Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Bulls’

Morning shootaround — Nov. 6


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs still searching for answers | Rose, not Bulls, made call to miss games | Might Lakers try to deal for Rondo? | Thunder set to add Smith

No. 1: Cavs search for answers in another loss — The Cleveland Cavaliers began their current four-game road trip with 114-108 win over the rival Chicago Bulls, but since then, it’s been all down hill. On Tuesday came a 101-82 pasting at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers and last night in Salt Lake City, the Cavs climbed back into a game they trailed the Jazz in all night, only to lose 102-100 on a Gordon Hayward jump shot. Somehow, though, Cavs star LeBron James is trying to find the positives in these tough losses and shared some of them with Northeast Ohio Media Group’s Joe Vardon:

In the Cavaliers’ previous two losses, James was much more passive – abnormally so for him. He articulated after the loss to Portland Tuesday and again before the Utah game Wednesday that he had purposefully played that way in attempt to prove a point to younger Cleveland holdovers from the bad teams which lost tons of games before James returned.

There is a “fine line,” James called it, between playing passively and allowing the team to lose now as a teaching tool, and being the kind of aggressor that can will the Cavaliers to victory. He suggested he was torn on how to play.

James’ better angels won because it would do no one – not him, not first-year coach David Blatt, and not Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, the two players James is most trying to reach – any good for the Cavaliers to go on a losing streak with a seemingly disinterested James standing around on the perimeter.

The jelling that needs to take place between now and whenever Cleveland reaches its potential, the breaking of the “bad habits” James identified Tuesday, will probably come faster if he plays at his typically high level.

“We played well, and I was very aggressive,” James said after the loss to Utah. “I got to the line a lot tonight. My body felt it good, it let me know I was in attack mode. I think it put us in a position to win. That’s all you can ask for as a player is to put your team in a position to win at the end of the game. So we got a little bit of clarity, but me, personally, I’ve got to figure out a way to get my teammates involved, too, because it can’t be just a one, two, or three-man show.”

James played better defense. He’s known as a premier defender, but he’s gotten lost at times and merely waved at his man on other occasions this season, while preaching the need for younger player to commit to defense.

James moved his feet against the Jazz, played the passing lanes and nearly had two more steals. The Cavaliers started slowly on defense against Utah, coughing up 59 first-half points, but got back in the game with a more committed effort in the third and fourth quarters.

Still, another flat performance — be it the entire game (as was the case in Portland), or in the middle of it (such as last night in Utah) — is starting to irk many of the Cavs. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group has more on that angle:

It may only be four games in and yes, their chemistry still needs time to materialize, but there’s no excuse for not showing up. It’s starting to become problematic.

“We should have never been in that position in the first place,” Tristan Thompson told Northeast Ohio Media Group of Hayward’s shot. “Our energy level was terrible the whole game. We didn’t start picking it up until the last eight minutes probably. So we have to live with the results.”

Thompson makes his living off of hard work and doing the little things that helps a team win. For a player of his work ethic, it’s extremely difficult for him to watch this team give a lackadaisical effort.

He’s puzzled, as he can only shake his head in disapproval.

“I can’t put my finger on it but we got to figure it out collectively as a group,” he said. “It can’t just be one or two guys. It has to be all of us collectively as a group, figuring out what it takes to play 48 minutes of hard basketball, playing with some heart, some balls and being ready to fight.”

Blatt tried to defend his team, saying they wanted to attack the Jazz in some pick-and-roll situations and in isolations that often don’t lead to assists. That’s a fair argument but the guys know that’s unacceptable.

“You can’t explain it,” LeBron James said in amazement. “There’s no way you’re going to win a basketball game like that, just having six assists…We just can’t win like that. We have to figure out a way to help each other and not make it so tough.”


