Author: Kurt Helin

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Jimmy Butler even plans to play defense in the All-Star Game

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LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler is an All-Star. The coaches voted the Bulls swingman in as a reserve, a huge honor for the fourth-year player (who just happens to be in a contract year).

But you know Jimmy, they don’t play defense in the All-Star Game.

“They might not, but I do,” Butler said with a smile Thursday night in Los Angeles. “So if you see me diving on the floor and people say ‘what is he doing?’ I can’t help but be the player that I am.”

That player is the guy seemingly on his way to the Most Improved Player award, the guy having a career year, and the guy who next summer will land a max (or near max) contract. Last summer the Bulls put a reported four-year, $44 million offer on the table and Butler decided to “bet on himself” to become a restricted free agent this summer. That move is going to get the man paid.

All of this started last summer in Houston, where Butler worked with trainer Chris Johnson to shed a little weight while improving his shot. It was Johnson who first suggested to Butler he could be an All-Star this season.

“My trainer Chris, he put it in my head over the summer, he said ‘that’s the first step, you want to be an All-Star.’ So I started thinking about it way earlier than a few weeks ago or the start of the season. Coach Johnson did so much for my confidence on the floor.”

That confidence has Butler averaging 20.4 points and six rebounds a game, plus being the Bulls best perimeter defender. But more than that in what has been an up-and-down season for Chicago — including a sloppy 2OT loss to the Kobe-less Lakers Thursday night — he has been the one steady guy, bringing energy every night. He led the Bulls with 35 points in that ugly Lakers’ loss.

“I think taking the weight off was critical for him,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I thought he had a great training camp, he hit the ground running. Each year he’s been with us he’s gotten a lot better. His drive, his intelligence, and obviously you can’t do that without being very talented. When you combine all those things I think it’s huge.”

What Butler helps provide the Bulls is versatility — he can score in multiple ways, he can defend multiple positions. It’s a coach’s dream.

“In many ways he’s more similar to Derrick (Rose) in that they are power guards, and so they can score a lot of different ways…” Thibodeau said. “Jimmy is very good running the floor, moving without the ball, driving the ball, getting to the free throw line, you can post him, you can run pick-and-roll with him, and I think he’s gained a lot of confidence in his shooting… He’s starting to see more double teams now, so I think as time goes on, he figures that out, find ways to get things done.”

It took a while for Butler to find his footing in the NBA — he was the 30th pick out of Marquette — but Thibodeau said he liked what he saw from the start.

“He came in in an unusual season, it was the lockout year, so he missed all summer, the Summer League, summer practices, the fall practices,” said Thibodeau, who normally isn’t the most loquacious of guys but will willing to go on-and-on about Butler. “Then you have a condensed schedule, and that’s a tough way to come in when you’re trying to learn the league. He was fortunate to be around Luol (Deng) at that time who really helped him handle getting ready to play in the league. But every time he played he got something done out there.

“Then I think the second year he had the confidence that he could play, and he found a niche for himself. He knew defensively he could bring energy, get in there, play tough, and guard multiple positions, run the floor and score in transition. And then I think it just took off from there, (he) worked hard on his all around game, strong on both sides of the ball, and I think he’ll continue to improve.”

Like his coach, Butler just does not see this latest step forward as his last.

“Just goes to show that I’m confident in my game,” Butler said. “You could say it’s All-Star worthy right now but I have a long way to go to get where I want to… where we want to go as a team, I should say. The work this summer, it’s starting to pay off, but I don’t want it to end just here. There’s another step I want to take.”

He’s going to take that step a much more wealthy man. Not that the money will change Butler, he’s as grounded a guy as you’ll find in the league.

Damian Lillard “disappointed,” “disrespected” not to make All-Star team

Washington Wizards v Portland Trail Blazers
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I pity teams that have to try to stop Damian Lillard the next few weeks.

He is the most glaring omission from the All-Star rosters. Lillard is scoring 21.7 points and dishing out 6.1 assists a game as one of the two leaders for the third best team in the West (fourth best record in the NBA). Lillard was an All-Star last season, took on more of the Blazers offense this season and has played improved basketball at both ends, and didn’t make the cut. Then on Friday, forced with a difficult choice between two deserving players to fill Kobe Bryant’s spot on the team — Lillard or DeMarcus Cousins — Commissioner Adam Silver went with Cousins.

Lillard is frustrated, he told Jabari Young of CSNNW.com.

“I just felt disrespected,” Lillard said, “because I play the game the right way. I play unselfishly. I play for my team to win games and I produce at a high level. I think what I bring to the game as a person, my makeup mentally, how I am towards my teammates, how I am towards the media, how I am towards fans, I think what an All-Star represents in this league and what you would want people to look at as an All-Star, I think I makeup all those things….

“I thought I did all that I could do individually,” Lillard said. “I thought my team has been successful. It was something that I can’t control. Everything thing I can control to give myself the best shot, I did.”

Lillard didn’t just vent a little to the media, he posted this on Instagram Friday along with a picture that reads “Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You.” (That post has since been removed.)

