Posts Tagged ‘Gar Forman’

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.

Summer Dreaming: Executive of Year

David Griffin, with the help of LeBron, had a very eventful summer (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images).

David Griffin, with the help of LeBron, had an eventful summer (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images).

Everybody has their roles. Players play. Coaches coach. But before anybody can get out onto the floor to make shots, grab rebounds and chase down loose balls, somebody has to put the team together and, hopefully, keep things moving forward with a solid, consistent organizational goal.

It’s summertime when the lion’s share of the work is done. However, there was plenty of heaving lift this off-season that has left us with our top five Summer Dreaming picks for NBA Executive of the Year in 2014-15.

Send us your picks.

David Griffin, Cavaliers — Sure, it helps to have the very best player on the planet decide that he’s had enough time by the pool in Coconut Grove and wants to return home. Who’s a better recruiter than LeBron James? Just ask Kevin Love. Or Mike Miller. Or Shawn Marion. But before James made “The Return” official, Miller re-signed point guard Kyrie Irving and made the bold move to hire long-time European coach Dave Blatt as coach. Then Griffin ultimately signed off on sending No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins to Minnesota. If the Cavs are raising the Larry O’Brien Trophy next June, we could look back on this as the most head-turning summer since Bridget Bardot first wore a bikini. Not bad for seven months on the job.

Donnie Nelson, Mavericks — It took three years, but the Mavs finally corrected their biggest front office mistake in bringing back center Tyson Chandler to anchor the middle of the lineup. They simply have not been the same without him since the championship season of 2011. While it would be fair to say Dallas overpaid for free agent small forward Chandler Parsons at $46 million for three years, there’s no question that three more years of Dirk Nowitzki at $8 million per is a bargain and makes the combo a shrewd winner. Nelson gave up Jose Calderon to get Chandler, but veteran Jameer Nelson with enough in his tank is a more than capable replacement. Reserves Shawn Marion and Vince Carter could be missed, but all in all the Mavs have taken a big step forward to get back into the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.

Gar Forman, Bulls — There was definitely time and energy put into the effort to land A-list free agent Carmelo Anthony and it really might have been the best landing spot if Melo’s main interest had been trying to win championships rather than see how high he can stack his salary. In the aftermath, the Bulls hit the jackpot on Plan B by getting Pau Gasol to shed his scapegoat role with the Lakers and move in as a perfect complement to Joakim Noah’s no-holds-barred game on the front line. Forman’s acquisition of Gasol allows the Bulls to keep Taj Gibson in his most effective place coming off the bench and lets rookie Nikola Mirotic to make a slower transition from Europe to the NBA. Rookie Doug McDermott could be just the ticket as the shooter Chicago needs. Oh yes, and Derrick Rose comes back. If LeBron’s homecoming Cavaliers are not representing the East in The Finals next June, it’s probably because the Bulls edged them out.

Rich Cho, Hornets — First, start out by giving Cho delayed credit for bringing the sometimes unappreciated Al Jefferson into Charlotte last season. That move gave first-year coach Steve Clifford a dependable anchor on which to hook his game plan every night and enabled the erstwhile Bobcats to scratch and claw their way to the playoffs. Now with a new/old team name, the Hornets became the surprise landing spot of free agent Lance Stephenson, who’ll give them a slasher, creator, scorer, ball-handler to take some of the pressure off Kemba Walker in the backcourt. Taking P.J. Hairston late in the first round of the draft could pay big dividends as another shooter. Getting free agent Marvin Williams gives them depth at the four behind Cody Zeller and allows No. 9 overall pick Noah Vonleh to recover from surgery and learn slowly. Clifford got well-deserved credit a year in for instilling a sense of purpose and direction on the court. But Cho has given him the tools to compete in East.

Sam Hinkie, 76ers – No, his Sixers are not going to shock the world by making the playoffs or even get a glimpse of them without a pair of binoculars. And no, he’s likely not going to even get a single official vote for this award when his peers cast their ballots next spring. But if they were boldly honest, they’d admit that Hinkie is following perfectly in Year Two the plan that he laid out when he took over the job. He landed Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams with the No. 11 pick in 2013 and now has Nerlens Noel making his NBA debut with a good chance of winning that award back-to-back seasons for the Sixers. Joel Embiid is a No. 1 overall talent that Hinkie got at No. 3 and now will probably sit out the year to mend. Toss in top prospect Dario Saric, who’ll cool his heels for another year in Europe and the Sixers are lined up with a shot at two more first round picks in 2015. Sometimes it’s about the long view.

Morning Shootaround — August 2



VIDEO: Paul George’s injury halts Team USA’s scrimmage in Las Vegas

NEWS OF THE MORNING
George has surgery after suffering gruesome injury | Parker signs extension | Rose high on Bulls squad | Wade drops weight

No. 1: George suffers gruesome leg fracture — Indiana Pacers All-Star small forward Paul George suffered an open tibia-fibula fracture during Team USA’s scrimmage and is expected to remain hospitalized for about three days, USA Basketball confirmed in a statement released after surgery was completed. The gruesome injury sent George away on a stretcher with his parents by his side and ended the men’s national team scrimmage early in the fourth quarter. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann was on the scene:

In the first minute of the fourth quarter of the USA Basketball Showcase on Friday, George attempted to block a James Harden layup on a fast break. On his landing, his right leg buckled as it hit the basket support.