VIDEO: LeBron James talks after the Cavs’ road loss in Utah (more…)

Report: Bulls’ Rose set to return tonight; Noah (flu) a game time decision

HANG TIME BIG CITYDerrick Rose appears set to return to the Bulls’ line-up tonight against the Orlando Magic (8 p.m. ET, League Pass). Rose sprained both ankles last Friday in a loss to Cleveland, then missed Chicago’s win on Saturday night against Minnesota, an absence he termed as mostly precautionary. But at shootaround in Chicago today, Rose went through the entire session and, according to ESPNChicago.com, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Rose was “probable” for tonight. Joakim Noah, meanwhile, missed the shootaround with flu-like symptoms and will be a game time decision.

Rose told reporters that his recovery from the sprains has been steady. As ESPNChicago.com’s Nick Friedell writes

“I’m feeling good,” he said. “Every day it’s improving. [I'll] come in early tonight and really stretch and get treatment, try to go over everything [in] every area and try to give it a go tonight.”

The Bulls and Rose want to take a cautious approach regarding his health because there are so many games left in the regular season.

“It is [frustrating] but there’s nothing I can do about it,” Rose said. “I’d have something to worry about if I just twisted it by myself, nobody was around, but I came down on somebody’s foot and that was the reason why I sprained it. [The injuries] are just basketball related, something that’s just going to happen. It’s a basketball injury, so I just got to get used to it. I think it’s part of the process, you just got to keep going through it with a positive mindset.”

Morning shootaround — Nov. 4


VIDEO: Highlights of games played Nov. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Grizz stay undefeated | Rose, Gibson listed as probable vs. Magic | Durant: George’s injury led me to leave Team USA | Scott wants more defense from Boozer

No. 1: Physical Grizzlies improve to 4-0 — Don’t look now, but the Memphis Grizzlies are in the midst of their best-ever start … and show little sign of slowing up. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol led the charge last night in a 93-81 pasting of the New Orleans Pelicans, who had gotten some bright, early-season play from their own big man combo of Anthony Davis and Omer Asik. But as Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal notes, the Grizz went to their tried-and-true gameplan of pounding on foes in the paint and it worked wonderfully:

The Grizzlies remained unbeaten Monday night with a defensive effort that silenced the Pelicans’ main scorers throughout a 93-81 victory. Memphis (4-0) held New Orleans (1-2) to 33.7 percent shooting in a game in which neither team found an offensive rhythm.

And that was just how Griz coach Dave Joerger wanted to see the game play out.

“We got it the way we play. We got them in the mud,” Joerger said. “We got our hands and bodies on people. We were physical.”

Pelicans forward Anthony Davis finished with just 14 points, eight rebounds and a block after entering the game averaging 28 points, 16 boards and six blocks in his first two games.

The Griz, however, had all five starters score in double digits despite shooting 40.8 percent as a team. Marc Gasol’s 16 points led the Griz, who had three players with double-doubles. Gasol also had 11 rebounds. Zach Randolph added 15 points and 11 boards, while Tony Allen chipped in 12 points and 11 rebounds.

In the end, Memphis’ defense made the difference. Over the past two games, the Griz have held opponents to 34.8-percent shooting.

“We did a pretty good job of being tied together, talking and finishing possessions with a rebound,” Gasol said about the Grizzlies’ defense. “We felt like we made things tough for them. They weren’t in a rhythm.”


VIDEO: Zach Randolph and the Grizzlies plow past the Pelicans (more…)

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 2


VIDEO: Highlights of games played Nov. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bulls, Butler can’t reach deal | Thompson shows his worth | Cavs make roster move | Celtics, Rondo work on chemistry

No. 1: Butler wants to do it in Chicago — The midnight Friday deadline to reach extensions with members of the 2011 Draft class came and went without the Chicago Bulls coming to an agreement with Jimmy Butler, one of Chicago’s key rotation players. After what were reportedly “cordial, wide-ranging” discussions, Butler tells K.C. Johnson that he’s prepared to play out this season and enter restricted free agency next summer, though he is hopeful his future remains as a member of the Bulls

Jimmy Butler’s agent told the Tribune before the Bulls game with the Cavaliers that Butler rejected a final offer and that stance didn’t change. Sources said the Bulls offered a multi-year deal averaging $11 million during lengthy, cordial conversations.

