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.

The Pecking Order: A Bulls Outsider's perspective on Mark Giangreco's diss

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NBC Sports Chicago

The Pecking Order: A Bulls Outsider's perspective on Mark Giangreco's diss

Bulls fans, I thought I’d change things up this time. Honestly, it’s hard to come up with new thoughts on the Bulls as they’re stuck in a rut of beating bad teams and losing to good ones.

Remember the scene in The Lion King when Mufasa gets trampled by a herd of wildebeest? And later, much like the ghost of Hamlet’s father appears to his son, Mufasa emerges from the clouds and shows himself to a now older Simba. Unlike the Ghost in Hamlet, Mufasa doesn’t return to instruct his son to seek revenge. (Although he probably should have, Scar was an a**hole. Scar is Claudius, by the way. Shakespeare essentially wrote The Lion King.) No. Mufasa returned simply to remind Simba of who he was. “You have forgotten who you are, and so forgotten me.”

I bring this up because it’s where my mind wandered after experiencing a frustrating and enlightening day in my life as an “outsider” who’s both excitedly and warily becoming more of an “insider” in the world of Chicago sports media.

Stick with me. It’s the Pecking Order.

During one of his regular appearances on the Waddle & Silvy radio show, Chicago broadcasting legend Mark Giangreco mentioned Bulls Outsiders in a less than flattering light. He questioned if NBC Sports Chicago even pays us to do the show (they do), adding that the network green-lit the show “…in lieu of hiring people with actual talent.”

The following day, after Big Dave, John and myself gave Giangreco some friendly comebacks and due respect on Outsiders, he went back on Waddle & Silvy to accept our olive branch and explain why he didn’t originally love our show.

“Just the concept pissed me off because I’m the old guard,” he said. “I’m trying to protect people who’ve been in the business for a long time.”

I completely understand why Mark was pissed. A trio of random fans were given their own show on a sports network when real broadcasting talents – his friends – who deserve jobs were out of work. In a very real way, that may come across to those dedicated to the business as obtuse and disrespectful.

But you know what? Even though I haven’t yet earned respect from Mark directly, his disrespect of me and my team pissed me off, too.

I know that as I type this, I’m nowhere close to significant in this city’s unparalleled sports media landscape. We’re a tiny blip on the radar. But just becoming the tiniest blip on that radar took six long years of hard work, often for little or no pay to without even a sliver of hope that it would lead to something real.

But I stuck with it. I kept working. And I earned my way onto Outsiders. None of it was given to me. Nor was it given to my co-hosts.

Does Mark Giangreco have the extensive comedy training and experience that John Sabine has? In any duel of sports-related humor and quick wit, my money’s on Sabine every time. Go see him perform with his sketch group at Second City, or Improv Shakespeare at iO. He slays, and he makes something very difficult look easy. That’s called talent. It’s the same talent that makes him perfect for our show. As a Chicago transplant, he also brings a true outsider’s perspective to a sports city that can sometimes swallow itself.

Does Mark Giangreco, or anyone else in the Chicago sports media world for that matter, have what Big Dave has? He’s from a family of multi-generational Chicago sports fans that’s uniquely his. The most positive person I’ve ever met, who comes to any conversation – sports or otherwise – with a smile and an appreciation for you being you, before you complain to him about whatever you think warrants complaining. When you think about the often-overpowering negativity of sports fandom, especially in today’s hateful and filter-free Twitterverse, Dave is so refreshingly original. He’s also been producing and hosting multiple podcasts about Chicago sports for years, showcasing his passion and knowledge for the subjects. That’s called talent.

When they brought the three of us together during screen tests, it clicked. We had concept, chemistry and unbridled enthusiasm. We couldn’t wait to share it with our fellow fans.

So yeah, it bugged me to hear Mark say that we didn’t deserve this show. Does he watch every minute of every Bulls game like we do? Has he been co-hosting a Bulls podcast that does five episodes a week for the past three years, including offseason months? Did his Bulls podcast get well over a million downloads last year? Or was that the work of me and my dedicated Locked On Bulls co-host Jordan Maly? Jordan’s incredible production work on that podcast landed him a job as a producer at 670 The Score. That podcast is what got NBC’s attention to bring me in for Outsiders.

