Bulls

Jimmy Butler's pregame prediction of 40 holds true against Lakers

Jimmy Butler's pregame prediction of 40 holds true against Lakers

LOS ANGELES — Knowing his top running mate was out, a tired Jimmy Butler approached Fred Hoiberg with a pretty clear declaration for the Bulls’ game against the young L.A. Lakers: “I’m going for 40.”

If it was clairvoyance instead of outright confidence, perhaps Butler could’ve foreseen getting a quicker jump over Lakers forward Julius Randle in the final minute of the Bulls’ bounce-back 118-110 win at Staples Center Sunday night.

The play essentially signified what Butler was Sunday and what he aims to be for a Bulls team that appears to be following Butler’s lead in the way of mental toughness, as Butler and Randle were tied up for a jump ball with 48 seconds left.

A once-comfortable 13-point lead two minutes prior had been whittled down to five and had the Lakers retrieved the jump ball, Staples Center could’ve been the house of horrors it was the night before in their heartbreaking loss to the L.A. Clippers.

But Butler tipped it to Nikola Mirotic before Randle’s longer arms could get to it, and on the way down, Butler absorbed the double team to find Rajon Rondo for a layup that effectively ended the Lakers’ threat.

“I’m athletic. You didn’t know I had that still but I get up a little bit,” Butler joked. “It’s tough. He was up there with me but… I got that. Fred said it was the biggest play of the game but I try to tell him that reverse layup, it was pretty tough (too).”

There was the reverse layup, the pounding drives to the basket that wound up with Butler taking 14 free throws as well as the quick-twitched tip-ins on teammates’ misses that completed yet another banner night for a player who no longer has to convince anyone he belongs in the upper echelon of great players in the NBA.

“He was tired this morning. I give him credit for doing what he had to do to get himself ready and rested,” Hoiberg said. “He told me before the game, ‘coach I’m going for 40 tonight’ and he did it.”

The stat line speaks for itself, with his 40 points, seven rebounds and six assists on 14 of 23 shooting in 40 minutes. But his aggressive approach — and even his confidence — especially with Dwyane Wade out (rest), permeated through the rest of his teammates.

“I think that’s the way I have to think,” Butler said. “If I don’t, I look at it as just being another player out there. My teammates tell me to play like that, think like that. D-Wade is still helping me through this process. It’s great to have him in my corner.”

[RELATED: Jimmy Butler's 40 points help Bulls to bounce-back win in L.A.]

His performances are becoming more commonplace as his bruising style of play makes him as effective as anyone in his position — especially as the opposing bodies keep bouncing off him and he trots to the free-throw line.

“With Dwyane out, we’re going to play through Jimmy a lot,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy did an unbelievable job of getting himself to the basket, getting to the line, making plays for his teammates.”

Pushing the Bulls to a 3-1 start on the circus trip wasn’t as critical as seeing how the Bulls would respond after Saturday’s loss, and whatever metric one chooses to measure the Bulls’ mental toughness to date, they’re passing.

Outrebounding a young and athletic team by 19. Outshooting the Lakers, 52 percent to 44. Following gameplan initiatives like keeping D’Angelo Russell from unleashing havoc with penetration and shooting and keeping valuable reserve Jordan Clarkson to a one for 12 shooting night were chief reasons why the Bulls were able to withstand runs and play well in Wade’s absence.

They couldn’t stop everybody, as Lou Williams single-handededly erased an early Bulls lead, scoring 25 and uber athletic forward Larry Nance Jr. flew over and around some of the groundbound Bulls for 18 points and six rebounds.

A five-point lead to start the fourth stretched to double digits with Butler getting a rare rest, on the back of some bench players who weren’t up to par against the Clippers, needing a game in the worst way.

Isaiah Canaan, scoring 17 with three triples. Nikola Mirotic, who started in place of Wade as Butler slid back to shooting guard, finished with 15 and 15 rebounds. To start the fourth, he ran the break for a layup, found Bobby Portis for a layup and hit a triple to put the Bulls up 102-91 with 8:45 left.

When it was suggested to Gibson the bench needed this type of performance, he quickly interjected, “Especially Niko. Especially Niko. Niko.”

Gibson and Robin Lopez often get the Bulls off on the right foot to start games, so seeing Mirotic continue the example is as fresh in his mind as any frustrated observer.

“It was great for him. I told him before the game, you’ll need your shots,” said Gibson, who scored 15 with seven rebounds. “It’s time to step up. It’s no more, you’re not a rookie anymore. It’s about being a man and being ready. It was great to see Niko being aggressive on offensive and defensive side. He doesn’t get credit but he rebounds. And he played the 3, chasing Nick Young around.”

Rondo kept Butler fed and Butler kept eating, as Butler sheepishly confirmed his pregame creed to Hoiberg, one that seems more like a proclamation rather than arrogance.

“Did he really say that? Okay, I did say that,” Butler said. “I just felt like that’s what my team was gonna need from me. For me to be aggressive, to put the ball in the basket.”

What the Bulls needed, Butler provides, night after night.

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.