Butler will be a restricted free agent next summer, meaning the Bulls can match any offer he receives. Unlike when Omer Asik entered restricted free agency, the Bulls own Butler’s full “Bird” rights so offers can’t be as back-loaded prohibitively as Asik’s poison pill deal with the Rockets.

“This is where I want to be,” Butler said. “I love my teammates, the fan base, the organization, everybody. I think I still will end up in this city.

“I understand this is a business so I just have to be a great basketball player. I love my odds. I think this team is championship-caliber. I’m going to produce. I’m going to guard. I will take that on myself.”

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No. 2: Thompson shows worth — Just hours after signing a four-year extension worth $70 million, Warriors guard Klay Thompson went out and scored 41 points against the Lakers. The Warriors got a win in their home opener despite Kobe Bryant going for 28 and keeping the Lakers in the game. As Diamond Leung reports, Thompson’s big game left everyone from Kobe to coach Steve Kerr singing his praises

Thompson was 14 for 18 from the field, going 5 for 7 from 3-point range. Going 12 for 28 from the field was the vintage Bryant even at age 36 and without as much talent on his team as he’s been accustomed to having.

“It was fun to watch,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “It was like the rising star at that position going against the guy who’s been the best for 15 years.”

Thompson has shown signs that he has what it takes to seize the shooting guard torch from Bryant. After their first meeting in the preseason, Bryant was left saying of Thompson’s 25-point performance that the 24-year-old “has the whole package.”

On Thompson’s career night, one tit for tat began with him blowing by his childhood hero on a fast break, shot-faking Bryant into flying by and scoring while being fouled. On the other end of the court, Bryant sank a contested fadeaway jumper.

“He was making some crazy shots,” Thompson said. “He’s still got it.”

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No. 3: Cavs make move — Sure we’re not even a week into the season, and the Cavaliers may (rightfully) be preaching patience and small sample sizes, but new coach David Blatt also apparently isn’t afraid to make a move when its needed. Yesterday, the Cavs waived A.J. Price and signed free agent point guard Will Cherry, who spent last season in the D-League. As Chris Haynes reports, now that he’s in the NBA, Cherry now has to find a role…

Price, 28, had a solid preseason showing with the Cavaliers appearing in six games and averaging 7.2 points, 1.5 assists in 13.3 minutes per game.

Cleveland will replace Price with free agent point guard Will Cherry, a league source informed Northeast Ohio Media Group.

Cherry, 23, has agreed to a two-year deal, we’re told. Not all of the salary is guaranteed.

The 6-1 guard was undrafted in 2013 out of the University of Montana where he is seventh on the school’s all-time scoring list. Last season he played for the Canton Charge of the NBA Development League, the Cavaliers’ D-League affiliate.

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No. 4: Celts build chemistryRondo molding Celtics — The Celtics are still deep in rebuilding mode, but for Rajon Rondo, that’s a good thing because it means the current roster is stocked with young players willing to be molded. After the Celtics flew from Boston to Houston for their first road trip of the season, Rondo helped organize a team dinner to build chemistry, as Marc D’Amico reports

Rondo, who said that every team’s personality is different, is starting to get a grasp on this group of Celtics. He’s learning that this team loves to have a good time, and he claims that’s a good thing.

“We have a lot of young guys, a lot of playful guys with good personalities,” Rondo said. “So it kind of helps ease everything.”

Rondo himself showed off his playful personality by poking fun at one of his teammates, 14-year veteran Gerald Wallace, as he discussed the team dinner.

“We don’t have too many stiff guys like Gerald, older guys that are set in their ways,” he joked. “Everybody’s young and can be molded, and what better way than to have dinner with food?”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After Paul Pierce was ejected last night, Otto Porter had a big game for Washington … Memphis guard Courtney Lee is “out a while” with a concussion … After Joe Johnson lit up the Pistons for 34 points, Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy said it was his fault … Several teams have reportedly shown interest in Quincy Miller, with the Lakers leading the way

Derrick Rose down and out (at least vs. the Cavs)

VIDEO: Derrick Rose leaves game vs. Cavs with an ankle injury.

Derrick Rose limped off the floor again. Stop me if you heard this before. And before.