Players around George were shaken by what they saw. As George received medical attention on the baseline of the Thomas & Mack Center, his mother and father came down from the crowd and were by his side. Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard was also in attendance.

“[George] appeared, like, stoic,” USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski said afterward. “They allowed his father to touch him and to comfort him. I thought our trainers did a great job, right away, of making sure, emotionally, he was as good as possible. But Paul reacted well.”

Both teams gathered together in prayer before George was taken away in a stretcher. And there was a universal decision to end the game with 9:33 to go.

“With the serious injury that we had,” Krzyzewski announced to the assembled crowd, “and the fact that we stopped playing for a long time and, really, in respect for Paul and his family, the scrimmage is done. We want to thank you for your support.”

Afterward, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said that there would be no decisions on the USA roster “for a while.”

“We need to just take a step back before we do anything at all,” Colangelo said. “Our first concern, our primary concern is Paul George.”

Colangelo and Krzyzewski said that they would be heading to the hospital immediately after speaking to the media. They had been set to cut the roster down from 20 to 15, likely early Saturday. But the team is not scheduled to reconvene until Aug. 14 in Chicago and there’s no urgency to make any decisions now.

Before George’s injury, Friday night was about the performance of Derrick Rose, who looked as quick and explosive as ever in his first game in almost nine months. But just as the USA and the NBA got one star back, it lost another. George was set to be the starting small forward for the U.S. Team at the World Cup, which begins Aug. 30 in Spain. And though there are no details on his injury as of yet, it is likely to keep him out several months.

“We are aware of the injury sustained by Paul George in Friday night’s Team USA game in Las Vegas and we are obviously greatly concerned,” Pacers president Larry Bird said in a statement. “At this time, our thoughts and prayers are with Paul.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses Paul George’s injury (more…)

Mirotic’s transition an era apart from new Bulls teammate Gasol’s


VIDEO: Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic officially joined the Bulls Friday

CHICAGO – It’s possible Tom Thibodeau, in the heat of a tight Chicago Bulls game next season, will pull a cheat sheet out of his suit pocket. Or maybe he’ll go with one of those fold-out wrist bands NFL quarterbacks use to tote their crib notes.

¡Hielo!

¡Haz tu trabajo!

¡No dejar de lado la cuerda!

It might lend a continental flair to what, after four seasons, has become a familiar soundtrack near the Chicago bench. Opting for the Spanish translations of Thibodeau’s greatest courtside hits – Ice! Do your job! Don’t let go of the rope! – would seem appropriate with the team’s acquisitions for 2014-15 of veteran NBA forward Pau Gasol and Euro prospect Nikola Mirotic.

Gasol, 34, signed with Chicago as a free agent after 13 NBA seasons, the past six-plus with the Los Angeles Lakers. Mirotic, 23, is a Spanish-Montenegrin described by Bulls GM Gar Forman, off his performance for Real Madrid in recent seasons, as “the best young prospect not playing in the NBA.”

Thibodeau should be fine, of course, what with Gasol’s mastery of English – he’s better than a lot of the league’s domestic membership, frankly – and Mirotic’s improving bilingual game. The 6-foot-10, 225-pound “spacing 4″ had an interpreter at his side for the news conference at United Center Friday, but Thibodeau said when they went to dinner Thursday, Mirotic did just fine on his own.

Besides, the Bulls head coach’s volume and occasional NSFW word choices combine in their own universal language of sorts. And this isn’t Thibodeau’s first Berlitz course.

“I went through this once before, in Houston with Yao Ming,” said Thibodeau, a member of Jeff Van Gundy‘s staff when they took over in 2003-04, the second NBA season for the 7-foot-6 center from China. “Yao seemed to understand when it was praise, and he had a hard time when it was criticism [laughs].

“I think it will be fine. Nikola is ready for this. I think he’s going to be a good fit for our team. We’re gonna start the process of getting him up to speed right away.”

The coincidence of the two foreign-born players being signed and introduced on the same day served as a reminder of how far the NBA and the global game have come in the span of a single player’s career.

When Gasol arrived as the No. 3 pick overall in the 2001 Draft, the practice of importing international talent was underway but still to the left on most teams’ learning curve on both sides of the various ponds. The 7-footer from Barcelona was the best of five foreign-born players taken in the first round who hadn’t played at a U.S. college. Five such prospects also were picked in 2000.

But only two went in the first round in 1999, four (including Dirk Nowitzki) in 1998, one in 1997 and four in 1996. And from 1991 through 1995, there were none.

Gasol was the first player from Spain to test the NBA since Fernando Martin, a 6-foot-9 Madrid native who played 24 games for Portland in the 1986-87 season. He had been drafted 38th overall by New Jersey in 1985.

Of course, when Gasol was a boy, only one NBA game per week was available on television in Spain. By the time he was drafted, fans had their choice of five TV games weekly. Now NBA Spain has its own Twitter account @NBA_Spain.

“The infrastructure is a lot better now in Europe and the rest of the world,” Tony Ronzone said by phone Friday during a break in Las Vegas Summer League action. “And the world’s becoming smaller with the Internet and the video. You can see now how many games are televised all around the world.”

