Thibodeau doesn't buy weakened Thunder theory

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Thibodeau doesn't buy weakened Thunder theory

Don't include Tom Thibodeau amongst the skeptics. There have been mixed opinions about the blockbuster trade that sent reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year and early-season league leading scorer James Harden from Oklahoma City to Houston for Kevin Martin, but the Bulls head coach isn't buying that the Thunder are any less dangerous or have changed very much because of the deal.

"Not a whole lot. Harden's a great player and Martin's a great player, but that team is a lot deeper than just one guy. It's built on team play. You've got Russell Westbrook, who's an Olympian. Kevin Durant, an Olympian. So, you've got some guys who are very, very talented. Kendrick Perkins has won a championship. Serge Ibaka keeps getting better and better. He can shut down the lane as well as anybody and former Bull Thabo Sefolosha. That team is put together extremely well, they're extremely well-coached, so they're tough," Thibodeau explained after Wednesday's practice at the Berto Center. "I think it's the nature of the league and there's a lot of change, and it's how quickly you can adapt to that change and that's the challenge that everyone faces, so I think the fact that the core of their team is basically the same, I think that helps. Martin's been around for a while. He's got a lot of experience, so I think the transition has been seamless for him."

"They're deep, they can hurt you a lot of different ways. Obviously Westbrook, Durant, Ibaka. But it's a lot deeper team than just that. Their bigs are tough. Ibaka and Perkins give them a physical presence inside and they come off with Nick Collison and Hasheem Thabeet, so they're big and active. Collison's one of the most underrated players in the league. Of course, Eric Maynor comes off the bench also and he's healthy, and explosive. Sefolosha is a guy that can guard five positions and one of those intangible guys, just knows how to win. So, they're hard to guard, extremely well-coached. We have a great challenge for us," he continued. "The thing is about Martin, too, you can't overlook how good this guy is. The guy has the ability to get 20 points on a few shots, great ability to draw fouls, get to the free-throw line, so it's a team that's very, very deep. When you're bringing a guy like Kevin Martin off the bench, that says a lot, and a Collison and a Maynor, those guys are starters, and Thabeet has played well for them, so this team, there's not much that they're lacking and they're a young team that's gained a lot of experience. So, they're good on offense and they're very good on defense."

As for the Bulls' strategy against Oklahoma City, Thibodeau made it clear that his team will have to execute Thursday evening, regardless of the widespread knee-jerk reactions about the Thunder struggling with Harden, who leads the NBA in scoring at this early juncture of the season. The defensive guru admitted that there is no easy solution in terms of strategy when guarding the firepower of Durant and Westbrook, in particular, especially considering how the Bulls were massacred in a road loss when the two teams matched up for the only time last season.

"It's very difficult. You're not going to guard them individually. You're going to guard them collectively with your team and even that being said, any time you have to put two on the ball, you're opening up another area and great players still have the ability to score. You just have to try to make them work for your points, and we can't gift them points with foolish fouls and reckless gambles, and things of that nature. We have to stay disciplined and if they make a tough shot that's defended well, you have to have the tenacity to come back and do it again, and again and again, and you've got to try to make them play in a crowd," the coach explained. "We've got to get easy baskets, but for us, we want to be well-balanced. We want to try to get misses, rebound the ball well, get out into the open floor, get as many easy baskets as we can. We want to try to attack. They're very good at getting back, so you have to recognize they have three or four defenders back. Now, you have to flow into your secondary offense, keep the ball moving, get bodies moving. They have great length, so you can't keep the ball on one side of the floor. You have to execute, you have to screen well, you've got to make quick decisions, keep the ball moving."

While starter Luol Deng will start out with the assignment, second-year swingman Jimmy Butler could see some action guarding Durant and potentially even Westbrook. Although Butler is excited about the challenge, he also acknowledged the Thunder's star power.

"Great team with great players. We're going to have to go out and play hard, and play the Chicago, tough basketball that we know we have to do, key in on a few players. Also, when we key on those few players, they've got a lot of other players who can make shots and get to the basket, as well, so we're going to study and just going to go out, and try to get the win," he said. "Durant does a lot of different things for his team and he's a great player. He does a lot of things great--not just well--so it'll be an interesting matchup and hopefully, Chicago can come out on top."

Reports: Joakim Noah likely to join Derrick Rose, sign with Knicks

Reports: Joakim Noah likely to join Derrick Rose, sign with Knicks

Multiple reports indicated that former Bulls center Joakim Noah will join Derrick Rose and sign with the New York Knicks.

Both the Washington Post and ESPN report that Noah is very likely to sign in New York, his hometown. ESPN's Marc Stein went so far as to say that other teams have already accepted that Noah is all but a done deal to sign with the Knicks.

And according to Tim Bontemps from the Washington Post, Noah's deal with the Knicks will have "a starting salary somewhere in the $18 million per year range," a large but not insane number considering the league's salary cap explosion this summer.

The Vertical's Shams Charania added that Noah will meet with Phil Jackson and the Knicks when free agency begins Friday night.

Noah would fill a void at center left by the Knicks' trade for Rose, which shipped center Robin Lopez back to Chicago. Noah averaged 4.3 points and 8.8 rebounds in 29 games last season before season-ending shoulder surgery in January. Noah spent the first nine seasons of his NBA career with the Bulls and was named Defensive Player of the Year just three short years ago.

But he fell out of grace with Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg, who opted to bring Noah off the bench for the first time in his career. It was largely assumed that both Noah and Pau Gasol would not return to a Bulls team that missed the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.

Teams can start negotiating with free agents on July 1, and can sign free agents beginning July 6.

