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Bulls have another unlikely opening night story
by Sam Smith
Posted on Oct 29
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It was like the Finals Tuesday before the beginning, the first game day shootaround before the first game of the 2013-14 NBA season.
The TV networks, TNT and ESPN, were there with cameras rolling as the Bulls prepared to play the Miami Heat in Miami’s first game since winning the championship in the same arena five months ago. The commissioner’s staff was there as he prepared for the trophy presentation. The arena was getting some makeup. The national media representatives, rare visitors to Bulls shootarounds since 1998, were there.
Obviously, the main attraction was the champion Heat and LeBron James. But no less sideshow were the Bulls with the return of former league MVP Derrick Rose, perhaps no NBA player ever making such an anticipated return from serious knee surgery.
“Just having fun. It’s a regular game to me,” said Rose, and if you didn’t know him, you’d think it was one of those rehearsed media answers.
But he was just having fun, and for Rose it is another game, though one of the best because he is playing.
“Going out here, doing something, I mean I been missing this game for a whole year. So coming out here enjoying myself and playing this game that I love playing,” said Rose. “Like I said, no disrespect to any of my old teammates. But for us to have this team now where everybody is focused in and really puts basketball first, it’s unreal.
“I think I’m way better as a player,” Rose said about New Derrick compared with Pre-injury, MVP Derrick. “Just my IQ has gotten higher and the way that I play I think I’m a more efficient player. And my teammates allow me to play the way I normally play. That’s a blessing.”
There was much talk about rivalry, the teams’ dislike for one another. But Rose offered, “I think the competitiveness in all of us leads to this. Where you feel like you hate one another, but you’re just trying to get the same thing.”
Rose was asked about Juwan Howard, now a Heat assistant coach, late in the Heat practice Monday after reporters were allowed in (which is just for a short segment) banging players with pads like in football drills. James explained to South Florida media: “You can’t play lackadaisical against the Bulls. They will embarrass you and you will end up scoring 60 points.”
“That’s my first time hearing that,” Rose said. “That’s kind of crazy. I don’t think we’re going to foul them like that. If they go to the hole, of course we’re going to hit them. But I don’t think it’s going to be anything like football.”
It’s seemed like that at times between the teams, and it may take a bit after the pregame ceremony before it comes out again. But the Bulls are serious. Though coach Tom Thibodeau wouldn’t say, it seems likely Joakim Noah will start with the regulars as he was going hard in drills before shootaround started. Kirk Hinrich also said he’s ready to play.
But there is a new kid on the block in some respects. Yes, the focus is obviously on the teams and James and Rose. But it’s a big day for Jimmy Butler. The Bulls new starting shooting guard was still a non rotation backup a year ago. He wasn’t even considered an NBA prospect a few years previous. The Bulls four starters, Noah, Rose, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng, came together in 2010.
Is Jimmy the final piece?
“It is kind of nerve wracking, to tell you the truth,” Butler said, watching as reporters crowded around Rose and teammates. “These guys are constantly helping me out, telling me they want me to be successful, to be myself and not be anyone else. Just do what I’ve been doing. That makes it a lot easier
“But I am new to this,” Butler went on. “As long as I play hard and bring what I can to the table, I feel no one can be angry with that. That’s a winning mentality. Stats never meant anything to me. All I want to do is help a team win. Just be wanted enough to know I’m here to win.”
And Butler may be that previously missing element. With his defensive prowess, especially when Taj Gibson is in the game, the Bulls have a lineup so versatile and athletic they can switch all the pick and rolls, a rare weapon in the NBA that has been one of the secrets for Miami’s success with their small lineups.
“I feel on the defensive end, our first five we can switch almost everything,” said Butler. “Defensively, when Taj comes into the game that’s a lot of switchables and that takes them out of their offense.”
Butler will get the assignment against Dwyane Wade, who obviously remains vital to the Heat’s chances. The former Marquette players went at one another in last season’s playoffs, and Butler had many big moments. Being able to help neutralize Wade is a big advantage as well as keeping Wade occupied on defense as with some previous Bulls teams he’s been able to play loose and in the lanes for steals, which is the key to Miami’s offensive game.
But it’s still a pinch me time for Butler, who wasn’t even much of a scorer at Marquette after having to attend junior college first.
“Every day seems unreal to me,” admits the 6-7 guard. “As I always say, I’m from Tomball (Texas). Not in a million years you’d ever tell me I’d be in the NBA. Yet being on a championship caliber team, yet being a starter. That’s crazy.
“I thank God for that every day,” says Butler. “I talk to my brothers and my family about it. It’s huge to me. But I don’t want to be known as just a basketball player, which is why I try to use this to change people views on basketball players or people as a whole. I feel this is a gift. So you’ve got to change as many lives with it as possible. My main thing is to show kids dreams do come true if you work hard enough and don’t take things for granted. If you come in with the right mindset to work every day, to school, wherever, to be the best at everything you can be at.
“That’s the chip I have,” Butler adds. “Not wanting to be known, but not to be looked over. That’s the case of a lot of people. And sometimes it’s good like that. They overlook you and then you’re there, in there with the big dogs. That’s what you want being the underdog.
“I always ask myself (if I can do it). But it’s really never about me,” says Butler. “It’s about a team, the Chicago Bulls. With guys like Derrick, Jo, Booz, Lu, Taj. They take a lot of heat night in and out. So there’s not too much pressure on me. This is what we’ve all been waiting on. I think this is the year for us and we’re all ready to go.”