Posts Tagged ‘Tom Thibodeau’

Rose suffers no lack of confidence in return to the floor


VIDEO: Take a slow-motion look at Derrick Rose at Team USA’s practice Monday

LAS VEGAS – For several players at USA Basketball training camp, Monday was about making a first impression on managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski in an attempt to earn a spot on the World Cup roster.

For the few that seemingly have guaranteed spots, it was the first step in getting ready for the tournament that begins on Aug. 30. And for the 12 young players on the Select Team, it was about building equity with USA brass for future consideration.

For Derrick Rose, it was much more than that. It was a big step in his return to the game after his second knee surgery.

By all accounts, Rose is back.

“He looked good,” Damian Lillard said afterward. “Athletic, explosive, strong.”

There were visions of vintage Rose, but he didn’t need to go all that hard or for all that long as the 19 players on the U.S. roster and 12 on the Select Team scrimmaged on the campus of UNLV. With this team, there’s always another great player ready to sub in, and Rose worried more about running the offense than trying to prove to people that he was the Derrick Rose of old.

“He can just fit in,” Bulls coach and USA assistant Tom Thibodeau said. “He doesn’t have the burden of having to score a lot of points or make a lot of plays. Just run the team. I think he’ll find his rhythm here.”

Though knocking the rust off and getting his wind back may be issues, Rose isn’t suffering from any lack of confidence. He didn’t need this day to prove anything to himself either. Though nobody on the outside has seen him play since November, he knows the work he’s put in to get to this point.

“I’ve been preparing for this for a long time,” Rose said. “It’s probably big to everyone else because they probably haven’t seen me. But I dedicated my whole summer for this moment.”

And where he is in regard to getting his game back?

“I’m there. I’m not worried about that. My confidence is very high. And that’s the only thing you might see this year, that my confidence level is through the roof.”

He feels that he’s a different player now, that his injuries allowed him to sculpt his body with Bulls director of sports performance Jen Swanson, and that time has made him a smarter floor general.

“[Time away from the game] was a chance for me to really work on my whole body,” he said, “get my legs strong, get my upper body strong, and just take advantage of it.”

Experience has taught him how stay in control.

“I’m able to control my body a little bit more, being smart with my speed instead of just running wild out there,” he said. “I’ve become a smarter player, but I’m mad it took me seven years to learn that.”

And there are lessons to be learned from last year, when he came back from ACL surgery and was injured again 10 games into the season.

“I wanted to prove everybody wrong at that time,” he said. “I just wanted it too bad. This time around, I just know I got to let the game come to me, go out there and just play. Usually when I play my type of game, something positive comes out of it.”

Something positive could be a trip to The Finals. With LeBron James‘ move back to Cleveland and with some key additions, the Bulls should be the favorites to win the Eastern Conference.

“I think we have a contender,” Rose said, adding that he’s “riding with whatever decision” the Bulls’ front office might make in regard to trade talks for Kevin Love.

Love or no Love, Rose is the biggest piece of the Bulls’ puzzle. They desperately need him to generate some offense after ranking in the bottom seven of the league on that end of the floor each of the last two seasons.

So Monday wasn’t just a big day for Rose, the Bulls, and the National Team. It was a big day for the entire league. And if Rose can continue working with the National Team through the World Cup, there should be no more rust or conditioning issues when training camp comes around.

But making the final roster is not a sure thing.

Rose has some serious competition at the point guard position in camp. Along with Rose, All-Stars Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Lillard and John Wall are all competing for three or four spots on the roster.

Rose does have a couple of advantages. First, he was the starting point guard on the 2010 team that won the World Championship, and past history means a lot to Colangelo and Krzyzewski.

Second, Thibodeau is on the staff. And he would certainly love to see Rose work off some of his rust before training camp.

The last time Rose played for the National Team, he followed it up by winning the 2010-11 MVP award. On that U.S. team that won gold in Istanbul, he was teammates with Tyson Chandler, who used the summer to get stronger after a couple of injury-plagued seasons with the Hornets and Bobcats. Chandler went on to be a critical component of the Dallas Mavericks’ run to a championship, citing his time with the U.S. as a key to his comeback season.