UPDATED (12:37 a.m.)

At least this time, the left ankle sprain he suffered Friday against the Cavs didn’t appear to be serious, at least not enough to keep him out for an extended time, if any. Rose injured himself after an awkward landing in the second quarter and didn’t return, which cast a spell over what was otherwise an intense and suspenseful game.

Given his injury history — namely a pair of knee injuries that benched him for most of two complete seasons — any time Rose grabs a body part, Chicago winces. That’s why, no matter what degree of injury Rose suffers, it’s a big deal in a town that is weary of watching the Bulls play on without him.

That this happened in the home opener made it even more ominous. At least the Bulls are assured of seeing Rose suit up again, maybe even Saturday in Minnesota. Which is better than the same-old, same-old.

Knicks face tough schedule with rough offense


VIDEO: Bulls vs. Knicks

NEW YORK – The New York Knicks have admitted freely that the Triangle offense would take time to learn. Exhibit A: Their 104-80 loss to the Chicago Bulls in the first game of the season on Wednesday.

The Knicks’ offense looked slow, robotic, disjointed, clumsy, and just flat-out brutal. They only had 12 turnovers, but there were some ugly ones, like passes going straight out of bounds because guys weren’t on the same page.

And the shots …

20141029_nyk

There was an occasional layup off a back-door play on the weak side, a Triangle staple. But most of the Knicks points were not a product of the offense, but of their ability to improvise after things broke down. They still have some talented offensive players on the roster.

But when Samuel Dalembert and Quincy Acy combine to take four 15-20 footers in the first quarter, something is very wrong. The Knicks took 21 shots from the restricted area and 17 3-pointers. They took just as many shots (38) from mid-range, with another nine from the similarly inefficient area of the paint outside the restricted area.

It wasn’t as old-school (and bad) as the Lakers’ shot chart on Wednesday, but that kind of shot selection isn’t going to win you many games. You can credit the Chicago defense some and also note that New York was without starting point guard Jose Calderon (strained right calf). But the offensive disfunction was just as clear in the preseason against lesser defenses and with a healthy Calderon.

UPDATE: The Knicks announced Thursday afternoon that Calderon is out 2-3 weeks.

“We’re going somewhere,” Knicks coach Derek Fisher said after Wednesday’s game. “But at the beginning of where we’re going, it’s going to be difficult to get wins.”

Knicks president was a little more blunt. “Not ready for Showtime, were we?,” he responded when asked by the Daily News for his reaction to Wednesday’s performance.

20141030_nyk_schedNot at all. If the offense was bad, the defense was worse. But with the personnel the Knicks have, the defense probably won’t get much better over the course of the season, so the pressure is on the offense to start functioning, because the wins and losses count now.

And the Knicks play a tough early schedule as they try to look a little less disjointed every game. They will help Cleveland welcome back LeBron James on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TNT) and then head back home to face East playoff teams Washington and Charlotte.

Their worst opponent in their first eight games is probably the Pistons, but that game is in Detroit, on the second night of a back-to-back for the Knicks. The eight games are all against East teams that could push New York out of a playoff spot, and the stretch includes three back-to-backs.

So you have to wonder when the Triangle will start to work, at least to a point where the Knicks have a chance to score consistently against NBA defenses.

“There’s not a calendar date,” Fisher said when asked about his team’s learning curve on offense. “It really just depends on our team and our players and our willingness to stick with the process.”

Morning shootaround — Oct. 30


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Oct. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jackson: Knicks ‘not ready for showtime’Rose pleased with his first game | Rondo becomes fan of Parker’s game | Williams, Hollins blast Nets’ defense | Finding a bright side in Lakerland

No. 1: Jackson: Knicks weren’t ‘ready for showtime’ — The New York Knicks’ season opener was high on expectations, but by the time Wednesday night was over, it failed to deliver on any of them. From the vaunted, new triangle offense being put in place to talk of more dedication on defense than was shown in 2013-14, the Knicks more or less failed to deliver on their promises in a 104-80 home loss to the Chicago Bulls. After the game, Knicks president Phil Jackson didn’t mince words about his team’s performance. The New York Post‘s Peter Botte has more:

The Knicks certainly weren’t telling false tales when they maintained throughout training camp that their newly installed offensive system − via team president Phil Jackson and first-year coach Derek Fisher − continues to be nowhere close to peak, or even acceptable, efficiency.

