Bulls flat-line at the deadline, wave goodbye to Gibson, McDermott, and a future pick

Well the trade deadline has come and gone, with no superstars swapping teams on the final day. To the delight of many Bulls fans, Gar Forman and John Paxson were able to complete a trade to avoid sitting on their hands yet another year. To the disgust of Bulls fans everywhere, this trade makes absolutely no sense. To be fair, this trade doesn’t ruin the franchise in the way Sacramento trading for 25 cents on the dollar to get rid of Demarcus Cousins, but this trade just makes you want to scratch your head. Trades are either supposed to make you better in the present or the future, ideally both. GarPax managed to somehow diminish both of these prospects with this one. While this wasn’t a blockbuster by any stretch of the imagination, there is still a lot to break down here so stick with me here.

First let’s get to the deal itself. The Bulls receive: Cameron Payne, Anthony Morrow, and Joffrey Lauvergne in exchange for Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott, and a 2018 2nd round pick. So essentially, the Bulls are giving up the best player in this group (Taj) as well as a draft pick, while also disposing of the man they gave up two first round picks for (McDermott). In exchange the Bulls received one rotation player (Payne) in their ongoing struggle to find a serviceable point guard. And while Payne is a nice player and has some upside, he has pretty much the same skill set as the other 17 point guards on the roster.

Payne hasn’t gotten much of a chance to prove himself yet playing behind Westbrook for his first season and a half in the league, but one thing is already brutally clear, he is just as bad of a shooter as the other Bulls point guards. He is making only 32 percent of his outside shots, 38 percent total. That is basically Rajon Rondo level of clogginess (yes I made up that word) you are hoping to be your future 1. Sure he’s quick and athletic with a long wing span, but somehow manages to only be a mediocre defender so far in his career.

Meanwhile the Bulls gave up their best outside threat, and their best two-way player outside of Jimmy Butler. I want to take a moment to thank Taj Gibson, as so many others have, for his time as a Bull. The dude was the consummate professional during his tenure in Chicago. The guy was benched in favor of two players who were atrocious on the defensive side of the ball because they could hit mid-range jumpers (Gasol and Boozer) for most of his time here and never said a word about it. All he did was show up, do what was asked of him, and somehow remain a consistent contributor to this team despite the madness going on all around him. He will be sorely missed in the Windy City and I wish him the best of luck in OKC.

Back to the Bulls plan, and I use that word loosely. As far as I can tell, GarPax are trying to clear up cap space for this Summer in an attempt to build around Jimmy. I am only speculating because the majority of insiders and experts are just as confused about what the end goal is here as anyone else. The Bulls have stock-piled four point guards (MCW, Rondo, Grant, and Payne) hoping that one of them can stick with the team as a mainstay. Wade and Rondo are signed through next year but that is still up in the air as Wade has a player option and who knows with Rondo. The only asset the Bulls have at this point is Jimmy Butler as their draft pick this summer won’t even be anything to brag about.

At this point I think all Bulls fans can do is wait and see. Personally, I have lost all patience with Forman and Paxson as they have shown no direction at all with this franchise since it was clear Rose would never be the same after his ACL injury. This trade is no exception to the theme of these last handful of years. But hey, the Bulls are in the playoffs if the season ended today so we have that to look forward to.

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Note-A-Bulls: Bulls end the first half on a high note with gritty win over the Celtics

17. That’s how many Thursday night home games the Bulls have won in a row on TNT. That’s incredible. Is that an obscure stat? Perhaps. Is it an explainable fact? Absolutely not. What makes this streak even more incredible is almost every game in that stretch has come against a very good basketball team. You don’t play the Jazz on TNT, you play the likes of the Celtics, the Cavs, the Raptors. Like I said it defies explanation, which is also a phrase that could be uttered to describe the ending of the Bulls (28-29) 104-103 win over the Celtics (37-20) last night.

With one minute and twenty seconds left in the fourth quarter, Doug McDermott had just hit his second consecutive free throw to pull the Bulls within one at a score of 103-102. Over the next three combined possessions that included two consecutive Bulls offensive rebounds, both teams could not add to their tally. So with eight seconds remaining and Bulls trailing by one, it came down to Jimmy to decide things.

Butler took his time setting up his move insuring his shot would be the last. From the right wing Jimmy awkwardly pulled up for a game-winning attempt while falling off-balance, the shot did not go. But after a dejected Bulls began heading toward their bench, they had realized a somewhat questionable foul had been called. Objectively, Marcus Smart played some pretty great D and may have grazed Jimmy’s elbow on the shot, but that’s not a call you make in that circumstance. As he has done so many times this year, Jimmy came through to knock down the ensuing two free throws to take a one point advantage. A last ditched effort from Al Hereford careened off the rim and the Bulls were heading into the All-Star break on a winning streak after back-to-back impressive wins over the Raptors and Celtics and within a game of the six-seed in the East.

