Posts Tagged ‘John Paxson’

Morning shootaround — May 29


VIDEO: Relive the Warriors’ and Cavs’ conference title clinchers

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Breaking down the Thibodeau ouster| Rivers: Paul, Jordan need each other to succeed | Randle aiming for return in Summer League

No. 1: Was Thibodeau enough of a politician?; Clashes with management led to his dismissal— Five seasons, 255 regular-season wins, 23 playoff wins (including an East finals berth) and countless other player-level accolades (developing an MVP, a Defensive Player of the Year and a Most Improved Player) weren’t enough to give Tom Thibodeau job security in Chicago. The Bulls fired Thibodeau yesterday in a not-too-shocking move given the unrest between him and the front office and now, must find his replacement. Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski and our own Steve Aschburner chime in on the move with two different viewpoints.

Here’s Wojnarowski on how Thibodeau’s lack of political glad-handing may have led to his firing:

For all the issues that inspired Chicago Bulls management to carry out such a ferocious campaign to discredit Tom Thibodeau – minutes restrictions and personnel disagreements and an inability to simply interact – perhaps the most powerful had been jealousy.

Over and over, those listening to John Paxson and Gar Forman would tell you that Bulls management could never make peace with the praise heaped upon Thibodeau for 60-victory seasons and deep playoff runs. For them, it was too much about the best defense in the NBA, too much about his development of journeymen into rotation contributors, good players into All-Stars, great players into an MVP.

To them, Thibodeau represented a Chicago folk hero who needed to be leveled. Tell them that he was a great coach, and league officials say you’d often hear back from Bulls management that simply, “He’s good.”

If Thibodeau had only the political savvy to publicly praise his bosses, maybe everyone could’ve been spared the years of needless acrimony and drama. As Thibodeau joined the Chicago Bulls five years ago, a coaching friend told him: “Remember to kiss some babies,” a suggestion that he needed to learn to be more of a politician.

Thibodeau played a part in creating the dysfunction. In his next job, he needs to bring with him some lessons learned, needs to understand better that there can be compromises without destroying your values system.

In the end, management won over owner Jerry Reinsdorf to pay out the $9 million owed on Thibodeau’s contract. Reinsdorf has lorded over decades of management-coaching dysfunction – and yet Thursday he was issuing a statement on the firing of Thibodeau as a way to stay true to the organization’s “culture.” That’s been a screwed-up culture for a long, long time. Between Michael Jordan and Derrick Rose, the Bulls were a mess. When Thibodeau arrived, so did the winning – and then, so did the loathing between management and his staff.

Those close to Thibodeau say that Reinsdorf’s statement stung the coach on Thursday, that he had treasured his relationship with the owner. Thibodeau has always admired Reinsdorf’s accomplishments – a self-made tycoon, a successful sports and media mogul – and always felt that Reinsdorf had been an ally for him. Reinsdorf wasn’t around much, though, and talked far more with management than the coach. Thibodeau lost Reinsdorf in the past year, and ultimately lost the job.

Before the end of Thursday night, Thibodeau had sounded enthusiastic to close associates. He was thinking about the next job, about the possibilities out there. Throughout the day, Thibodeau was getting texts and calls from old players – with the Knicks and Rockets and Celtics and, yes, Bulls – and they say that it moved him.

In the hours after his firing, Tom Thibodeau hadn’t sounded angry to his friends – only nostalgic. Five years is a good run in the NBA; it’s just a matter of time until someone else comes calling for him.

And here’s Aschburner on how Thibodeau’s firing may have come as a result of the years-long feud between he and the front office:

Paxson and Forman spoke with assembled Chicago media for about 25 minutes Thursday afternoon at United Center, by which time Thibodeau had been told his services no longer needed and departed the Advocate Center practice facility across the street. He leaves with two years remaining on his contract, worth a reported $9 million, and the freedom to take a new NBA job (New Orleans remains the source of greatest speculation) or sit out to collect the Bulls’ money, whichever suits him. Paxson and Forman said the Bulls weren’t dragging their heels on Thibodeau’s firing to block him until available coaching vacancies were filled — that makes sense, since whatever he’d earn in 2015-16 would offset what they’d still owe him.