Ronzone, a longtime NBA executive, is one of the league’s most experienced evaluators of international talent. He is director of player personnel for the Dallas Mavericks, worked for Minnesota and Detroit in similar capacities and served as head coach of teams in United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. He also is director of international player personnel for the USA Basketball men’s team.

He has seen the growth and comfort level in both directions – international players and coaches becoming more NBA savvy, the league embracing more players and concepts from overseas – throughout his career.

Consider: In Gasol’s rookie season, 2001-02, there were 52 international players from 31 different countries on NBA rosters. By Opening Night 2013-14, the number had grown to a record 92 players from 39 countries.

“What’s happening now is, our game has grown and with the NBA as the best league in the world, these players internationally are able to watch athletes on the floor and mimic their moves,” Ronzone said.

“There’s a lot more player-development going on to create more foot speed. Because the biggest adjustment the Europeans have coming over to America is, defensively they’d be behind and their foot speed, they’d be behind. What they’re learning to do is, with less foot speed, they’re understanding angles and they’re doing a better job of watching these athletes and getting scouting reports on how to play them.”

There have been milestones along the way in this shrinking of basketball’s globe. International competition has been huge, and not just at the highest level of the Olympics and the World Championship tournaments. The Nike Hoop Summit, featuring many of the best players in the world age 19 or younger, has been held for 17 years. Nineteen alumni of the World team were active in the NBA last season, including Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Serge Ibaka, Nicolas Batum, Andrea Bargnani, Patty Mills and Tristan Thompson.

Exposure to the game got a major bump in 1996, when Toni Kukoc of Croatia played a vital role on Michael Jordan‘s second three-peat of NBA championships with the Bulls. Nowitzki’s success in Dallas opened a lot of eyes to international talent pools, and the NBA’s outreach overseas with exhibitions and development programs furthered the cross-pollination.

“You can see over the years how many more teams have gone overseas and played Real Madrid or have played Barcelona,” Ronzone said. “Teams have gone to China, to Brazil. These teams are going over and you have players there saying, ‘Shoot, I feel I’m as good as them.’ So now the work ethic and the desire go up, and the fear factor’s gone. They’re able to adjust and make it happen.”

All of which suggests Mirotic should have an easier time acclimating in Chicago this season than Gasol did in Memphis. The older player talked about, and compared a little, their transitions 13 years apart.

“It’s going to be an adjustment year for him. I think he’s going to be homesick for a while,” Gasol said. “But coming into such an exciting situation, an exciting team, is going to make a big difference for him. And I think the city of Chicago is going to help as well, because there’s a big Serbian community as well.

“My situation, 13 years ago, it was a little different. I was lucky that my family was able to join me and make that transition much easier.”

Gasol’s parents Agusti and Maria brought Pau’s chubby, 16-year-old brother Marc along to Memphis. You may have heard of him. Gasol was a runaway winner of the 2001 Rookie of the Year Award and has gone on to average 18.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists while winning two NBA titles and four All-Star selections.

Ronzone said the hardest adjustments for international players are foot speed, game speed, terminology and learning the referees. But Mirotic has a plush resume that should aid in his move to the NBA. The No. 23 pick in 2011 by Houston – traded first to Minnesota and then to the Bulls – averaged 12.4 points and shot 46.1 percent from the international 3-point line for Real Madrid CF of the Liga ACB. He won the Euroleague’s Rising Star Award in 2011 and 2012, presented to the league’s best player under 22, and he was an all-Euroleague second team selection and Spanish Cup Final MVP in 2014.

Said Thibodeau: “I think it’s great having Pau here for [Mirotic's adjustment]. But there are a lot of international players in our league and they have done quite well, so I don’t think it will be a hard transition for him. There are some things he’s going to have to get used to – it’s a new culture, the NBA’s different – but he’s been preparing for this for, really, three years now. Once he gets here, it’ll move along well.”

Thibodeau said Mirotic should be OK learning the Bulls’ five-man defensive strategies because he has “good body-position defense already.” Ronzone thinks the continued blending of styles, NBA and international, will work in his favor, too.

“The American game has become more European – we were just watching San Antonio play in The Finals with more passing, more cutting, moving without the ball,” Ronzone said. “And the European game actually has become a little more American at times in how some guys are dominating the ball.

“So it’s actually helping both worlds out.”

Bulls (finally) amnesty Boozer

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Chicago Bulls fans will have to find someone else to complain about now that Carlos Boozer is no longer an option.

The Bulls used the amnesty provision on the veteran power forward today, ending Boozer’s four-year tenure with the team. Boozer played in 280 games with the Bulls and averaged 15.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists as a mainstay in Tom Thibodeau’s starting lineup. But he remained an easy target when the Bulls repeatedly came up short in the postseason.

The Bulls thanked Boozer for his work, of course, praising him as they amnestied him.

“Carlos epitomized professionalism in everything he did for the Bulls both on the court, and in the community, during his time here in Chicago,” Bulls GM Gar Forman said in a statement released by the team.  “Over the last four seasons, Carlos’ productivity helped elevate our team to another level.  I have nothing but respect for Carlos, and certainly wish him the best as he moves forward.”

The Bulls did get a quality run out of Boozer, who now becomes a free agent in a bidding process for teams with salary cap space. Interested teams need to have at least $1.5 million, Boozer’s minimum salary, in cap space to sign bid on hid on him.

