Posts Tagged ‘Jerry Reinsdorf’

Bulls fire Thibodeau

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Chicago Bulls announced Thursday afternoon that they have fired coach Tom Thibodeau.

The rift between Thibodeau and Bulls management — specifically vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman — has never been a secret. In the news release, Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf made it sound like Thibodeau refused to listen to other people in the organization and leaked information about the team’s internal issues.

While the head of each department of the organization must be free to make final decisions regarding his department, there must be free and open interdepartmental discussion and consideration of everyone’s ideas and opinions. These internal discussions must not be considered an invasion of turf, and must remain private.

Thibodeau came to Chicago from Boston, where, as an assistant, he was the architect of one of the best defenses in NBA history. The Bulls had a top-five defense in each of his first four seasons, but fell off on that end of the floor last season.


Chicago dealt with major injury issues in each of the last four seasons, starting with Derrick Rose‘s ACL tear in the 2012 playoffs. Thibodeau loaded his best players with heavy minutes at times, and the input that he refused to welcome likely had to do with injury prevention.

Still, he can probably have another job as soon as he wants one. Denver, New Orleans and Orlando are all looking for new coaches and all ranked in the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency last season.

Morning shootaround — May 17

Moment of truth | Irving sits out | Father’s memory drives Kerr | Thibs or bust

No. 1: Rockets-Clippers reaches seventh heaven or hell — Very few words generate more buzz, more excitement, more stomach-churning anticipation than this: Game 7. After all the back-and-forth, all the blowouts and all the missed opportunities on both sides, now the Rockets and Clippers will settle the matter of who gets the last spot in the NBA’s version of the Final Four today when they square off at Toyota Center in Houston. Our Fran Blinebury says it will be remembered as the tale of comeback or collapse, depending on your perspective, when the matter finally comes to a head:

History and the home court gives the Rockets a decided leg up before the opening tip. Road teams have won just 24 of 119 Game 7s in NBA playoff history and only eight teams ever have come back from the 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series that Houston is attempting. The last time it happened was in 2006.

However, the Clippers faced the same situation in 2012, letting a 3-1 lead over the Grizzlies turn into a 3-3 tie and throat-tightening time. But they went into Memphis and won Game 7. The Clippers have also won seventh game showdowns last season against the Warriors and in the first round this season over the defending champion Spurs. In Las Vegas, the odds makers have the Clippers as a two-point favorite.


No. 2: Ailing Irving held out of practice — The countdown clock to the Eastern Conference finals is down to three days and it looks like Cavs’ point guard Kyrie Irving will be happy to use up every single minute of that time as he hopes to heal a left knee injury that was tweaked in the close-out Game 6 win at Chicago. He’s also got some some other aches and pains, so our Steve Aschburner notes that Irving — uncertain for Game 1 against Atlanta on Wednesday night — was just a spectator when the rest of the Cavs hit the practice court on Saturday:

With days to go before the Eastern Conference finals begin in Atlanta, it wouldn’t have been shocking if the Cleveland Cavaliers’ entire squad had been held out of practice Saturday. But since most of their players did participate, point guard Kyrie Irving‘s lack thereof was duly noted by assembled media.

As the folks at reported:

[Irving] was held out of practice Saturday after reaggravating a left knee injury in Thursday’s closeout Game 6 against the Chicago Bulls.

An MRI on Monday revealed tendinitis in Irving’s knee. Irving has also been battling a right foot strain suffered in Game 2 of the first-round series against the Boston Celtics.

Cavs coach David Blatt said Irving saw the doctors again Friday. Blatt couldn’t give a definitive assessment of Irving’s status for Wednesday’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Hawks in Atlanta, but said the Cavs “hope” he can play.

“He going through a lot of treatment and we’re monitoring and just hoping that he progresses from here until game time,” Blatt said.


No. 3: Kerr is guided by his father’s legacy — There are many reasons why the Warriors have advanced to the Western Conference finals for the first time in nearly four decades, but none more so than coach, Steve Kerr. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News tells the wonderfully poignant story of the man who shaped Kerr, his father Malcolm, who was gunned down by an assassin in Beirut back in 1984. It is highly recommended reading:

Kerr spoke at length about his childhood during a recent interview and credits both parents, working in concert across continents, to provide “everything I needed.” But in personality, Kerr said, he is wired like his father: Reserved but passionate (the father about Lebanon, the son about basketball), thoughtful but possessing a razor wit.