We all started as fans, yes. Now we’re more than that.

Does that piss certain people off? Do younger, eager-to-work professionals getting opportunities in a rapidly changing but always competitive sports media world piss people off? Are we upsetting some pre-existing balance that required the proper broadcasting or journalism degrees to walk the one and only path to working in this in industry? Are we changing the definition of “professional” with our blogs and podcasts and Twitter threads? Is the old way of sports reporting being aggressively phased out?

The answer to all those questions is yes. But here’s the rub: change doesn’t mean forgetting the past. It just means a new way of doing things.

Outsiders is a fresh idea, but also an obvious one. Give “fans” who are also somewhat “professionals” a platform to interact with other fans and, most importantly, give fans at home the opportunity to voice their opinions in real time via social media. That’s the world we live in now. That’s what sports fans want. Connectivity.

When I was a child of the ‘90s, I watched my Bulls every night in standard definition on a 30-inch tube TV, and then watched the best 20 highlights of the day on SportsCenter hosted by Robin Roberts and Bob Ley. I’d read the newspaper columns by Sam Smith and Melissa Isaacson analyzing yesterday’s games every morning before school. Because that’s what we had.

We have access to more now. A lot more. Shouldn’t a sports fan’s desires, and the media system that feeds them those desires, change accordingly? I think it should.

But I don’t think it should erase the history of how we got here. I’ve read countless books about the evolution of sports reporting and broadcasting from the people who dedicated their lives to the craft. I watch film of broadcasters I admire and read every column of the journalists who motivate me to write. I have the utmost respect for those who laid the foundation for the complex world of sports media, and those who followed in their footsteps.

Many of the men and women I watched and read covering my favorite teams as a kid are still working today, some still here in Chicago. The storytellers. And they are my heroes. They’re a huge part of the reason I fell in love with sports. It took me a while to figure it out, but that’s what I wanted to be a part of and I couldn’t possibly have achieved any of the meager things I have thus far without the endless inspiration of their stories.

Some may be nearing the latter chapters of their storied careers finding it bitterly hard to believe how much their industry has changed in just the last few years. Just maybe, they might think about what it looked like when they first started or when they were the kids reading and watching. Typewriters in newsrooms, sports fans huddled around radios, athletes smoking cigarettes in dugouts and locker rooms. Times change. The ways change. It’s natural. But every generation creates and influences the next. The circle of life, if you will.

The changing of the media guard in a great sports city like ours has absolutely nothing derisive about it. Us younger folks are not Scars, guiltlessly throwing Mufasas into the gorge while meticulously planning our takeover of a kingdom with hyena lackeys in tow. We’re just the wildebeest stampeding through the gorge. We don’t know where we’re going, or who’s leading the charge. Some casualties may occur. Because like a stampede of wildebeest, today’s fresh faces of sports media are occasionally confused but always aggressive and eager to get somewhere. Blame us if you want to, we’re just trying to keep our momentum to not be trampled ourselves.

But perhaps more fittingly, there’s a part of us that is more Simba than wildebeest. Lost in the wilderness, lacking direction. Carelessly tweeting “Hakuna Matata” to our warthog and meerkat friends, but secretly yearning for the leadership and guidance of the all-knowing figures who explain the universe to us in a way that makes sense. Crying out to a slowly disappearing ghost, “No, please, don’t leave me!”

I’m not trying to kill Mufasa. I’m just a young wildebeest who might inadvertently trample him. Maybe I’m Simba, too. Scared as hell to take the mantle of the predecessors who created, explained and ruled the world in which I grew.

If someone takes a shot at me or my people, I’m going to stand my ground and fight for my tribe. And if somebody takes that shot from a position of ignorance, opting to learn nothing about me and my tribe before firing it, you better believe I’m throwing some salt on the ground that lies between my tribe and theirs.. But I understand that that instinct of mine is the instinct that lives within all of us: to protect what we hold dear. It’s the same instinct that caused somebody older and much more accomplished than me to say what they said. That instinct never goes away, it only grows and intensifies. The longer and harder you’ve worked for something, the farther you’re willing to go to protect it. I understand that too. And I’m not that far along compared to many.