But the way it all was handled — Reinsdorf’s salvos lobbed at the coach in support of his guys in suits, the Bulls’ brain trust being far more available and talkative on Thibodeau’s fate after it had been sealed than while it was salvageable, an apparent Cold War in addressing their communication breakdowns and a sense that egos ruled the day more than the good sense to make things work among proven professionals — fit a little too comfortably into the franchise’s history. Or its vaunted “culture” that got mentioned time and time again Thursday.

Remember former Jerry Krause‘s notorious comment that “organizations win championships?” And the bad blood between Krause and coach Phil Jackson, and Krause and stars Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen? This was that, the same mood, just different principals.

One NBA head coach referred to Friday’s events in Chicago as “a crucifixion.” Another spoke of “the knife Reinsdorf stabbed in Thibodeau’s back” on the way out.

Among the things Thibodeau did in his time with Chicago was help Rose become the league’s youngest MVP, turned Luol Deng into a two-time All-Star, drill Noah into the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year and a fourth-place finisher in MVP balloting in 2014 and oversee Jimmy Butler‘s development as this season’s Most Improved Player. He got veteran Pau Gasol to perform at a level that made him an All-Star starter for the first time.

Of course, NBA players are survivors, so it’s not surprising that some of them reportedly weren’t happy with Thibodeau, his grinding work demands and what some of them felt was a limited offensive repertoire. Some were said to have complained in exit interviews with Forman and Paxson, and they didn’t exactly throw themselves in front of the divorce train when asked about the “noise” in March and April.

So who might the Bulls’ new boss be? Forman and Paxson made it sound like they were only now about to rev up a full-blown coaching search, which is hard to believe. Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, a Forman crony from way back who spent part of his NBA career in Chicago, has been the No. 1 candidate — at least in speculation –since before the season began. The idea that the Bulls would make this leap of cutting loose Thibodeau without having their parachute strapped on, or at least within reach, strains credulity.

Hoiberg is a bright basketball mind, a solid individual and, aside from a health record that required a second open-heart procedure recently, certainly capable of the Xs & Os required in the job. Certainly, he is communicative enough — and clued in enough now — to stroke Bulls upper management in the ways it apparently needs.


VIDEO: K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune analyzes the Thibodeau firing

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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.

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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




NEWS OF THE MORNING
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.

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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 Ohio.com 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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

Morning shootaround — May 6


VIDEO: Highlights from games played May 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors lose ‘poise’ in Game 2 | Thibodeau: Latest front office rumblings just ‘noise’ | Report: Thompson to start Game 2 | McHale blasts Rockets’ effort

No. 1: Warriors ‘poise’ fails them in Game 2 vs. Grizzlies — The scene at Oracle Arena last night was perfectly set for Golden State to snag a 2-0 series lead on the Memphis Grizzlies in their Western Conference semifinals. Warriors star Stephen Curry got his MVP from Commissioner Adam Silver before the game, Golden State was fresh off a Game 1 romp over Memphis and had every reason to believe it could win again Tuesday. But the Grizzlies — thanks to the inspired play of Mike Conley — claimed a 97-90 series-tying win. Afterward, writes Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN.com, the Warriors said they were perhaps a little too pumped up for Game 2:

The last time the Golden State Warriors lost at home was back in January, against the Chicago Bulls. The last time they lost in regulation at Oracle was back in November, against the San Antonio Spurs. This 97-90 home loss in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals to the Memphis Grizzlies just wasn’t part of the plan, certainly not on the day of Stephen Curry’s MVP presentation.

In pregame, as Curry took hold of his trophy, Tony Allen was on the other side of the court, pacing like a madman. He had his own plans. He was ready to dash everyone’s expectations with a dose of chaos.

It took some inspired defense from Allen, combined with an inspirational performance from Mike Conley, who played magnificently despite a fractured face and foggy mask. Conley hit his first four shots and the Grizzlies never looked back. After Memphis went ahead 5-4, they led the rest of the way. Golden State had runs here and there, but they were never sustained. The game was always just out of reach, and the Warriors never got organized enough to tug it back.

“I thought we lost our poise tonight,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr assessed. “That was the biggest issue.

“We were too emotional. We were too quick with our intention to score,” he said. “Instead of just moving the ball and setting good screens, everyone was trying to do everything frantically on their own.”

