Kidd: Bucks 'learning how to win' as rivalry with Bulls blossoms


Kidd: Bucks 'learning how to win' as rivalry with Bulls blossoms

When the Milwaukee Bucks met the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs nearly six months ago, the teams had different expectations.

The Bulls, seemingly playing for their coach's future, touted a league MVP, a two-time NBA champion, a Defensive Player of the Year and the reigning Most Improved Player. Championship aspirations were real, with yet another postseason clash with LeBron James looming following the first round.

The Bucks, whose top four leading scorers were 23 or younger and hadn't appeared in a postseason game, won a franchise-worst 15 games the previous year. First-year Bucks head coach Jason Kidd and his team said all the right things in the lead-up to the series, that they were there to win and not just gain a valuable learning experience for down the road.

Yet despite eventually taking what became a chippy series to a surprising six games, Milwaukee was never a true threat to end the Tom Thibodeau Era, which James did two weeks later.

The 2015-16 season might tell a different story.

[MORE BULLS: Bulls launch 39 triples, open Hoiberg Era with preseason win over Bucks]

The Bucks are no longer underdogs. They're no longer the NBA's biggest surprise. No one will miss the Bucks coming like they did a year ago when Milwaukee became the ninth team in NBA history to make a one-year jump from owning the league's worst record to securing a postseason berth.

"For us, we’re still in the process of learning how to win and what it means to play hard every night," Kidd said. "(The Bulls) have done that for some time now. They’ve had MVPs, they’ve gotten to big games in playoffs. So for us, we want to hopefully get to that level here in the next few years."

That process began with the team's first non-losing season in five seasons, and it hastened when the young Bucks didn't back down in the playoffs and won a pair of games, including one in Chicago, in what might have been the start of a budding rivalry in the Central Division. That six-game series included 14 technical fouls, four flagrant fouls and a pair of ejections.

Tuesday night's preseason opener between the two teams didn't feature any rough play — Paul Pierce's absence helped — but the meeting didn't lack for intensity. Free-agency winners Khris Middleton (five years, $70 million) and Jimmy Butler (five years, $95 million) traded jabs midway through the second quarter, with Middleton dunking over Butler in transition and staring down the Bulls' guard. Butler responded with an isolation move past Middleton that resulted in a three-point play. Butler scored 23 points in 25 minutes; Middleton had 10.

The Bucks' other offseason score also made his presence felt. The biggest indicator of Milwaukee's growth as a franchise might have been prized free agent Greg Monroe signing a four-year max deal with the Bucks over the likes of New York, Los Angeles and Portland. Monroe's inside scoring will prove crucial to a Bucks team that averaged fewer than 98 points per game last season, and he looked fresh scoring six points in 17 minutes Tuesday night.

"It just shows that maybe we’re doing something right," Kidd said of Monroe choosing Milwaukee. "As much as sometimes it used to be about the city, (now) it’s about winning."

[MORE BULLS: Bulls staff visited Derrick Rose, Hoiberg said he's 'in great spirits']

Still, for a franchise being built around young talent blossoming, the cream of the crop in the Cream City is yet to be unwrapped. Chicago native Jabari Parker didn't play in Milwaukee's preseason opener, still a couple weeks away from game action after recovering fully from ACL surgery in January. When he does take the floor, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2014 draft will give Kidd another scorer and versatile forward at his disposal.

Parker practiced with the team in full last week and did "everything in training camp," so his return to the Bucks should come sooner than later.

"We want to make sure that when it is time for him to come back it’s not where he’s in and out, and he’s back for the long haul. So again, no rush," Kidd said. "He hasn’t had any setbacks, he’s competing at a high level. You see why he was the No. 2 pick. So we’re excited to have him back."

Excited. It seems to be a word thrown around in Milwaukee these days. Between 20-year-old sensation Giannis Antetokounmpo, who threw down an acrobatic dunk from nearly behind the backboard in the second quarter, rookie Rashad Vaughn (20 points on Tuesday) and John Henson, who signed a $44 million extension last week, the pieces are beginning to come together for the Bucks.

Suddenly the Central Division is no longer just a two-team race between the Bulls and Cavaliers. As they learn to win through the victories they'll now be expected to win this season, those expectations will only heighten. But with a surplus of young talent now holding valuable playoff experience gained through last year's playoff series with the Bulls, Kidd's group will embrace the new expectations they have for themselves.