Kerr’s memories remain vivid all these years later, and he rattled them off: There is Malcolm, reading The New Yorker in the stands at Dodger Stadium. There is Malcolm, coming home from the office and making popcorn. There is Malcolm, emerging from his study to shoot baskets in the driveway.

And there is Malcolm, patiently waiting for his enraged son to settle down.

“He set such a good example,” said Kerr, who has three children. “I’ve tried to be the same way with my kids.”

The lessons imparted at home and the experiences gained overseas — “They all got thrown into bathwater and survived,” Ann said — combined to shape Kerr’s worldview, foster a sense of empathy and sharpen his interpersonal skills.

Those same skills would help carry him through a 15-year NBA career — a second-round draft pick, he won five NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs — and ease his transition to coaching.

“I developed a lot of compassion living in Egypt, seeing the poverty,” he said. “The discussions around the dinner table about world politics and understanding how fortunate we were — all that helped me gain perspective on life.

“That helped with teammates when I was a player and now as a coach.”


No. 4: Bulls and Thibodeau need detente — Let’s face it. Despite all of the supposed excitement in the front office over Fred Hoiberg, there will be a learning curve if Fred Holberg makes the jump from the college ranks to head coach of the Bulls. And despite the fact that he’ll have his pick of the jobs in Orlando and Denver and New Orleans, Tom Thibodeau will have considerable building to do before he gets those teams to the current level of the Bulls. So David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune says the best shot at a championship for both sides is to find a way to work and stay together:

Unless Thibodeau’s successor is Doc Rivers or Gregg Popovich, no new coach will be more qualified to get the Bulls to the NBA Finals quicker. Unless Thibodeau unseats David Blatt in Cleveland — possible, but still a long shot — it’s hard to imagine any team Thibs inherits being closer to winning their conference than the Bulls. Sorry, drama kings, both Thibodeau and the Bulls are better together than apart.

Compromise should be the goal — not the enemy — for Thibodeau and the Bulls management tandem of Gar Forman and John Paxson. It should be imperative to Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf that he intercedes to help them achieve it. Reinsdorf, 79, should understand that letting Thibodeau go now realistically removes the urgency from next season. Any new coach introduced, whether it’s Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg or Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry, delays any realistic championship run.

Creative tension is great until it shatters a championship window. With the White Sox, Reinsdorf presided over the soap opera that played out between then-general manager Kenny Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen. With the Bulls, back in 1998, Reinsdorf oversaw the clash of then-GM Jerry Krause and coach Phil Jackson. At least those previous odd couples won titles together before divorcing. The Bulls and Thibodeau are on the verge of splitting before ever playing into June.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Billy Donovan is going after some big names to assemble a high-powered coaching staff with lots of NBA experience in OKC…Dwight Howard, who leads the playoffs in technical fouls, admits that his emotions often get the better of him on the court…Before they take the court for Game 7 against the Rockets, the Clippers better make sure they’ve unloaded their emotional baggage from Game 6…Word is the Celtics are looking to move up in the draft to get Willie Cauley-Stein…Coach Randy Wittman believes Paul Pierce will return for another season with the Wizards…Members of the National Basketball Players Association are quite content with the direction and leadership shown by new head Michele Roberts.

Report: Bulls will offer Butler the max

VIDEO: Jimmy Butler has been a constant top performer for Chicago this season

We know the unofficial voting for Executive of the Year has already ended and the hands-down winner is Jimmy Butler of the Bulls.

Face it. Unless the Cavs landing Timofey Mozgov or the Rockets shoe-horning Josh Smith into the lineup produces a championship in June, no general manager in the league is going to have made as wise a business as Butler in turning down that low-ball four-year, $40 million contract offer from the Bulls last fall.

Now that he’s playing like a sure-fire All-Star and a top of the class candidate for MVP, Butler is poised to hit the jackpot as a restricted free agent next summer.

According to David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune, the Bulls are preparing to keep their versatile two-way guard at home as soon he hits the open market:

“Internally, the Bulls are planning to take a proactive approach to contract negotiations with Butler next July and secure the shooting guard for a long-term spot alongside Derrick Rose.

“They fully expect to sign Butler to a max deal next July before another team even gets involved to tempt him with an offer sheet, which the CBA says they can after the moratorium ends. They accept that the size of Butler’s contract will put the Bulls in position to pay the luxury tax, something Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf says he will do for a championship contender his team is.”

Butler’s projected max salary is just under $16 million next season and the Bulls would be able to pay him more than $91 million over five years, compared to $67 million over four years by any other team.