Monday may have been a big step in Rose’s comeback. He’s worked hard to get here and he has shown no doubts or reservations about where he’s gong.

“I know how special I am as a player and I know what I still can do.”

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


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

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

¡Hielo!

¡Haz tu trabajo!

¡No dejar de lado la cuerda!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bulls (finally) amnesty Boozer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At peace, West seeks another chance


VIDEO:
Delonte West talks about trying to get back into the NBA

LAS VEGAS – As undrafted rookie Tyler Johnson left the arena Monday, he shouted out to the guy he’d spent most of the night chasing around, and vice versa, in the clash of Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers summer league squads. “All right, Delonte,” Johnson, a 22-year-old from Fresno State, said.

Delonte West interrupted a conversation to get him back. “Good game, young fella,” said West, in that moment transporting himself back a decade.

“When I was a young guy,” said West, “and an older guy would say, ‘Aw man, I saw you play at St. Joe’s,’ I’d be like, ‘Appreciate, appreciate.’ I’d go home and text [friends], ‘Paul Pierce used to watch me in college?!’ “

That’s time, y’know, and it passes quickly. One moment you’re the rookie looking to impress and hoping to get noticed, the next you’re a veteran of eight NBA seasons and five teams trying to revive that career. It’s gone fast and it’s been bumpy for West, who will turn 31 on July 26 and whose travels and most recently two-year absence from the league had little to do with his basketball skills and everything to do with off-court issues and the bipolar disorder from which he suffers.

West’s bouts of mental health problems spoiled his three-year run in Cleveland, where he played with LeBron James but got enmeshed in scurrilous rumors related to James’ mother Gloria. He also was arrested in 2009 for riding a motorcycle while carrying a large number of firearms.

His disorder clouded a second chance in 2010-11 with Boston, the team that had drafted him No. 24 overall in 2004, and it finally put him out of the league after getting sideways with the Dallas Mavericks in October 2012.

West gathered himself enough to spend a year in China, playing for the Fujian Sturgeons in the Chinese Basketball Association. He played well and added facets to his game. Last summer, he and his wife Caressa became parents to an infant son. That was another step in West’s maturation and new found stability.

“That’s a part of the game,” West said. “The life game for me. It was great going out there, going and growing up. Put the toys behind me. Being grown up and being a man, sometimes there’s things you have to do… take the trash out. But that’s what going away for me did.”

In his eight NBA seasons, West played in 432 games, scored 4,198 points, made 58 playoff appearances and, according to basketball-reference.com, earned about $16.2 million. Whether it was the game, the paydays, a shot at redemption or some combination of all three, West reached out to Clippers coach Doc Rivers for this latest, perhaps last chance.

“It wasn’t hard. He called me and I said yes,” Rivers said, watching as a spectator as the Clippers squad beat Miami, 91-85. “Literally, that’s how it happened.

“I think we all knew he could play. But it’s good for people to see it again. He’s in a great place in his life. A new baby… And because his life is doing well, his basketball’s good.”

West played well against Johnson and the Heat, scoring 12 points with eight rebounds and five assists. While all the young guys were running around at 100 mph, trying to do everything at once, the 6-foot-3, something-less-than-180-pound West was a stabilizing influence, orchestrating and letting the ball find him.

Except for plays such as this: Just before halftime, West leaped for a defensive rebound, then dribbled through a swarm of three Miami defenders. Clearing the pack, he found Amath M’Baye for an alley-ooped and-1. It stuck out as an NBA pearl among, let’s face it, more than a few swine in raggedy summer-league action.

More of the same and West might land the training-camp invitation he’s seeking.

“The next step is teams, including us, are looking at him, and he’ll get a lot of interest,” Rivers said. “I was sitting over there with Thibs and Flip [Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and Minnesota president/coach Flip Saunders]. Delonte scores three buckets in a row and you can hear them talking about him. ‘Damn, he can still play.’ That’s good.”

Said Thibodeau: “To me, that’s the beauty of summer league. There’s something for everybody. Like a guy comes out of college, maybe he wasn’t drafted, so he goes overseas or plays in the D-League and he gets better. You see him three years later and he’s a lot better. There are guys trying to revive their careers. So the picture of him is not from three or four years ago, it’s where he is now.”

