Bulls take down a listless Laker team

Wow, I haven't seen much of the Lakers this season before last night, but damn do they look old and uninterested. It's easy to see why Dwight Howard isn't having any fun. The Lakers made it close at one point, but even when coming back they were never really playing that well, the Bulls just temporarily played worse.

Kirk Hinrich turns in his best performance of the season

It's somewhat amazing that this is the first time this year Kirk broke the 20 point barrier (22) and the third time he's broken 15. It shows how much his game/role have changed relative to his first stint here. While his shooting percentages are lousy, he doesn't shoot so frequently that it makes a big impact on the game.

Instead, he's focused keeping everyone involved, crisp ball movement, and playing defense. He's done those three things excellently all season long. I know I was skeptical of the signing myself, but half a season into it and I think Kirk was the best choice for Chicago to maximize wins rather than just a hometown favorite.

Against the Lakers, he dropped the game manager role he's had all season and looked more like 2004 Kirk Hinrich. He knocked down his open threes and hit dribble drive step back mid range jumpers all night long. He still racked up seven boards and eight assists to go along with his 22 points falling just shy of a triple double.

On top of his best offensive play of the season, he defended excellently as well, breaking up numerous plays, getting his hands on the ball constantly and went a long way towards keeping the Lakers out of sync.

Timely three point shooting rules the day

The Bulls shot over 50% from the three point line, and I'd normally say that qualifies as making this a somewhat lucky win with unsustainable shooting rates. However, the vast majority of their makes were wide open threes that I'd expect the team to make on a regular basis. It was lousy, lazy defense by the Lakers that gave Chicago opportunity after opportunity for Chicago to bury them from beyond the arc.

Every time L.A. brought the game close it felt like Chicago would bury another three. Nate Robinson exploded the lead in the second period with back to back bombs. Marco Belinelli basically ended the game by knocking down two threes in under a minute late in the fourth. Kirk Hinrich drilled one when L.A. was mounting their final comeback bid.

However, all of these looks were defensive breakdowns by the Lakers. They weren't situations where the Bulls shot better than average, but situations where the Bulls were consistently afforded better than average opportunities.

How good can Jimmy Butler be?

In the past two games, Butler has started for Luol Deng, and the Butler bandwagon is gaining momentum. Butler looks better than his numbers on the floor, he's athletic, disruptive, and draws plenty of contact at the rim to get to the line. Many of his mistakes are due to lack of experience and playing time and would get cleaned up by a regular consistent role.

The question Chicago will be asking themselves in a couple of years is whether or not they want to go with Jimmy Butler or Luol Deng for the future. Butler is wrapped up for two more years on his cheap rookie deal. If Chicago wants to utilize cap room in 2014, they can amnesty Boozer and let Luol Deng walk.

If Jimmy Butler continues to progress as a scorer then this might be the out Chicago needs to let Deng walk away. Luol Will be 29-32 during the years of his next extension assuming he gets a four year deal. There's typically around a two point decline in PER in the years between 25-28 and 29-32, thus Luol, who likely still commands 12 mil+ per year, is most likely to drop to around a 13 PER player.

People will say Deng's game doesn't rely on athleticism, but for guys who are only moderately athletic relative to their peers and make half their worth by playing excellent defense, I'm skeptical about how true this is. When Deng loses a step is he still going to stick guys regularly defensively? Is his body, which has been racked by lower body injuries (including one he's suffering now) and still has a torn ligament in his wrist going to hold up for five more years? (next year plus a four year extension?)

The Bulls are in a lose/lose with Deng, because if they let him go, it's unlikely they'll be able to reuse his salary cap room to effectively help the team, but if they keep him he'll likely be an albatross after two seasons. It's similar to the situation they were in with Boozer. Overpay and complain about the contract, or don't bid and get no one useful at all.

Jimmy Butler's development provides the out clause for this catch 22. We'll see if he can prove himself over the rest of this season and next to allow the Bulls to make that decision.

Would you still give Dwight Howard a max deal?

Yes, he drew probably 10 fouls on the Bulls front court, but he scored eight points, had nine boards on just two of five shooting with four turnovers. He doesn't look even remotely close to the superstar he was in Orlando, and it's clear that he's either as disinterested as the rest of the Lakers or (more likely) his body is no where near 100% following back surgery this off-season.

Will Dwight Howard ever be the same? Would you give up say Joakim Noah and Luol Deng in a trade with the Lakers to find out? At one point, such a suggestion would have seemed outlandish. Right now, I'm not sure I'd want the privilege of paying Dwight Howard over 20 million a season for the next four years the way he's playing and with the health concerns he has.

