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The Winds Of Change Are Blowing In Chicago

(photo courtesy of Rob Grabowski/USA Today Sports)

(photo courtesy of Rob Grabowski/USA Today Sports)

The Chicago Bulls have had a slow start to the season. There have been games where they have shown up, games where they have been missing in action and everything in between. The firing of Tom Thibodeau and hiring of Fred Hoiberg in his place was supposed to get the offense going. But instead of getting the offense going, the Bulls have seemingly been stunted on that end. They rank at the back end of the NBA in scoring, worse than they did last season. And on the defensive end, they are not giving the same effort they used to. Only one guy has been consistent throughout all their ups and down this season: guard Jimmy Butler. But if they are to pick it up, some things have to change. Jimmy Butler went public this week, criticizing coach Hoiberg and saying that he needed to be harder on everyone, including him. The win on Thursday versus the Oklahoma City Thunder is only is a temporary coat of makeup to cover the blemishes they have. The Bulls have no identity. It used to be that they played harder than anyone else and played stingy defense. But this year that cannot even be counted on and they have coasted in some games as well. In this situation, something has to change and change now.

In the 2015 NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls drafted power forward Bobby Portis. The young big man out of Arkansas can shoot the three, post up and he can handle the basketball. He seems to be a matchup nightmare for teams on a nightly basis. But because of the gluttony of big men the Bulls have (Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Nikola Mirotic, Taj Gibson), he cannot get any playing time. As a result, there have been many rumors floating around of shaking the Bulls’ roster up and trading at least one of these big men to free up time for Portis. But which one should it be? Each one of these players bring a different element to the team. And in different times, all of them have stepped up and helped get a win for the team. But standing at 16-12 is not what they imagined this year and something has to change. There will be plenty of people looking at acquiring Pau Gasol. The 36 year old is very skilled and has championship experience (won two rings with the Los Angeles Lakers). Taj is the grit and grime player for the Bulls. But the difference between he and Noah is Gibson can score when given the opportunity and has a better stroke. With Mirotic, the Bulls are still trying to figure it out. He has some good games, but he has some games where he is non-existent. And this staff is also trying to figure out whether they want to play him at the small forward or the power forward position. That leaves Noah, who is currently out with a shoulder injury, as the best possible odd man out.

Noah’s shoulder injury he has is not expected to be anything too series. The veteran center is supposed to be back in two weeks. And if he shows that he is healthy, he will draw some trade interest. The most attractive thing about him is that he is a guy that does not require the basketball to make an impact. He can be your secondary ball-handler, a defensive anchor and he will make all the hustle plays that a championship team needs. And to top it all off, he has a contract that is expiring at the end of the season. Whoever is to trade for him, they will essentially have the rest of the season to check him out. And if they don’t like what they see, then they can let him go and not have to be tied up to his contract. The Bulls would more than likely be looking for another wing player or potentially their point guard of the future in this deal also. Nothing is set in stone, but Noah is definitely dangling out there for someone to take. And for many, it is just a matter of “when” and not “if” when it comes to Noah leaving town.

The Bulls have been identified by two players for some time now: Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose. They both had some good and bad times, but the fact of the matter is their time is all but up in Chicago. Noah is a free agent this season and Rose will a free agent in 2017. The winds of change are blowing in the Windy City and Rose and Noah could be the next few to get swept out of town. But as far as this offseason, the change is definitely necessary because Bobby Portis is too skilled to be sitting on the bench not getting playing time. And Noah may be the guy that has to go that will clear way for him to get more playing time.

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The Bulls Are Following Jimmy Butler’s Lead

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Derrick Rose was once the toast of the city. He was the hometown boy making good and leading this Bulls team back to the top of the NBA’s Eastern Conference. But after leading the Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011, there has been a steady fall in his play. Of course injuries led to a good portion of that fall, but he just has not been able to reach the same level he was before. The team that he was once the leader of has become accustomed to playing without Rose while his various injuries have kept him on the sideline mostly during the past four seasons. One player that grew the most while Rose was injured was guard Jimmy Butler. The athletic swingman out of Marquette was seldom used in his first season. But as time has gone on, Butler has gotten better and better each year. Going into his contract season in 2014-2015, Butler took it up another notch. He averaged 20 points a game and was still the defensive stalwart that many were used to seeing. His play had him being mentioned as one of the top two-way players in the NBA. All while Butler was rising, Rose was still trying to get it figured out once again. He was making things happen on an inconsistent level. Sure, he had some games where he looked spectacular and then he had others where he looked like he was laboring. The toll of the injuries just looked like they had worn on his body.

