Bulls

Playing with the enemy: Chicago athletes who teamed up with rivals

Playing with the enemy: Chicago athletes who teamed up with rivals

Chicago's chosen son may soon play with the enemy. 

According to reports on Thursday, Derrick Rose is in talks to join LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on a one-year deal. 

That is indeed hard to imagine, considering the former MVP has spent years battling James for supremacy in the Eastern Conference. But leaving the Windy City to join a rival team isn't a new concept. 

In fact, a few Chicago superstar athletes have done it before: 

-- Chris Chelios, Blackhawks to Red Wings

One of the best defenseman in hockey, Chelios was traded to the Detroit Red Wings after nine productive seasons in Chicago. He hoisted a Stanley Cup not long after and finished his 10-year Red Wings career with 152 points and a plus-158. 

-- Julius Peppers, Bears to Packers

After becoming a cap casualty with the Bears, Peppers chose greener pastures in Wisconsin. The defensive end signed with the Green Bay Packers, where he's tallied 25 sacks in three seasons. 

-- Dexter Fowler, Cubs to Cardinals

Well, at least he won a ring here. Fowler's surprise return to the North Side in 2016 helped boost the Cubs to their first World Series trophy in 108 years, but after winning, the center fielder rightly opted for the money. He signed a five-year, $82.5 million deal in St. Louis last offseason. 

Watch the video above as Siera Santos and Kelly Crull relive the heartbreak. 

What to watch for when Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat take on the Bulls

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USA TODAY

What to watch for when Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat take on the Bulls

Friday night, Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat (10-3) visit the United Center to take on the Bulls (5-10). The game tips off at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here's what to watch for:

Not your mother’s Miami Heat

The Heat’s torrid 10-3 start to the season has caught much of the NBA cognoscenti by surprise — not necessarily because of their general performance, but because of a number of new  names helping lead the charge. 

Chief among that group are rookie guard Kendrick Nunn and second-year forward Duncan Robinson. Each of them have carved out spots in the team’s current starting lineup, and their play has been critical with both Jimmy Butler and Justise Winslow missing stretches early on (Winslow, along with Derrick Jones Jr., didn’t travel with the team for tonight’s game or their game in Philadelphia on Saturday). 

Nunn hit a blip at the beginning of November after a scorching hot October, but is averaging 19 points, 5.3 assists and 1.5 steals on 53.4% shooting (43.5% 3-point shooting) in his last five games. He’s a certified pest, defensively, too. Robinson, for his part, is coming off the game of his life, in which he stroked nine three pointers (seven in the second quarter) in a blowout win over Cleveland:

 

Of course, the heralded guys are performing, as well. Since returning to the team, Butler is doing Butler things — leading the team in usage, scoring and assists, while also ranking top two in the league in steals (2.7, 1st) and deflections (3.9, 2nd) per game. Goran Dragic, who’s been supplanted by Nunn, has adapted nicely to a bench role and Bam Adebayo is fast becoming one of the more dynamic two-way bigs in the league.

Offensively, the Heat are a team predicated on quick and consistent ball movement — they’re ninth in the league in passes made per game and second in assist rate. That kind of philosophy can result in turnovers, and the Heat are dead last in the NBA in that category, both in turnover rate and turnovers per game. If the Bulls’ rotations are sound, that’s an area they can capitalize in

Still, Miami is a well-coached and well-rounded squad that plays every game like it’s their last. A Bulls upset won’t come easy.

A tough defensive matchup

Miami enters the game the third-rated defense in the league, buoyed by a robust rotation of pesky on-ball defenders and the switchable, high-leaping Adebayo in the middle. They’re a tremendous defensive rebounding group, force the second most turnovers per game (trailing only the Bulls) in the NBA and don’t allow many looks around the rim — a place where the Bulls shoot frequently and inefficiently.

Where the Heat have gotten somewhat fortunate is defending the three-point line. Miami is alone at the top of the league in opponent three-point percentage (30.1%), but opponents are shooting only 33.5% on ‘wide-open’ attempts against them (as defined by NBA.com as shots without a defender within six feet of the shooter). The Bulls allow the same percentage on ‘wide-open’ three-pointers, well below the league average of 37.8%.

If the Bulls can catch fire from behind the arc, as they did against Detroit (14-for-27 from deep), it could be an area they can close the gap. And in that vein, after struggling mightily on the glass at the outset of the season, the Bulls rank fifth in the NBA in rebounding rate (52.5%) in their last five games — two of which were against formidable frontcourts in Milwaukee and Detroit. The Heat excel in that area, so it’s worth monitoring if the Bulls can keep that momentum rolling.

Bulls get (another) shot at a good team

The Bulls enter this contest 0-6 against teams with winning records this season. They were 7-40 in that department in 2018-19 and 9-41 the year before. That’s a combined 16-87 record against better-than-.500 teams in the last three years. Yikes.

Tonight, they get a chance to begin flipping that script. Blowing out dismal Detroit is encouraging, but conversations about a real corner being turned should be suspended until the Bulls start at least competing against the league’s best.

Jimmy Butler returns for the third time, with a third team

Since being traded from the Bulls in June 2017, Jimmy Butler has returned to the United Center as a visitor twice, once with the Timberwolves and once with the 76ers. Both of those games resulted in one-point Bulls wins.