Granted, the Lakers have a horrible roster to fit his abilities and a coach that has no idea how to use a big man trying to run the team, but even so, it's scary how much Howard has regressed, how much salary you'd need to commit, and the odds of colossal failure are fairly high in a move that brings in Dwight Howard.

Nice work Joakim

Joakim Noah blew off bench-gate and brought the fire against Howard. He scored just six points, but as noted above Dwight Howard had nothing going on, and Noah actually pulled down a bunch of offensive rebounds on Howard and really outworked him all game long.

Howard's a tough matchup for anyone, and as I noted in the pregame, he can easily take advantage of Noah's weaknesses while making it difficult for Noah to display his strengths. That wasn't the case last night where Noah outplayed Howard IMO and gave the Bulls the advantage at the center position.

Bulls on a 49 win pace

Nick Friedell took plenty of heat for predicting the Bulls would win 50 this season, but Chicago's on track for 49 wins now without Derrick Rose. Now there's a significant chance that the Bulls actually struggle when Rose comes back adjusting to how he fits into the offense as well as waiting to see how well he plays.

However, if Rose comes back strong, then Chicago's certainly got plenty of room to grow beyond that 50 win total this season. Whether he'll get it or not, Tom Thibodeau deserves some serious coach of the year consideration if he breaks the 50 win barrier with a team that's best shot creator for the majority of the season might be Nate Robinson.

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  • Don't go Crazy doug, Kirk had steve Nash on him. It was like shooting in practice. We don't have 2004 hinrich. He wasn't capable of doing this all along. We have 2012 hinrich, who's unable to get a decent shot off, because his defender his draped all over him.

  • In reply to pinkizdead:

    I was describing Kirk's great game. I certainly have no belief that he will continue to play this well.

  • "That's some catch, that Catch-22."

    "It's the best there is."

  • Been watching Lakers games, and the Lakers played last night the same way they played all season......the TNT announcers just never gave the Bulls any credit last night in their play...........Butler will be like Gibson, with a better attack for scoring.......Lakers have players that are not comfortable with their role play...........Kobe is just getting old.....he is losing his touch.....MJ was always a league above Kobe........no rush for Rose, we are doing okay.

  • The Lakers look off, they need a team to gift wrap them another franchise player so kobeee can get his 6th championship. I said last summer that Howard is not the guy the Bulls need when some posters were going googoo gaa gaa and wanting to trade the farm for him without an extension, I said Rose needs a sharp shooter like K. Love in the pick and pop game instead. Sorry kobeee but you should consider the Bulls in 2014 and play at a discount if you wanna tie michael jordan.

    The Bulls still look a bit sluggish on the boards and hopefully they can pick it up. With Butler showing he is a capable Deng-lite role player, Luol should not have to play 45 minutes a game with Butler deserving 20 minutes a game. I still don't understand Gibson getting buckets of money and playing so little, especially after the loss of Asik. I like to see more balance in minutes distribution between our wings and bigs so these guys will be fresh and ready to roll when derrick comes back.

  • In reply to Defense-Rebound13:

    Well you know when Deng comes back...it will be most likely rushed (less than 100%), and he'll play 40+min and Butler his back to 20.

    Just Thibs being Thibs...

  • Hinrich, Nate and Belli 9-11 from 3, ballgame.

    I guess that the Lakers really can't play defense under 'Antoni.

    Kobe is 25-79 over the last 3 games, but it sure looked like Butler did a heck of a good job on him last night. F.Y.I. James Harden is 20-80 over his past 4 games.

    Steve Kerr, made a point that I've made about Butlers offensive potential when he noted that his 86% free throw rate suggested that he should be able to translate that to becoming a good shooter from the field.

    Will Bulter become a legitimate starter, or will he become what Taj Gibson is, good enough to start in an emergency, but someone who you would always be looking to replace if he was a full time starter. Only time will tell, but I doubt that we can afford to keep him as a non starter at a Taj Gibson salary. In other words we cannot afford to overpay both Taj Gibson, and a baby Taj Gibson in Bulter.

    If the Bulls let Deng walk, they will likely have max or near max salary cap space in the summer of 2014. So why do you think that they won't be able to replace Deng with comparable or better talent. Do you think that they will let Deng walk, but not amnestitize Bozo. I agree with you by the way, that I don't see Deng or his game aging well. I feel the same way about Noah also.

    Anyone notice how Ron Artest(a small forward), pulled a Houndini(or David Copperfield) and made the Matabozo(the allstar and player of the week) disappear for virtually the entire game. Especially in the second half, when I think that he may not have even touched the ball until collecting 2 Garbage time baskets in the last 2 minutes after the Bulls had already put the game away. That's the Bozo we all know and hate, the garbage time pussy that he is.