Boozer was a part of a core group in Chicago under Tom Thibodeau that included Derrick Rose, who won MVP honors in 2011, and reigning Kia Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah. As Sam Smith of Bulls.com, who first reported the Boozer news, points out, the Bulls enjoyed loads of success with Boozer in their mix:

Since Carlos Boozer was signed by the Bulls as a free agent in 2010, statistically one of the most successful free agent acquisitions in franchise history, the Bulls were just one of four NBA teams to win at least 200 games. The others were the Spurs and Heat, who won three of the four championships, and the Thunder, who went to one Finals.

Since Boozer signed with the Bulls in the summer of 2010, he started more games than any other Bulls player, he averaged more points than anyone other than Derrick Rose, who played in just two of those four seasons, and Boozer had rebounds than everyone but Joakim Noah and was tied with Noah for the top shooting percentage at 49 percent. Boozer was second to Noah in most free throws made in that four-year period and averaged almost five minutes fewer per game than Noah. Noah was a star passing center averaging 3.7 assists the last four seasons. But Boozer averaged more than two assists per game.

The Bulls Tuesday announced they had exercised the amnesty provision to release Boozer from his contract with the Bulls. He will be in a waiver period where teams can make bids for him with the highest dollar amount winning. Then that money would reduce the $16.8 million the Bulls owe Boozer for next season. Only teams with salary cap room can make bids. If none do, only then would Boozer become a free agent and be able to sign where he chooses.

But in leaving the Bulls after four seasons, Boozer deserves praise for the job he did and perhaps a bit of an apology from some amongst a critical group who often have decried his play.

All Boozer did was what he was asked. And perhaps even more.

Atlanta and Charlotte, two teams in need of veteran depth in the frontcourt, are considered two of the early frontrunner’s in pursuit of Boozer.

McDermott gets buckets, seeks minutes


VIDEO: McDermott scores 31 to lead Bulls past Nuggets

LAS VEGAS – Convincing people that Doug McDermott is more than a shooter is like buying a Corvette and touting its fuel economy.

That was the case with McDermott Sunday in his second Summer League performance. The Chicago Bulls’ first-round pick out of Creighton lit up the Cox Pavilion so brightly – 7-for-12 overall, 5-for-9 from the arc, 12-for-12 from the line and 31 points against Denver’s squad – that anyone making a case for all the alleged other things in his game would have been drowned out, anyway, by the crowd’s reactions to each bucket.

Or would that be McBucket?

“I’m fine with that,” McDermott said afterward, his proficiency outside sparking the Bulls’ group to 19-for-36 on 3-pointers. “Really, that’s my biggest strength right now.”

On the night they drafted him, Bulls GM Gar Forman and coach Tom Thibodeau went out of their way to talk up other facets of McDermott’s game. They cited his ball skills, his movement without the ball, his ability to post up and even his defense, though it likely wasn’t up to Thibsian standards yet. “If you view him as strictly a shooter, you’re not casting the proper light on him,” Thibodeau said.

That’s fine. Some pageant winners really are whizzes at calculus, too. But that generally isn’t why you notice them.

The Bulls ranked last in the NBA in 2013-14 in field-goal percentage, 28th in 3-point attempts, 24th in 3-point percentage, last in effective field-goal percentage and 28th in offensive rating. So it’s OK if McDermott, especially this season, does mostly what he does best, without apologies.

“I’m trying to add things to my game every day,” McDermott said. “I feel like I’m a lot more than a shooter. I feel like I’m a complete player. And having a coach like Tom Thibodeau, he’s only going to help me.”

McDermott, a 6-foot-8 small forward who led the nation in scoring (26.7 ppg) this season and scored 3,150 points in his four years of college, did show other parts of his game. He posted up effectively, he worked well with Bulls second-year guard Tony Snell (23 points) in some two-man action and he moved his feet sufficiently on defense, one time forcing a Denver shot-clock violation when he kept Carlon Brown in front of him without options.

McDermott finished with one rebound and one assist, but he took contact better than in his debut, earning his dozen trips to the line. He also filled the wing and finished a break with an impressive dunk. Overall, he felt he played a better, more relaxed game this time.

“Definitely, that first one, just a little uptight,” he said. “Just so excited for my first game. Today it slowed down. Today, it felt more like basketball. Back to normal.”

McDermott spent some time with Bulls assistant coach Andy Greer Sunday morning, going over video of his play against the Clippers Friday. He scored 10 points on 2-for-8 shooting, missed his three attempts inside the arc and turned over the ball four times.

One big adjustment: Spacing. He said he was “awful” at that in the opener. “Coming off screens, playing off others, spacing is huge,” McDermott said. “Tonight I was able to get a lot better looks because I was in the right spots.

“Last night [Saturday], I was being too quick around the rim, forcing some stupid plays. Tonight, I was much more calm and able to get to the rim a little easier, and finish.”

Given the big tease to this point – that’s what summer league proficiency often is – the next question will be, can McDermott get on the floor enough to get to the rim and show all those other marvelous skills besides shooting?

He is, after all, a rookie and rookies do not play a lot under Thibodeau. At least, that’s the conventional wisdom – with which Thibodeau takes some issue.

“Do the research,” he said, after suggesting that, league-wide, few rookies log long minutes, especially those drafted to winning teams.