Though Reinsdorf has said he won’t let crossing the luxury tax line sway him from holding onto Butler, there’s still a good chance the Bulls won’t have to do that. For all the good play he’s turned and goodwill he’s built up, Taj Gibson is a candidate to be moved out as rookie Nikola Mirotic has demonstrated that he can handle the job in his first season.

MLB strike in ’94 brought Air Jordan back to his familiar day job

VIDEO: Michael Jordan recorded his famous “double-nickel” game in 1995

Michael Jordan didn’t leave baseball. Baseball left him.

Twenty years ago, on Aug. 12, 1994, the owners and players of Major League Baseball tested the patience and allegiance of America’s sports fans with yet another full stop – the eighth work stoppage since 1972, at that point.

Little did they or anyone else know that they inadvertently were doing a great service to the NBA. The MLB strike that brought that sport to its knees, grinding to a halt some of the most exciting team and individual seasons ever, helped propel Jordan out of baseball’s minor leagues and back into uniform with the Chicago Bulls. Once restored to his primary athletic pursuit, Jordan won three more NBA championships in perhaps the most successful comeback in pro sports history and establishing his legacy as the league’s GOAT.

All because the baseball guys couldn’t sort things out in fewer than 232 days.

It was bad enough that the summer game threw itself into winter just as pennant races and statistical chases were heating up. The Montreal Expos were both MLB and the National League’s best team (74-40) on Aug. 12 in their best chance yet at a World Series. In the American League, the New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians all had legitimate shots at 100 wins.

San Diego’s Tony Gwynn was hitting .394 in the latest, greatest shot at .400 since Ted Williams did it in 1941. San Francisco third baseman Matt Williams was going after Roger Maris‘ record of 61 from 1961 four years before Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa staged their performance-enhanced show. Frank Thomas crammed a full season (38 home runs, 101 RBI, 106 runs, .353 BA and 1.217 on-base plus slugging percentage) into two-thirds of the schedule.

Meanwhile, that Jordan guy was plugging along with the Class AA Birmingham Barons in the Southern League. Showing up early, staying late, humbling himself in search of a new (or at least renewed) skill set. Jordan was riding a bus – admittedly a spiffy luxurious one, paid for by revenues he helped generate – and struggling to keep his batting average above .200 for the Barons when the big leaguers walked out. He was 31 years old, spending his days and nights with a crew of recent high school and college kids.

And from many accounts, he was having the time of his life. One of them, anyway.

“When MJ was with us, it was kind of a whirlwind,” said Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, who was the Barons’ skipper in 1994. “It had all the makings of turning into a circus, but it never did. I think that was mainly because of the way Michael handled things. He respected the game of baseball so much. He was so eager to learn, even the lingo and how the guys talked. And he understood … what the players weren’t making and how hard they had worked just to get to the Double A level.”

Francona recalled how coachable Jordan was that summer in a video for the Barons’ Web site earlier this season. “I think it’s kind of fashionable to maybe come down on MJ for playing baseball. … And I always wanted to be very protective of him because of how respectful he was of the game.”

Jordan’s so-called dalliance with baseball – or his exile, if you bought into rumors that the NBA had considered an investigation into and possible suspension for Jordan’s gambling associations – was driven in part by his late father, James, and his love of that sport. And it might have continued if only the big leaguers had found labor peace more quickly.

Jordan had batted .202 in 127 games for Birmingham, with 17 doubles, one triple, three home runs, 51 RBI and 30 stolen bases in 48 tries. He committed 11 errors in the outfield. But he went to the Arizona Fall League, where he batted .252 as his long, loping swing evened out and he learned to protect his rather large strike zone.

Jordan reported to spring training a week early in February 1995 ready to resume his grand crossover. Only, the MLB strike persisted. Jordan did not want to cross the players’ picket lines, nor was he willing to be considered as a “replacement player” simply as a way for the owners to sell tickets. (The Barons had shattered their home attendance record, drawing 467, 867 fans at Regions Park and even more (517,318) on the road.)

So on March 10, with no end in sight to the strike, Jordan announced his retirement from baseball.

On March 18, Jordan faxed his now-famous “I’m back” statement, announcing his return to the NBA. He played for Chicago the next day, scoring 19 points on 7-of-28 shooting at Indiana.