    I liked the way that Noah competed against Howard, however, he still looks like he plays afraid of him, which I just don't get. Howard is clearly not the same guy. I have had 2 back surgeries and have never been the same since my first back injury, several years before my first surgery. I doubt that Howard will ever be the same. He might play for ten more years, but the back will limit what he can do. He will be far less explosive, and play stiff, if not necessarily becoming one(a stiff).

    Anyone signing Howard to a max deal will be taking a huge risk. Howard might be where Shaq was when the Lakers shipped him out to Miami because they didn't want to give him another $100 million plus deal, and Howard has never been anywhere near what Shaq was.

    Rose to begin full contact practice soon, will that make him day to day.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Why couldn't Butler or Taj start? Taj proved as a rookie he could start, and in the occasional starts in place of Boozer or Noah, he puts up a good game.

    Just because Thibs is stubborn in his refusal to utilize his bench, isn't a referendum on those two. And I am by no means saying Taj or Butler would become Allstar players....but Taj could put up 15-10 if starting and Butler could be a Tony Allen like starter.

    You made a great and completely logical circumstance (because these ARE the Bulls) in which the Bulls could once again display their cheap and dumb front office thinking...and that would be to let Deng walk and NOT Amnesty Boozer because they want to save money.

    When Boozer has been lighting it up, hes had the advantage over defenders smaller than him where he can back them down and push them around. Metta is a strong dude and he's still a great post defender.

    Noah plays scared of Dwight because he is scared of him...or at least he's scared of Dwight's strength. Dwight is listed at 6'11 but he's really 6'9 without shoes and 265lbs of all muscle. Noah is listed at 6'11 so he's probably 6'9 too, but he comes in at 232lbs. Noah knows when he plays Dwight he's gonna get beat up and pushed around, and his only advantage is his motor.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Oh yea, I forgot to mention it, but lost in the afterglow of the victory, the Bulls got killed on the glass again 50-40. That falls mostly on Taj and bozo combining for only 7. I guess that they partially made up for that by only committing 8 turnovers, about half their usual number, even if that is mostly a reflection of the lakers lack of pressure defense.

  • I would still roll the dice on Howard!

    1. He is on a team that isn't utilizing his abilities.
    2. He is coming off back surgery so quite possibly less than full strength
    3. He just turned 27 hard to not see him coming back. Four year deal only takes us till he is 32 which isn't bad for a center.

    It would be like saying Rose isn't worth building your team around if he comes back and struggles. Some injuries take awhile and Backs can be just as hard as Knees to get back to 100%. I fully expect Rose to be as explosive as before. Maybe not this season but he should get there. Howard while maybe not as focused on the court as we would like doesn't strike me as lazy as he has always been in great physical condition.

    Howard killed the Heat imagine him and Rose playing together. Just Nasty! You would want to see that don't lie.

    I would much rather trade Deng than just see him walk like the Bulls are so fond of doing with their assets. Why get nothing for him? Its just such a waste.

    Kirk Hinrich is like the new Bruce Bowen WAY overrated. Does it matter how good his defense is when he is almost always outscored two or three or even four to one? 37% is 37% sure he isn't chucking 20 shots a game but it still hurts you as he isn't a threat to do anything. He does help with Ball movement but that is because he can't shoot so is always swinging the ball. He plays hard and smart but I still don't agree with the signing. I would take Mayo anyday over Kirk.

  • In reply to Chad:

    Agreed 100% with your Rose coming back and struggling analogy. Haters tend to forget, Dwight was originally projected to come back right now (Jan), but he came back early and has played since November...so of course his back wouldn't be what it is.

    Another great point about Deng...are we really planning to just le Deng walk for nothing? We're goin to just let assets go without recoupig anything in return? Wow.

    How about this suggestion...if the Bulls don't win the title, you trade him in the offseason, get some youn prospects, draft picks, or good cheap role players in return.

    If Gay's market is Dudley and lottery picks, I would guess we could get at least a lottery pick for him.

  • In reply to YouBlewwIt:

    You are getting something by letting Deng walk that you don't get in a trade: salary relief. For a team that doesn't want to pay the tax that's an important asset.

    The Bulls should only trade Deng if they're willing to pay the tax. Swapping him for a similarly priced player as they'd have to do doesn't make sense if they're going to continue to try to dodge the tax as much as possible.