OK, here goes:

  • No rookie last season cracked the top 20 in minutes played. Only four topped 1,900 minutes – MVP Kevin Durant led the league with 3,122 – and only three averaged as many as 27 minutes.
  • Only nine rookies averaged 20 minutes or more. Chicago’s Snell, the No. 20 pick, ranked 13th in total minutes (1,231) and 14th in average (16.0).
  • The top 10 players taken in 2013 – 11, but not factoring in Nerlens Noel – averaged 20.5 minutes as rookies. The bottom 10 picks in the first round averaged 12.4 minutes. In 2012, those numbers were 25.5 for the top 10 and 9.7 for the bottom 10.
  • Since Thibodeau was hired in June 2010, his rookies have been picked 30th (Jimmy Butler), 29th (Marquis Teague) and 20th (Snell).

McDermott was the No. 11 pick, so his minutes might be expected to fall closer to the top 10 than the bottom 10. If he earns them, that is, by not making mistakes that outweigh his contributions.

But the way he shot the ball Sunday, he might make it hard for Thibodeau not to play him.

No takers in Chicago?


VIDEO: The Bulls were on Carmelo Anthony‘s short list of teams he visited

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — If the answer was an easy one, Carmelo Anthony might have already committed to continuing his NBA future in Chicago. Or perhaps LeBron James would have chosen to take his talents to the Windy City in the summer of 2010 instead of to South Beach.

There is no question the Chicago Bulls offer the proper platform for any superstar looking to chase his championship dreams. The organization has a rich title-winning history (the Michael Jordan era remains fresh in the minds of many). There is a resident superstar, albeit one who is coming off two straight seasons of significant injury issues, in Derrick Rose. There is already an elite rim protector and defensive backbone in KIA Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah. And there is a coaching savant in charge in Tom Thibodeau.

The Bulls have stable ownership, a shrewd front office led by Gar Forman and John Paxson, cap space, again, and with the league’s moratorium on free agent signings just days away from being lifted, the Bulls don’t have a taker for all that they offer.

The Bulls are not out of the ‘Melo sweepstakes yet. According to the Chicago Tribune they are still alive, but they are not the favorite to land him despite being the logical fit. The Bulls need an elite scorer to pair with Rose and Anthony can basically get 30 in his sleep.

Why is it so hard for the Bulls to snag one of these available superstars?

And I don’t want to hear anything about the harsh climate. Chicago is a world-class city and the Bulls don’t play outdoors. So we can toss the weather report out as a factor right now.

There are deeper issues at play here, in my mind, and they have more to do with the nuts and bolts components of the Bulls team awaiting the player who takes the leap.

  • Is it the trepidation about what Rose will be like in his latest comeback, the worry that his MVP days are over and perhaps he’ll be merely a good but not great player? Rose’s future is easily the most pressing issue for any superstar considering the Bulls. The Bulls couldn’t get over the hump when he was healthy, so there is no guarantee they’ll be able to do so now.
  • Maybe the prospect of playing for a grinder like Thibodeau, who is relentless in his approach to everything from practice to the postgame messages he delivers to the media, isn’t as attractive to the superstar crowd as it is to blue-collar studs like Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and others.
  • And even though we are two full NBA generations removed from the Jordan era, elite stars like Anthony and James have to wrestle with the vast shadow cast by the player considered by most to be the greatest that’s ever played. The prospect of trying to live up to his legend, in the same jersey, is added pressure no one needs.

To be fair, the Bulls didn’t enter free agency last week with all of the flexibility of some of the other major players on the market this summer, as K.C. Johnson of the Tribune pointed out:

Entering free agency, the Bulls always knew that, without a sign-and-trade transaction, they couldn’t compete with the Knicks’ five-year, $129 million offer or even the Lakers’ four-year, $96 million deal without gutting their team. But Anthony is the one who emphasized winning is a priority. And athletes often can maximize endorsement potential by doing exactly that.

Even the most jaded free-agency observer might agree the Bulls offer the best chance to win in 2014-15.

The fact Taj Gibson played an active part of the Bulls’ pitch played to Anthony’s desire to keep Gibson and possibly join a ready-to-win roster. A source familiar with the Bulls’ pitch said Anthony and Gibson “connected.”

Without a sign-and-trade and by keeping Gibson, the Bulls only can offer Anthony a four-year, roughly $73 million deal via salary-cap space. This is one of the many reasons acquiring Anthony via a sign-and-trade is more ideal. It can make Anthony’s offer far more lucrative and allow the Bulls to remain over the salary cap, thus allowing them to sign other players via exceptions.

Multiple outlets, including the Tribune, have reported that Knicks President Phil Jackson hasn’t shown much inclination for sign-and-trade talks. This, obviously, could change should Anthony inform Jackson he’s choosing the Bulls.

The Bulls have been used before in the post-Jordan era. Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill and even Tim Duncan all flirted with the Bulls in free agency and ultimately decided to go elsewhere, for whatever their specific reasons were.

I’m convinced the Jordan factor, no one wants to follow “The Man,” was at play for all of those guys. Trying to live up to that sort of standard would have made their basketball lives far more difficult than going somewhere else and establishing a championship legacy of their own (And Duncan has certainly done a fine job of that).