Kris Dunn to miss 4 to 6 weeks with MCL sprain

Kris Dunn to miss 4 to 6 weeks with MCL sprain

The hits keep coming for the Bulls, and after the latest one it might be time to fire up the 2019 mock drafts.

Fred Hoiberg revealed Tuesday before practice that point guard Kris Dunn suffered a moderate sprain of his left MCL in Monday’s loss to the Mavericks and will miss the next 4 to 6 weeks.

“To have him out of the lineup for an extended period, it’s extremely difficult,” Hoiberg said. “When you have a guy who is out there and really made strides over the course of last season and the summer he had and the way he played during training camp, it’s difficult to miss him.”

It’s yet another freak injury for Dunn, who suffered the injury midway through the second quarter while landing after a layup over DeAndre Jordan. Last year Dunn suffered a dislocated finger in the preseason and then suffered a concussion that cost him 11 games. A toe injury then ended his season as the tanking Bulls shut him down for the final 14 games.

But Dunn was expected to play a significant role in Year 2 of the Bulls’ rebuild. As well as leading the team in assists and being the most sure-handed closer, Dunn’s defensive prowess was going to help a Bulls team that finished 29th in efficiency and lost David Nwaba, perhaps their second best defender, in the offseason.

Even prior to Dunn’s injury the Bulls had been addressing the position behind him, claiming Tyler Ulis off waivers on Oct. 14 and signing Shaq Harrison on Sunday. They opted to keep Ryan Arcidiacono on the final roster and will now rely on some combination of those three behind Cam Payne, who tied a career high with 17 points on Saturday against the Pistons.

That’s why Dunn’s injury could affect the team more than Lauri Markkanen’s or Denzel Valentine’s. The Bulls were able to cover up Markkanen’s absence with Bobby Portis and free agent acquisition Jabari Parker, while they invested a first-round pick in wing Chandler Hutchison and guaranteed Antonio Blakeney’s contract over the summer.

There’s quantity on the Bulls’ depth chart behind Dunn, but quality is another story.

“Cam had his best game of maybe his career a couple games ago against Detroit,” Hoiberg said. “He has some things he can build on. The biggest thing at that position is you have to get us organized at both ends of the floor. That’s where Kris had taken a big step in the right direction with that. Arcidiacono is one of the better communicators and hardest-playing guys on our team. We’ve got guys who have some starting experience. It’s big shoes to fill. But I’m confident our guys will give great effort.”

It could mean more ball-handling responsibilities for Zach LaVine, who has been a terror in pick-and-roll sets three games into the season. Though he’s only averaged 2.7 assists, the Bulls offense has been humming, with his 32.3 points per game leading the way. Using LaVine as a primary ball handler could allow Hoiberg to run a point guard-less offense and mix and match the other backcourt position.

They’ll have to do it on the fly. The group of point guards the Bulls will face in the next 11 days include Kemba Walker (Charlotte) twice, Trae Young (Atlanta), Steph Curry (Golden State), Jamal Murray (Denver), Darren Collison (Indiana) and James Harden (Houston). It could get a lot worse for the Bulls before it gets any better, and with Markkanen, Valentine and now Dunn on the mend. 

For those looking into such things three games into the season, the Bulls are currently tied with the Thunder, Cavaliers and Lakers for the worst record in the league. The NBA changed its Lottery rules for this upcoming season, with the three worst teams in the league all sharing the same odds at receiving the top pick in the draft.

We've officially found the biggest Michael Jordan fan ever

We've officially found the biggest Michael Jordan fan ever

There are diehard Michael Jordan fans.

And then there's this guy.

Forget anybody getting a tattoo of their favorite team's championship trophy. Forget the people who wait for hours in terrible weather just to catch a glimpse of their favorite player.

This dude has a constant, 24/7 reminder of "His Airness":

Yep, that is a full tattoo of a Jordan "23" jersey on his back, complete with a Michael Jordan "autograph" in the middle of the "2." 

Dedication at its finest.

Couple questions: 

A) Does it carry over to the front at all? And if not, is that a plan for the future?

2) Will one of his buddies get a "45" Jordan jersey tattoo or are we just gonna continue to pretend that era never happened?

D) What will that tat look like in a few years? That guy better stay away from the Doritos...