My unsung hero of the night goes to the oft-maligned Bobby Portis. The reserve forward had a career high 19 points to go with eight rebounds on 8/13 shooting from the floor. 13 of those points came in the first-half when the Celtics were threatening to run away with this one as they shot 53 percent in the half. Portis was hitting jump shots from all over, including one from deep, and displayed the type of hustle the Bulls had dreamed about when they drafted the 2nd year pro number 20 overall in the 2015 draft. Portis still struggled a bit on the defensive end and turned the ball over twice from traveling, but the Arkansas grad showed something the Bulls hadn’t seen out of him in a long time, potential.

Another reason the Bulls won this game was due to their dominance on the glass. The Bulls out-rebounded the Celts 51-31 on the game including a staggering 15-4 edge on the offensive boards. This allowed the Bulls to win thanks to shooting noticeably worse than the Celtics thanks to the 13 extra shots they attempted compared to their opponents. This also resulted in a decided edge in second chance points, 22-4 in the Bulls favor.

Not everything went right for the Bulls, as they continued to stink up the joint from behind the arc. They shot 6/25 on the night (24 percent), lowering their league worse average from 31.8 percent. The lack of spacing in the Bulls offense often creates a log jam in the paint which makes it much more difficult to drive with any sort of efficiency. Doug has been hit or miss, while Niko got a DNP coach’s decision leaving the Bulls ammo-less. The Bulls will never be the Warriors in terms of shooting, but you have to at least make your opponent respect your shooting ability to free up space.

Isaiah Thomas continued his recent hot-stretch going for 29 points on 8/18 shooting while going an impressive 9/9 from the charity stripe and dishing out seven assists. The diminutive guard didn’t have his usual 4th quarter heroics, often forcing up shots in the final frame, but his ability to manipulate his body to get shots off in the lane against bigger defenders is extraordinary. Thomas is a worthy all-star, and I hope he doesn’t get overlooked (no pun intended) for his stature as his game speaks volumes.

Up Next: The Bulls get a reprieve for awhile as Jimmy Butler heads to New Orleans for the All-Star game this Sunday in the annual East vs. West clash.

Note-A-Bulls: Bulls continue dominance over Raptors with 11th straight win

The Bulls won 10 straight against the Toronto Raptors coming into tonight. Having lost three straight, including blowout losses to the Suns and Timberwolves to send them three games under 0.500, they desperately needed to make this their 11th straight win against the Raps, especially since this was their first home game after a six-game road stint. Given the Bulls’ habit of losing to sub-0.500 teams and showing up to play against stronger competition, maybe we could have predicted this. Other than a sustained second half run made by the Raptors, the Bulls led this one by 15 to 20 points for most of the game and avoided losing their fourth straight, topping the Raps 105-94 and moving to 27-29 on the season.

  • With Dwyane Wade out (sprained wrist), the Bulls reserves had to step up. They helped them take a 24-18 lead to the end the first period, including some good defense by Cristiano Felicio, and a corner three from Bobby Portis (What’s that? Some first quarter action for BP?). His time was short-lived, however, as he only ended with 10 minutes. That said, in his short time, he had six points and three rebounds with a +7 to show for his time on the court. Felicio had himself a nice game as well, and was crucial in the win. He was in the right place at the right time on defense (a testament to his own work ethic), and was a presence on the offensive side. He got 26 minutes and a +12, including 10 points on 4-6 shooting and six rebounds with two steals.
  • Jimmy Butler was finally a presence on defense. Seems like he’s been absent of late, but maybe that’s just perception. He was all over the hardwood tonight, disrupting the Raptor’s game plan by closing passing lanes and securing four steals. He did have four turnovers himself, but he more than made up for it on the other end with 12 assists. That’s an unusually high number for Jimmy, but it seemed his shot wasn’t working and he made the necessary adjustments. He didn’t make many baskets, but he didn’t shoot too many, either. JB was 2-10 from the field tonight, but managed to get to the line 19 times and connected on 15 of them, good for 19 total points in an expanded 37 minute role due to the injuries.
  • Rajon Rondo had a small stretch were he played like a real leader and came alive in the second quarter with 10 points. He was working with the younger guys, and was decisive on offense, and even hit a couple threes. He cleaned it up a little for a while, not making any egregiously bad passes or decisions, but then had five turnovers when it was all said and done, and only four assists to offset them. He ended with 24 minutes, and those 10 points would be his only offense for the game.
  • Doug McDermott was also big off the bench for the Bulls and came back from the dead with 20 points in 32 minutes on 61.5% shooting for a +13.
  • I don’t know who these Bulls are, but they were running tonight. They had 20 fast break points, including a nice sequence of defense-turned-offense in the first half to extend their first half lead to 19. With their bench contributions totaling 54 points, the Bulls were able to expand the lead to 23 at its peak.
  • The Raptors’ struggles continue against the Bulls. Their shooting woes from beyond the arc were part of the reason for their downfall tonight – just 5-20 from deep; they couldn’t hit their first three until the third quarter. It also didn’t help that they couldn’t get to the line as much as the Bulls. Just 24 attempts compared to the Bulls’ 35, resulting in a disparity from the charity stripe of 28-19. Coming off the bench, DeMar DeRozan seriously struggled. He connected on just five of his 19 shots – a big reason for many of the Raptors’ empty possessions.
  • Up Next: It doesn’t get any easier for these Bulls, hosting the second place Boston Celtics on Thursday. The Raptors head home to play the Charlotte Hornets.

