Bulls

Raptors' Lucas still connected to Bulls

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Raptors' Lucas still connected to Bulls

TORONTOPrior to the Bulls overtime road win over Toronto, Raptors backup point guard John Lucas III held court.

A third-stringer in Canada, Lucas has fond memories of his tenure with the Bulls, during which, he had a handful of memorable moments, such as out-dueling LeBron James to propel the Bulls to a win over the Heat at the United Center last season.

But just being in Chicago and playing in that arena meant more to Lucas than even his best individual efforts.

Just the Madhouse. More than the game, just the fans and pulling up to the arena, seeing the Jordan statue. Just knowing that you played in the same arena that MJ damn near built, and coming out of the tunnel and seeing the fans. The intro music. You heard that music in 93, 94, when you were watching the game and youre out there with the jersey on, so thats my biggest memory, just being part of that, he said.

Its one of the top franchises in the league and everywhere you go in the world, you see the Bulls logo everywhere, every sports stadiumI dont care where you are in the worldand just to be a part of that was special.

Although Lucas is in a different uniform, hes still close to his former teammates, as evidenced by the warm reception he received in the visiting locker room at the Air Canada Centre after the game.

Its a different atmosphere, different city. Its all right. Im enjoying it, though.
I watch most of all their games, just because I like to see Thibs get mad for little, bitty stuff that he shouldnt really get mad about. Those are my guys. Those are like my brothers, Lucas said. Like my little brother, I stay on top of him, so I talk to them at least once a week, especially Booz.

Lucas is extremely close to Derrick Rose and has had several conversations with the injured superstar during his recovery process.

Off and on, just basically talking to him about his health is coming along, hows the rehab been going and what he thinks about coming back, just stay on top of it, make sure he comes back 100 percent and doesnt try to rush into anything, Lucas explained, before hazarding a guess at when Rose could return to the lineup. Knowing him, probably after All-Star break, though it may be the next month, March, at the end. I just want him to come back 100 percent because the game needs him, not just the Bulls, but the NBA needs him, too.

As much as Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau can be a taskmaster, especially when it comes to his notorious practice sessions, Lucas expressed his gratitude to the man who gave him his first real shot in the NBA.

Thibs believed in me. He knew what I could do and Ill forever be grateful for that because hes the one coach that took the chance and let me just play exactly how I play. It made me show the rest of the NBA that I belong in here and this is not a fluke. Its just a matter of me coming in and making it happen when my opportunity was there. I always felt like when I had that opportunity to play, I was going to do just kick the door down and I had the opportunity last year when D went, and I just wanted to come in, pick up where he left offthats a big pickupbut at least keep it above water and just come in, show everybody, Look, I can play this game. This is what Ive been born to do. This is what Ive been working hard for, he said. We wouldnt have been the No. 1 team the past two years without practices like that, so I embraced it. It doesnt matter to me. I like playing the game, I like the grind, I like going through the long hours we did because I knew it would be better for us as a team and also individually. I improved my game, everybody else improved their game and to me, this is what we get paid for, so youve got to come in, do your job. Were not going to a nine-to-five. Youve only got to come in for games and practices, so why not give everything youve got while youre in here? People every day bust themselves every day from nine to five to make it happen, so weve got one of the best jobs in the world, in my opinion, so why not go in, and if its for an hour-and-a-half, two hours, just give it everything youve got? Youve got the rest of the day to whatever you want to do, so it didnt bother me at all. I actually enjoyed it.

Everyones new, basically, on the team, bench-wise. Those guys come in, learn their new system. Theyve been under another system for so many years or theyve been on this team, that team, so theyve got too many systems that they know. So, they really dont know exactly what their roles are. One thing about Thibs, you know your role, you know exactly what youre supposed to do and everything is just routine. You just constantly go over the same thing until its like second nature, until its like you never forget. To this day, I was watching the film, I knew every play that was happening, when it was happening for them because just in practice, we went over the same plays over and over again, so as soon as I saw the monitor, I was like, Oh, thats this. This is whats going to happen next. You ever see the movie Semi-Pro?thats how Thibs is. Hes just constantly putting it in your mind, putting it in your brain, to where it becomes second nature, Lucas continued, showing how much he still keeps up with the Bulls, later noting, They got smacked! You sure they were at that game? when referencing Atlantas historic loss Monday night to the Bulls. Even though we complained, game time comes and we knew exactly where to be and when to be there. Thats the whole point. Its boring, but usually stuff thats boring is always effective. Thibs knows what hes doing. Hes one of the top coaches in the league and hes been proving that for years, even as an assistant. But now, hes a head coach. Hes paving the way to be one of the top coaches in the NBA.

In his new residence, Toronto, Lucas is appreciated by Raptors head coach Dwane Casey for his leadership, even if that hasnt translated into consistent playing time yet.

Ive said from Day 1 how much I love John Lucas and hes done a heck of a job. He had a great exhibition. He did a really good job of shooting the ball, hit a little slump offensively, probably because of playing time being up and down a little bit, but the guy knows the game, Casey said before the game. I think hell be a great coach whenever he gets ready to retire from basketballI think its in his DNAbut totally positive. I talk to him all the time, letting him know how important he is to our team, the character of our team, the fiber of our team. But he can be on my team, any team, any time of the day.

For the first time in his professional career, Lucas is armed with some security, as a result of his two-year, guaranteed deal, but he still speaks with a tinge of regret when discussing his departure from Chicago.

Ive never been put in that type of position. I just wanted to play ball, but also turning 29, I had to make a decision financially and set myself up for the rest of my life, and thats really what it boiled down to, he said. I didnt want to leave, but everybody makes decisions. They went in a different direction and I went in a different direction.

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.