With another daunting test awaiting them Thursday against LeBron James and the Cavaliers in Cleveland, the Knicks opened the Jax-Fisher era by flunking geometry in ugly fashion. They shot just 36.5% from the field − including 3-for-17 from three-point range − and were overmatched at both ends in a boo-filled 104-80 blowout loss to the Bulls in their season opener at the Garden.

“Not ready for Showtime, were we?” Jackson replied when asked for comment by the Daily News outside his waiting car after the game. “I can’t tell how long it will take.”

Seven-time All-Star and $124 million man Carmelo Anthony scored just 14 points − somehow the team-high − on 5-for-13 shooting, and surprise starting power forward Amar’e Stoudemire added 12 points and eight rebounds for the Knicks, who played without expected first-string point guard Jose Calderon (calf).

Still, Fisher, making his coaching debut following an accomplished 18-year playing career, and the Knicks continue to preach patience as they iron out the intricacies of the famed triangle offense and their new defensive principles.

“I guess my assessment of tonight is we’re going somewhere, but at the beginning of where we’re going it’s going to be difficult to get wins,” Fisher said. “We have to fight really, really hard to win games. It won’t be because we’re executing perfectly or playing perfect defense. It will be because we’re working hard and playing with energy and effort.”

“We have to ask ourselves about energy and effort and we just got to get better at that,” Anthony said. “I’m not embarrassed. We lost and tip your hat off to Chicago for playing extremely well on all cylinders. We didn’t play well, but embarrassed, no, I’m not embarrassed. We will get better. I believe that. I know that. And we got another shot at it (Thursday) night.”


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony discusses the Knicks’ woes against the Bulls on Wednesday

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Morning shootaround — Oct. 28


VIDEO: As the season opens tonight, get a wrapup of the offseason

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bosh embraces challenge of leading | Report: Cavs, Thompson hit stall in extension talks | Mirotic adjusts to NBA life | Spurs a little short-handed for opener

No. 1: Bosh taking on challenge of leading Heat — The Miami Heat have been without LeBron James for months now, and will be for many more years going forward. The superstar’s departure to Cleveland not only created a void in the lineup and on the court, stats-wise, but also one on the team in terms of leadership. As the Heat get ready for their season opener on Wednesday night, they are hoping that one key member of the old Big Three, Chris Bosh, can step into a leadership role (that likely won’t be like James’ leadership role) this season. Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald has more:

Behind the scenes and in the Heat’s locker room, filling the leadership void created by James’ departure to Cleveland is one of the bigger concerns facing the team entering the season.

In addition to doing a little bit of everything during games, James was also a powerful voice off the court for the Heat.

James is a natural-born leader, and while there are still plenty of lieutenants on the Heat’s team this season, a four-star general — someone who is going to lead the team in minutes played, defense, scoring and nightly swagger — hasn’t been commissioned.

Bosh doesn’t need to be James for the Heat to be successful this season, but he knows he needs to discover his own unique way to motivate and inspire.

“It has been a challenge,” Bosh said. “I can’t duplicate what he did. … He was a great leader, he is a great leader; guys following him easily,” Bosh said. “I’m trying to put my own spin on it and bring my own personality to it, and that has been a difficult journey for me, but I’m learning every day.

“I’m trying to make sure I personally talk to guys all the time and just take pointers from other people and see how I can bring all that to the table.”

He’s trying, and his heart seems in it. Maybe that’s enough.

“I force myself to talk every day,” Bosh said. “It’s not easy. It’s something that I always, always work on. My wife pushes me every day to work on that stuff. There is no hiding for me, so I might as well get it over with and talk and be social.”

When the Heat begins the season Wednesday at home game against the Washington Wizards, Bosh will not be the only leader on the team. If he can lead statistically, maybe Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, the team’s co-captains, can worry about the rest.