After the game, Curry preached calm, saying, “We’re not going to shoot 6-for-26 many times over this series, so we’re not going to overreact to one bad shooting night, as long as we get quality shots the next game.”

Draymond Green had a similar message, saying, “Nobody expects us to lose a game at home. Now the whole world has collapsed, the Bay Area’s just been hit by an earthquake. Everything’s going wrong.” He then downshifted into a reassuring tone, saying, “We’ll be just fine.”

That’s probably the right approach for the playoffs finally arriving at Oracle. The Warriors made it look so easy, for so long, that one could be deceived into thinking they could skate to a title sans stretches of doubt. It just isn’t happening that smoothly for a young team experiencing life as the favorite for the first time. Massive expectation doesn’t obviate pressure, it amplifies it.


VIDEO: Go inside the huddles with the Warriors and Grizzlies in Game 2

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Morning shootaround — Feb. 27


VIDEO: Highlights for games played Feb. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bulls hoping for quick Rose return | Paul George returns to practice | Earl Lloyd passes away | Buyouts not working out for Clippers | Rip Hamilton retires

No. 1: Bulls hoping for quick Rose return — When it was announced earlier this week that Bulls point guard Derrick Rose would need knee surgery, many jumped to the belief that he would miss the rest of the season and postseason. But in a press conference yesterday, Bulls management was bullish on the belief that Rose could be back by the end of the season, and be ready for the playoffs, following surgery scheduled for today, writes K.C. Johnson in the Chicago Tribune

The procedure, which team physician Brian Cole will perform, is a removal of part or all of the meniscus. This type of procedure typically is used to address subsequent tears of the meniscus that Rose originally tore in November 2013.

In that surgery, which Cole also performed, Rose’s meniscus was repaired or reattached, and he missed the remainder of the 2013-14 season. A meniscectomy typically involves a shorter rehabilitation period.

The Tribune, citing sources, has reported there is considerable optimism that Rose’s second meniscus tear is small. Until the surgery is performed and Cole determines how much of the meniscus needs to be trimmed, it’s unknown what the timetable for Rose’s return is.

The Bulls said general manager Gar Forman will address that issue after the surgery. At the team’s annual charity event Thursday night, a feeling of hopeful optimism emanated from team officials.

“Nothing’s an easy procedure, but our anticipation is that there’s an area that’s going to get taken care of and the hope is that he will (play this season),” executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said.

Added Forman: “I don’t want to speculate until (Cole) goes in (Rose’s knee), but we’re certainly hopeful.”

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Report: Relationship between Bulls, Thibodeau ‘beyond repair’


VIDEO: Tom Thibodeau tries to fire up his team during a game against Sacramento

One of the more fascinating coach-management relationships lives on in Chicago, where Tom Thibodeau is either a valuable commodity or expendable as Tim Floyd, depending on which way the wind is blowing that day in the executive office. And if you know Chicago, that wind can get pretty blustery pretty quickly.

At least, that’s our impression, anyway. Anytime the subject is Thibodeau and the front office, the signals are always mixed and nobody’s willing to set the record straight.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reports that the relationship between Thibodeau and the Bulls is “beyond repair”:

Several times over the years, Tom Thibodeau has reminded all how Tim Duncan averaged nearly 40 minutes in his first six seasons with the Spurs. He did it again Tuesday night before the Bulls’ overtime victory over the Warriors.

Thibodeau routinely has made reference to how Phil Jackson rarely took Michael Jordan or Scottie Pippen off the court during the Bulls dynasty. He also did that again in one of his next breaths after his Duncan point.

The Bulls coach has hammered home the theme of needing full participation in practice to build chemistry and continuity from the first day in training camp, when management and the medical staff placed restrictions on players.

But Thibodeau never had done so in such all-encompassing fashion as he did before and after one of the Bulls’ most important victories of the season. And he certainly hadn’t done so since ESPN broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy accused Bulls management of undermining Thibodeau, pulling back the curtain anew on that frayed relationship.

“The more you practice, the better you practice, the better you’re going to play,” Thibodeau said after the stirring victory. “That’s time-tested, age-old, however else you want to describe it. That’s what you gotta do if you want to win.”

That Thibodeau said this the night before he merely had a film session and players worked out individually — no official practice serving as his nod to the Bulls’ three-games-in-four-nights schedule — should remind all that a coach can’t spend two-plus decades in the NBA without knowing how to pace a team.