West these days is in a good place. He’s grateful for the chance Rivers has given him. He spoke at length about the relationship he forged in Dallas with Mavs owner Mark Cuban, even as he spiraled out of the league. He even mentioned the NBA per diem he got and the steak he ate Sunday, helping him get back to proper playing weight.

Generally, West sounds like a man with no expectations now, appreciating what he has and what he survived to reach this point.

“It’s already been a success,” West said of this summer-league stint. “I got an opportunity to put a jersey on and be back in the fraternity. The chance to get up there and get some NBA bump, hey, anytime you’ve got a jersey on – it don’t matter who you’re playing for – you’re there. You’ve got a Clippers jersey on.

“This is big for me and my family. We’re going to celebrate. It’s one step to more steps.”

McDermott gets buckets, seeks minutes


VIDEO: McDermott scores 31 to lead Bulls past Nuggets

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

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

Or would that be McBucket?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK, here goes:

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

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

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

Bar for Gasol: Better than Boozer?


VIDEO: Two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol joins the Bulls

LAS VEGAS – We come not to praise Carlos Boozer but not to bury him, either.

The Chicago Bulls’ signing of Lakers free-agent Pau Gasol means that one veteran NBA power forward will be replacing another, with the benefit of the move to be measured, ultimately, in how much more success Chicago has as a team.

Here’s the bar Gasol has to scale: A .657 winning percentage (205-107) in four seasons, four postseason berths, one conference finals, no rings.

Some weight will be given, too, to the newness of it all and public relations aspect, with the 34-year-old Gasol coming in as a fresh face and personality for a team that tried and failed to land its primary target in free agency, Carmelo Anthony. He’ll be filling not just the position, then, but the role that Boozer had in salvaging something from Chicago’s free-agent plunge in 2010, when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson all declined the Bulls’ overtures.

Finally, the marginal superiority of Gasol’s game over Boozer’s will matter to a certain degree. Let’s presume superiority, anyway, since Gasol’s signing is coming directly at Boozer’s expense: The Bulls will be using the amnesty clause on the final year of Boozer’s contract, worth $16.8 million, to open the salary-cap space needed to sign the 7-foot Spaniard.

So is Gasol better than Boozer? And if so, by how much?

Over Boozer’s four-season run with the Bulls, he averaged 15.5 points and 9.0 rebounds while shooting 49.1 percent. He had a 17.4 PER, to go with a 102 offensive rating and 98 defensive rating.

Gasol’s numbers since 2010-11 with the Lakers: 17.1 ppg, 9.8 rpg and 49.9 percent shooting. He had a 20.5 PER, a 112 offensive rating and a 104 defensive rating.

They’re different types of power forwards, clearly. Gasol is three inches taller and has pterodactyl arms, which explains his blowout victory in blocked shots over Boozer (1,484 to 334). Part of that might be due to his instincts and a few defensive IQ points, though Gasol’s limited mobility could find him planted next to coach Tom Thibodeau late in the games just like Boozer was. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson figure to remain the Bulls’ defensive closers among their bigs.

None of this is intended to sell Gasol short. He is a heady player, widely respected within the NBA and a solid citizen who drew heavy interest from Oklahoma City, San Antonio and New York, as well as the Lakers. He is considered to be a far better passer than Boozer, likely to thrive with Noah in the Bulls’ ball movement. He possesses great offensive skills overall, playing a finesse game that might hold up better to the ravages of time and mileage than someone who relies on explosiveness or vertical leap.

Gasol definitely is a quieter type than Boozer, which might or might not serve him well with United Center fans, depending on his early Bulls’ performances. (Boozer’s vocal exuberance has become the butt of jokes in Chicagoland.) But Boozer has been more durable of late, missing 32 games the past four seasons compared to Gasol’s 56.

Gasol’s decision to sign with Chicago was greeted with excitement on multiple fronts, including Noah and Gasol’s old coach in Los Angeles, Phil Jackson.

Gasol’s signing, however, could limit Chicago in what it can do financially on a couple other fronts. Money will be tighter now to spring stashed Euro star Nikola Mirotic and to upgrade their wing scoring.