The challenge for today’s stars, however, is much more about Rose than the ghosts of Jordan, Scottie Pippen or even former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, whose reputation hurt the Bulls with big-time free agents for years after he was gone.

Rose is not only the Bulls’ resident superstar, he’s the hometown kid who will always have sway with the organization. He was the first Bulls’ star after Jordan to reach MVP status and put the team back into the ranks of the league’s elite. No one will ever forget that. And anyone who shows up trying to force their way into his realm will no doubt be viewed through that prism.

These superstar conglomerates require some shared sacrifices, financial and otherwise, among players who consider themselves friends and even brothers, in a sense. Rose has been a reluctant, at best, recruiter and a loner of sorts in a league where relationships between players are paramount this time of year.

Having grown up in a previous era of the league, I can appreciate Rose’s “we’ll win with or without you” approach.

But it’s become clear to me that perhaps the biggest impediment to the Bulls attracting another superstar is the superstar already in place …

Shots drop with McDermott, but Bulls waiting for other shoe, too


VIDEO: Bulls land McDermott in Draft night trade with Nuggets

CHICAGO – Doug McDermott plays basketball, an exhaustive Sports Illustrated article told us in March, in a “state of posthypnotic calm.”

The Chicago Bulls and their fans, however, conduct their pebble-grained business these day in a state of near-hysteria.

It would be nice if McDermott’s psychologist-induced sense of well-being and positive visualizations rubbed off on his new NBA team and its supporters. But it’s no small order. They would have to do like Doug – relax, count backward from five to one, then picture themselves at a beach. There, they would unburden themselves of all their anxieties – fears about Derrick Rose‘s long-term health, impatience over the newfound vulnerability of the Miami Heat, doubts about the Bulls’ front office and management’s commitment not just verbally but financially to chasing a championship with this core. Finally, as McDermott’s guru Jack Stark reportedly instructs him, they would pack that stuff in a box, place it on a raft and give it a push out to sea.

Problem is, for Bulls fans, that moment of serenity only would last if they envisioned Carmelo Anthony rowing ashore, right past the driftting box of toxins, flashing a big smile, waving a diminished contract and wearing a red-and-black Bulls uniform.

Or LeBron James. Or Kevin Love.

McDermott’s arrival Thursday night in the 2014 Draft – in a swap-o-rama move in which Chicago turned its Nos. 16 and 19 first-round picks into Denver’s No. 11, the Bulls landing Creighton’s irrepressible scorer and the Nuggets opting for Croatian center Jusuf Nurkic and Michigan State guard Gary Harris – immediately got judged for how it might lead to the Bulls fans’ free-agent imaginings.

If that happens, it will cast McDermott, the Draft, VP John Paxson and GM Gar Forman and everything else leading up to the 2014-15 season in a warm, fuzzy light.

If it doesn’t, the switch will flip quickly to overhead fluorescence, the decision judged starkly for what it is and what it isn’t.

But then, why wait? Better to know the floor for how this might or might not help Chicago splice a different ending on the plucky overachievers-turned-early eliminatees movie that’s been playing on a loop in The Loop.

McDermott is a scorer who did so constantly and resourcefully at Creighton, shaking off top-priority game-planning by opposing defenses to amass 3,150 points in his four NCAA seasons. He averaged 26.7 points on 52.6 percent shooting as a senior, including 45 percent from the college 3-point line. He’ll bring his nose for the net to a Bulls club that was offensively challenged, desperate for points in Rose’s absence and determined to spread the floor for their point guard if he does return healthy.

Both Forman and coach Tom Thibodeau all but wagged fingers at media folks who characterized McDermott strictly as a shooter – “He’s a lot more than that,” said Thibodeau, who will find out soon enough at the floor’s other end. But as far as judging McDermott’s addition on the court as a rookie, he likely will look like that deep-threat mischaracterization.

That’s not bad. But it only scratches the surface for why Chicago made this move.

McDermott’s strengths overlap enough with Mike Dunleavy that, now, the 12-year veteran and his $3.3 million salary are in play. Possibly in a sign-and-trade for Anthony, the scorer many Bulls fans believe will complement Rose, solve the team’s biggest problem and propel them back to the Eastern Conference finals.

It’s not just Dunleavy’s salary. It’s the money Chicago saved by turning two guaranteed first-round contracts into one. It’s the cap space it will free up once the Bulls invoke their long-anticipated amnesty cleanse of forward Carlos Boozer‘s $16.8 million.

Rolled together, those and a few minor tweaks could give Chicago about $12 million to $13 million to offer Anthony – or theoretically James, a real long shot – as the starting salary of a four-year contract. Without going backward – shedding key players such as Taj Gibson or Jimmy Butler – in a stab at going forward.

Might it happen? Might Anthony choose to kiss buh-bye a far more lucrative offer from his most recent team, the Knicks (who can pay him $129 million over five seasons)? Might he bank $30 million or $40 million on Rose’s prognosis and, let’s face it, luck, choosing that over new N.Y. boss Phil Jackson‘s proven jewelry box?

Sure. He might. James might go back to Cleveland, too. Love might run off and join his uncle’s band.

But without a big play in free agency, what the Bulls did on draft night won’t rise beyond a modest play for shooting and spacing. Nothing wrong with that, just as there was nothing really wrong four years ago in landing Boozer and a more experienced sharpshooter from Creighton. If McDermott can learn to defend and pass at the NBA level like Kyle Korver, while shooting as well or better, it’s a solid move.