But it also underscored how, despite last week’s team meeting instead of a practice, Thibodeau isn’t going to change, even while the speculation about his long-term future with the Bulls continues. Despite the two seasons left on the four-year extension Thibodeau took several months to sign in the 2012-13 season, several league sources believe Thibodeau’s relationship with management is beyond repair.

And while there are no plans to replace Thibodeau during the season, a mutual parting of the ways after this season wouldn’t surprise many league personnel familiar with the deteriorating dynamic.

Additionally, in a Q&A with Sam Amick of USA Today, Thibodeau stands up for his practices as a coach, which some may consider hard-charging and stubborn:

Yet as Thibodeau made clear, he’s not the least bit concerned with those who keep questioning his hard-driving ways. He’ll charge on, unapologetic and – as always – unshaken.

“You want to be a championship team, there’s a price to pay,” Thibodeau declares. “And that’s what you have to do. There’s no shortcuts. You can’t shortcut your way to success … I’m going to give everything I have each and every day, and I have no regrets.”

Q: What about the idea that no one in the league pushes their players quite like you do? Do you even agree with that premise that has essentially become like gospel?

A: “No. Listen, I’ve been around a long time. There are so many different ways to pace your team. Like everyone, (outsiders) look at minutes but they don’t know what’s going on in practice. They don’t know how much contact you have (in practice). They don’t know what your philosophy is in terms of days off. Is (practice) after back to backs? Is first day of a road trip? Is (practice) a day off after never more than three consecutive days? Whatever it might be, there’s a lot that goes into it. But you also – if you’re looking at performance and how you can get the best out of people – there’s a reason why teams have success over a long period of time. You have to have core values. What do you believe in? Do you believe in hard work? Do you believe in discipline? Do you believe in conditioning? Because those are the things I know that do work.

“So I’m not surprised if the play is up and down and it’s been sporadic in terms of – can you practice or not practice? No, practice is important. The regular season is important. Your meetings are important. Your walk-through is important. Everything is important. You want to be a championship team, there’s a price to pay. And that’s what you have to do. There’s no shortcuts. You can’t shortcut your way to success.”

Then, on Thursday afternoon, GM Gar Forman responded to the chatter thusly:

On the surface, Thibs should be a keeper. His teams win and the Bulls thrive even with injury roadblocks. The players, from what we gather, respect his attention to detail and his devotion. And with all due respect to the Atlanta Hawks, the general vibe has Chicago as the odds-on favorite to emerge from the East this summer.

But man, ever since he got the job, there have been more whispers than you hear in Sunday church.

It usually begins with anonymous sources, or “word has it” or “the feeling from inside the organization” or “the talk among those in the coaching fraternity” or even more blatantly, “Jeff Van Gundy‘s strong opinion. Whether real or imagined (and maybe both are true), there are forces between Thibs and the front office, meaning Foreman and John Paxson  the GM and VP, respectively — which are destined to grease Thibs’ exit this summer if not shortly after.

When he took the job in 2010, it was considered a coup by Chicago. Thibbs was the long-time assistant who was the brains behind the Boston Celtics’ defense, an assistant so respected for his defense that Boston paid handsomely to keep him around. Then-coach Doc Rivers even allowed him to call plays from the bench. Thibs followed Vinny Del Negro in Chicago (who was once physically threatened by Paxson during a disagreement), so Thibs had to be an upgrade all around, right?

Yes, he was. The Bulls improved by 21 wins (yes, it was Derrick Rose‘s MVP season, but still) and ever since have constantly ranked high defensively. Chicago loved the gravelly-voiced coach whose style seemed to fit Chicago: gruff yet fair, hard-working and fiercely competitive. He was the new Mike Ditka.

This is even better: Rose has missed pretty much two full seasons since, and is still rounding into form. Joakim Noah has been in and out of the lineup for two years himself … and the Bulls kept winning. Thibs did his best job the last two years when, without Rose, the Bulls stayed competitive in the playoffs against healthier and better teams.

The fraying began, however, almost immediately. Management forced Thibodeau to fire his right hand man, Ron Adams, two years ago and Thibbs has steamed about it ever since. Foreman has never given a reason publicly about the move, which has only fueled all the speculation between Foreman and Thibbs, who took his sweet time signing a contract extension, perhaps as a silent protest.