Baseball reached a collective bargaining agreement to resume on April 2. Three nights later, Jordan scored 37 points in a 108-101 victory at New Jersey. The Bulls got eliminated by Orlando from the Eastern Conference playoffs, but roared back for a second three-peat of championships. With a renewed, more teammate-oriented Jordan leading them.

“I don’t know if baseball took away from his legacy, but the coming back was so dramatic,” Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2013. “[That] caused him to spend the next summer working out like a madman, bringing in players from all over the country to play with him. And if you remember the next season, we were 72-10. He was on a mission to prove something. Maybe playing baseball contributed to that.”

It’s not all good news for the Bulls surrounding Rose

VIDEO: Derrick Rose talks to reporters after USA Basketball practice

From staff reports

Well, all those good warm and fuzzy feelings surrounding Derrick Rose lasted all of, what, four days? After nearly a week full of folks focusing on how good the 2011 NBA MVP looked back on the court, now the news regarding the Bulls’ star has taken a negative turn.

The Chicago Sun-Times, reporting from Team USA camp in Las Vegas, posted a story Thursday centered on some interesting comments attributed to Rose. Here is the most notable chunk of the interview:

“I know it’s been there,’’ Rose told the Sun-Times, acknowledging there has been growing tension between the organization and his camp. “I heard there were some upset people.

“I’m happy I didn’t personally see it. I don’t want to see that. I kind of wonder where it was coming from because it seemed like whenever I was around, everything was all right. It bothered me because when I wasn’t around, I would hear from certain people that everything wasn’t all right.’’

So notable were the comments and the story that Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf made a move to address them in a team press release. Here is Reinsdorf’s statement in its entirety:

“I am confounded by the irresponsible report in the Chicago Sun-Times suggesting there is anything approaching discord or confusion between the Bulls executive office, coaching staff, and Derrick Rose or any other Bulls player. To the contrary, I can remember no time when the organization has been any more focused, optimistic, and cohesive. I’ve got to assume suggestions otherwise are intended to undermine the goals and objectives, spirit, and reputation of the Chicago Bulls. I am deeply disappointed that unnamed sources and totally inaccurate statements and assumptions can be used to foment nonexistent friction. The report is totally without basis or fact. It is pure malicious fiction.”

It seems like Friday’s USA Basketball showcase (9 p.m. ET, ESPN) couldn’t come at a better time for Rose and the Bulls, who will probably cherish the chance to talk about what happens on the court again. At least for one day.

Schedule Rose’s Nights Off Now

CHICAGO – If I’m Jerry Reinsdorf or John Paxson, one of the men running the Chicago Bulls and thus responsible for Derrick Rose‘s well-being, I’m picking up the phone sometime in the next two weeks for an advance ruling from the suits at NBA HQ in Olympic Tower.

The question: Is “DNP-precautionary move” an acceptable explanation in the box score for a player’s absence? Which really means, can the Bulls hold out Rose in his return season from knee surgery as they see fit this season, without either the threat of hefty fines from the league or the need to frighten their fan base by stipulating to “soreness” concerns?

If NBA commissioner David Stern is OK with that, then Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau needs to channel his inner Gregg Popovich and start circling in red dates on the schedule when he thinks A) Rose would benefit most from a night off, and B) his team likely could muddle through without the All-Star point guard. Naturally, A is way more important than B if Chicago wants to position itself for a serious postseason run, regardless of W-L record, home-court advantage or playoff seed.

Then again, if Stern were to decree that only injuries, exhaustion or off-court personal matters are legitimate reasons to not have a player on the floor for a regular season game – Popovich’s four-players-short charter flight to Miami last November put everyone on notice, after all – the Bulls still would have an out. They could play word games, citing “flu-like symptoms,” “tendinitis” or various, vague “strains” for the official record, fooling no one and triggering repeated wink-a-thons from November through April.

What they don’t want to do, though, is use that “soreness” explanation the way they did Saturday in holding Rose out of the preseason game against Washington in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Not now, not ever again if they can help it.

Given what the Bulls and their fans have gone through waiting for Rose to return from ACL surgery on his left knee – 75 weeks from his injury on April 28, 2012 to his first game action at Indiana nine days ago – anything even faintly resembling a setback or (gasp!) a shutdown would be borderline cruel. They need to at least feign being pro-active in spotting Rose time off when he needs it, rather than reacting to aches or pains after the fact and lapsing into another endless cycle of injuries in 2013-14.

