Bulls

Youth impresses, Jimmy Butler closes in Bulls win over Pelicans

Youth impresses, Jimmy Butler closes in Bulls win over Pelicans

NEW ORLEANS — Evaluation time.

With nothing to play for except lottery position, the Bulls have found themselves in unfamiliar territory with two games remaining, meaning the roles have reserved among the personnel.

The proven players take seats, and the young guys take center stage — except for Jimmy Butler, who was determined to be on the floor for the Bulls’ 121-116 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday night at the Smoothie King Center.

Pau Gasol sat, as the probability that he’s played his final game for the Bulls is a real option, along with Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and E’Twaun Moore. It meant more of a look for Cristiano Felicio and first-round pick Bobby Portis to get extended time without looking over their shoulders, and they played with usual intensity.

It wasn’t much in the way of entertainment value, considering the Bulls were without prime players and the Pelicans have been riddled by injuries all season, but seeing Felicio and Portis wrestle with veterans Kendrick Perkins and former Bull Omer Asik was compelling enough to produce honest assessments.

Portis scored 13 with eight rebounds, while Felicio was again efficient around the rim, scoring 16 with six rebounds on 6-for-8 shooting.

“He’s still very early in the process and the sample size is still very small, but for everything that he’s shown out there that he can do it fits the way we want to play,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said of Felicio when asked if the rookie could be a starter next season.

“He’s got the mobility and the athleticism to affect the game in a lot of ways. So we’re excited to have him back next year with another year under his contract, and we’ll see what happens. But I absolutely think Cris can be a long-term guy for the franchise."

Butler, the closest thing the franchise has to a long-term option, didn’t want to sit and essentially refused to stay on the bench with the vets, seizing an opportunity to play point guard like he boldly stated in the offseason.

After dishing out 11 assists through three quarters, he returned with six minutes remaining and many wondering why he or Hoiberg would put him in that situation given the stakes and his health.

Pouring in 12 fourth-quarter points to finish with 23 on 8-for-11 shooting, he felt it was his obligation to give the fans what they wanted — and the competitor in him perhaps wanted the challenge of finishing a game out.

“I tried to keep Jimmy under 30 minutes tonight,” Hoiberg said. “It says a lot. It says he wants to be the leader of this team. He was getting guys the ball, leading us to the finish line.

“He’s shown me a lot, shown his teammates a lot. He can get good looks for himself and his teammates. We run a lot of pick and roll (with him). Jimmy does a good job with that, he was making the right play all night long.”

Hoiberg almost didn’t put Butler back in the game at the midpoint mark of the fourth, but Butler’s stares down the sideline forced Hoiberg to playfully admit, “I caved, I caved.”

Butler scored nine straight to help the Bulls pull away, after helping Justin Holiday (14 points) and Nikola Mirotic (20 points) go off early. The Bulls shot a season-high 57 percent from the field.

Somewhat defiant about his reasoning to play with the stakes being meaningless, Butler laid out his case.

“I don’t ever want anybody to think I’m quitting on my team. I’m not,” Butler said. “I’m not saying Pau or Derrick is, either. That’s not what I’m saying. I love this game, I’m fortunate to play every day. If I can go out there and compete, that’s what I’m gonna do.”

When it comes to playing point guard, Butler knows the look might not be as smooth but he can be effective, as Monday was his fifth game with 10 assists or more.

“I know what I’m capable of,” Butler said. “It’s what I tell coach, what I tell Aaron (Brooks) when he jokes with me: I may not be the best shooter or passer, but I can pass the ball to the open man and I can get to where I need to on the floor.”

And being able to finish the game with some of the young players, he hopes will set some kind of example going forward.

“It’s very important. I was in that position in one point in time in my career, not too long ago,” Butler said. “I know what it feels like to want to get reps with guys who play more than you. When they see me out there competing, fighting with them, they’re always gonna give me everything they have on the floor. I want them to continue to compete, continue playing hard.”

All of our 2019 NBA Draft content in one convenient location

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USA TODAY

All of our 2019 NBA Draft content in one convenient location

Here's all our NBA Draft coverage to get you ready for Thursday night's main event.