Now, suddenly, word is (there’s that clause again) that the front office is unhappy with the minutes Thibbs is giving to certain players, is worried about the Bulls’ defense and is beginning to tell Thibodeau how to tweak his rotation.

And then came the Van Gundy hurricane.

During a recent telecast, Van Gundy, without prompting, began throwing verbal haymakers at the Bulls’ front office. He was essentially calling them out for making it tough on Thibs. (Thibs was once an assistant under Van Gundy in New York.)

The only problem I had was Van Gundy spoke in generalities. If he was so upset, and claimed to have inside info, why didn’t he speak in specifics? If he was so sure Thibbs is being roughed up internally, why not call out Foreman, Paxson or even owner Jerry Reinsdorf and say exactly what was happening? It’s not that Van Gundy doesn’t know. Why did Van Gundy just blame the media, which he accused of being in the back pocket of Bulls management?

Once again the Bulls are in the hunt for a conference title despite injuries. Their offense has always been so-so under Thibbs, and the defensive intensity has waned a bit. But come spring, it’s very likely the road to the title will go through the United Center.

If it doesn’t, does that mean the Bulls will give Thibs the heave? If so, they’d better have a good replacement. Or maybe, with two more years left on his contract, they’ll give Thibs permission to speak with other teams and ask for compensation.

 

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.

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…)

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.

Trading Deng Reinforces Bulls’ Top-Down Reputation

Chicago Bulls v Dallas Mavericks

The handling of Luol Deng could affect Chicago’s free agency appeal. (Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)

CHICAGO – Luol Deng was gone from Chicago sooner or later, so the Bulls were simply taking care of business in a responsible and pre-emptive manner when they made sure it was the former Tuesday, trading Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers for the fungible contract of center Andrew Bynum and several future draft picks.

But… There’s often a but and it’s coming.

Deng and the Bulls already had parted ways, with only the calendar left to make it official. Chicago tried once more over the weekend to sign the two-time All-Star forward to a contract extension – an offer reported to be worth about $30 million over three seasons – and was rebuffed. Deng is determined to test free agency for the first time, convinced his value is closer to the $14.25 million annually he’s making this season. No “hometown discounts” for the Windy City (by way of South Sudan, London and Durham, N.C.) were in the offing.

So the something for which Bulls’ VP John Paxson and GM Gar Forman pulled the trade trigger – salary-cap and luxury-tax relief in shedding Deng’s salary (and in cutting Bynum loose immediately) and a parcel of amorphous picks – clearly is better than the nothing they would get back this summer. Better probably, too, than any other offers between now and the February trade deadline.

So no quibble with the move here on that count.

No quibbles, either, about how Bulls’ recuperating MVP Derrick Rose and his camp might react to this veer into “rebuilding,” or how grinding head coach Tom Thibodeau might feel about losing the favorite, all-purpose tool on his belt in Deng.

If not for Rose’s second consecutive season-ending knee injury, the Bulls wouldn’t even have reached this crossroads of now vs. later. By next October, when he’ll try to return again as an elite player, Rose will have been paid about $35 million over two seasons to endure, yes, the physical and mental drudgery of rehab but to play only 10 games before his second knee blowout. That contract – a five-year, 30-percent-of-payroll deal in which the Bulls gave every available dollar – is part of the reason for the cap and tax considerations now.

As for Thibodeau, he and Deng had a solid partnership in which the coach maximized the player’s talents and value at both ends, while Deng did whatever was asked of him – sometimes too much. Injuries followed, along with Deng’s breakdown last spring in which he was hospitalized for spinal-tap complications and took issue with the Bulls’ handling of his room, his doctors and too little TLC from his bosses.

Paxson addressed that head-on Tuesday in a news conference, stating that he and others apologized to Deng over the summer. Yet those close to the 10-year veteran felt it caused a wee more separation from management and made him a little more wary of injuries and overuse this season (Deng missed nine games due to left Achilles soreness, trying to avoid a blowout rather than recover from one later).