It just won’t induce any state of calm and well-being around United Center, not without pharmaceuticals.

‘Blowout Minutes’ Contributing To Chicago’s Injury Woes?


VIDEO: The GameTime crew talks about how the Bulls are adjusting without Derrick Rose

CHICAGO – On a short list of the dirty words of Chicago sports, “minutes” is to the Bulls these days what “Bartman” is to the Cubs or “Cutler contract” is this week to the Bears. Cringe-inducing lightning rods, all three of them.

To many around the Bulls, outside the team and even inside, minutes equal workload, which equals overuse, which equals injuries. No team has been more waylaid by them the past two seasons than Chicago. The most obvious have been Derrick Rose‘s two knee mishaps: an ACL blowout that wiped out 2012-13 and the torn meniscus that shut down his comeback after just 10 game this season. But others – Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler – have crowded into trainer Fred Tedeschi‘s domain often enough that he should hand out numbers, like the deli counter.

So far this season, only Gibson, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy have played in all 31 games. Joakim Noah has missed just one, but that’s on the heels of a training camp and preseason lost almost entirely to a groin strain. Deng came back Thursday against Boston from soreness in his left Achilles – for the second time – but has missed nine games. Hinrich’s aching back put him down for a week last month. And Butler followed up a case of turf toe that wiped 11 games off his schedule with a sore ankle that cost him another just before Christmas.

Because this is more than a one-player or one-snakebit-season thing with this club, questions and criticism have intensified about coach Tom Thibodeau‘s demands on and use of his players. Remember how Butler played three entire games consecutively and hit 48 minutes in five of 12 overall? And how Deng, after averaging 39 minutes through 211 games in Thibodeau’s first three Chicago seasons, got so worn down that he became sick, leading to the spinal-tap exam and complications that put him in the hospital in what some termed a life-threatening crisis?

Last season, despite Rose’s absence and lineup juggling to accommodate other hurt players, the Bulls overachieved to a 45-37 finish and a first-round upset of Brooklyn in the playoffs. This season, they’re 13-18 – 7-13 since Rose went down Nov. 22 – and the crankiness has become more targeted.

Say “injuries” and the dogs of Chicago instantly drool. So do some many miles from United Center, too.

One former NBA player and coach told NBA.com recently: “Is Tom going to become the new Larry Brown, where after three years, because of the grind he put on guys, they can’t take it? Because the players were complaining about Thibs and practices last year, and all the minutes they were playing there. On their team, everybody’s always hurt. Even Jimmy Butler – young guys are breaking down. He just keeps his foot on the pedal the whole time.”

Leave it to NBA.com’s stats maven, John Schuhmann, to pull some numbers that indicate just that: Minutes logged late in lopsided games.

Most fourth-quarter minutes with team up or down
16 or more points among players who have started
at least half their team’s games
Player MIN Team MIN PCT
Lance Stephenson 74 124 59.6%
Wesley Johnson 71 96 74.1%
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 65 104 62.5%
Joakim Noah 63 124 50.7%
Victor Oladipo 63 114 55.3%
Paul George 56 124 45.1%
Kirk Hinrich 56 124 45.1%
Jodie Meeks 54 96 56.4%
Arron Afflalo 51 114 44.7%
Nikola Pekovic 48 126 38.1%

Makes sense, right? If a coach is using key rotation players deep into games that look to be breezy victories or lost causes, then he is overburdening them and courting future injuries from overuse. Or, viewed from the half-full perspective, that’s a swell time to conserve energy and legs, while giving backups and young players on-the-job experience. At least that’s how coaches like San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and a few others see it, yanking veterans such as Tim Duncan and Tony Parker unless circumstances change drastically.

Now consider the Bulls: Through Friday’s games, they had five players among the league’s top 59 in fourth-quarter minutes when their team was either ahead by, or behind by, 16 points or more. Sixteen points, the filter applied via NBA.com/Stats, seems a reasonable-enough definition of “blowout” or “garbage time” in the fourth quarter – that means it is a six-possession margin. Through Friday, Schuhmann discovered, teams were 1-205 when trailing by 16 points or more in the fourth quarter. The lone exception: Golden State’s comeback against Toronto on Dec. 3.

(more…)

Rose To Leery Fans: Move On At Own Risk


VIDEO: Derrick Rose remains in good spirits despite season-ending injury

CHICAGO – The question, fairly deep into Derrick Rose‘s first media session of Season-Ending Knee Surgery Part II, hung in the air for several uncomfortable seconds. As camera shutters clicked and the lights burned hot, Rose blinked back and appeared to search. He asked for a clarification and got it:

What do you say to people who think the Chicago Bulls should move on from building around and counting on you?

“Um … what can I say to that?” Rose repeated, and at that instant seemed to stand at the crossroads of hurt and anger. Might he lash out, harsh meeting harsh? Might he tear up, his feeling and loyalty and love of his hometown city grabbing him by the throat?

Rose found a better path.

“Um … you could be a fool if you wanted to,” the Bulls’ hobbled point guard said, sparking some nervous laughter. “I’m dead serious. I know I’m gonna be all right.”