Analysis

Every move the Bulls make should be geared toward 2021

Forget needs: The Bulls need to draft the best player on Thursday

How the Bulls can land a max free agent this summer

Versatile Coby White makes one thing clear at Combine: 'I'm a point guard'

Bulls not a part of Anthony Davis trade but it could affect draft night

The statistical need that top NBA Draft prospects would fill for the Bulls

Cam Reddish out to prove doubters, show he's the total package

Jarrett Culver checks all the boxes as a perfect two-way wing in today's NBA

Could Rui Hachimura be an option if the Bulls trade down?

A history of the Bulls trading up and down in the NBA Draft

Here's what it would cost for the Bulls to trade up

Draft Profiles

Why Cam Reddish should be an option at No. 7

What the Bulls would get in Virginia's De'Andre Hunter

If Bulls draft for need, here's what Darius Garland or Coby White would bring

If the Bulls draft Texas center Jaxson Hayes, here's what they'd get

USC's Kevin Porter Jr. could be the steal of the draft

Why Jarrett Culver should be an option at No. 7

NBA Mock Drafts

Expect lots of movement on draft night

How does the Anthony Davis trade affect the draft?

If the Bulls trade back with the Hawks, who might they target?

Mailbags

Trade talks heating up surrounding the Bulls

Best fits for the Bulls rebuild in the draft, free agency

Heading into a crucial offseason, where will the Bulls look for help?

News

Report: Bulls looking to trade up for Vanderbilt PG Darius Garland

Report: Bulls interested in Celtics forward Marcus Morris

Patrick Beverley is a fan of Bulls assistant Roy Rogers

Cam Reddish will miss 6 weeks after undergoing core muscle surgery

Assistant coach hires could hint at philosophy shift for Bulls offense

Here's who experts around the league have the Bulls drafting at No. 7

John Paxson confident Bulls will find a player that fits the rebuild

Podcasts

Reaction to Anthony Davis trade and impact on Bulls' draft strategy

K.C. Johnson joins to talk latest Bulls offseason rumors

Ricky O'Donnell on the Bulls' chances of landing a star at No. 7

Could the Bucks go after Malcolm Brogdon in free agency?

Would the Bulls consider trading for Mike Conley?

John Paxson confident in where the Bulls' rebuild is headed

Will Cam Reddish find his place in the NBA or be a bust?

Sarah Kustok joins to talk Lottery, draft, free agency and more

Catching up at the Combine with Vinnie Goodwill

Options at 38

Will high-flying Luguentz Dort be on the board when the Bulls pick at 38?

Admiral Schofield could be an option for Bulls

Why the Bulls should take Missouri center Jontay Porter at 38

Why the Bulls should take Kansas' Dedric Lawson at 38

Ryan Hollins says Golden State Warriors would "run laps" around the '96 Bulls

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Ryan Hollins says Golden State Warriors would "run laps" around the '96 Bulls

Former NBA journeyman Ryan Hollins made waves on Tuesday, stating that Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan couldn’t “fill LeBron’s shoes”. Hollins argues that LeBron James cemented himself as the greatest player of all-time with his impact on multiple franchises and his knocking off of the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals. 

Hollins doubled down on his argument, saying that the Golden State Warriors would “run laps around that Bulls team”. Shaquille O’Neal brings up the valuable point that whichever team has the upper hand would depend a lot on what rules they played on, the more physical 1990s rules or the more finesses-based and offensive-oriented current rule set. Hollins believes that the Warriors would defeat the 90s Bulls regardless of what rules they played under, and O’Neal simply could not believe it.

“Whoever’s paying him to say all this stuff, I will pay you double to stop it,” said a bewildered Shaq. He knows a thing or two about playing against the 90s Bulls, as he was a key member of the Orlando Magic team that knocked off MJ’s Bulls in six games in the 1994-95 Eastern Conference Semifinals.

With All-NBA level talent Anthony Davis now headed to LeBron’s team, we could be seeing James back in the NBA title picture sooner than later. A return to the NBA Finals stage would add even more layers to the already complex, never-ending back-and-forth over who the true GOAT is in NBA history.