Bulls fall hard in surprising, disappointing defeat to Nets

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Bulls fall hard in surprising, disappointing defeat to Nets

By Aggrey Sam & Christopher Cason
CSNChicago.com

Readiness to play and preparing for each and every game the same way are some of the mottos that the Bulls (25-8) have abided by under Coach Tom Thibodeaus reign.

Even with the challenges of the most games played at the midway point of the season having also played the most road games out of any team at this point the Bulls have always prided themselves on being ready to play when the ball is thrown up, which is why Saturdays 97-85 matinee loss against the New Jersey Nets (9-23) was so depressing.

I dont think you can change game-to-game. I think you have to prepare for each game the exact same way, said Tom Thibodeau.

Everyone in this league is extremely talented and capable of beating you; it doesnt matter who it is. This isnt like college where you may have twenty-points more talent than somebody. It doesnt work that way, theyre all pros. If youre not ready to go, youre capable of being beaten and thats what happened.

Amazing happens is the NBAs motto and while the beginning of the contest was a tad shy of truly remarkable, the fact that the woeful Nets jumped out to a 15-2 lead including 13 unanswered points after the two teams exchanged buckets to start the game was certainly a shocker.

But even after a Thibodeau timeout in an effort to rectify the situation, New Jersey, behind All-Star point guard Deron Williams (29 points, 5-for-9 three-point shooting, eight assists) outside shooting and playmaking, as well as contributions from Kris Humphries (better known as the ex-husband of reality-TV star Kim Kardashian, the power forward was booed by United Center fans, as he is in every arena), built on its double-digit cushion.

While ball security was an issue for the Bulls in the early going, there appeared to be a lid on the basket and disjointed offensive execution was also problematic things that occasionally occur to the squad that entered the day with the leagues top record the surprising aspect of the hosts slow start was a lackluster defensive effort, leading the visitors to shoot 14-for-21, compared to the Bulls 7-for-22, in the first quarter.

After permitting the Nets to run crisp plays that led to easy scoring opportunities, get out in transition and attempt wide-open jumpers, at the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls trailed, 34-19.

Sometimes, the game is won in the first quarter, said Mike James who contributed 16 points. You can sometimes have rallies towards the end of the game but its hard because this is the NBA. Even though, the Nets record is what it is, they still have pretty good players. If anybody start getting confidence, knocking down shots, its hard to get them out of that rhythm and they got into their rhythm early and kept their rhythm.

Thibodeau emphasized James point by saying; It was too big of a whole hole to get out of. If you study the statistics, theyre going to tell you that most teams that are leading after the first quarter are the teams that win. Readiness to play is huge.

Thibodeau lost patience with his starters midway through the first quarter and inserted an all-reserve lineup and it began to pay dividends toward the end of the period, as Taj Gibsons (14 points, eight rebounds) typically energetic play made an impact, then carried over to the second stanza.

With fellow backup big man Omer Asik (eight rebounds) providing a rebounding and defensive presence, sharpshooter Kyle Korver and a dual point-guard set featuring John Lucas III and James (seven assists), the Bulls trimmed the deficit to make it a competitive affair.

I was just searching for energy somewhere, said Thibodeau. We had a couple of chances to maybe get back into it.

Thibodeau reinserted his re-energized regulars, but kept James fast becoming a fan favorite due to his tough defense, fearless drives, intelligent passing and timely shooting on the court and combined with C.J. Watsons usual instant offense, Luol Dengs (14 points, eight rebounds) scoring and Carlos Boozers (16 points, nine rebounds) rebounding and mid-range shooting, the Bulls made it a single-digit contest.

But with Williams accurate outside marksmanship and Humphries (24 points, 18 rebounds, five assists) work on the interior, the guests remained in command and the Bulls went into the intermission facing a 59-45 deficit.

Our defense wasnt very good, acknowledge Boozer. We pretty much spotted them a twenty-point lead and we tried to fight back. We did fight back and then they went right back up at the half.

Although New Jerseys once-gaudy shooting percentage dropped precipitously after the break, a blend of the Bulls turnover problems resurfaced and an inefficient offense allowed the visitors advantage to balloon. Humphries high activity level was the difference for the Nets, whose defense and rebounding factored into the hosts offensive struggles.

As the third period waned on, however, Boozers jump-shooting prowess reared its head, as the Alaska natives mid-range game from the baseline and elbow was the Bulls most consistent offensive weapon in making the deficit more manageable.

But the mini-run was eventually stymied partly of their own doing; adding injury to insult was Watson getting drilled in the face by Williams, leading to the latters steal and fast-break dunk, killing the Bulls momentum and through three quarters of play, the Bulls still faced an uphill battle, being on the wrong end of a 73-56 score.