Speaking of money, some might give the Bulls’ generally tight-fisted management some credit for being willing to swallow Boozer’s salary – amnesty only gets him off the cap, not the books for 2014-15 – for whatever marginal improvement Gasol brings. That’s a bold but not necessarily prudent move.

Even in his least productive Chicago season in 2013-14, Boozer was good for nearly 14 points, eight rebounds and 28 minutes. He’ll no doubt find work, and he’ll be double-dipping from both the Bulls and his new team’s payroll.

It would have been a tough sell to bring Boozer back, without some splashy signing or trade to provide cover and flip the organization’s script. It remains to be seen whether Gasol can help enough to flip it.

No takers in Chicago?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If money isn’t the ultimate factor, ‘Melo and Bulls are a perfect match

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Where will Carmelo land?

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Carmelo Anthony Freedom Tour ’14 is off and running.

If the high-scoring superstar can stomach leaving tens of millions of dollars in New York, this whirlwind wine-and-dine is bound to end where it starts: Chicago.

Anthony, an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, is in the Windy City today meeting with the Bulls, including emphatic center and franchise backbone Joakim Noah, whose seemingly been in ‘Melo’s ear since around the All-Star break. On Wednesday, he’ll do a two-step through income-tax-free Texas. First to Houston to meet with the always scheming Rockets where general manager Daryl Morey has plotted a super team since he assumed office. Later in the day, he’ll trek north to Dallas where the Bank of Cuban is open for business. Owner Mark Cuban is swinging for the fences for a third summer, but this time he believes he’s got the roster to go with the cap space (albeit not max cap space).

On Thursday, the coach-less Los Angeles Lakers will make their pitch. And finally, Phil Jackson and his 11 championship rings as coach of the Bulls and Lakers will get in the final word for the incumbent Knicks.

Even then there’s theories floating about that maybe Jackson really isn’t all that keen on bringing ‘Melo back, evidence being the way he keeps needling Anthony to re-sign at a discounted rate, a notion Anthony first broached during All-Star weekend; that perhaps Jackson and rookie coach Derek Fisher would be better off without the pressure of expectation in Year 1; better off without a max (or near-max) deal gobbling up valuable cap space when New York will finally have it in abundance to go star chasing in the summer of ’15.

But then there’s the curious trade last week between the Knicks and Mavs, in which both teams trumpeted the deal as a move to motivate ‘Melo to sign with them. Dallas reacquired beloved center Tyson Chandler, their fiery leader and defensive task master on the 2011 championship team. To get Chandler, they also had to take on sinking point guard Raymond Felton.

The Knicks received four players and two starters off the Mavs’ 49-win team, including steady veteran point guard Jose Calderon and erratic center Samuel Dalembert. Jackson said he thinks ‘Melo would relish playing with the sharp-shooting and fundamental wiz Calderon.

But Jackson also spoke of “chemistry” reasons for shipping out Chandler. Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson cheered it as a move that makes Dallas more desirable for a big-fish free agent. In the days following the trade, Chandler, speaking on a Dallas-area sports radio talk show, described his relationship with Anthony as “professional.” He said off the court they stay out of each other’s way, and on it they respect each other.

Sound cozy?

Whether Jackson wants to offer Anthony a max contract — five-years for about $129 million — he holds the power to offer the 2012-13 scoring champ many more millions than any other team. The Bulls, Rockets and Mavs all have work to do to clear the cap space necessary to offer Anthony the maximum they can — four years for about $96 million.

Dallas, for one, won’t get to that number, and will seek to sell Anthony on taking less to partner with a still very capable Dirk Nowitzki at 36, a reformed volume shooter in Monta Ellis and his former teammate Chandler as a premiere rim protector. Cuban will sell the genius of coach Rick Carlisle, who challenged Gregg Popovich and the Spurs to seven games in the first round, and above all else a front office that has operated aggressively and creatively enough to remain contenders to various degrees for more than a decade.

Houston will tout James Harden and Dwight Howard, but signing Anthony will shuffle Chandler Parsons out the door. And there’s concern, at least on the outside, how Harden, Howard and Anthony will share one basketball. In Los Angeles, where Anthony spends much of his offseason anyway, a tag-team with Kobe Bryant (and cap space in 2016 when Bryant comes off the books) will be the hard sell.

