Rajon Rondo

Former Bulls in the playoffs: Dwyane Wade turns back the clock in Philly

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Former Bulls in the playoffs: Dwyane Wade turns back the clock in Philly

The NBA Playoffs are just three days old and yet there's a contingent of former Bulls who are alreayd leaving their mark on the postseason.

As the first in a series, we won't roll these out every day, but any time one of the dozen or so former Bulls in the postseason has a big night, we'll let you know right here.

Dwyane Wade, Heat: Flash turned back the clock in Miami's Game 2 victory in Philadelphia, scoring 28 points on 11 of 16 shooting in a 113-103 victory. Wade scored 21 points in the first half and made nine of his first 10 attempts, and he closed out the Sixers with an 18-footer to give the Heat an eight-point lead inside a minute to play. It was Wade's first 20+ point game since March 6, and the 28 points were the most he had scored since he scored 31 against the Kings last season with the Bulls. Miami won't necessarily need Wade to go off like that again to win the series, but it sure helped Monday night.

James Johnson, Heat: Not to be outdone by Wade, former first-round pick James Johnson was equally as good. In addition to being tasked with guarding Ben Simmons, Johnson finished with 18 points on a perfect 7-for-7 shooting night, sive rebounds, five assists and three steals. He's made all four 3-point attempts in the series, and the Sixers haven't had much of an answer for him as they focus their attention on players like Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson and now Wade. He could become the series' X-factor.

Nikola Mirotic, Pelicans: We're a few days late on this one, but Mirotic continued his red-hot April with a solid showing in Game 1 against the Blazers. He double-doubled with 16 points and 11 rebounds, and also added four blocked shots in the road win. Mirotic hadn't blocked four shots in a game since late February, and the double-double was his fourth in his last five games. He's peaked at the exact right time for New Orleans.

Rajon Rondo, Pelicans: Playoff Rondo! Bulls fans remember this version of last year's starting point guard, as he went off for 17 assists and just two turnovers in New Orleans' Game 1 win. He added six points and eight rebounds, but the dimes were the key. He also helped limit Damian Lillard to 18 points on 23 shots. We'd say this is surprising, but after what he did to the Celtics in Boston last year we're really not shocked. The four-headed monster of Davis/Holiday/Mirotic/Rondo could really make noise in the playoffs.

Derrick Rose, Timberwolves: The TimberBulls needed a spark in Game 1 against the Rockets and got it in Rose, who scored 16 points off the bench and added four assists in 24 minutes. His defense on James Harden - and the Rockets as a whole - left plenty to be desired, but it was an inspired performance for Rose, who is back in the postseason.

Jimmy Butler, Timberwolves: He's clearly not 100 percent, as Butler's 13-point performance showed in Game 1. The Timberwolves really don't have much shot at knocking off the top-seeded Rockets, and that's if they were entirely healthy. Butler isn't, but he'll still have an impact on this series at some point.

Marco Belinelli, Sixers: Famous in Bulls postseason history for his, erm, Big Marbles dance in Game 7 against the Nets, Belinelli is showing the postseason gene again with the Sixers. He scored 25 points on 9 of 17 shooting in a Game 1 win over Miami and was solid in the Game 2 loss, scoring 16 points. He's proven to be a critical piece on the second unit for a Sixers offense that can't stop scoring.

E'Twaun Moore, Pelicans: He's been great all year for the Pelicans, but Moore was quiet in Game 1, scoring four points in 27 minutes.

Pau Gasol, Spurs: Gasol really has no value in this series against the Warriors. In two losses he's totalled 18 points and six rebounds in 36 minutes.

Tony Snell, Bucks: The Snelly Cat was nowhere to be found in Game 1 against the Celtics, as he scored two points and grabbed three rebounds in 33 minutes. Clearly they need him to be better moving forward.

Taj Gibson, Timberwolves: Tom Thibodeau is going to rely on Gibson for big minutes. He scored nine points and hauled in six rebounds in 32 minutes in a Game 1 loss.

Kyle Kover, Cavaliers: Expect bigger things from the former Bench Mob member, who played just four minutes and missed all three shots in a Game 1 loss.

Jamal Crawford, Timberwolves: Death, taxes, Jamal Crawford getting buckets. Crawford scored 15 points off the bench in 26 minutes for the Timberwolves in Game 1. Yes, you millenials reading this: Jamal Crawford played for the Bulls from 2000 to 2004. Fred Hoiberg was his teammate.

We won't consider any "Bulls" who were drafted by the team but never played any minutes. So, no Jordan Bell, Jose Calderon, J.R. Smith, LaMarcus Aldridge. Also, we're leaving out Aaron Brooks because he doesn't play. Sorry, Aaron.

Dwyane Wade's strong words last season were necessary for young Bulls, who hold no hard feelings

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Dwyane Wade's strong words last season were necessary for young Bulls, who hold no hard feelings

A frustrated Dwyane Wade had seen enough after a regular season loss to Atlanta in January and questioned his team’s commitment to winning, jumpstarting a few uncomfortable days on Madison Street.

Feelings were hurt after Wade and Jimmy Butler went scorched earth, followed by Rajon Rondo’s Instagram post questioning their leadership in return.

It seems like so long ago considering the direction the Bulls have gone since, but the players insist there’s no hard feelings toward Wade, as the Bulls will see Wade in a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey tomorrow night in Cleveland for the first time since his buyout two weeks ago.

“We never had any conflict with Dwyane. Just after that game, they had some tough declaration, Jimmy and D-Wade,” said Nikola Mirotic, a player who one could argue was a target of Wade’s ire that night. “But that was all. It’s a part of the game. They were hot. There was disappointment about the game.”

