Posts Tagged ‘Tom Thibodeau’

Rose gets day off at West Point


VIDEO: USAB at West Point: Derrick Rose

WEST POINT, N.Y. – Monday was a light day for the U.S. National Team. In front of a gym of cadets and guests at the U.S. Military Academy, the team took part in offensive drills, a half-paced scrimmage, and shooting games.

But the easiness of the day didn’t stop the U.S. from taking extra precautions with Derrick Rose, who didn’t participate in any of the action.

When the players were introduced to the crowd, Rose wasn’t wearing his practice gear, and his knees were wrapped in ice. He still got the biggest ovation among the 16 players on the roster. He said afterward that the day off wasn’t about any pain or discomfort with his surgically repaired right knee (or his surgically repaired left knee).

“Everything feels fine,” Rose said. “I just wanted to get a little bit of rest.”

He added that if he knew how casual the two hours in the gym were going to be, “I probably would have practiced.”

The practice came at the end of a tour of the campus in West Point, where the National Team observed how the cadets live and train. Bulls head coach and Team USA assistant Tom Thibodeau said the day off was “more precautionary than anything else.”

“We were on our feet a lot today,” Thibodeau said. “We wanted to be careful with all the players.”

But neither Rose nor Thibodeau would dismiss the notion of further days off. The U.S. has practices on Tuesday and Thursday this week, with games at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday and Friday. When the World Cup begins in Bilbao on Aug. 30, they will play five pool-play games in six days.

Rose is slated to be the starting point guard, but the U.S. certainly has the backcourt depth – Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard if he makes the final roster – to make up for his absence should he need a day off against one of the weaker pool play groups at the World Cup. The defending World and Olympic champs might not face a real challenge until the semifinals on Sept. 11.

“If he needs rest,” Thibodeau said, “we’re going to give him rest.”

Chicago’s finest lead USA past Brazil


VIDEO: Rose, Davis lead U.S. to 95-78 win over Brazil

CHICAGO – They came for one of Chicago’s own and got wowed by another.

As important as the exhibition game might have been to USA Basketball and the Brazilian national team for all the expected team-building and measuring-stick reasons heading toward the 2014 FIBA World Cup tournament, Team USA’s 95-78 victory at United Center was mostly a framework for the fans to do some star gazing.

The brightest lights were on Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls’ MVP point guard who is starting his second comeback in as many years from season-ending knee surgeries. As frustrated as some Bulls fans had grown with Rose during his extended layoffs – Rose had played only six games on the UC court since April 2012 – the folks who packed the joint Saturday night flexed oohs, aahs and MVP chants that were no more rusty than the hometown kid’s game.

Anthony Davis crashed their little party, though, turning in the most impressive performance of the night. Like Rose, Davis grew up in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. Unlike Rose, whose high school (Simeon) is one of the city’s basketball powerhouses, Davis’ Perspectives Charter School didn’t even have its own gym.

But the New Orleans Pelicans’ 21-year-old center made United Center his own against Brazil’s imposing front line, scoring 20 points on 10-for-16 shooting, grabbing eight rebounds and blocking five shots.

Local fans who’ve paid attention to Davis’ career – his single season and NCAA championship at Kentucky, his No. 1 draft selection in 2012 by New Orleans – might have been just as hungry to see him play. Davis missed the game in Chicago as a rookie while recovering from a concussion, then sat out the Pelicans’ visit last season with a broken hand.

So this was Davis’ first game back home since high school and he put on a show. He had several throw-down dunks battling Brazil’s NBA bigs Tiago Splitter, Anderson Varejao and Nene. He ran the court with ferocity and, in the second half, turned in two of his most impressive plays defensively. On one, he blocked a driving foe’s shot, saved the ball from falling out of bounds and pumped his fist when James Harden finished at the other end with a fast-break layup. On another, Davis crashed over a woman in the first row, catching one foot on the chairs and taking impact where, er, men don’t like to take impact.

“I’m good, I’m fine,” Davis said afterward. “I hope she’s fine, because that was 240 pounds coming right at her. That’s the type of plays we need, hustle plays, and that really got us going.”

Said Rose: ” ‘Ant’ played great. That’s what we need from him. We didn’t know how he was going to play with the bigs that they had, because he’s kind of smaller than they are weight-wise. But he came out and hooped.”

Rose’s numbers were more modest: seven points, just five field-goal attempts, four boards, two assists and three turnovers in 24 minutes. He even missed a rushing, two-handed dunk in the second quarter.

But his two buckets were memorable. The first came just before the half ended, when he streaked downcourt and put up a running bank shot. In the third quarter, Rose got isolated on the left wing against Brazil’s Raul Neto and spun him silly, crossing over and changing hands for a lefty layup. Both were flashes of what Chicago fans remember and look forward to again.

That one normally would have brought Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau to his feet, if he hadn’t been planted on the USA bench as an assistant on Mike Krzyzewski‘s staff. Still, it – and Rose’s overall play since the first workouts in Las Vegas three weeks ago – had Thibs excited. Much of the NBA is pulling for Rose to stay healthy in 2014-15 but no one more than his head coach.