So back to Chicago where the Bulls haven’t played for a championship since Michael Jordan hung ‘em up for a second time after the 1998 season. The formula seems ready-made for Anthony to drop in, take off and potentially take over a droopy Eastern Conference that has far fewer contenders than out West.

Coach Tom Thibodeau‘s defensive philosophy is entrenched in the Bulls’ DNA. Anthony’s scoring would instantly boost the Bulls’ offense that reached dreadful depths without Derrick Rose. Rose’s knees are a major question mark, and his salary — $18.9 million this season and up to $21.3 million in 2016-17 — can be fatal for long-term success if he can’t stay healthy. Then again, Rose could play the next 10 years injury-free.

With a roster that includes Noah patrolling the back line, two-way, youthful talent Jimmy Butler at shooting guard and Taj Gibson at power forward (assuming he’s not shipped out in an eventual sign-and-trade with New York) and Thibodeau at the controls, the Bulls and Anthony seem the preferable match.

Anthony turned 30 in May and is heading into his 12th season. A New York native, he loves playing on the Madison Square Garden stage. But transforming that stage into a championship parade will take patience beyond this year, a quality Anthony has acknowledged is in short supply at this crossroads of his career.

He’s earned more than $135 million in salary and made a small fortune from endorsement deals.

If Anthony can make peace with leaving tens of millions more in the city in which he grew up, then his Freedom Tour will likely end where it started today, in Chicago.


VIDEO: How will Bulls try to land Anthony?

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.

Morning Shootaround — June 23


VIDEO: Knicks.com takes a look back at Carmelo Anthony’s 2013-14 season

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Thibodeau spearheading Bulls’ Anthony push | Report: Gay opts in with Kings | Report: Mavs to pursue Lakers’ Gasol, Wizards’ Gortat | Impossible choice now for ‘Melo | Report: Celts to view Embiid’s medical records

No. 1: Report: Thibodeau spearheading Bulls’ push for Anthony — Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose once famously said he doesn’t recruit players to join him in the Windy City. That policy may not apply to Rose’s coach, Tom Thibodeau. According to the Chicago Sun-TimesJoe Cowley, Thibodeau is doing a lot of research on Knicks star forward Carmelo Anthony, who recently announced he’ll be in this summer’s free-agency pool:

The Bulls’ push to acquire New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony is heating up heading into NBA draft week, and perhaps no one wants his services more than coach Tom Thibodeau.

According to one of Anthony’s former coaches, Thibodeau has reached out to him and to several other coaches who have worked with Anthony with numerous calls.

‘‘I even told Tom that there may be days he will want to blow his own head off when it comes to Melo’s defense, but he keeps saying he knows he can make it work,’’ the coach said. ‘‘It’s not that Carmelo can’t play defense, it’s just how often. And he knows every trick in the book on getting around that.’’

That the Bulls are in full-court-press mode on Anthony comes as no surprise, considering center Joakim Noah courted him during All-Star weekend in February and continued the recruitment throughout the second half of the season.

And it would seem Noah isn’t alone. Point guard Derrick Rose reportedly has gotten involved, too, and Thibodeau has used back channels to let Anthony know his addition could mean big things for everyone involved.

‘‘There’s no question [the Bulls] would be better with [Anthony], with or without his defensive inconsistencies,’’ the coach said. ‘‘As I told Tom: ‘You’re in the East, Tom. Remember, you’re in the East.’ “

The question, though, is how does a deal for Anthony get done? Multiple media outlets have reported a sign-and-trade that includes the expiring contract of forward Carlos Boozer is the favored route, especially with the Knicks preparing for Anthony to announce Monday that he will opt out of his current deal.

Such a scenario likely would involve the Bulls sending at least one of their first-round picks — No. 16 or No. 19 — to the Knicks, who are in rebuilding mode and need to start with a point guard.

There are also reports the Bulls might be willing to deal another draft pick in pursuit of Orlando Magic shooting guard Arron Afflalo, which means they’re serious about pursuing a championship now.

The Bulls’ offseason aggressiveness isn’t shocking to anyone around the league. At the NBA Finals last week, several sources indicated general manager Gar Forman and vice president of basketball operations John Paxson were ‘‘looking to exhaust as many assets as it will take’’ to make the Bulls a contender.

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