Despite some delaying on their part, the Bulls made the decision that signing Jimmy Butler to a five-year max contract was in their best interest. And he has shown that last year was not a fluke. Despite a change in system (the Bulls fired defensive-minded coach Tom Thibodeau for more offensive-minded Fred Hoiberg), Butler is still putting up similar numbers to last year. Consequently, Rose is still being the inconsistent player that he has been over the past few year. The glimpses of what he used to be are still there. But so are the times where he looks like he is laboring on the court. There used to be a time when Rose was considered the leader of this team. The Bulls level of success would ride or die on the shoulders of the hometown kid. But as time as went on, the dynamic has changed. Gone are the times when the Bulls are depending on Rose so much that they falter when he is inconsistent. And just like those times have passed, so have Rose’s quiet leadership of the team. The change has been evident on the court all season: Jimmy Butler is now the leader of this team. Amazingly, no one really expected Jimmy to ever reach this level when he was drafted 30th in the 2011 NBA Draft. But through hard work and determination, he has made himself into the most indispensable player on this Bulls’ roster. And he has also become the guy the Bulls look to in the fourth quarter when closing out games. Gone are the days of leaning on Rose when the time comes to finish off a team.

Derrick Rose has not come into a new chapter in his career. He is still one the highest-paid player on this Bulls team, but he is not the guy that leads them anymore. Unfortunately injuries took away from what he once was. In preseason practice, he suffered a broken orbital bone in practice that caused him to miss the preseason. He did not miss any regular season games, as he returned opening night wearing a mask. The result of the orbital bone fracture is double vision that he continues to battle every game. He recently shed the mask, but admitted that the double-vision is still there. But even with the injury, Rose’s role with this team was going to change. Gone are the days when things began and ended with his offense. Now he has to co-exist with another playmaker in his backcourt in Butler. And even he has probably realized that Jimmy is the focal point of this team. For virtually his entire career since Simeon high school, Rose has been the guy with the ball in his hands. With his current situation in Chicago, Rose now has to learn how to pick his spots. He will not be bringing the ball up the court or initiating the offense as he once used to all the time. Some of those responsibilities now fall on the shoulders of Jimmy Butler. But one thing that Rose can do with Butler as the focal point is work on his movement without the basketball. That is one part of the game Rose has never really had to work on coming up. The ball always used to be in his hands. If he is able to work on things like that when the ball is not in his hands, then it will make him a better player.

It seems like yesterday when Rose was the man for the Bulls. Now that torch has been passed to Jimmy Butler. Butler is the one the Bulls follow. Rose is still an effective point guard, but the inconstancies and injuries have taken that time away. Now he has to accept that he will not be the focal point at all times. And if he is able to master that concept and pick his spots for this team, they will be better because of it.

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The Thibs Era Is Assuredly Over In Chicago. What’s Next For Thibs And The Chicago Bulls?

Tom Thibodeau may be going to a new place to coach after this postseason performance. (photo courtesy of www.washingtonpost.com)

Tom Thibodeau may be going to a new place to coach after this postseason performance. (photo courtesy of http://www.washingtonpost.com)

The Chicago Bulls had high expectations heading into this season. They hoped for a healthy Derrick Rose and with the addition of big man Pau Gasol, the Bulls looked to take that next step towards returning to their first NBA Finals since Michael Jordan donned his customer number 23 jersey for Chicago. The team had some high points as guard Jimmy Butler begin to come into his own this season and rookie big man Nikola Mirotic had a great month of March to garner Rookie Of the Month honors, but in the end, they could not come through. The Bulls were looked at as the only team that could take down the Cleveland Cavaliers this years as LeBron James returned back home. But instead of putting up a fight, the Bulls limped to the finish line and lost in six game to a Cavaliers team that was without an injured Kevin Love and also had a hobbled Kyrie Irving the entire series. But not only did they lose the game, they lost it in embarrassing fashion, failing to hit more than 40% of their shots. And just like that, the hope that was once there disappeared into the Chicago night.