In Miami, it seems he’s found a home. But Chicago still holds a special place in his heart.

“It’s always special to play here. This is where I started,” Butler said of returning to Chicago. “I was fortunate to be able to play in front of these wonderful fans in this great city and obviously all the history that went on here with the players that I was able to play with… I’ll always have love for this city. That will never change.”

Chicago fans will appreciate that sentiment, but certainly wouldn’t mind if tonight’s matchup goes similarly to Butler’s last two return trips. 

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A happy, content, competitive Jimmy Butler is part of 'Heat culture' now

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USA Today

A happy, content, competitive Jimmy Butler is part of 'Heat culture' now

Jimmy Butler never wanted to leave the Bulls, who began their ongoing rebuild by trading him in June 2017.

He’s now three teams removed from that day and, this offseason, had his choice of where he wanted to go after trades to the Timberwolves and 76ers.

Butler chose the Heat.

“He always makes it a point about how the Bulls didn’t like us. One of our first conversations, I was like, ‘You underestimated how much we disliked you as a team,’” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Friday at the United Center. “I’m dead serious. We didn’t like them. They didn’t like us. That’s what you want in a playoff series, borne out of respect and high-level competition with type-A personalities going after each other.

“When you go through a couple series like that, you gain deep respect for what’s on the other side. When we were finally able to sign Luol Deng, that was something that grew out of respect.”

There’s a saying about 'Heat culture' that has existed since the days of the Pat Riley-coached teams centered around Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway that battled the dynasty-era Bulls. The rivalry intensified when Butler, Deng and company battled Spoelstra’s Big Three of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

And you don’t need to see the Heat’s 10-3 record to know that culture fits Butler like a glove.

“It’s our whole organization. Everybody is around the work every day. Everybody is putting their time in,” Butler said Friday. “It just makes me smile because that’s what I do. I don’t got too much to say. It makes it fun because when you put in that much work, you’re not doing it for no reason. You’re doing it because you want to win.”

Butler, now in his ninth season, has been around long enough to know every season presents challenges and adversity at some point. Unsurprisingly, Butler raised that almost certain likelihood in unsolicited fashion.

“Everything is phenomenal now. Like I tell everybody, I’m happy, man. We’re winning. We’re competing at a high level. Organization is great — people around it, teammates,” Butler said. “I want to see what happens whenever it’s not going so well for us. I don’t want to lose two in a row or three in a row; don’t get me wrong. But whenever it isn’t the way that we want it to be, how are we going to respond? That’s going to be a test for myself and everybody else here.”

Given that Butler is this team’s unquestioned alpha dog and shares the same serious-minded competitiveness that Spoelstra does, you have to like the Heat’s chances to persevere. Butler joined an organization that, top to bottom, shares the same values as him.

“He has helped us win. We’ve been looking for a guy like this for awhile,” Spoelstra said. “He’s a competitive, two-way player. And he just knows how to impact winning.

“He’s a throwback player almost, just in terms of not caring about what his individual statistics are. He’ll impose his will when he needs to. If we need a 35-point game like we did in Phoenix, he’ll do that. But he’s distributing the ball. He’s playing effectively point guard for us in a role that I’ve had Dwyane and LeBron in before. He has gobbled all that up and really helped our young guys gain a lot of confidence.

“He has a tremendous work ethic. And I think he relates to the guys who can go toe-to-toe with him as far as work ethic and competitiveness.”

Spoelstra said Butler’s talent and competitiveness remind him of Wade, and the fact that his competitiveness doesn’t have an off-switch recalls Wade, Mourning and Udonis Haslem.

In other words, Butler is 'Heat culture' now.

“That’s why we say we try to get like-minded people who share your values and standards. He does,” Spoelstra said. “We speak the same language.”

Butler’s strong friendship with Wade began when both played for the Bulls. But even Butler called Wade a “Heat lifer.” And given that Butler is in the first of a four-year, $142 million deal with the Heat, he has the makings of forming a long-term relationship with the franchise he once disliked — but respected — as well.

“I got to do what’s best for me, my family and my people. I got to do what made me happy,” Butler said of choosing the Heat. “And, like I tell everybody, I’m happy. This place fits for me.”

Butler is 0-2 at the United Center as a visiting player, losing each game by one point. One came with the Timberwolves and one with the 76ers.

Other than saying he loves the Bulls’ ownership, which he called “incredible,” he said he doesn’t much follow the franchise’s fortunes anymore. He did notice how the Bulls on Wednesday honored Deng, whom Butler always credited as a mentor.

“I wish I could’ve been here as well. Lu taught me so much about the game and being a pro. I was very fortunate to be able to learn from him. He’s just an incredible, incredible human being,” Butler said. “I’m glad he got to go out here and they honored him here. He did a lot for this organization and obviously did a lot for me. In this organization, I was able to be around so many good people, him being at the top of the list.

“It’s always special to play here. This is where I started. This is when I was a kid at the age of 21. And I was fortunate to be able to play in front of these wonderful fans in this great city and obviously all the history that went on here with the players that I was able to play with. This is always home. I still have places here. I’m here throughout the summer all the time. I’ll always have love for this city. That will never change.”

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