The players were fined by the Bulls for making their feelings public, but it pulled behind a necessary curtain and revealed some warts the franchise tried to conceal—even though it was clear for all the observers to see Wade and Butler’s urgency didn’t mesh as well with an underdeveloped and inexperienced group, along with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg trying to corral differing factions.

“It forced everyone to get in a room and be honest with each other,” Hoiberg said. “Really, it got us in my opinion playing better. It happened, it got us in that room for a long session, we hashed a lot of things out, and we were better because of it.”

Hoiberg’s leadership was questioned for the second time in two seasons as head coach, especially having to coach a player in Wade who still desperately wanted to be in a contending situation.

It took a while, especially after the Bulls traded veteran Taj Gibson to Oklahoma City in what amounted to a salary dump, but they rebounded and could have advanced to the second round if not for Rondo’s wrist injury in Boston.

But then again, the Bulls made their decision to change direction after the season so perhaps the fireworks were more for entertainment than true long-term effect.

“Sometimes those things have to happen,” Hoiberg said. “I talked to a couple of coaches about it that said, at least your guys are in there talking about it. Our guys won't say anything to each other. Maybe it needed to happen, and again, I thought we were better because of it and finished the season playing our best basketball of the year.”

Wade, up until 24 hours before media day, was still a member of the Bulls and whatever feelings from that evening in January had long dissipated. After he and the Bulls reached an agreement on a buyout, he sent young players like Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis text messages of encouragement.

Portis chalked the incident up to things that happen during the course of a basketball season.

“I don’t feel like we had a problem with him,” Portis said. “We just had a little mishap during the season last year. I feel like all the teams have a little trouble during the season, but ours was boosted a little more. But we don’t have any problems with him.

“He was a great leader for us. He came in every day, came into work. When I came in at nighttime, I’d see him here at nighttime, he and Jimmy, so I feel like he was a great leader. He showed us hard work and things like that, especially in the playoffs. He even revved it up even more, and when our team gets back to playoff mode that’s something I will take from him and it will help some of the other guys.”

Why you should pay attention to Bulls preseason

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Why you should pay attention to Bulls preseason

1. Who’s on point? The battle for the starting point guard position is a two-man race between Kris Dunn and Jerian Grant. And, let’s be honest, the odds are heavily stacked in Dunn’s favor. After all, the Bulls tried to acquire a high lottery pick to draft him in 2016, then made the draft night deal with Minnesota to acquire him in June. Dunn is working hard to fix his shot after a lost season under Tom Thibodeau in Minneapolis, and the Bulls are intrigued by his length, athleticism and defensive skills. If Dunn can do a good job of directing the offense and making impact plays on the defensive end, he’ll be the starter on opening night. Grant showed flashes of being a reliable 3-point shooter last season, and probably brings the most value as a scoring guard with the second unit.

2. Three candidates for the 4 spot. With rookie Lauri Markkanen sidelined for the first two preseason games because of back spasms, it will be interesting to watch Bobby Portis and Niko Mirotic try to get a leg up in the competition for the starting power forward spot. Coaches have raved about Portis’ tremendous work ethic this summer, and the third-year pro out of Arkansas is starting to emerge as a leader on this young team. Portis improved his shooting range a year ago, and has become even more consistent from the 3-point line this summer. Meanwhile, Mirotic will get yet another chance to prove he can be the player everyone expected when he came over from Europe three years ago. The Bulls are paying him starter’s money (two years, $27 million), now it’s up to Niko to prove he’s worth it. Both returning players will have to give up minutes to Markkanen when he’s ready to role because the Bulls are committed to making the 7-foot rookie one of the foundation pieces of the rebuild, along with the other two players acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade: Dunn and Zach LaVine. 

3. Who’s going to score? Speaking of LaVine, he’s expected to be out until December as the team takes a cautious approach to his rehab from ACL surgery. And, with Dwyane Wade now in Cleveland, someone is going to have to score. Early candidates include Justin Holiday, who figures to start at shooting guard or small forward, Portis, Mirotic, Markkanen and second-year swingman Denzel Valentine, who figures to get a chance to show off his offensive game after an uneven rookie season. Don’t be surprised to see Robin Lopez launch a few preseason 3-pointers as he adjusts to Fred Hoiberg’s free-flowing offense.

4. Pelicans' bold experiment. While most teams in the NBA are trying to copy Golden State’s small-ball, 3-point heavy attack, New Orleans is trying to get back to the playoffs behind a pair of All-Star big men in Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. And, they have a lot invested in making it work, since Cousins will be a free agent next summer. The Pelicans are also experimenting with starting two point guards in Jrue Holiday (Justin’s brother) and former Bull Rajon Rondo. Rondo led the league in assists during the one season he played with Cousins in Sacramento, and Holiday is a good enough shooter to play off the ball. Still, if either experiment fails, Alvin Gentry could be out of a job, and New Orleans could be in for another rebuild.

5. Who’s the better rookie? When the Bulls visit Dallas on Wednesday, they’ll get their first look at Mavericks’ rookie point guard Dennis Smith, the ninth pick in June's draft. Smith was the talk of the Las Vegas Summer League with his dynamic scoring ability and athleticism, with a number of scouts and coaches predicting he could wind up being Rookie of the Year. Rebuilding teams try to find future All-Stars with Top 10 picks, and the Bulls are hoping they made the right decision to pass on Smith for an elite shooting big man like Markkanen. Only time will tell if they made the right choice, and Bulls fans should be patient since it normally takes a little longer for big men to develop.

Don’t forget you can watch all of the Bulls preseason games on NBC Sports Chicago!