The loss was a symptom of what has happened the last few years in Chicago. They overachieve in the regular season and get to the postseason and run out of gas. Of course, the last couple of years Derrick Rose has not been there to join them in the playoffs due to injuries, but the result was still the same this season with him out there. The team was obviously based on defense and that was not by accident. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau came to the Bulls after being a defensive mastermind his entire career as an assistant coach. And when he first came to Chicago, he inherited a team that was just barely getting into the playoffs. But with Derrick Rose having an MVP season in his first year as coach, the Bulls took over the number one spot in the East and were the pick of many to make it out of the East that season. But in the Conference Finals, they fell to the LeBron James-led Miami Heat in five grueling games. The Bulls never reached that type of success under Thibodeau again. Part of that was due to Rose being injured during those times, but some of that was because Thibs, as his players call him, would focus so much on defense that he would not put as much into the offensive side of the ball. The result was the Bulls would be at or near the bottom of the NBA in offense. And ultimately, that would be the thing that would do them in. This season there had been even louder rumblings that he was at odds with ownership over a few things. Maybe it was because of the minutes he played his main players each game or the style of coaching he had, but there was definitely some friction. And with the Bulls being done, it is expected that Thibs will not be back next year despite having two years left on his current contract. The question now is where does Thibs land next? There has been mention of New Orleans or Orlando wanting his services and he could definitely pick where he wants to go. But in the end in Chicago, it seemed like as the season and postseason went on he had ran his course in the Windy City and a new voice needed to be heard.

As far as the Bulls, the expected exit of Thibs leaves them with a question at the head coaching spot. Thibs made them a tough-as-nails team, but they are also a team that still has some limitations offensively. They got a great season out of veteran Pau Gasol, but they must know that they cannot expect Gasol to turn back the clock again next season. The prevailing thought is there will be changes on the roster, but those changes could be affected by who the Bulls name as their new head coach. There has been mention of names like Iowa State’s head coach Fred Hoiberg and even some mention of former Golden State head coach Mark Jackson. But the one coach that may be the answer to what the Bulls need may be an assistant coach on the Warriors staff presently under Steve Kerr. Alvin Gentry is not a name that many talk about as a hot name in the head coaching circles right now, but he should be. Gentry was brought in to be the offensive assidtant coach for Kerr this season and he has made them an even more efficient offense. Of course, with MVP Steph Curry at the controls and Klay Thompson as his running mate, it would be easy to make that offense look better. But the thing he has done is use the pieces he had and use them more efficiently. For example, look at a guy like Marreese Speights. He was not a guy that many could say factored into the Warriors team last season. But in this season he went from 6.4 points per game to 10.4 points per game. And what is so amazing about that is he made that leap despite only playing three more minutes than he did the previous year. The Warriors, despite some that say their offense is too perimeter-oriented, have proven the naysayers wrong time and time again due to the great ball movement and attacking style of their perimeter guys. Looking at who could potentially be in Chicago, his ball movement/attacking style would fit. Chicago would have to get better shooting, but provided Jimmy Butler re-signs in Chicago and Rose can stay relatively healthy, the Bulls would have a dangerous backcourt that teams would have to reckon with. And in Pau, the Bulls would have that one big man that could be their facilitator like Andrew Bogut is for the Warriors. A few other tweaks in terms of the bench and then the Bulls could make the improvement offensively that they need. The only question that would come is what would their defense look like under Gentry? None will have that answer, but as long as Butler is still on the perimeter defending and Noah can play solid on the backline (provided he does not play like a shell of himself again next season), the base will be set for a solid defense. All in all, the Bulls would more than likely sacrifice some defense for offense and that could help them take a different direction for the betterment of the team in the postseason.

There are many questions that surround the Bulls going into next season. More than likely one big man will be traded and the Bulls have decisions to make on restricted free-agent Jimmy Butler and wing player Mike Dunleavy, Jr. Along with that, the Bulls have to makeover some of their bench pieces. But let’s not forget the job that Thibs did. He made the Bulls respectable again. Unfortunately, he was not able to get the Bulls where many fans would like to see them. And because of the disagreements between Thibs and management, the end is here. Farewell to the season Chicago, you just were not good enough at the right time of the season. And while the Bulls fall, the atomic bomb could drop to change the dynamic and look of this team. Change is coming in Chicago.