Before the first day of training camp, Wade stood in front of his teammates — new and old — and gave an impassioned speech about opportunity and attitude and, inherent in any conversation that early in the process, Life After LeBron.

Wade looked in his teammates eyes. He reassured those who struggled in the 2014 postseason and introduced the newcomers to the Heat’s culture.

“I just wanted them to hear my voice as a leader and one of the faces of this franchise on that first day just to set the tone of it being a different year, and a different opportunity for a lot of guys in this locker room,” Wade said. “We knew it was going to be tough. We knew it wasn’t going to happen overnight.”


VIDEO: Dwyane Wade explains how the Heat will move on from LeBron James’ departure

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Morning shootaround — Oct. 23


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Love seeking more play in paint | Report: Noah’s knee may be season-long ‘issue’ | Howard gets a little wistful | Lakers’ Hill returned because D’Antoni left

No. 1: Love looking for more touches in paint — A cursory glance at last night’s box score from the Cavaliers’ game against the Grizzlies in Memphis shows Kevin Love had a decent night for Cleveland — 12 points (on 4-for-9 shooting), eight rebounds, an assist and two steals in roughly 23 minutes. After the game, though, Love told Chris Haynes of The Plain Dealer that he’s looking for more touches in the interior than out on the perimeter to fully get his game back on track for the looming 2014-15 season:

In two consecutive games early in exhibition play against the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks, Love appeared to have found his groove, scoring 50 points in total while shooting 17-of-23 from the field.

He was also a blistering nine-of-12 from three-point range in that two-game span.

The All-Star power forward had it going. But aside from those two games, Love averaged 8.5 points, shot 29 percent from the field and was 1-for-11 from beyond the arc.

Love averaged 3.8 three-point attempts per game, an adequate amount for the former All-Star Weekend three-point champion.

Though he has still found ways to be productive for the Cavaliers, after the 96-92 loss preseason finale loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, he told Northeast Ohio Media Group that he needs more looks inside to get his game back.

“My entire life I played the game from inside-out,” Love explained to NEOMG. “So the more touches I can get inside to get myself going, the better. I’m not accustomed to starting out a game shooting a three, so it’s just something that I see.

“I’m 26-years-old and I’ve been playing basketball for quite a long time. Just finding ways to mix it up. If anything, keeping it around the basket a little bit more and the offense will allow me to get offensive rebounds. That will be tough for teams with Andy [Varejao] and myself and Tristan [Thompson] in there.”

His long-ball threat is a valuable weapon; the reason head coach David Blatt is utilizing him in that fashion. Love says the offense calls for him to be out on the perimeter, but he says he has to make sure he remembers to go inside more.

“Yeah, the offense is built that way but I just have to make a conscious decision to get myself in there,” Love said. “There are a lot of times where I just find myself fading to the three-point line. For me, it’s a mentality and that’s easy to fix.

“We’ve been putting in stuff like different pin-downs, cut-across and cross-screens to get me open in there. You’ll see a lot more of that during the season. That’s always how I played and I know that coach wants me to play that way, as well.”


VIDEO: Marc Gasol powers the Grizzlies past the Cavs

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Bulls’ Butler a high-volatility stock


VIDEO: Butler plays preseason hero against Hawks

Asterisks abounded Thursday night, when Jimmy Butler went vintage-Derrick Rose – or one-off-Michael Jordan – down the stretch against the Atlanta Hawks.

* Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau had starters, including Butler, on the floor late in the Bulls’ mostly dismal performance.

* His Atlanta counterpart, Mike Budenholzer, was rolling with third-string Hawks.

* Rose, the Bulls player who would normally be called upon at such a point, was on the bench (prompting some predictable hand-wringing from critics who aren’t happy when the point guard plays a lot or when he plays a little).

* It still was the preseason.

* And Butler is in the midst of a salary drive, his performances this month potentially out of character, with the real impact of deal-or-no-deal in his contract extension talks to be determined later.

Still, the Bulls shooting guard did score 29 points – one more than his career high in three NBA seasons – in his team’s scramble back from 21 points to win. Butler got 20 of those in the final 5:11, an explosive stretch that might have been aided by the various asterisks but explosive nonetheless.