Rose pronounced himself fine after Monday’s practice and said, had it been up to him, he would have faced the Wizards Saturday in one of the NBA’s high-profile global games. Thibodeau said Rose looked fine and that he expects both the point guard and center Joakim Noah (who has yet to play in the preseason) to face Detroit Wednesday at United Center.

Thibodeau cited multiple factors that played into the decision by the coaches, the team’s medical staff, VP Paxson and GM Gar Forman to have Rose sit. And they did term it a “precautionary move.”

“You’re concerned about anything that would keep a player out,” the coach told reporters Monday. “If he needs rest, he’s going to get rest. If he needs to play, he’ll play. He’s responded well to the challenges that he’s faced thus far. I didn’t like the idea of flying all night [Chicago to Brazil], not well-rested, some soreness – I didn’t want to take the chance of him being out there.”

Still, given the limited coverage and means of communication with the Bulls out of country, the mere mention of “knee” and “soreness” in the same area code, never mind sentence or paragraph, sent tremors through Chicago’s fan base and media. Some were nervous. Others were angry that what might be an expected two-steps-forward, one-back process didn’t start back in March or April, by which time Rose was pronounced healthy by doctors.

Paxson brushed that aside Saturday, and Rose wasn’t looking back much Monday either.

“Nervous, I can understand,” he said of the fans’ reaction. “But at the same time, I have to worry about myself and worry about my health. So as long as I’m healthy … and this is the preseason, to get all the wrinkles out. Regular season, I should be all right.”

Most people are realistic enough to not expect the 2010-11 MVP version of Rose to be on display this season, start to finish. What they’re hoping, though, is that no one is forced to rev up Rose Watch II, the endless daily monitoring and hand-wringing that wore out pretty much everyone last season.

Remember, even before he shredded his left ACL in the 2012 playoff opener, Rose had missed 27 of 66 games in the post-lockout season with assorted ailments. The Bulls were 32-7 when he played compared to 18-9 when he didn’t, and then they went 45-37 last season while not having Rose around at all.

What Chicago wants from them and from Rose will come, if it comes at all, next spring. If they get to that point by spotting him some nights off along the way – Thibodeau says there’s no plan to throttle back on back-to-back games, though that’s a logical place to look – everyone will be happier and this comeback season will go down more smoothly.

Finally getting Rose back in front of a United Center crowd Wednesday night against Detroit will be exciting for them all. Not using him up or pushing too hard in occasional similar games over the next six months simply would be wise. Sixty games, give or take, would seem a reasonable target.

But if Rose’s availability is reactive rather than pro-active (within the realistic bounds of sports injuries, anyway), one tedious season is going to stretch into two.

Suddenly, Rose’s Return Looks Right On Time For Bulls


DEERFIELD, Ill. – Derrick Rose’s

And the Chicago Bulls have it.

Rose participated in the Bulls’ Media Day Friday afternoon at the team’s practice facility, coming out in his home whites same as last year. Only then, he was a hardwood version of Punxsutawney Phil – that was the last anyone saw of him in uniform for a full year, until he popped out again Friday, his rehab from left knee surgery lingering through the entire 2012-13 schedule and postseason.

While Rose’s game was warehoused, his reputation took a hit – the Bulls and the medical experts had talked of a return in “eight to 10 months,” which would have had back in the lineup sometime around the All-Star break, supposedly by March. When that didn’t happen – when the organization still was playing the will-he-or-won’t-he game into the Eastern Conference semifinals against Miami – some in the public questioned his commitment, his courage, you name it.

Rose knew it. His teammates and coaches knew it. None of them wavered in their belief in the 2011 MVP and his timeline, and they met it head-on Friday.

“People are going to have their opinions,” Rose told NBA TV. “There’s nothing I can do about that. For me, all I had to do was worry about my injury and worry about my health. Of course I could have came back, but if I would have came back and I wasn’t the same player, they would have been talking even [worse] about me.

“Getting back to my old self was my biggest concern. So I had to think about myself and kind of be selfish with it.”

Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau was even more direct. “The people that criticized him, they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about,” he said.

As badly as Thibodeau missed having his All-Star point guard, as much scrambling as he had to do with the Bulls’ game plan to use Nate Robinson as Rose’s surrogate, he stuck with the company line that was set by team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who made it clear they all would err on the side of caution – and delay – in Rose’s comeback.

“Jerry made it clear he did not want him coming back until he was completely healthy, 100 percent,” Thibodeau said. “And that’s exactly what he did. He kept pushing and pushing but he never felt comfortable enough to play at the level he wanted to play at.