The Bulls Face An Old Nemesis In The Conference Semifinals

Is this the year the finally conquer a LeBron James-led team in the playoffs?(photo courtesy of sports.yahoo.com)

Is this the year the finally conquer a LeBron James-led team in the playoffs?(photo courtesy of sports.yahoo.com)

The Chicago Bulls have finally dispatched of the Milwaukee Bucks and are headed to the conference semifinals. Their opponent has a familiar face starting right at them. The Cleveland Cavaliers swept the Boston Celtics to cruise into the second round of the playoffs. But the game the Cavs had to clinch the series was anything but smooth. The Cavs lost versatile big man Kevin Love to a separated shoulder during a fight for a loose ball with Boston’s Kelly Olynyk. And later in the game, Cavs guard JR Smith took a wild swing at Celtics forward Jae Crowder while boxing him out. The result was Crowder sprawled on the ground from the force of the blow. Smith received a Flagrant 2 foul and was ejected from the game. And the news came down on the fate of each player for the their matchup with Chicago. Kevin Love has been ruled out for the rest of the playoffs after surgery to repair damage from his separated shoulder and Smith has been suspended two games for his hit to Crowder’s head. In all actuality, Smith should have been suspended even longer than he was. The only reason he wasn’t suspended longer is due to it being the playoffs. But nonetheless, both will be out come Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals and will be watching their team face off against the Bulls.

Given the state of the Bulls and the state of the Cavaliers, it would be easy for many to say the advantage goes to the Bulls for this series. After all, they are the deeper and healthier team at this point in the season. But over the years, one man has always stood in the way of the Bulls and their path towards a seventh championship. Who’s that man you may ask? None other than LeBron James. Back in the 2010-2011 season, the Bulls had an outstanding regular season. They were the top seed in the East that season and many picked them to go to the NBA Finals on the strength of good defense and the play of MVP point guard Derrick Rose. The Bulls would make it all the way to the Finals and they would face the team that many wanted to lose so badly, the LeBron-led Miami Heat team. After the first game of that series, many who projected the Bulls to win the series were feeling really good about their projection. The Bulls handled the Miami Heat 103-82 and at that point had beaten the Heat four straight times including the regular season that year. But after that game, the Heat and LeBron owned the Bulls. The Bulls would not score over 90 points the rest of the series as Miami smothered them with suffocating defense and big-time play from LeBron. At that point, it just seemed like he could do no wrong against the Bulls and he was at their mercy. And just like that, the best chance the Bulls had to beat the Heat and LeBron had just went away, or so they thought.

Over the years, the Bulls have been struggling with being healthy at the right time. It seems like every year since that series, the Bulls have been bitten with injury at the wrong time, especially with Derrick Rose. Ever since that series, the injuries have mounted for him and his absence has sabotaged the Bulls’ seasons. When Rose got hurt again this season and had to have knee surgery, many thought the Bulls would be headed down the same path they always do. But surprisingly to a lot of people, Rose was able to battle his way back in time for the playoffs. He has been off at times and spectacular at others, but the team around him is considerably better than it was in the past. As a result, the Bulls have the best team they have ever had around Derrick Rose. With Cleveland suffering the injuries and suspensions, the upper hand seemingly is with the Bulls this time around. But what has to be mentioned is the Bulls have been in this position before. They have been the favorite by many to win a series against a LeBron-led basketball team. And in each time they have failed to make it happen and capitalize. For the Bulls to keep their championship aspirations alive, they have to take advantage of this opportunity. The Cavs are there for the taking if the Bulls want to take it. But they also have to take away the will of a team that is led by the best player in the world.

LeBron will undoubtedly be fired up to go against the Bulls. After all, he has owned them in the playoffs. As the Bulls have been suffering injuries at the wrong times over the years, LeBron has been enjoying the most successful stretch in his career and you can be sure he is going to fight to continue his successful run. You can expect he and Joakim Noah to get into some kind of talk or skirmish with each other. The two just don’t like each other that much and that will add to the excitement of this one as well. But the Bulls have a golden opportunity ahead of them and the King is the only thing standing in their way. We shall see what happens when the two collide soon.

Joakim Noah: The Soul Of Chicago

Joakim Noah At the beginning of the season, the Chicago Bulls were expected to challenge for the Eastern Conference crown. They returned a strong defensive team, Derrick Rose was on the mend and of course they had one of the best coaches in the NBA in Tom Thibodeau. Everything was in place for them to succeed. In the preseason and the beginning of the regular season, it looked like Rose was still shaking the rust off. He was starting to gain some steam after the team played the Denver Nuggets, but early in the season when the Bulls were playing the Trailblazer in Portland, this confident Bulls team was shook to the core by Rose going down again:

Rose was later diagnosed with a torn meniscus in his knee and was lost for the season. After the injury, the Bulls looked like a defeated team the next few games. They eventually got out of the short slump, but then management dealt them another body blow.