“He’s steadily getting better,” Thibodeau said. “This is the perfect setting for him. I think his first [USA] experience in 2010 was a springboard to his MVP season. It was so positive for him. And I know how important it is to him.

“He went through the comeback last year and I think he learned a lot from it. And I love the way he’s playing. He’s finding the rhythm of the game. He’s playing to his strengths and he’s recognizing who’s on the floor with him and what their strengths are. He made several good plays, particularly against the zone in the fourth quarter. He showed great patience.

“He’s shaking some rust off. His explosiveness is back. He’s playing well off the ball. I think he’s in a really good place. He’s prepared himself extremely well. It’s unfortunate what he’s gone through, but that adversity has made him a lot stronger.”

The first tuneup game provided a baseline for the USA team, with Krzyzewski most satisfied with the effort and the defense. His squad led by 14 at the end of the first quarter, settled for jump shots and let the lead slip to just two in the second. It was 68-63 through three quarters, after which the home team pulled away.

Davis’ production, on an every-night basis, might spoil the USA coaches. Then again, their team might need it, given the absence of bigs such as Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard. DeMarcus Cousins sat out Saturday’s game with a bruised knee and Kevin Durant, who at least has length, withdrew from the competition last week.

Davis worked himself into the game offensively after a poor shooting start. “Kyrie [Irving] asked me, ‘Are you going to stop shooting the ball because you missed three jump shots?’ ” Davis said. “I told him no. We came out and ran a play for me and made the first one, and he said, ‘That’s all you needed.’ Then I hit the next three or four, whatever.”

Not that Krzyzewski needed any convincing.

“He’s one of the best players in the NBA,” the Duke University coach said. “Anthony is one of the emerging stars. We hope that, like what happened to a lot of those guys in 2010, will happen to him in this competition. Where we just watch what should be kind of a storied career form.”

That’s when the native Chicagoan in Krzyzewski seeped out, as he played to the home media. “Another great guy,” he said of Davis. “You talk about these two Chicago guys, he and Derrick. The best guys, easy to coach, team guys. Dreams to coach, both those guys.”

Said Rose, all smiles at the end: “I probably won’t get any sleep tonight. I’m excited for the city.”

The city is excited back. And New Orleans should be too.

USA camp – Day 3 notes


VIDEO: Through the Lens: USA Basketball Practice, Day 2

LAS VEGAS – Media time after Day 3 of USA Basketball training camp went a little long, because everybody was watching an extended game of “King of the Hill” between Kevin Durant, Paul George and James Harden.

“King of the Hill” is a three-way game of one-on-one. Player 1 tries to score on Player 2. If he does, Player 2 steps off the floor and Player 3 comes in and to play defense. But if Player 2 gets the stop, he moves to offense and tries to score against Player 3. The game goes on until a player gets five buckets.

That shouldn’t take long, but the trio played the game from several different spots on the floor. (Here’s a vine of a couple of right-elbow possessions.) By the time they were done, they had gone for a good 20 minutes or so, drawing quite a crowd of media, USA teammates, coaches, and other onlookers. And this was after a full practice.

“It was intense,” George said afterward. “At the end of the day, we’re out here to get better. And there’s no better guys for me to go against, for myself to guard than KD and James. And James is quick and low to the ground and KD’s got the length, so it’s good for me, offensively, as well. But at the end of the day, we’re all here to get better and work hard. And I think we took it to another level.”

Yes, that was George giving credit to Harden’s defense. At one point, Harden blocked Durant’s seemingly unblockable shot, getting in some trash talk afterward.


VIDEO: James Harden, Kevin Durant and Paul George play a game of King of the Hill

***

Speaking of Durant and George, they’re the latest USA forward tandem that no other country that can match up with. And by putting them on the same team every day, the U.S. staff is making sure they get time to build some chemistry.

***

Harden and Durant, meanwhile, are two of only five players in camp with Senior National Team experience. But 12 of the other 15 were here last year for a four-day mini-camp.

The U.S. had no competition to play in last summer. By winning the 2012 Olympics, they automatically qualified for this year’s World Cup and had no reason to send a team to the FIBA Americas tournament. But USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski brought 28 guys to Las Vegas, so they could get to know them and get them integrated into the system.

It was only four days and with so many guys in the gym, none of them got all that much playing time in the scrimmages. But it reduced the learning curve for the whole group and allowed them to hit the ground running on Monday.

“A big thing is their familiarity with me and the coaching staff,” Krzyzewski said Wednesday. “We spent a lot of time trying to get to know them. So, it lends for familiarity.”

And it has paid off.

“We have actually gotten more in in the first three days of this camp,” Krzyzewski said, “than we have our previous three camps.”