  • In reply to Shakes:

    If the Bulls trade him now for an expiring and young prospect... That helps with the financials too

  • i'd rather stick with Noah, Howard is a team killing cancer with his clown attitude. Just wait to see things spiral and get worse in la la land. there's already been a report about him and kobe not getting along. He was once a super athletic big man but he doesn't have the heart and mind of a champion. Noah despite looking clumsy and uncoordinated at times has the heart of a champion, 6 blocks last night. The Bulls need a Kevin Love powerfoward to compliment Noah or a premier wing to compliment Rose, we'll see what they can get done.

  • I'd still give Howard a max deal, but there's no way I'd trade Noah + Deng for the privilege. It's not so much the injury as the attitude that would scare me.

    That said he'll be better once he's no longer playing for the worst coach in the league. D'Antoni makes Vinny look like Phil Jackson.

    I think Deng is someone the Bulls should let walk in 2014 unless he's willing to sign for a very reasonable contract (in the NBA? Yeah right). Let someone else make the mistake of paying for what he is now rather than what he'll be over the life of the contract. If the Bulls give him another 4 or 5 years they're going to regret it, anyone who says Deng doesn't rely on athleticism is fooling themselves. Stamina is part of athleticism too, and Deng's ability to play hard on both ends for 40+ minutes a night will decline with age.

    I don't think Butler is who the Bulls should be aiming to replace Deng with though, it's LeBron. I know we've been round that cycle once but this time the case for the Bulls is even stronger: Noah's effort or Bosh's 6 rebounds a game? A prime Rose or an over the hill Wade? Thibs ability to get the most out of any team or Spolstra's mediocrity?

    The big difference is if we want to amnesty Boozer anyway, and we don't want to give Deng another contract anyway, then unlike last time the Bulls lose absolutely nothing by making a run at LeBron since they'd have the space to do so anyway.

  • In reply to Shakes:

    I suppose that is still the dream of having a 2014 plan, that Lebron opts out. Even if he did, he probably goes to the Lakers or back to Cleveland before he comes to the Bulls. But since the stars(contracts) are aligned, we might as well put ourselves in a position to offer him the max contract. Hopefully, this time when he leaves us in the lurch we will have a better fallback position than overpaying the next Matabozo.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    It's a long shot I agree. I just don't see who else the Bulls can go after that improves the team, even if you could get Kevin Love in Deng's "salary slot" then you're still going to need a quality wing player and have no way of getting one.

  • As far as Butler goes, I think he has the potential to be a Ron Artest type of player. Not the same, but similar. If he keeps developing his offense, I think he could be a guy that could score 15-20 ppg if needed. Artest likes to jack up shots and falls in love with the three (which Butler does not do), but when he was in Houston he was able to cary the team at times. I think Butler could do the same thing (potentialy) if he were in the same situation. Look what he did in the Summer League. He scored way more than anyone thought he was able to. If he were to be forced into it, I think he could be a reliable scorer. He's not ready for that now, but I could see him being that player in the next 5 years. Paul George comes to mind as the same thing. He was a nice player, then a good player, now he's talked about as maybe an All-Star. Look how Rose whent from being laughed at for saying he could be MVP to now being the saviour of the franchise. I'm not saying this will happen for Butler, but I think that is his potential.
    But can we please not kick Deng out the door until Jimmy puts at least a week of this play together.

  • Grizzlies traded half of their bench today to Cavs for Laur(I don't know how to spell his name)? Plus a first round pick too! All to save money. How are they going to compete now that they have no bench?

  • In reply to PaBullfan:

    Small market teams don't want to pay the tax, it was either move their bench or move at least one of their starters.

  • A question that I want to put out to anyone who wants to answer:
    If Kobe only wants to play for another year or two, should he asked to be traded so that he can get his sixth ring? The Lakers are in such a mess, I don't know if they can fix it with a simple trade. They may need to blow up the team and actually rebuild. Does Kobe go through all that at this point?

  • In reply to PaBullfan:

    Who would they trade him to? His contract is huge, just matching salary in a trade would be a headache.

    Anyway I think Kobe will play until he gets the all-time scoring record, he's not really going to retire after his contract is up.

  • I don't think we'll have max cap space in 2014 even if Deng and Boozer are gone.

    If Boozer is amnestied and Deng let go, for 2014 you have:

    Rose $18,862,876

    Noah $12,200,000

    Gibson $8,000,000

    Mirotic $4,000,000 (just a wild guess)

    Butler $2,008,748

    Teague $1,120,920

    Total: $46,192,544 (for 6 players)

    On top of that, you've got the Bulls' draft picks in 2013 and 2014, (possibly) Charlotte's pick, and any remaining minimum salary contracts to meet the minimum roster requirement. That doesn't look like close to max cap space.

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