Chicago forward Luol Deng was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers after he had rejected a three-year, $30 million dollar extension from Chicago. In return, the Bulls landed Andrew Bynum, who they quickly released to save money against their salary cap. This team was left for dead after that trade. All hope anyone may have had for them to at least make the playoffs dissipated. And some thought the team was getting ready to tank. But one man had other ideas. He refused to quit and give into those thoughts. After all, he did not quit when the chips were down in his career.

Joakim Noah was selected with the 9th pick of the 2007 draft. He was the center of the two-time defending National Champion Florida Gators and had declared after his junior season. But unlike his collegiate teammates Corey Brewer and Al Horford, Noah was a mystery to people as to what he would be. He could rebound and pass, but he could not shoot and was not a smooth operator out of the post. In the first couple of years of his career, the doubts about Noah were validated by his play. He was only averaging around six points and six and he really seemed like just another player. But it was not until the 2009 Eastern Conference 1st round series that Noah then showed he had arrived. Noah played with heart, desire and fought to the bitter end as the Bulls fought the veteran Celtics. Who can forget this memorable play during Game six of the Bulls 128-127 triple overtime win that series:

The Celtics would go on to win the Game seven, but Noah definitely made his presence felt. Gone was the guy that no one knew about and present was the guy that would become the emotional barometer of the team.

Noah would continue to improve every season from that playoff battle. And over the years, his skill and his grit have become the backbone of this team. And because of that grit, he would not let this team quit when all had given up on them this season. Instead of letting his team tank, Noah has taken the reins and become the leader not only by his emotion but by his play. He is again averaging a double-double and he is making the game easy for his teammates with his excellent passing skills (leads all centers in assists per game with 4.3 a game). And after their big win versus the Brooklyn Nets Thursday, the Bulls have gone from the bottom to near the top of the NBA’s Eastern Conference. They now are hot on the Toronto Raptors trail for the third spot in the East and they are only gaining momentum. The unselfishness, emotion and grit of Noah has been permeated throughout the whole team. His effect cannot be measured by mere stats because he is now the heart and soul of the Chicago Bulls. And as long as he is there, the Bulls will always be a tough out for anyone.

For more sports talk, feel free to follow me on Twitter @General_MP or come check out my Facebook page at Mike Patton-The General .

Is All Hope Lost?

Listening to the NBA talk today between the NBA players and the owners, it seems like all hope is fading away fast. The owners want the players to negotiate with them on the others issues, but only if they agree to a 50/50 revenue split. The players don’t want to do that at all. In fact, they’re looking for a 53/47 revenue split. It sounds like we are going to be losing a season, or at least most of it. As a fan of basketball, this saddens me. I know that the NFL and college football are in full swing, but I was looking forward to seeing that first drive by LeBron James to the rim for a dunk on someone. I was also ready to see the electrifying moves of Derrick Rose as he comes back to defend his MVP trophy.

  Once again, lost in the struggle between the rich and the wealthy that is the lockout, the everyday fan gets punished. It always seems like an innocent bystander has to be the one to suffer when an argument happens. My message for the fans of the NBA, you may as well find some more things to do for a while, because this is going to get ugly. The owners are going to try to strong-arm the players. This is obvious. The waiting game has now reached a new level. Will the players crack or will they continue to stand united? Well, I have some thoughts on how this thing is going to play out.

  The owners are wealthy people. They can afford to lose money in one business and make it up in another business. The average NBA player, on the other hand, does not have the other business ventures, or revenue streams, that a top superstar would have. Sure, there is the option for them of going overseas, but there are rules that go along with going over there. The most important one is that there is a limit of how many American players can be on a team. Because of the limitations of the average NBA player, I believe there will be a breakdown and the players will more than likely accept a deal that they really did not want. Now, that’s just my opinion, but I believe the wealthy will outlast the rich. Now I’m in no way condoning the owners and the way they are being right now, but the reality is that the owners hold all the power.

   The next question I have will be what will the reception be of the players be from the fans that have missed them playing? After all, we’ve already had 2 weeks of the season cancelled. Will we love them? Will we hate the owners? Will we hate Stern? Will we hate the players? It should be interesting to see what happens as this all pans out. Hopefully all will be settled sooner than later.

Mike Patton is a member of  the SportsBlogMovement. You can find us on Twitter by typing in #SportsBlogMovement or going to
http://www.sportsblogmovement.com.

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