DeMar DeRozan was one of those guys here last year. (more…)

The new beast of the East … the Central


VIDEO: New Beast of the East

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Any reasonable conversation about the balance of power in the NBA starts with the world champion San Antonio Spurs, the rest of the rugged Western Conference and spreads from there.

But no region of the NBA has seen the sort of influx of talent and energy that the Eastern Conference’s Central Division has this summer. From LeBron James coming home to team up with Kyrie Irving in Cleveland to Pau Gasol joining Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in Chicago to the top two picks in the June Draft — Andrew Wiggins in Cleveland, for now, and Jabari Parker in Milwaukee — things have changed dramatically.

LeBron James' return to Cleveland looms over the entire Central Division. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

LeBron James’ return to Cleveland looms over the entire Central Division. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

The Indiana Pacers won the Central Division and finished with the best record in the East last season, but they have garnered more attention this summer for a player (Lance Stephenson to Charlotte) that they lost in free agency than they did for anything else they have done. They’ve been usurped, in the eyes of many, by both the Cavaliers and Bulls, before the summer/free agent business has been finalized.

If the Cavaliers can find a way to secure Kevin Love via trade from Minnesota, they will not only enter the season as the favorites to win the Central and the East, they’ll rank right up there with the Spurs as the favorites to win it all. (And had Carmelo Anthony chosen the Bulls over remaining with the New York Knicks, the Bulls would be in that mix as well.)

You have to wonder what Stan Van Gundy, the new team president and coach in Detroit, and Jason Kidd, who takes over as coach in Milwaukee, are thinking now. A rebuilding task in Detroit, whatever gains are made during the 2014-15 season, will likely be overshadowed by what goes on elsewhere in the division. Kidd’s shocking move from Brooklyn to the Bucks, and the ensuing fallout, lasted a couple of days before taking a backseat to all things LeBron and Love.

“It’s hard to rank them right now, before we know exactly what happens with Love and Cleveland. But I don’t think it takes any stretching of the imagination to assume there will be no more competitive division in the league than the [Central], and that’s based on just those top three teams alone,” a Western Conference advance scout made clear to me. “The Cavs, Bulls and Pacers are all going to be legitimate contenders. And I think the Pistons, with Stan running things, could be one of the more improved teams in the entire league. And there’s a chance no one will notice because of what the Cavs, Bulls and Pacers are doing.”

The most intriguing part of the entire transformation of the division is going to be watching if the Pacers, a fragile bunch by the time their season finished in the Eastern Conference finals against LeBron and the Heat, can get back on track with the increased competition. Frank Vogel and his crew took advantage of the opportunity to step into the void when Rose and the Bulls slipped from their top spot the past two seasons. Tom Thibodeau kept the Bulls among the East’s best without Rose available. Now he’ll have an energized Rose, whose confidence is soaring as he attempts to earn his spot on USA Basketball’s roster for next month’s World Cup in Spain, and the Windy City twin towers of Noah and Gasol to build around.

The key for the Bulls, of course, is a healthy Rose.

“I’m there. I’m not worried about that,” Rose told our John Schuhmann when asked how close he was to regaining his superstar form. “My confidence is very high. And that’s the only thing you might see this year, that my confidence level is through the roof.”

I don’t know that Rose’s confidence is enough to convince me that the Bulls are truly ready to reclaim that top spot in the division. And I’m not completely sure LeBron’s arrival in Cleveland means the Cavaliers push past the Pacers for that No. 1 spot. But it’s clear that the Central Division is where we could see the best power struggle in the league next season.

The July 2014 ranking of the Central Division (based on what each team has on the roster as of July 29, 2014):

1) Indiana Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert and the crew won’t give up the banner without a serious fight. They’ve learned from last season’s mistakes and won’t have to worry about whatever distraction Stephenson might have been. A clean slate for 2014-15 is exactly what this team needs.

2) Cleveland  Sorry Cleveland, but LeBron coming home doesn’t automatically make you the top dogs in the division or the conference. Not around here. The pressure isn’t just on LeBron, either. New coach David Blatt, Kyrie Irving and that supporting cast are all shouldering that load as well.

3) Chicago Derrick Rose is feeling good. And that can’t be anything but a great thing for the Bulls. But we need more than good vibrations to push the Bulls up the food chain. If Rose lights it up in Vegas during USAB training camp and later in Spain, an updated evaluation will be in order.

4) Detroit Greg Monroe‘s future with the Pistons remains a bit uncertain. But the rock for the future is Andre Drummond, who is also on the USAB roster, working to earn a spot on the World Cup team. Van Gundy’s system requires shooters, which the Pistons added in Jodie Meeks, and to an extent Caron Butler and D.J. Augustin. Josh Smith remains the wild card.

5) Milwaukee It’ll be fun watching Parker’s game evolve under a young coach like Kidd. But the Bucks are still at least two years away from being a factor. They simply don’t have the personnel to compete with the top teams. And there is a learning curve the entire organization will have to undergo before the Bucks get back into the mix.


VIDEO: Relive the Bulls’ top 10 plays from 2013-14

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.