Thibodeau? He coaches hard the bodies in uniforms in front of him, which is fine. Anything – like this trade – that makes winning more difficult or, to go to extremes, undesirable isn’t something for which the coach has much time. Even Paxson, in his honest and extended back-and-forth with reporters, acknowledged it, saying “We know what he’s facing. We’re not sitting up here saying, ‘Be happy about it.’ ”

But Thibs isn’t Doc Rivers, either, with a championship ring as a head coach or the lengthy resume of his former Boston boss. Navigating through a rebuild or overhaul or whatever the Bulls eventually label this comes in his job description. It’s his fourth season in charge of a team, he got and still has a better situation than many, and he has room for improvement, too.

OK, here comes the quibble: This won’t help the Bulls when it comes to attracting and signing top free agents.

It will, frankly, have the opposite effect in an area where they already have been underachievers.

And once the dust settles, this Deng trade will become another brick in the wall of Chicago’s player-unfriendly reputation.

Paxson took issue with that characterization Tuesday, but let’s face it, that old Jerry Krause-ism from deep into the Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen era – “Players don’t win championships. Organizations win championships,” Krause said – still has legs. The perception around the NBA, for a lot of players and their agents, is that Chicago, yes, is a behemoth and a profit monster that packs United Center, boasts plenty of banners and offers an enticing big-market platform for outside interests. But it also is run as top-down as any team in the league, sending messages to the locker room that no one – no player, no coach, not even Jordan in his day – is bigger than the organization.

That message was delivered 10 and 15 years ago by Jordan, Pippen and others to a generation of budding stars such as Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill and lingers to this day. When McGrady and Hill were free agents, Chicago was fine as a place to increase leverage, but did they actually sign there?

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade essentially enacted a similar charade in the summer of 2010, after the Bulls had opened up salary for one or two megastars. Carlos Boozer and a deep bench was a decent fallback position, but as things turned out, it was like finding an Acme tablet under the Christmas tree when you were hoping for an iPad. Then it might as well be underwear.

“I think we treat people fairly, players fairly,” Paxson said, challenging the reputation when it was raised. “I think we have a good way of going about our business.”

The only way to prove that, in the wake of waving goodbye to Deng (who did get a six-year, $71 million deal from the Bulls in 2008), his character and his “glueness” will be to turn all this talk about The Future into something tangible and game-changing for the present. If not James next summer in, sure, a way-way-way-long shot, then stashed Euro Nikola Mirotic and a notable second addition. Then something creative, say, for Kevin Love in 2015.

Paxson talked up the merits of depth and building with Rose rather than leaning on him so much, especially given the unknowns of his game going forward. But he also said: “Let’s face it, the league is a superstar league.”

Beyond Rose and the improbable fall of Ping-Pong balls in 2008, Chicago has been in search of one since 1998, when its titles ended and its management reputation lived on. Finishing multiple times as a bridesmaid in free agency, assiduously avoiding the luxury tax until last year, flushing out the Bench Mob from 2010-11 and 2011-12 for more affordable options, turning what was promised to be a basketball decision on Omer Asik into a financial one, even enabling Rose’s decision not to try a comeback last March or April – all recent examples of business first, winning second.

And now this trade. Some day, it might be the beloved Rose. After all, the respect and genuine affection with which Paxson, Thibodeau and regular ol’ staffers spoke of Deng as a player and, more so, as a person was hard to reconcile with the fact that nonetheless he is gone. He didn’t get an extension prior to the season. And other than by Thibs, he always seemed a little more valued from the outside – the East coaches picking All-Star subs, Kobe Bryant nixing any deal that sent Deng back to L.A. – than from the inside or even the UC stands.

Look, it’s a business for all 30 teams and for 400 players. It’s a business for the agents and the coaches and the media, too, and for everyone else who isn’t shelling out for tickets. Some franchises cloak it better than others. Some that try to buffer that for players wind up getting burned by their conglomerate/athletes. Some segment of the NBA fan base is even good with it all, focused always on what’s next and myriad options rather than the human beings on the court, in the jerseys, on the sideline.

But trades like Deng’s and days like Tuesday shine a harsh light on that, when the sport and passion and emotions benefit more from softer glows. And the Bulls are out there in the glare more than most. Anyone who doesn’t think their bottom-line approach strips the grout away from the tiles, loosening the already tenuous bonds of team and common goals, doesn’t much value intangibles in the first place.

Deng’s and Bynum’s contracts, as they say, were expiring assets. Well, we’re all expiring assets, but it’s no fun being reminded of it.