“Then when you look at who Derrick is as a person, there’s not a more loyal, hard working, team-first guy out there. For him to take that criticism on, I think was unfair. It was a tough decision he had to make but it was the right decision.”

Said forward Luol Deng: “The whole year, I knew how bad he wanted to play. So I never questioned it, when he made his decision on [not] coming back. I knew that he would know before anyone when he was ready.”

The difference in Rose, from other ACL patients such as Ricky Rubio or Iman Shumpert, was his reliance on explosion, torque and cutting. “Could he play in a game? Well, maybe,” Thibodeau said. “But he couldn’t play the way he likes to play. And the way he’s capable of playing. His game is very different. Very explosive. Change of directions, things of that nature.”

The Bulls begin two-a-day sessions Saturday. No one – not Rose, Thibodeau, general manager Gar Forman or anyone else – has specified a minutes limit for him in practice or in games.

The games, of course, will be the real test. Rose practiced with the Bulls since early last winter, so when Chicago faces Indiana Saturday night at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse, one of the most closely watched comebacks in the NBA this season will meet its first hurdle.

“My knee is good,” Rose said. “My confidence is steadily growing in my knee. I don’t have any worries at all. When I’m practicing, I’m reacting instead of thinking. Anyone who’s had these injuries would know you want to react instead of think while you’re on the court. So I’m feeling good.”

In a sense, Rose is in a no-lose situation: If he returns like his old self, people will argue that his decision to wait through the summer – and his annual tune-ups in Los Angeles – was the right strategy. If he shows rust or has off-nights – as most who return from his particular injury do – folks can say, “See, how could he have come back in the playoffs?”

But there will be no rust, if Rose has his way.

“[Doctors have] said it, but at the same time, I have confidence in myself,” he said. “I know what type of player I am. I know how my training has been. For me going out there to play, I shouldn’t have anything to worry about. I believe in myself.”

No Deal For Deng Means Drama For Bulls

Regardless of how well the players and the coaches fended off the distraction of it, the Chicago Bulls’ 2012-13 season was preoccupied, overshadowed and generally beholden to one question: “Is Derrick back?”

Odds are good, as of Tuesday, that 2013-14 will be colored by a variation on that query, as in: “Is Deng gone?”

With reports that talks of a contract extension between Luol Deng and the Bulls have broken off [], followed up by agent Herb Rudoy‘s quote that the All-Star forward “will definitely go through” free agency next summer [Chicago Tribune], a team that grappled with considerable unknowns last season assured itself of a fat one for this year. What it means to the depth and cohesiveness of the Bulls as they try to chase down the Miami Heat and a couple other improving Eastern Conference contenders remains to be seen. But it adds drama where there might have been none.

Derrick Rose, obviously, is the fulcrum on which this season tilts; if he can return from extended rehab (since April 2012) to his status as one of the NBA’s most explosive, elusive players, Chicago looks equipped to challenge the Heat and jockey with Indiana and Brooklyn for East surpremacy.

But Deng has been the Bulls’ glue and constant for the past three seasons, at least. From coach Tom Thibodeau‘s arrival through Rose’s major absence (and lesser ones), the 6-foot-8 forward has been a two-time All-Star and two-way player, coping with and often playing in spite of his own less-spectacular injuries. Deng has been Thibodeau’s go-to guy in you-name-it situations, and it took a rather serious scare last spring – he developed a serious infection after undergoing a spinal tap during the first-round series vs. the Nets – to sit him down for good.

Still just 28 after nine NBA seasons, Deng has been taken for granted by Bulls fans who remember the contract haggles that he and teammate Ben Gordon went through in 2007 and 2008. Deng finally landed his six-year, $71 million deal while Gordon left to seek his fortune (five years, $58 million) in free agency, yet the climate at United Center often seems almost as chilly toward the former as the latter.

As a performer and a teammate, as a workhorse who soaks up innings (Deng has averaged 39.1 minutes the past three seasons, leading the NBA over the past two), the man from the South Sudan has been terrific. His biggest failing? Probably his timing.

Deng’s current contract, signed in 2008, will pay him $14.2 million this season, a big number under the current CBA. He’s coming off what for the Bulls, for all its pluckiness, largely was a lost season, given Rose’s absence. And his own health issue late flipped more opportunity to Jimmy Butler, who emerged over the second half as a potential Deng replacement.

