Minus Rose, Bulls can't keep up with Grizzlies

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Minus Rose, Bulls can't keep up with Grizzlies

MEMPHISPayback is a well, you know the rest (this is a family-friendly site) and the Grizzlies (6-6) exacted it upon the Bulls (12-3), sans Derrick Rose, in a 102-86 whipping Monday afternoon at FedEx Forum, ending Chicago's five-game winning streak.

At one point, Memphis threatened to put a similar beatdown on the visitors that they received in Chicago (a 40-point drubbing), but despite experiencing severe shooting woes in the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday-matinee game, the Bulls second-half pride prevented it from being quite the same level of embarrassment, despite the lopsided final score.

They got great shots, they killed us on the boards, they turned us over, so if you dont defend, you dont rebound and you turn it over, you dont give yourself a chance to win, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. You cant say overall lack of energy because second half, the energy was good, so I think readiness to play, early start. Weve got to be ready. Ive got to do a better job of getting them ready.

When you allow easy shots early on, it allows them to get confidence. Once a player has a confidence in this league, now its much harder to slow them down. They made some tough shots later in the game, but that was after they got a ton of easy shots. And they played well. I give them credit. Conley was great, Speights played extremely well, Gasol played well, Gay played well. We didnt really take anything away from them, he continued. I thought it was a compilation of things. No defensive intensity, ball pressure, poor help, lack of a multiple effort. Offensively, the same held true. We werent running, we werent running through, we werent sustaining our spacing when the ball went into the post, so we made the game hard on ourselves.

Interior defense, something Rose who was ruled out shortly before the game because of complications from his sprained left big toe couldnt be held responsible for, even if he was healthy, was the Bulls biggest issue at the outset of the contest, as Marreese Speights (16 points, 12 rebounds) attacked fellow former Florida Gator Joakim Noah in the early going.

Without the services of Rose, the visitors relied upon Carlos Boozer (13 points, seven rebounds), who responded with a high activity level and versatile scoring, including a fast-break steal and layup, albeit on the lumbering side.

After allowing the Grizzlies to jump out to an early lead, the Bulls quickly closed the gap, though a spate of turnovers enabled Memphis to get easy transition opportunities, to the delight of the FedEx Forum crowd. With high-flying small forward Rudy Gay (24 points, five rebounds, five assists) also displaying his scoring prowess, Chicago trailed, 28-21, after the opening period.

While Rose was sidelined for the lone contest of the season in the city and arena where he played his college basketball, the Bulls were buoyed by the return to the lineup of another point guard, backup C.J. Watson (17 points), who promptly launched and connected on a jumper on the teams first possession of the second quarter.

However, continued ball-security issues, poor shot selection, the inability to defend Memphis back-door cuts, prevent scoring in the paint or control the defensive glass troubled the guests, leading to the Grizzlies maintaining a comfortable cushion, despite an immediate influx of energy off the bench from Taj Gibson (16 points).

The deficit swelled to double digits as point guard Mike Conley (20 points on 9-for-13 shooting, eight assists, seven rebounds) set up his Grizzlies teammates for multiple easy buckets. The Bulls, while they attempted to push the tempo, simply didnt have consistent scoring options and appeared to react slower to loose balls than the hosts.

Although Luol Deng (20 points, six rebounds) finally got on track, the home teams onslaught persisted and at the intermission, Chicago was on the wrong end of a 58-38 score.

We started off slow. We were a step slow that first half. They came out aggressive and made their run, said Deng. Today, for a mental game, I dont think we did a good job. I dont think we did a good job mentally, just preparing for that. I think we should have been ready for them. We should have known that anytime you beat a team like that in the NBA, next time they cant wait to see you and we should have been more prepared. I thought in the second half, we did a better job of fighting harder, but we should have fought like that the whole game.

Things didnt improve for the Bulls after the break, as the leagues top-rebounding team was subpar on the boards and the sellout crowd many of them undoubtedly in attendance to see Rose appreciated the home teams consistent effort.

