Friday night, Jimmy Butler showed he was still capable of getting plenty buckets in the United Center.
Some things never change, but some others feel free to do what they please.
Others like Zach LaVine, who led the Chicago Bulls clearly for the first time in a 115-113 win on national TV on a night where he was expected to play the footnote role as his new team fell deeper into tank mode.
It can be pretty hard to be traded away from the Bulls, the only team you’ve known, after a season that you know just didn’t work. That’s what happened to Butler after he was dealt on draft night last summer, but coming from the other end of the deal to Minnesota was not only a player who had to face up to things not working out with the only team he knew, LaVine was more or less treated as scrap, an injured prospect that the Timberwolves were selling REAL high on.
Get a hard-working, two-way established All-Star for a promising, yet injured scoring threat with a tore up knee? Sure, said Minny, we’ll do that and gladly fall back while the rest of the league and its media treat Chicago like jerks for accepting it.
Again, some things change, like knee integrity and a player’s minute restrictions and the belief that the Chicago Bulls’ only possible closer, until they get some kid currently playing for scholarship money and little else, is Kris Dunn, who himself had done a hell of a job making people re-think the trade with Minnesota up until falling on his face against Golden State nine games ago.
LaVine is that dude now, he’s officially healthy again and if his devastating dunk in Sacramento earlier this week didn’t show it, his performance Friday showed that he’s ready to assert himself as a presence not only in the Bulls’ locker room but in the NBA overall.
On a night where the Bulls and the United Center crowd rightfully showed their gratitude to the returning Butler and Taj Gibson, the former Jimmy G. Buckets treated his old constituents to a vintage performance — a game-high 38 points — but LaVine stepped up with 35, his highest as a Bull so far, in 33 minutes, also a high. Beyond simply playing more minutes, LaVine made clutch minutes count, scoring 15 in the fourth (to Butler’s 13) and going head-up with Chicago’s former closer on both ends of the court.
In the end, LaVine proved his “dog” was not only comparable to Butler’s but so potentially could be his value to the Bulls. Nothing from Friday changes the overall trajectory of the Bulls — reinforcements are still needed from the college ranks, and time and talent need to both multiply before Chicago can pride itself in having a league-wide contender again.
But don’t let this team within range with 40 seconds left, and definitely don’t let LaVine take open threes to tie games or take them over. You’ll regret it.
It’s not clearly winning a draft night trade, but we’ll take it.
Follow Kyle Means on Twitter @Wrk_Wrt; Follow We Are Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under We Are Regal Radio