The final period didnt immediately yield better results for the hosts, as rookie MarShon Brooks (19 points) and starting center Shelden Williams (eight points, 14 rebounds) were productive for the Nets early in the quarter, ensuring that their lofty winning margin remained intact.

Never known to give up on a game until the final buzzer, the relentless play of Gibson and James persisted, and coupled with Deng rediscovering his hot hand a dunk, plus the foul, for an old-fashioned three-point play, followed by an actual three-pointer, ignited the All-Star unearthed signs of life within the Bulls at the halfway mark of the frame.

Unforced miscues and the inability to string together multiple defensive stops, both issues all game long, were the home teams ultimate undoing, as they couldnt pull off a miraculous late run to get back into striking distance.

We had a bad day, were not denying that, said Deng. We have no excuses, we played terrible. Were going to look at game tape, get better and bounce back the next game. Its just a lot of things went into tonight. We just have to bring a better effort.

Already needing no further motivation after the loss, the Bulls seem to have already put the loss behind them and began to look ahead.

Well have a great practice tomorrow, dust this game off and be ready for the Hawks. Theyre a very good team who smacked us the last time we played them we havent forgot that and be ready for Monday.

Tom Thibodeau all smiles after seizing all the power in Minnesota

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Tom Thibodeau all smiles after seizing all the power in Minnesota

With the controversy behind him and a future that’s envied by virtually every team not in the playoffs, former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau embraced his introduction as Minnesota Timberwolves coach as a new beginning.

Of course, the smile was a little wider considering the title he’s also walking into the door with, as President of basketball operations. He’ll be able to create and establish his own culture as basketball czar, with comrade Scott Layden as general manager.

Layden will do the daily, dirty work, but Thibodeau will have final say in basketball matters—a responsibility he craved in this year away from the sidelines, and also evidenced by his partnership with the popular firm Korn Ferry, the firm that helped place Stan Van Gundy in Detroit.

"For me, personally, this is about alignment," Thibodeau said at his introduction. "It's not about power. It's not about any of that stuff. I've known Scott a long time. We've shared philosophies with each other about certain things. He was the person that I really wanted. So I'm glad we had the opportunity to get him."

Like Van Gundy, Thibodeau had a rocky relationship with his previous employer before turning the tables in his next stop to become the all-knowing basketball being.

Scathing comments after his firing last spring from Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf stung Thibodeau, according to reports, but was offset by Thibodeau thanking Reinsdorf for taking the chance on hiring him, not the ugly, forgettable ending.

“I don’t want to keep going back to Chicago, that’s gone,” he said afterward. “When I look back in totality, there was a lot more good than bad. That’s the way I prefer to view it. The next time you go around, you want to do it better. You analyze different teams, see the synergy between front office and coach and you try to emulate that.”

It’s easy to take the high road when two of the league’s brightest and youngest talents—Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins—are in your stead, healthy and ready to bust out.

And it’s easy to take the high road when there’s no barrier between what you want to happen and what will happen inside the building—a tricky proposition, it should be said.

The natural conflict that often exists between a front office and coach—one takes a more immediate view of matters while the other must consider the long-term effects of the franchise as a whole—won’t exist at all with Thibodeau and Layden because the hierarchy is clear.

It’s Thibodeau at the top and everyone and everything must bend to his will, per se. Considering the way he felt about the way things transpired in Chicago, where he reportedly clashed with Gar Forman and John Paxson over myriad issues, no one can be too surprised he followed the model laid out by Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers and Van Gundy, among others.

And like Van Gundy, Thibodeau has the task of getting the team with the longest conference playoff-less streak back to the land of the living—a feat Van Gundy accomplished this season with the Pistons, his second. The Timberwolves haven’t made the postseason since 2004, when Kevin Garnett won MVP.

It was four years before Garnett and Thibodeau connected in Boston in the 2007-08 season, helping the Celtics end a 22-year titleless drought. It’s Garnett, and players like Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah who helped Thibodeau earn this reputation as a master motivator and defensive wizard.

He thanked those players among others, as well as late Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders, who drafted the likes of Towns and Wiggins with the long-term view of having them develop at their own pace with the likes of veterans like Garnett and Tayshaun Prince there to guide them.

Thibodeau the coach will be there to prod, poke and push the greatness they’re expected to possess, the same way he did with Rose, Noah and Butler to varying degrees.

Thibodeau the coach won’t have much patience for mistakes, but Thibodeau the executive must resist the “trade everybody” emotions many coaches have when players go through down periods.

Having perspective was never one of his strong points, as he squeezed every ounce of productivity from his teams, but perspective must be his greatest ally in his second act in the spotlight.