Rose spoke with such assuredness, and even bravado cloaked in his soft, lazy-paced monotone, that it was like lifting a boiling pot of water off the burner. Just like that, things calmed down a little. For the Bulls, for their fans, for a city more than a little battered and bruised lately by its sports teams (minus the hockey club).

After hearing Rose talk, only the staunchest critics and doomsayers would be able to push the blow-up-the-Bulls storyline, at least for a while. And they were the ones who started it in the first place, within hours of Rose suffering a torn medial meniscus in his right knee in the Nov. 22 game at Portland.

Surely this latest injury, layered onto the repaired anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee that sidelined Rose from April 2012 until training camp two months ago, meant that the point guard whose game relies so much on quickness and explosiveness never would be as quick or as explosive again. Surely the championship window for this roster of Bulls had closed, and surely the team would need immediately to search anew for a cornerstone player.

Rose was having none of that Thursday, as he sat for reporters and photographers after the team’s shootaround at United Center. The Bulls were prepping to face the Miami Heat Thursday (9:30 ET) in the nightcap of TNT’s doubleheader that had a different backstory from when it was scheduled.

In fact, Rose cracked open the door a couple times that he might, maybe, possibly, could be playing again sooner than expected. Asked if there was any chance he could return to help a Bulls team in the playoffs, he said: “I mean, if I’m healthy and the situation is right, I’m going to be back playing. If I’m healthy and my meniscus is fully healed, of course I’ll be out there playing.”

Say what? Then Rose came with the “but.”

“But, um, if it’s something totally different and the outcome is not how I would want to be, there’s no need.”

Given how cautiously Rose, his family and his agents handled his ACL rehab – blowing past the 8-10 month time frame offered by his doctors to wipe out 2012-13 entirely – and the fact that this time the Bulls’ front office declared him out for the rest of 2013-14, it seems highly unlikely that “the situation” will be completely, absolutely “right.”

But the Bulls, at 7-9 despite losing six of their past seven games, do play in the Eastern Conference. The talent that remains should be good enough to chase down a postseason berth and maybe even advance a round. Rose will be around the team much more this time, he said, compared to the out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach last season.

If this rehab, physically, gets fast-tracked the way Rose’s last one, mentally, got slow-tracked, who’s to say?

“Last year the rehab part and the training part, it was all new to me,” Rose said. “I didn’t like it. I did it because I wanted to get back on the court. But just going through it is hell.

“This year, I think it should be much easier, where I know what to do. I’m walking, I’m able to put pressure on my leg now. With the ACL I wasn’t able to put pressure on my leg … I wasn’t able to bend my leg for three or four months. I’m able to bend my leg right now after surgery. So this process, I think, should be a lot more smoother.”

This time, Rose said, he would be on the bench regularly. Still not really a part of things but more so, at least, than last time.

“For sure, just being around. Just be a leader. Let ‘em hear my voice,” he said. “I get a chance to look at a game a different way. Especially if I sit on the bench every game. I’ll look at it as a coach and just try to learn everything.”

He has given no thought to the changes that might come in his absence, such as All-Star forward Luol Deng‘s uncertain future (he will be a free agent this summer and thus could be traded before that). Or other personnel moves pursued by VP of basketball John Paxson and GM Gar Forman.

Again, he offered a glimmer of a sliver of … something sooner.

“I haven’t even thought about that,” Rose said. “I’ve just had time to worry about getting my leg together and to cheer on my teammates that I have on my team right now. There’s a chance I could come back….”

See that?

“… so I’m just sharing things on the court that I see and giving them advice and encouraging them to go out there and play well and give the game their all. That’s all I can do.”

Whenever he does – whether it’s four months from now or 10 – Rose will have played a total of just 50 games since the end of his 2011 MVP season. Two knee injuries and surgeries have even Chicago optimists speculating that he might have to alter his style of play, tweak his tendencies and go easier with the cutting, the leaping, the bursting through defensive seams and the attacking of rims.

Though ever affable, Rose wasn’t buying that either.

“That’s the way that I play,” he said. “I have a unique way of playing basketball. I don’t think I can change it.”

Rose said that the two games prior to his injury convinced him he was close to his old MVP form, so close that it was “heartbreaking” to get hurt at that point. He plans to add yoga and more pool time to his physical regimen to loosen up and relax his tightly muscled body.

But he doesn’t plan on grounding himself or settling for jump shots or trying to just be an average, clock-punching NBA player.

“No, not at all,” Rose said. “I believe that I’m a special player. I think people love the way I just play. I don’t try to impress anyone while I’m playing or anything. It’s just the way that I play. I just have a feel for the game. I know my story is far from done. I know it is. He’s just preparing me for something big.”

Rose was talking about faith, at this point. His religious faith and, in essence, the faith Bulls fans need to have through this latest challenge. In fact, asked what he would say to fans, the local hero was quite direct.

“That I’m not done,” Rose said. “I know that He’s preparing me for something bigger. Of course right now when you’re living in the moment, you just don’t understand certain things. But I think if I was to look 10 years from now or so, just being in the future and looking back, I think this is going to be minor.

“It’s something that just happened. And I’m never going to stop. Like I said, if I hurt myself 10 more times, I’m never gonna stop. Never.”


VIDEO: Rose — ‘I know I’m going to be all right’