Memphis lead continued to balloon, as turnovers plagued the visitors and a lack of production from starters Noah and Ronnie Brewer were troublesome, particularly with the absence of Roses potent scoring ability.

Deng, battling through increased defensive attention, and Watson, who was adept in getting to the charity stripe in his first game back from a sprained left elbow, shouldered Chicagos offensive load and with pressure defense leading the way, the Bulls gradually chipped away at the deficit.

Anytime youre missing D-Rose, its tough. But I thought C.J. played great coming in for his first game back and gave us a huge lift, made a great run, gave us a slight chance to have a chance to win the game at the end, but our second unit got a little tired. They made some plays and to their credit, though we had a chance but give them credit. Give Memphis credit. We knew they were going to be ready to play and we just didnt match their intensity to start the game, said Boozer. We both had it a noon start, though. We cant use any excuses. Theyre going through the same stuff were going through. Every team is going through it and they were more ready to play.

Energy, in the form of Gibson and fellow backup big man Omer Asik, propelled the visitors, and at the end of three periods, the Grizzlies lead was down to 77-66.

Just needed a little bit of a spark. Weve been in this situation many times. We have a good-caliber type team. At times, its just tough to get going. Just trying to get guys motivated. Just try to play strong defensively, get any type of energy stop, play strong-minded and our second unit just plays well together. We had a shot late in the final quarter, but we just came up short, explained Gibson. We didnt really play any defense as a team. We let them get their confidence up real early. Like Coach said, we understand we beat this team pretty bad the first time, but we came out lackadaisical and they took advantage of it, hitting a lot of tough shots and their confidence grew as the game went on.

Added Thibodeau: He provided some really good energy. C.J. provided energy. That whole group, I thought, played well. We were scrambling around and usually you make a run, but it was too big of a hole to get out of, though.

Youre taking more risk, so youre also vulnerable to giving them easier shots, but its also an opportunity to get some turnovers and try to convert to some quick scores. But I thought they were really aggressive, more aggressive than we were to start the game, continued the coach, who correctly anticipated whether again using Gibson and Asik instead of starters Boozer and Noah would be interpreted as a more ominous sign. Actually, I thought Carlos, offensively, was very good, at least to start the game. It was just that we were in a scramble situation and the press, we were getting something out of it, so that all factored into what was going on. Omer gave us the shot-blocking at the rim and Taj was the guy who was doing the trapping.

In lieu of Roses presence, Conley and Watson staged a mini-duel at point guard, though Gibson stole the show for the Bulls, scoring in the post and via the offensive glass.

But Conleys blend of penetrating, passing, point production and poise were overwhelming and coupled with the timely scoring of Gay and burly center Marc Gasol (19 points, 10 rebounds), the Grizzlies once again created a sizeable gap between themselves and their comeback-weary guests.

With the lead again approaching the 20-point mark, Thibodeau finally cut his losses after the final stanzas midway point, sending in the likes of rookie Jimmy Butler, fan favorite Brian Scalabrine and John Lucas III who started the game at point guard in place of Rose, although Watson received the bulk of the minutes at the position prompting Memphis head coach Lionel Hollins to follow suit and rest his regulars.

The extended garbage time was basically played to a draw, leaving the Bulls to head back to Chicago in advance of their home matchup Tuesday night against visiting Phoenix, preferably with a healthy Rose back in the lineup.

They got a lot of easy shots in the first half. Second half, we played a lot tougher, but we couldnt really stop them. They had their confidence running high, said Watson. Theres no excuses, really. We just didnt come out to play very well. We knew they were going to come out tough because we beat them by 40 and they were trying to make a statement.

Chimed in Gibson: Youre a pro. Youre supposed to be ready from the jump ball and we just didnt have that mindset early, and it hurt us. We have to learn from it. Were lucky we have a back-to-back tomorrow.

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.”