8:30 p.m., ESPN (only national TV game of the season); WSCR-AM 670
Star rookie Lauri Markkanen will return to action tonight. He missed three games after his first child was born. Kris Dunn is out of concussion protocol, but the Bulls have ruled him out for their games on Friday and Saturday. Cameron Payne will return to action after the All-Star break and is currently getting reps at the G League level.
The Timberwolves injury report is squeaky clean.
This is all about the nostalgia, so I’m going to write much less formally than I usually do because I literally just want to talk about Jimmy, Taj, and Thibs.
First off, Jimmy Butler is a petty MOFO. If you think he’s playing any less than 40 minutes tonight or scoring any less than 30 points you are mistaken. In his heart of hearts, he’s still bitter as heck that the Bulls traded him away and he’s going to attack Zach LaVine tonight like his life depended on it. I’m setting the over/under on Butler putting LaVine on a poster twice in this game. I’m only half kidding.
Similar to Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis interaction watch when the former first returned from the facial injury, I’ll be watching to see if guys like Bobby Portis, Jerian Grant, Denzel Valentine, Cristiano Felicio etc. have a moment with Butler before, during or after the game considering Jimmy rubbed them the wrong way last season.
Personally, I liked four-point-per-game, humble Jimmy better than All-Star, Hollywood as hell Jimmy, so tonight would be one of the only nights I’d root for a Bulls win to spite him. I don’t hate Jimmy, and will always remember him fondly, but the ego he developed in his last couple years with the Bulls was the antithesis of the team-first culture that made the Thibodeau-era Bulls so amazing for fans.
In contrast, Taj Gibson is somebody I’ll always love unconditionally. The NBA swingman jersey I have of his will always be my favorite jersey (or the 2012 Christmas Day Joakim Noah one; I also have another Noah jersey, a Rose jersey, a Niko jersey, and a Jimmy jersey so my wardrobe could really use some updating).
But seriously, what isn’t there to love about Taj Gibson? Like inject the content of this video into my veins.
Gibson was the ultimate teammate who transcended cliques even as the locker room became more and more fractured through the years.
Then there’s Thibs. In hindsight, did he prematurely ruin the careers of Noah, Luol Deng, and Derrick Rose with the work load he thrust on those players? Highly possible. But, Thibodeau developed a culture in Chicago that not only was easy to root for but that fans could personally relate to because it represented the blue-collar work ethic of the city.
Do your job, selflessness, play every minute like it was your last. Those teams under Thibodeau were often not the most talented (especially after Rose tore his ACL), but you always believed they had a chance to win every single night because of the way they played and the man who coached them.
Taj, Jimmy, and Thibs were a huge part of my memories of high school and the first two years of college [editors note: good god -yfbb] because being a Bulls fan was such an important part of my life. The Thibs era lasted five seasons in Chicago, but it felt much longer than that. For fans like me who are too young for the Michael Jordan years, every season will be nostalgically compared to the “glory days” when Tom Thibodeau was grunting commands from the sideline while Rose filtered an opposing point guard into a trap on the baseline with Noah, Jimmy intercepted the ensuing pass on the weak side, and then lobbed it up to Taj for an emphatic alley-oop on the other end.
I can’t wait until the tribute video tonight. Tears will be shed.