Bulls notes: Getting back on track at home

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Bulls notes: Getting back on track at home

Dont count Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau among those who were surprised by the Bobcats 81-71 win over his Bulls on New Years Eve. Though the road win broke the Bobcats 18-game losing streak and dropped the Bulls to 9-8 at home, Thibodeau said no perceived upset in the NBA surprises him any longer.

If youre a team in the NBA, youve got great players and often times when you dig deeper you see that really the result of their record is mostly injury. And when you look at the guys that theyve had out, you know that thats been a big part of it, he said at this mornings shoot-around. So everyone in this league is capable of beating you. Thats why readiness to play is so important. And its not just readiness to play but you have to play well. You have to be able to execute on both offense and defense, but when you study their roster you see they have a lot of accomplished players.

Those accomplished players Thibodeau noted included leading scorer Kemba Walker, former Bulls sharpshooter Ben Gordon, this year No. 2 overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, defensive specialist Bismack Biyombo and shooting guard Gerald Henderson. And while the Bobcats record (11-32) pits them in the cellar of the Eastern Conference, the Bulls wont be looking past them this time around.

I feel like theyre good enough to beat anybody in this league. Theyve got a lot of really good players who do a lot of key things for their team so were gonna have to stick to what we know, swingman Jimmy Butler said, and keep the ball out of the paint and do what we have to do on defense. I think thats the biggest key for tonight.

Home, road splits starting to even out

Since a 10-10 start at the United Center, the Bulls have won four of their last five at home.

Butler wouldnt attribute the improved record to anything in particular, noting that its more of a given that teams need to play their best basketball in the confines of their home arena.

This is our city, thats our court, so we dont want teams to come in and feel like its easy, he said. People have been getting wins there, but were trying to turn it around. Of course we dont want to lose any games, but definitely none at home.

And despite a loss Saturday night in Washington, the Bulls still maintain the NBAs best road record at 12-6. Butler agreed with Joakim Noahs comments earlier in the year, that the team thrives on walking into harsh environments and competing.

Backs up against the wall on somebody elses court, I feel like other teams feel the same way whenever they go to the other teams court, he said. Its a challenge, and who doesnt like a challenge in this league?

In the same light, Butler did note that the Bulls need to play with that same intensity at home when there may not be as much motivation to come out with a hot start.

On the road its everything against us, so we play a lot harder and we come out of the gates firing, he said. And sometimes at home we take it for granted and then we come out slow and dig ourselves a hole and we try to fight back as the game goes along but its always tough to do that.

The home record has improved and the Bulls find themselves atop the Central Division, but Thibodeau said the last mentality his team can afford to have is complacency with recent success.

We still have a long way to go. I think if you look at it and you feel like youve done well or youve got it figured out, youre setting yourself up for a fall, he said. And what I want our guys to do is continue focusing on improvement. Our road is gonna get tougher, theres a lot of things we can do better but I want them to focus in on the task at hand: have a good practice every day, be ready for our opponents, go out and execute on offense and defense and do it as a team.

Thibodeau feels for Rondo, still believes in Celtics

The Boston Celtics revealed yesterday that Rajon Rondo had suffered a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the season.

Thibodeau, who coached Rondo during his time as an assistant in Boston, said he felt for Rondo but would not count out the Celtics just yet.

As a team theyre still going to be very dangerous, he said. I think if you overlook them youre making a big mistake. In terms of how I feel about Rajon, Rajon is a true superstar and hes a great guy. And I feel terrible for him but Im sure hell overcome it.

Hes a mentally tough guy but you hate to see any guy go down with any type of injury but I have great respect for what hes done, he added.

Bulls finalize training camp roster

Bulls finalize training camp roster

The Bulls finalized their training camp roster on Monday morning, in the lead-up to the start of the team's official media day.

The team will carry 19 players into the preseason before cutting that number down a maximum of 15 in late October.

No. 0 Isaiah Canaan, guard: Signed to a two-year, $2.2 million deal in July, Canaan will compete with Spencer Dinwiddie and Jerian Grant for minutes behind Rajon Rondo.

No. 2 Jerian Grant, guard: The combo guard will get a fresh start in Chicago after an inconsistent rookie season with the Knicks.

No. 3 Dwyane Wade, guard: The three-time NBA champion and future Hall of Famer begins the next chapter of his famed career after 13 seasons in Miami.

No. 5 Bobby Portis, forward: After showing flashes of potential in his rookie season, the 6-foot-11 Portis will be in line for an extended role following Joakim Noah's and Pau Gasol's departures.

No. 6 Cristiano Felicio, center: The Brazilian impressed plenty in last season's final month, and he should see significant minutes behind Robin Lopez.

No. 7 D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, guard: The undrafted rookie averaged 14.8 points per game in his senior season at Georgetown.

No. 8 Robin Lopez, center: One of the league's most underrated centers, Lopez was one of five players to average 10 points, 7 rebounds and play in all 82 games a year ago.

No. 9 Rajon Rondo, guard: The veteran point guard led the NBA in assists last season, but playing on his fourth team in three seasons means his best days may be behind him.

No. 11 Doug McDermott, forward: The sharpshooter showed significant improvement from Year 1 to Year 2, finishing sixth in the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage. Now about the defense...

