their most serious ball of the year, given their tendency to play down to their opponent.

Then Nick Young, Jordan Clarkston and Julius Randle turned up the energy enough to cut the lead to 15 and leave Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg perplexed at his team not being able to effectively put the game away.

Then the Bulls couldn’t close out the Lakers and the Lakers couldn’t continue to close in, until Butler and Gasol re-entered the contest with six minutes left and the game stagnant on the scoreboard but the Lakers clearly carrying the pace with their energy.

Then order was restored, with Butler scoring on a backdoor dunk from Gasol followed by Rose going behind the back on a pass to E’Twaun Moore for a layup to push it back to 19 and send Bryant, who emerged to head to the scorer’s table, back to the bench.

“It’s coming to me,” said Rose, almost sheepishly. “The plays I made, I felt like they were necessary. I don’t know, just caught up in the moment.”

It was expected, and it was decisive but it was necessary given the state of affairs.

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

The door has officially been closed on the 2017-18 season for the Chicago Bulls, and the word that most comes to mind is “unfulfilling.”

Or maybe even “indistinguishable.”

Draft night was supposed to be a culmination of a painful seven-month stretch that only had occasional yet costly moments of light.

Death lineup? Meet Death March. And Death April, while we’re at it.

The Bulls brass sold everyone on a full rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler one year ago, with an unspoken promise that this draft would bear franchise-changing fruit—hence the general feeling of angst or even indifference with the solid selection of Wendell Carter Jr. and their not-so-secret affection of Chandler Hutchison.

It was why fans believe the Bulls got cold feet about trading to move up, and why they believe the Bulls weren’t being pragmatic in staying away from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter, some believe, has star written all over him given his prep ranking this time last year and the Bulls were in position to speed up this process without having to go into a painful Process.

They were desperate for a star, believing the tankathon had produced so much suffering it had to be something on the back end.

There was the fight (or the punch).

The aftermath.

The miserable 3-20 start.

The 14-7 streak that produced the audacity of hope.

The reality that 14-7 was damaging enough to the lottery chances that a 3-11 finish couldn’t rectify.

And finally, the coin flip that cost them five spots in the lottery one month ago.

So that empty feeling has less to do with Carter and Hutchison, who’ve done nothing to earn the “blah” reaction from the fan base and some media. It has everything to do with the unanswered questions over the last 82 games and lack of clarity over the three hauls from draft night last year.

It’s not that Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn underperformed individually last season, but the lack of cohesiveness due to injuries and circumstances has led to the varying thoughts.

LaVine is approaching restricted free agency and by all accounts is taking his continuing rehab in Washington very seriously.  Markkanen has added plenty of muscle since the offseason began, appearing as if he can play Michael B. Jordan’s in-ring foil in the next installation of “Creed” as Ivan Drago’s long lost son.

And despite the report about Dunn not working as hard on the floor this offseason, that would be more of a concern if this were late August, not June.

The last time they were seen together on the floor, they looked no closer to a pecking order than the day they arrived.

What we know is that they’re productive NBA players, capable of putting an individual tattoo on a game at a moment’s notice, skillful enough to take your breath away.

And for whatever reason, the expectations changed once the three displayed they could be dynamic on their own—a star needed to be anointed and groomed to go with the star they believed was coming their way after the season.

Management is fully behind Markkanen, but Paxson’s strong words about LaVine at the season-ending news conference illustrated how much it feels LaVine has to prove next season.

With his restricted free agency status looming, the Bulls’ initial offer will show how much they value him until and if he gets a better deal on the market.

And the fact the Bulls weren’t afraid to draft Trae Young while having a healthy debate about Collin Sexton on draft night has to show they have at least some skepticism about the future at point guard.

But stars—developing stars, acquired stars, drafted stars—have to do it on their own. No amount of promotion or prodding from management will validate their faith, if that’s the route the Bulls choose to go.

This has to be a meritocracy or it won’t work and, honestly, it’s time for a reality check.

All the worry about the Bulls getting back to title contention sooner rather than later seems like folks getting ahead of themselves.

The front office has taken its share of shots from media and fans, so some questioning is earned but they’re right about one thing. Rebuilds aren’t completed in a day or 12 months.

Expecting some magic potion to arrive in the form of a top draft pick isn’t going to cure what ills this roster, and it doesn’t seem likely all the cap space will result in a free agent choosing the Bulls over the usual suspects.

However, methodical building can look like complacency if not done with a sense of urgency.

And with urgency in mind, this past season was unsatisfying to say the least—heading into the next phase with two more young pieces to develop while the first three are still in the evaluation stage.

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Donte Ingram's 2018 keeps getting better and better.

The March Madness hero, who buried a game-winning 3-pointer in the first round of Loyola's win over Miami, will play on the Bulls' Summer League team.

Ingram, a Simeon Academy graduate, had himself an incredible senior season with the Ramblers, who advanced all the way to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.

In five NCAA Tournament games Ingram averaged 7.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists for the Ramblers. He also had 18 points in the MVC Conference Championship Game to secure the Ramblers' March Madness berth.

He'll join first-round draft picks Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison on the Las Vegas Summer League team, which will begin play early next month.