Note-A-Bulls: Defeated Bulls show no fight in embarrassing loss to Timberwolves

I watched this game via NBA League Pass. 10 minutes prior to tipoff, I continuously watched tight shots of the Timberwolves DJ spin records. I love sports. The shorthanded Bulls squared off against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday with a depleted starting five. The game concluded a 6-game road trip, hoping for a 3-3 stretch. Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic, Paul Zipser, and Dwyane Wade all sat out in Sunday’s tilt.

Robin Lopez and Gorgui Dieng squared off at center court, with Lopez winning the tip. Just like that, Bulls basketball was on the air. The Bulls sported their usual red road jerseys while the Wolves wore what usually is their blue road jersey. To not much surprise, the Bulls started out slow offensively. They started out 2/9 from the field, and trailed by nine with just under eight minutes to play with the score 14-5 in favor of Minnesota. The offense continued to look abysmal, as the Bulls registered two turnovers into two possessions which led to Minnesota extending their early lead to 14.  Rajon Rondo checked in at around the 6:00 mark as Fred Hoiberg looked for spark offensively. Rondo was able to register one assist on a nice pass to Bobby Portis that was the first three of the game for the Bulls. However, the world would eventually find its course again, and the Bulls defense just looked pathetic. At the 2:40 mark, they trailed 31-12. Minnesota was shooting 72 percent from the floor, while the Bulls were just over 35 percent. If you thought there was any sign of momentum coming the Bulls way, you were wrong. Minnesota led 34-17 after the first quarter.

Things weren’t much better as the second quarter started up. The Wolves began the quarter on a 11-2 run which extended their lead to 26 points. Fred Hoiberg used a timeout with just under 9 minutes to go in the half, as Minnesota continued to enforce their will on the Bulls. Shots were not falling and the defense looked lazy. The only entertainment that was out there for Bulls fans was the voice of former Head Coach of the Bulls Tom Thibodeau screaming at his players despite having a 26-point lead. Both bench units were out on the floor around the halfway mark of the second quarter. This was the Bulls opportunity to get some kind of life, and they were able to drop the lead to 20 with just over six minutes to play in the first half. However, things just continued to look awful for the Bulls as the minutes shrunk in the second quarter. At the 3:00 minute mark, Minnesota had more points in the paint (30) than the Bulls did total (27). The Bulls finally looked like they were getting some offense together as the half came to an end. They hit five straight field goals to cut the Wolves’ lead to 17. Despite the lead still being rather large, the strong finish allowed the Bulls to grab some kind of momentum heading into the half.

Any sign of that momentum carrying over from halftime looked unlikely. Minnesota began the quarter on a 9-3 run. Stacey King put it well after Dieng threw down a wide-open dunk that it was time for players to sit on the bench. The Bulls seemed like they had no spark to them. Then, just a few minutes later, the cycle repeated itself. The Bulls got a couple stops on the defensive end and were able to turn those stops into points and cut the lead to 18 at the 7:00 mark. However, Minnesota didn’t come back with pushing their lead back to over 20. The Bulls used a common strategy when trailing by over 20, which is living by the three. This strategy doesn’t usually pan out well for the Bulls, as they rank No. 30 in the league (dead last) in 3-point field goal percentage. You could view today’s game as an outlier, as at the 2:30 mark in the third the Bulls were shooting 62.5 percent from distance. But of course, this comeback effort proved to be worthless. Minnesota climbed right back into the driver’s seat, extending their lead to 19. The Bulls had a 4 on 1 breakaway chance with Michael Carter-Williams carrying the basketball. For whatever reason, MCW decided to attack the rim and not make a pass until he was halfway in the air, and the Bulls turned it over. You just can’t make plays like that. It’s about as close to a free basket as one can have.