Some might argue that Chicago isn’t even all-in on 2013-14, despite Rose’s need for consistency around him as much as added talent. The Carlos Boozer countdown will be busy, with the veteran power forward headed to the amnesty pile next offseason and with Nikola Mirotic stashed overseas like some new-millennium Toni Kukoc. Rose could be rusty, Boozer and Joakim Noah might be due for  breakdowns, the roster still needs another big and Deng is facing the equivalent of a qualifying year. With the exception that he could be dealt by the Feb. 20 trade deadline.

Deng feels he has earned, and will keep earning, another big contract. But with Rose, Noah and Taj Gibson on the books for more than $39 million in 2014-15 and chairman Jerry Reinsorf having to shell out another $16.8 million for Boozer whether he’s on the books or not, the Bulls either will be looking for a hometown discount from Deng or will have moved on to Butler entirely. Meanwhile, Deng will have options, with teams both ambitious and rebuilding, eager to land a solid player, leader and citizen.

This all will be played out over 82 games, many of which Deng probably will play hurt again, will get left on the court too long or will be sent back in by Thibodeau to nail down the outcome. The mileage on his odometer will spike and, this time, it will be dinging a market value in which the Bulls will have no future stake.

It all might set a good team guy like Deng to wondering why one player can get treated as gingerly as the Stanley Cup while others get used as if they’re Dixie.

Rose Talks, Offers Overdue Rehab Update


CHICAGO — Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls star whose voice has been as muted during his 14-month rehab from knee surgery as his absence has been glaring and chronicled, knows there is a difference between talking the talk and walking the walk.

Sprinting the sprint, cutting the cut and leaping the leap are all better still in gauging how successful Rose and the team’s medical staff were in getting him back on the court by training camp this fall.

“Me saying it is something totally different,” the Bulls point guard said in a video interview newly posted on the team Web site. “I think me going on the court and showing ’em will let ’em know it was the right decision.”

Rose’s decision not to return for any portion of the 2012-13 schedule was the headline of the Bulls’ season. It defined who and what they were, as well as how far an undermanned, underdog squad could go against the likes of the Nets and the Heat in the playoffs.

It led to an emerging class of Rose critics, too, something new for the Chicago kid who previously had delivered more, sooner, than most expected. Once Rose’s rehab dragged into and through the 8-to-12-month estimate offered in May 2012, questions and even suspicions began to pop up: Is it Rose’s knee or his heart? Doesn’t he see his teammates gutting out huge upsets despite injuries of their own? How much influence does brother Reggie Rose, the player’s agent, and a fleet of adidas marketers have over the kid?

Rose’s presence in Bulls pregame warm-ups, working on his jump shot and moves to the rim, looking pretty healthy, only made people wonder more. And his near-blackout of the media – endorsed or at least tolerated by Chicago management — exacerbated the situation, because in place of Rose’s words, critics reached their own conclusions.

This sitdown with BullsTV might be a reach for the reset button.

“I didn’t want to do anything, to tell you the truth,” Rose said of media interviews in general during his layoff. “I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I just wanted to rebuild my leg and be around my son [P.J.]. That was time where, me having a son, is huge. … My father wasn’t ever in my life, so he’s first now with anything.”

Scheduling sitdowns with reporters once a month to track his rehab progress wouldn’t have tampered with either his focus or his Dad time, and would have shown respect for the media that otherwise respected Rose’s challenge/ordeal. More so, it would have been good for the fan base that kept buying tickets.

If a little more accountability sapped any drama from adidas’ series of shoe commercials (“The Return”), too bad — Rose didn’t make good on that script anyway. And the Bulls’ media relations experts, working up through vice president John Paxson and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, if necessary, should have spelled that out to Rose.

But this BullsTV interview offers a fresh start. Now, instead of some random sessions with USA Today or furtive Q&A grabs in the postgame locker room in Boston, Rose needs to make himself available to reporters on an occasional basis.

Not every question got asked or answered by, such as:

  • How will you simulate game conditions over the summer, when you’re in Chicago, in Los Angeles or on the adidas tour through Serbia and other European destinations?
  • Did the criticism of you, your family and your business partners surprise you? Bother you? Change your view of Bulls fans?
  • When will you know you can trust — really trust — that left knee?
  • How will you cope with what most medical folks say will be ups and downs, good nights and bad, as you work your way back?
  • Specifically, how do you think the layoff has benefited your game?
  • What adjustments do you plan to make in how you play — or at least, what are you prepared to do if your explosiveness isn’t what it was?