All I can do is promise to try my best with every opportunity I’m given. I can wait to be king. I don’t even know if I want to be king. But if I ever get there, it won’t be without remembering the lessons of the sports media royalty who came before me.

If I get there, it will be because of everything they taught me, and everything they did for me, along with my own hard work. And I’ll pay it forward to those who are ready to take my place someday. I’ll try to appreciate the passion behind their hard work instead of resisting the stampeding change.

I’m sure it won’t be easy for me either. Nonetheless, the circle keeps spinning. A steady but always evolving group of storytellers for a kingdom that appreciates its rich history. That’s what we must always provide. Because that’s what Chicago sports fans deserve.

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How the Lauri Markkanen injury sets back the Bulls' season and rebuild

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USA Today

How the Lauri Markkanen injury sets back the Bulls' season and rebuild

Lauri Markkanen badly wanted to play all 82 games this season.

He stated that goal publicly at last September’s media day. He told many people privately how much it would mean to him after missing a combined 44 games over his first two seasons. It’s a big reason why he played through oblique and left ankle issues this season.

With everything else crumbling around him — the Bulls’ playoff chances, his All-Star chances — it represented a noble pursuit that could help the franchise.

That goal came crashing down with Friday’s bombshell news that Markkanen will miss four to six weeks after an MRI exam revealed an early stress reaction of his right pelvis.

This latest injury falls on top of promising rookie Daniel Gafford sitting with a dislocated right thumb, Wendell Carter Jr. still weeks away from returning after a severely sprained right ankle and Otto Porter Jr. not playing since Nov. 6 with a foot fracture.

There are so many ramifications to Markkanen’s latest setback that it’s hard to know where to begin. But this is a start: Since management plunged into a full rebuild with the June 2017 trade of Jimmy Butler, Markkanen and Zach LaVine have played just 106 of 210 games together.

Extrapolating the missed games angle further, LaVine, Carter, Porter and Markkanen have played just nine of 74 games together since the Bulls acquired Porter via trade last February.

To be clear: This is no way to judge a rebuild.

Thad Young will start at power forward in Markkanen’s absence. Forgotten man Denzel Valentine could rejoin the rotation.

But make no mistake: Even with Porter hoping to play after the All-Star break and Markkanen hopeful to return after missing 10 to 17 games, this is a massive setback. It further clouds how to judge the core pieces the Bulls counted on to return them to relevancy as soon as this season.

Players will return out of rhythm and out of sync. There is limited practice time down the stretch of the season, particularly when the Bulls’ brutal close to the schedule is considered. It may not even really matter what the Bulls do in the short-term — how the rotation shakes out, how much LaVine can still carry the offense — because this season is headed to lost cause status.

Again.

The Bulls absolutely need to still listen to any trade interest involving Young, even though his role will increase. He’s a valuable piece, added to bring leadership, durability, solid play and veteran savvy to help the current core.

But he won’t be here in three years if Markkanen and LaVine reach the ceilings the Bulls need them to for this rebuild to work.

"We take this opportunity to develop our roster," coach Jim Boylen said. "Some next man has to step up. We keep trying to play hard and play the right way. This happens in our league. It's part of the business."

Boylen wouldn't bite on long-term ramifications for the state of the rebuild. He said he wouldn't "go there" when asked if this season is another lost opportunity.

"We're building something. I want our defense to be good, I want our shot profile to be what it is — very good," Boylen said. "I want us to improve our defensive rebounding and defend without fouling. I'm not deterred one bit. I'm disappointed for him. But I'm not deterred in the least bit. As painful as it is, this is an opportunity for somebody else to establish themself. I like that part of the league.

"I'd be dishonest if I didn't say it's frustrating, for all of us. For John [Paxson], for Jerry and Michael [Reinsdorf], it's frustrating. But it's spilled milk, man. We gotta move on and make the guys we can better and hope the guys get back soon. We're not going to wallow in this. We have to move forward. And we will."

Markkanen,  whose ankle also will get a chance to heal, vowed to return stronger.

"I really wanted to play," he said. "But at the same time, I had to take a step back and think what's actually smart. I think they made a good decision. I agree it could get worse."

Markkanen was speaking about his situation, not the rebuild. We think.

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