James Shields earns first victory as White Sox top Twins

James Shields earns first victory as White Sox top Twins

James Shields received his first standing ovation of the season at U.S. Cellular Field as he headed to the dugout on Wednesday night.

The White Sox starter settled in after another shaky start and his offense kicked it into high gear in a 9-6 victory over the Minnesota Twins in front of 18,571. Shields limited the Twins to a leadoff solo homer in the first inning and pitched into the seventh to earn his first win for the White Sox.

Brett Lawrie, Tyler Saladino and Todd Frazier all homered for the White Sox, who had to pitch themselves out of trouble in a wild ninth to win for the sixth time in nine games. Nate Jones earned a one-out save after Matt Purke and Dan Jennings combined to allow five runs. Purke was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte after the game. A corresponding move will be announced on Thursday morning.

“(Shields) got back into a rhythm,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “I think this is the best that he looked as far as just feeling comfortable. He was getting ahead. He started really using his fastball and he located it. I think after that, there was some offspeed stuff and he got guys swinging through it. This was a nice little thing to see. I'm sure it's a breath of fresh air for him.”

For a second it looked as if another stinker was in the cards.

Two pitches into the contest, Shields trailed by a run when Eduardo Nunez ripped an 0-1 changeup for a solo homer.

Shields, who had a 21.81 ERA in his first three starts with the White Sox, two of which resulted in him being booed off the mound at home, found even more trouble. He recorded a pair of outs, but walked Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe singled him to third. But similar to his last start in Boston, Shields took another big step forward and got out of trouble.

Two innings later, Shields made his biggest pitch of the night when he induced a double play off Joe Mauer’s bat after allowing consecutive singles to start the third. Dozier’s bunt attempt resulted in a comebacker and Shields escaped unharmed.

Adam Eaton assisted Shields in a big way in the fifth inning when he easily threw out Kurt Suzuki at home. Suzuki, who started the play on first, was forced home as Nunez nearly caught him speeding into third after hitting a liner off the right-field fence.

But Shields stranded Nunez in scoring position as well as another runner in the sixth. He recorded two more outs before giving way after a Byron Buxton double.

“We know what type of pitcher he is and he went out and did what he’s supposed to do,” Eaton said. “I think the proof is in the pudding. He goes out and throws well. We hit and we are going to be pretty good.”

As he exited, Shields was showered with applause from the appreciative crowd.

He allowed a run and eight hits in 6 2/3 innings, striking out five and walking one. Shields threw strikes on 61 of 93 pitches to earn his first victory since May 12th.

“It feels good,” Shields said. “It’s something to build off of.

“It was a tough stretch. It’s nice to get off the schneid there and get a win, but I don’t really focus on that kind of stuff. I’ve been around this game for a long time. My main focus is to win games for this team right now.”

One night after they couldn’t provide for Jose Quintana, the White Sox offense went overboard for Shields. Lawrie’s opposite-field solo homer with two outs in the second inning off Ricky Nolasco tied the game at 1. J.B. Shuck then singled, stole second and scored on an RBI single by Avisail Garcia.

The White Sox never looked back as Saladino’s solo shot in the fifth made it a 3-1 game.

Frazier started a five-run sixth inning with a solo homer -- the team’s 13th consecutive solo homer. Saladino singled in a run with two outs to chase Nolasco and make it 5-1. Tim Anderson’s two-run single made it a blowout and Eaton singled him in to make it 8-1. Shuck added a sac fly in the seventh for the White Sox, who went 5-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

“It was nice,” Frazier said. “It was a little different. (Shields) got out there not worrying about anything. Gave up the homer in the first batter. Nothing really fazed him after that. He has to understand, he’s going to give up runs here and there, and just relax from whatever happens from there. He pitched an exceptional game today.”

Denzel Valentine: Bulls' versatility will 'make us so dangerous'

Denzel Valentine: Bulls' versatility will 'make us so dangerous'

The Bulls are undergoing a "retooling" in their backcourt after dealing Derrick Rose to the Knicks, drafting Denzel Valentine and attempting to re-sign E'Twaun Moore in free agency.

That, combined with Jimmy Butler, the addition of Jerian Grant and an already versatile frontcourt will give Fred Hoiberg plenty of options that Valentine believes will make the Bulls "dangerous" in 2016-17.

"I think that's going to make us so dangerous this year, is we are versatile with our guards," He said on Wednesday night's White Sox broadcast. "And in those three positions I feel like we're going to be able to guard and do a lot of things offensively and throw a lot at you when we're coming down on offense. And the defensive end, too.

"I think we're going to have a really good team this year with all that we have, and I'm glad to be part of the building year, or whatever you want to call it."

On paper the Bulls will have more versatility than a year ago. Valentine is capable of playing either wing position and can handle the ball, though he doesn't project as a point guard. Butler can play and defend four positions, and Grant is capable of playing either guard spot. Bringing back E'Twaun Moore would benefit that versatility greatly, as he's capable of playing on or off the ball.

In the frontcourt, the Bulls will need to replace Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, neither of whom provided much versatility. Robin Lopez is entrenched at center, which will give the Bulls' stretch forwards Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis more room to roam the perimeter.

Wherever Valentine plays, and however Hoiberg uses him in Year 1, the Michigan State rookie said he's ready to do what's asked of him from a franchise known for winning.

"My job is to just come in, do what I can do best and just work on my game and try to lead as best as I can," he said on SportsTalk Live (in the video above). "I'm not coming in to step on anybody's toes but I'm going to do what I can to lead and be a good teammate and try to win some games."