I just want to thank the coaches who feel I wasn’t good enough, the fans that didn’t think I was good enough , and Adam Silver also for not thinking I was good enough. This isn’t unfamiliar territory for me , it’s actually what my life has been inspired by. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed or that I don’t feel disrespected but it’s not too much to handle. Not the first or last guy to be snubbed. “You should have been there” isn’t good enough for me. But anyway, The reason I’m in these shoes is because I’ve always use the hand I was dealt to my advantage… A wise man once told me… ” it ain’t always gone be peaches and cream but somebody has to pay for the reason it’s not … One way or another ” … #ImThankful #Real #NonAllStar #RipCity #YellowTape

Silver was going to make someone unhappy, but the league office says that the commissioner chose Cousins because he was next highest in the coach voting. (Fans vote for the All-Star Game starters, but coaches from around the league vote to round out the roster, and they rank players as they vote. Cousins apparently was ahead of Lillard on that scale.)

For Lillard, it doesn’t matter why, he just knows he’s not going to be playing in New York.

A frustration he’s going to take out on teams for a few weeks.

Kobe Bryant on if he returns next season: “Yeah, that’s the plan”

Chicago Bulls v Los Angeles Lakers
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Kobe Bryant, arm in a sling and looking a little groggy — that happens when you’re medicated the day after your surgery — came to Staples Center Thursday night to see his friend Pau Gasol. The two shared a nice moment before the game.

But of course, Kobe can’t casually stroll through Staples Center without getting noticed by the media, and he was asked by ESPN if he planned to return next season.

“Yeah, that’s the plan,” he said.

Did anyone really expect anything else? Did anyone who has watched Kobe over the past 19 years think he was going to let an injury dictate the terms on which he would leave the game? Of course he’s coming back, and the Laker GM said as much earlier in the day.

Then the reporter threw an odd question at Kobe — would the opinion of some media talking heads that he should retire influence his decision?

“I don’t really listen much to what people have to say, to be honest with you,” Bryant said.

That was a classy answer, considering what likely ran through Kobe’s head. Any professional athlete or organization that considers what sports pundits will think as part of their decision making process is doing it wrong. Kobe, maybe least of all, is not concerned with what the outside world thinks of him.

At some point in the coming month or so, Kobe likely will expound upon his decision, probably when he’s a little more clear headed and in less pain. But the answer isn’t changing.

Joakim Noah with sweet bounce pass to Pau Gasol for dunk (VIDEO)

Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol
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There were stretches Thursday night where the Bulls played energized, exciting basketball. The problem was those only came when their backs were against the wall and it never lasted, which is why the Lakers — who played aggressively all night — won in double overtime.

This came during one of the Bulls good stretches.

When Wayne Ellington saved the ball and took himself out of the play doing so, Jimmy Butler got the “pass” and quickly fed Joakim Noah who was diving to the basket. Then Noah made a fantastic behind-the-back bounce pass to Pau Gasol for the dunk. That’s a great pass from the big man.

Gasol finished with 20 and 10 on his return to Staples Center. It just wasn’t enough.

Three Things We Learned in NBA Thursday: The All-Star Rosters need to be expanded

Washington Wizards v Portland Trail Blazers
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If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while hearing how the Denver Broncos almost traded a young John Elway

1) The All-Star rosters need to be expanded so we don’t have more Cousins/Lillard situations. Yes, DeMarcus Cousins and Damian Lillard got screwed by not being put on the All-Star team. They deserved a spot. The problem is in the West, who do you replace? Tim Duncan? He’s putting up 14 and 10 plus is in the discussion for Defensive Player of the Year. If you think this is a lifetime achievement award you need to watch more Spurs games. And at guard, you want to remove Chris Paul? Then you’re taking him for granted because he’s right at his career average numbers — 17.5 points a game, plus 9.7 assists to just 2.2 turnovers a night.

The problem is there are more deserving players than spots — so why not add more spots? Bump the roster to 15 players. The game is an exhibition, so you cut a few minutes to make room for some other deserving guys, the fans aren’t going to complain. They want a show, they want to see the world’s best players, why not make sure they are all there?

2) Bulls don’t bother against another sub .500 team and lose. Again. The Chicago Bulls have 18 losses on the season and half of them have come against sub-.500 teams. This is a team that for years under Tom Thibodeau had a clear identity — they would play physical defense and just out work the opponent. This season the offense is clicking but Chicago is 12th in the league in defensive efficiency — they are inconsistent with their effort. A couple nights after playing maybe their best game of the season to beat Golden State the Bulls mentally took the night off. The Lakers opened the game on a 6-0 run, were up 11 after the first quarter and led by double digits most of the first half.

“We started the game with low energy, we were badly out rebounded,” Thibodeau said after the game. “They started out shooting 60 percent in the first half and any team that you give confidence too like that, it’s hard to shut them off.

Led by Joakim Noah the Bulls played 90 seconds of defense to end the game, and that was enough to make up nine points, tie the game and send it to overtime. Then double overtime. As it has been all season, the Bulls played a few minutes of good defense then stopped again. To a man the players say they know about the problem and it’s just a matter of effort at the start of games. Maybe so, but we need to see it from them.

3) Zach Randolph can still put up numbers. Maybe not making the All-Star team motivated Randolph, but whatever the reason he put up a quality line against Denver — 15 points and 17 rebounds — as the Grizzlies just rolled the Nuggets Thursday. Randolph is still just a load down on the low block and he may be a third offensive option some nights (behind Marc Gasol and Mike Conley) he can still cause defenses nightmares.