Taking a long-term approach in a season when it came to minutes and players’ bodies was something he reportedly bristled at—and even if the narrative was somewhat exaggerated, the rap remains on him, unlikely to shake until proven otherwise.

Now he must take a long-term view in everything, and has to deal with the politics that come with being a top executive in the NBA, a task much easier done in fantasy than application.

Perhaps he gained that perspective in 11 months off after being fired from the Bulls, and using the time to gain insight into other franchises operations while watching the Bulls crumble from the inside.

The Bulls got what they wanted with his ouster, and it was a case of “be careful what you wish for”.

Eleven months from now, one wonders if the same mantra will apply to the coach who wanted it all and got it all.

Marc Gasol thinks brother Pau should sign with Spurs

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Marc Gasol thinks brother Pau should sign with Spurs

Pau Gasol has long been expected to opt out of the final deal of his contract with the Bulls this offseason.

And while there was a time when the interest in Gasol returning to the Bulls on a new deal appeared mutual, the liklihood is now that Gasol plays his 16th NBA season in a different uniform.

His brother, Marc Gasol, seems to think so, too.

When Gasol signed with the Bulls in 2014, he was also considering the Spurs, who at the time were the defending champions. Gasol chose Chicago over San Antonio and Oklahoma City, where he was twice named an All-Star and averaged 17.6 points and 11.4 rebounds in 150 games.

But he didn't have the success he expected when he signed. The Bulls were knocked out in the second round last year and missed the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons this year.

Gasol would make sense with the Spurs, who both tout a long track record with international players and veterans. It would also give him one last shot at earning a third NBA title, something he wasn't able to accomplish in two seasons with the Bulls.

Jimmy Butler 'happy' for Tom Thibodeau, puts blame of season on 'my shoulders'

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Jimmy Butler 'happy' for Tom Thibodeau, puts blame of season on 'my shoulders'

The news about former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau agreeing to terms with the Minnesota Timberwolves to coach and take over its basketball operations had already made its way to Jimmy Butler, who became an all-star under Thibodeau’s watch.

Thibodeau was controversially fired from the Bulls last spring after five seasons, and it took him less than a year to get another job—along with a substantial raise and the power that comes with having final say over personnel.

“I have heard about Thibs, I knew it would come up sooner or later,” said Butler at the grand opening of Bonobos guideshop in downtown Chicago. “I’m happy. I’m happy for that guy. I’m not surprised, not at all. We’ll see what he does over there.”

Butler developed from a late first-round pick in 2012 to a player who received a maximum contract last offseason, and admitted it was tough and demanding to play for the former coach.

“A little bit of both. He knows what he’s doing,” Butler said. “Very smart, he knows the game, he’s a winner, he’ll do whatever it takes to win. I wish him the best of luck. But I’m a Chicago Bull, so we gotta go against those guys.”

Thibodeau will take over a franchise that has arguably the best collection of young talent in the NBA, headlined by Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, with pundits already penciling in the Timberwolves to be amongst the living this time next season, in the playoffs.

[MORE: Goodwill joins Pro Basketball Talk podcast to talk Bulls]

Thibodeau led the Bulls to the playoffs in each of his five seasons, but when they fired him and replaced him with Fred Hoiberg, an up-and-down season ensued, leading to the Bulls missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Butler, as he’s done through the season, said the Bulls’ underachieving starts with him.

“I think it starts with myself,” he said. “If I can make this team win, and do whatever it takes every single night, I can take it.”

“I put it on my shoulders, I’m the reason we didn’t make the playoffs. And I’m fine with that. I’m not happy with it but I’m fine with it. Because  it’s only gonna make me stronger, make me better. Moving forward, I have to be able to make us win enough games to be able to make the playoffs.”

Butler’s numbers improved, one year after being named Most Improved Player, and he repeated as an All-Star. But it wasn’t enough to keep the Bulls afloat, as they experienced an eight-game dropoff from last season.

“I feel that way because I wasn’t consistent enough,” Butler said. “I had good games, I had average games, I had decent games and I had some terrible games. I don’t wanna have terrible and decent games. Averages games can get us over the hump but really good ones can help us win.”

Of course, Butler was queried about the ongoing uneasy pairing between himself and Derrick Rose in the Bulls’ backcourt, repeating the two will work out together over the summer to build more on-court chemistry, but playfully dismissed rumors of discord.

“When we lose, it’s always a problem,” Butler said. “You gotta find something to talk about. It’s a great story (but) it has nothing to do with it. Yeah, we’ll work out together, figure out ways to co-exist. I think we did a great job of it this year, yeah we were injured but that wasn’t an excuse. We always have enough to win, and moving forward if we’re healthy, we’re nice.”