And about a dozen more, ranging from Rose’s views on the Bulls’ draft and free-agent acquisitions to lead assistant coach Ron Adams‘ departure.

Among the questions that did get answered? Here are the highlights:

On missing the entire season: “It was hard. One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through in my life. After surgery, when you start runnin’, when you have an injury like this, it’s phases you have to go through. I’m still going through my phases. I’m not done yet. But I think this is the most I’ve ever worked on my craft and the most focused I’ve ever been in my NBA career.”

On not coming back: “I’m not a selfish guy at all, but having this injury and knowing what I had to go through, and being smart, this is something that I had to be selfish with. I couldn’t worry about anyone else but myself and my health.”

On reports that he was “dominant” in practices: “When you’re in practice, of course it’s not like game-like speed unless it’s training camp. Game-like experience is totally different. Where you’ve got strategies, you’ve got this-or-that double-teams – when I play I get double-teamed a lot. We [practice] the same defense that we play in the game, so there wasn’t that many double-teams. So I was able to go around freely. In the game, I wasn’t able to take on that double-team yet.”

On his knee’s progress: “Every day I was working out like my leg is going to feel better. I was pushing myself every day. And trying to take care of my body to be out there as soon as possible. But it didn’t happen.”

On the Bulls’ season without him: “I was very, very impressed. It seemed like they were fighting for me. They saw how hard I was working at practice, just trying to rebuild my leg. All my teammates that were going through injuries, they used to tell me, ‘Don’t rush back’ just because they were going through stuff. So just to hear them say that, they knew I was trying to get back on the court as quickly as possible. They made a good run of it. When they were playing, I would tell them some things that I saw if they didn’t see. I was working with them just to show that I really cared about the team.”

On his close relationship with coach Tom Thibodeau: “With Thibs, we’re super-cool right now. We talk at least a couple times through the week. I missed his call a couple times – he hates when I do that – I’ve got to call him back. But he’s someone who loves the game almost as much as me and that’s pretty hard. If you love basketball more than I do, I have to take off my hat to you.”

On his personal goals for 2013-14: “There’s only one goal and that’s to win a championship.”

It’s good for Rose, for the Bulls and for the fans to have the team’s star and leader accessible again. He needs to stay that way.

Two Coaches With Everything To Lose

LOS ANGELES — Opposing playoff coaches Vinny Del Negro and Lionel Hollins have a lot in common. Both men have improved their clubs’ winning percentage each season as coach. The last two soared over .600 for consecutive top-five finishes in the rugged Western Conference.

Both won 56 games this season to set each franchise’s record for most wins.

And, finally, job security: Neither man has it.

In a rare, but not unprecedented occurrence, the first-round playoff series between Del Negro’s Los Angeles Clippers and Hollins’ Memphis Grizzlies, a rematch of last season’s seven-game, first-round thriller won by L.A., features two lame-duck coaches.

While both have produced excellent seasons by any measure, one will be going home earlier than hoped. And despite public stamps of approval this week from their superiors, neither coach’s future is certain, and prior to Monday’s Game 2, neither was pretending otherwise.

“Would I liked to have had a contract before this? Of course,” said Hollins, now in his fifth consecutive season and third stint as the Grizzlies coach, a relationship that dates back to the franchise’s roots in Vancouver. “But that’s a decision that’s made and you go and do the best job you can, and it’s not like it had to be done before the season is over. It’s just like players, you can extend players early or you can wait till later. Guys become free agents and they go out in free agency and sometimes it gives you leverage and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Del Negro, who guided the Clippers to the franchise’s first Pacific Division title and first 50-win campaign in his third season and second with All-Star point guard Chris Paul, has been one of the most scrutinized coaches since Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf hired him without any coaching experience five years ago. Del Negro lasted two .500 seasons there before being fired and then hired by the Clippers.

L.A. advanced to the West semifinals last season, but with Paul and Blake Griffin banged up, was swept by the San Antonio Spurs. Del Negro said this season’s goal is to go deeper, which implies a goal of achieving another franchise milestone, a first conference final. It would take finishing off Memphis and then likely ousting the reigning West-champion Oklahoma City Thunder.

“I believe in what we’ve done here,” Del Negro said. “I think my assistant coaches have done a phenomenal job and I’ve had great support from ownership and the front office … and everybody to try and put the best team out there possible.

“Right now the focus should be on the playoffs, should be on the players and the commitment that they’re putting in to help us be successful. And all those things (contract situation) will get answered at the end.” (more…)