No. 15 Thomas Walkup, guard: The All-American honorable mention went for 33 points in No. 14 Stephen F. Austin's opening-round upset win over No. 3 West Virginia.

No. 16 Paul Zipser, forward: The Bulls' 2016 second-round pick can do a bit of everything, and at 22 years old he could be ready to contribute sooner than later.

No. 20 Tony Snell, forward: It may be difficult for the former first-rounder to crack the rotation after a forgettable third season.

No. 21 Jimmy Butler, guard: An All-Star in each of the last two seasons, the 27-year-old Butler is poised for yet another career year.

No. 22 Taj Gibson, forward: The 31-year-old veteran is in a contract year, and should see an even more expanded role after starting 55 games last season - even if Nikola Mirotic replaces him in the starting lineup.

No. 24 Vince Hunter, forward: The 6-foot-8 Hunter averaged 21.8 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game for the Reno Bighorns last season as rookie.

No. 25 Spencer Dinwiddie, guard: A casuality of the Pistons' crowded backcourt, Dinwiddie has a chance to carve out a role in Chicago behind Rajon Rondo.

No 31 J.J. Avila, forward: A standout at Colorado State who graduated in 2015, Avila appeared in four Summer League games for the Knicks, averaging 1.2 points and 1.5 rebounds.

No. 44 Nikola Mirotic, forward: The Bulls will be relying on Mirotic's outside shot, which improved mightily in his second season from 31.6 percent to 39 percent.

No. 45 Denzel Valentine, guard: The jack-of-all-trades will need some time to find his role, but he's an apt passer and outside shooter with good size on the wing.

Five things to watch during Bulls’ training camp

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USA Today Sports Images

Five things to watch during Bulls’ training camp

All the new guys: Last October, the Bulls entered camp with essentially the same roster that lost to Cleveland in the second round of the 2015 playoffs, save for then-rookie Bobby Portis. This time, there’s no Derrick Rose, no Joakim Noah, no Pau Gasol, no Mike Dunleavy, and no E’Twaun Moore.

That’s four starters (essentially) whose performances or presence has been counted on in some way, even through some of the uncertainty that surrounded a few of these guys.

Conceivably, the Bulls can have around five new players in the actual rotation who weren’t thought of this time last year, although last year’s product left a lot to be desired.

The adjustment time and chemistry building starts Tuesday.

Who starts at power forward: All other positions in the first five are set, especially with the new faces. But the pivotal decision for Fred Hoiberg, if it hasn’t been made already, is who will start alongside Robin Lopez at center. It could be Nikola Mirotic, or Taj Gibson or even Bobby Portis, depending on Hoiberg’s sensibilities.

Smart money says it’ll probably be Mirotic considering he’s the best perimeter shooter of the three and actually a decent defensive rebounder. Gibson being a great screener, finisher and defender makes him intriguing as an option, but offensive space will be limited if he’s out there with Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. As for Portis, is he ready to take a step toward consistency in year 2?

The point guard: Rajon Rondo’s basketball intelligence is genius level, where he can master a gameplan and probably even devise one of his own that rivals his coaches. The man can counter a play before the opposing defense initiates an adjustment. That said, how will he and Hoiberg mesh this season? He clashed with Doc Rivers, had knock-down battles with Rick Carlisle in Dallas and George Karl didn’t have it in him to fight anybody in Sacramento, let alone Rondo.

Rondo likes playing the game at his speed, with his own feel and rhythm. Hoiberg will have to tailor his style for the new personnel he has, and luckily for him, isn’t a “my way or the highway” type of fellow that’s sure to rub Rondo the wrong way. Will Rondo embrace Hoiberg’s system and become an extension of the coach, or will Hoiberg give Rondo enough rope to explore Rondo’s intelligence to find a middle ground?

Will that even be enough?

The backup point guard: Just as intriguing as the starting power forward battle will be who backs up Rondo at point guard, although it’s likely that player won’t have to fill the traditional role of doing anything aside from walking the ball up and letting either Butler or Wade initiate the offense.

It’s likely Hoiberg will change his substitution patterns to have either Wade or Butler anchor second units in the second quarter, as a way to maximize the time he has with both while not having them invade each other’s space in the halfcourt. So who plays backup point could be more about who fits best next to the best player on the floor as opposed to who the best player is.

It seems to open the door for rookie Denzel Valentine since he can play three positions (although defense will be a task), along with Jerian Grant, Isaiah Canaan and Spencer Dinwiddie.

Grant was a first-rounder in 2015 who wants to show he’s worth that status, while Dinwiddie was projected as a lottery pick three years ago before tearing his ACL at Colorado.

It’s certainly not the most stressful decision Hoiberg will have to make, but a curious one.

Developing an identity: Does it happen in training camp? Who knows, but tones are often set as to what type of squad a team will be. Last season, Hoiberg believed he was building on a solid foundation after Tom Thibodeau’s defense first mentality, but signs of things crumbling began to show very early in the preseason.

This season, with so many new pieces, moving parts and overall uncertainty, there’s question as to what kind of team the Bulls will be. It’s intriguing, to say the least. But what will the Bulls hang their hats on come late October?