There wasn’t much that changed in the game at the start of the fourth quarter. The Bulls continue to shoot the three well, Tom Thibodeau continued to bark like a dog, and the Wolves led by around 20 points.  The sloppy play dragged on, and the bus was starting to warm up. There was just nothing that would please you as a Bulls fan that happened today. Andrew Wiggins showed off his athleticism as he made Doug McDermott beg for mercy after throwing down this ferocious slam. Stacey put it well: “You might want to take away his right-hand Doug. He’s right handed.” The minutes got smaller, and the Wolves lead got larger. Minnesota picked up one of the easiest wins they’ll have all year, with the final score hitting 117-89.

It was more than likely that the Bulls were going to struggle offensively in this game without their two best players. However, this performance was just unacceptable. The Bulls have been terrible against bad teams all year, but getting blown out to team that has been poor like the Wolves must raise questions. Team chemistry seems to be at a low, and I don’t know what the Bulls can do to fix that. They’ve got two games this week before the All-Star break. If they’re able to pick up some steam heading into the break, that could carry over well. These two games are huge for the Bulls, and let’s hope they realize that.

Up Next: The Bulls play host to the Raptors on Valentine’s Day as they look to snap out of their most recent funk.

Note-A-Bulls: Bulls put up another stinker in blowout loss to the lowly Suns

The Bulls have been teetering on the edge of a downward spiral in their last seven games, somehow squeaking out a record of 3-4 by holding on to victory against the Kings after Sacramento mounted a tremendous comeback, and besting the Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s going to be a tall task from here on out for the Bulls to maintain their composure and try to sneak into the playoffs, especially with their difficult upcoming schedule.

Tonight, the Bulls had a minor respite against a struggling Suns team, who had lost eight of their last nine games, and came in with a pitiful record of 16-37, the worst in the West. But all did not go according to plan, as the Bulls made things harder on themselves, losing 115-97 in Jimmy Butler’s first game back from a heel injury.

  • The Bulls started off looking pretty good, getting contributions from Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic, building a 25-16 lead, but a 12-1 run by the Suns to end the quarter saw it quickly disappear. The Bulls had a similar meltdown at the end of the second quarter, surrendering a 17-4 run to go into halftime with a 13 point deficit, 56-43. They tried to close the gap to start the third quarter, beginning with a 9-2 run, but they could not sustain it, quickly down 13 again midway through the period and would never recover from there on out.
  • On their fifth straight road game, the lethargy was showing. In the first half, Phoenix outscored the Bulls 11-2 on fast break points, weren’t able to bang down low resulting in a 30-12 margin, and relinquished 13 points off turnovers while amassing just eight themselves.
  • It was clear the absence of play due to the heel injury was affecting Butler. He scored 20 points but was just 6-20 from the field. He was able to get to the line for eight points but could not connect from beyond the arc in three attempts, and posted just three rebounds.
  • Robin Lopez had a very respectable game, with the only positive +/- on the team in 23 minutes of play. He was aggressive on offense, going five for nine with 12 points and securing five offensive boards to keep Bulls possessions alive. The Bulls couldn’t do much with those extra possessions, but RoLo did his part.
  • Dwyane Wade came back from an illness that sidelined him against Golden State and although he didn’t have a very efficient game (7-16 from the field), his off the ball movement was on point, putting up 18 points with a few backdoor cuts resulting in dunks.
  • Jerian Grant was awarded the starting point guard role, but didn’t score his first points until a three ball with four minutes remaining in the third quarter. It would be his only points for the game. As the backup point guard, Rajon Rondo continued to struggle with the worst +/- on the team with -17 in 23 minutes. He had just three points, four rebounds, and three assists.
  • As a team, the Bulls shot just 43% for the game. This wasn’t helped by a continued struggle from three point range, connecting on just 5-19 for a paltry 26.3%. For the season, they’re still dead last in the league, at 31.5%. Fortunately, for the Bulls, they were going up against another struggling three point shooting team – the Suns are 25th in the league at 34.1%. Unfortunately, the Suns exceeded their season average by hitting eight threes, good for 42.1%.
  • Devin Booker is really impressive on this Suns team. He’s a young star who we’ll be seeing a lot more of in the years to come. The backcourt of Booker and Eric Bledsoe combined for 50 points on 50% shooting with a +32, dominating the minutes sheet with 33 apiece.
  • Up Next: The Bulls wrap up their six game road trip in Minnesota against Tom Thibodeau’s Timberwolves on Sunday. The Suns travel to Houston to play the Rockets on Saturday for a back-to-back.
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