He did it, too, in ways that made the worriers feel a little better about Butler’s offense – no one questions his defensive effort or effectiveness – at a position where Chicago needs more oomph. Butler, who shot 39.7 percent from the floor (28.3 percent on 3-pointers), dramatically beat the buzzer from 26 feet in good form. He wound up shooting 8-for-14 and 12-for-16 from the line (9-for-11 in the fourth), and got some big love from teammates.

“We always tell him to take more [shots], but it’s going to be up to him to break that seal,” Rose said. “Thank God that he’s catching his rhythm right now and he’s building his confidence. He’s another threat offensively.”

Not last year, he wasn’t. But Thibodeau played Butler long minutes anyway, for his defense, out of need and in spite of distractions coming at the wing player from Marquette. Butler battled injuries early, played only eight games with Rose before the point guard went down again, then had his role tweaked after the Bulls traded veteran small forward Luol Deng in January.

“Jimmy has grown,” Thibodeau said Thursday night. “He’s more a scorer than to characterize him as a straight shooter. He’s an all-around scorer. He’ll find ways to put the ball in the basket.”

Butler, though you’d wonder where it came from, is said to have arrived at camp 10 pounds lighter. He looks more athletic and clearly has been more aggressive, leading Chicago after five October games with 18.6 points, 60.4 field-goal shooting, 43 free throw attempts and 144 total minutes.

“All summer I worked on my game. The biggest thing is confidence, taking shots I know I can make,” he said.

So, salary drive? Butler has two weeks left to land, per NBA rookie-scale rules, the contract extension available to players heading into their fourth seasons. Two years ago, Bulls forward Taj Gibson felt preseason pressure while his talks played out, and though he got his deal (four years, $33 million), the episode seemed to bleed into a subpar season. Butler has some folks wondering if he might go the other way if he gets paid – throttling back – or be adversely affected if he doesn’t get the extension done.

He said Thursday it hasn’t been a distraction. “Nope. Not at all,” Butler said. “I just try to play the game the right way. The whole contract situation is up to my agent (Happy Walters) and the Bulls organization. I just want to win games. Then the contract will take care of itself, whenever.”

And however much. The market for Butler figures to be as hot as it is fluid. Chicago reportedly would like to sign him now for what’s becoming called “Taj money,” close to Gibson’s 2012 extension. Butler might be anchored more by the three-year, $30 million, take-it-or-leave-it offer the Bulls put in front of Deng before trading him.

Then there’s the unpredictable marketplace of free agency, even with restrictions, should Butler get that far. Gordon Hayward landed his four-year, $63 million max deal that way – offer sheet from Charlotte, matched by Utah – and Chandler Parsons scored a three-year, $46 million contract with Dallas. And if Butler, who will make $2 million this season, were to play this out twice on a year-by-year basis, he would hit the unrestricted marked in 2016 as the new bonanza of TV rights cash officially kicks in.

Bulls VP of basketball John Paxson and GM Gar Forman, who will already have $50 million committed to four players next season (Rose, Gibson, Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol), won’t have Thibodeau at the bargaining table, that’s for sure. The coach who has leaned hard on Butler for two years will look to him even more.

Chicago added shooters over the summer but after Rose, Butler is the best choice to put real pressure on opponents, getting to the rim, getting to the line, throwing himself around to wreak havoc and create energy on nights when there’s none, like Thursday. With Deng’s departure, he is the defender who will draw the toughest assignments, the only one Thibodeau trusts to check other guys’ most potent scorers.

Butler was drafted last in the first round in 2011 and still sounds like an absolute underdog. “I’m from Tomball, [Texas],” he said earlier this week. “I’m not even supposed to be in the NBA, let alone be a star player. I just want to be wanted. I just want to play hard. I just want to help [us] win. End of story. Star player, role player, bench player, whatever it takes. Just let me win.”

Oh, Butler definitely is going to win, either with the Bulls or someone else. In this case, the victory will be noted not by a ‘W’ or an * but by a bunch of $’s.