Bulls' patience in hectic times should pay off

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Bulls' patience in hectic times should pay off

Bulls management hasn't made waves in NBA free agency thus far the way some observers expected, and for that, fans of the team should be somewhat grateful.

While the departure of Kurt Thomas to Portland and Keith Bogans being unlikely to return to Chicago subtract two important, if underappreciated veterans from last season's cohesive, 62-win regular-season squad that advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, at least the organization has generally steered clear of a bizarre post-lockout period that's already been wilder than Saturday's ugly Xavier-Cincinnati brawl.

While general manager Gar Forman didn't exactly deny the team's interest in acquiring disgruntled (or not?) Magic All-Star center Dwight Howard, the fact that detailed information of the organization's pursuit of the reigning three-time Defensive Player of the Year hasn't leaked means that either the front office is doing an excellent job of playing its cards close to the vest or Forman's claim of wanting to keep the club's nucleus together is accurate.

Besides, with the hullabaloo Howard has caused as of late--an alleged meeting in Miami with the Nets' braintrust, reportedly asking for a trade, insisting he'd prefer to remain in Orlando, but only if changes are made--is drama the Bulls can do without, especially at the risk of irritating speculated trade bait Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, among others, just before a season in which they are expected to be a title contender.

Instead, the focus has been on making less high-profile additions, such as veteran shooting guard Richard Hamilton, who was officially waived by the Pistons on Monday, is expected to sign for the mid-level exception--two years for 10 million--and should be in Chicago this week, likely by Wednesday. While Hamilton has declined from his past All-Star days, he offers a legitimate scoring threat next to Derrick Rose, championship experience, solid team defensive principles and allows Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau to keep the effective "Bench Mob" second unit intact.

Another subtle move made by management was re-signing Brian Scalabrine, a reliable locker-room presence and pseudo-assistant coach, to a non-guaranteed contract; the veteran forward reportedly settled his situation with FIBA after playing professionally in Italy during the lockout.

Most importantly, however, the Bulls will likely soon agree to terms with Rose, the youngest MVP in NBA history, on a five-year contract extension, made more lucrative as a product of his namesake rule, negotiated in the newly-ratified CBA.

Forget how the Bulls' patience, rather than rushing into an ill-advised bidding war for a mediocre crop of free agents (Hamilton is still at least close to the same level of many of the so-called top players at the position on the market), has already paid off; their wise choice to stay out of the chaotic mix to chase Howard--let alone Chris Paul (whose trade to a second L.A. team seemingly won't happen, this time because the league reportedly pushed the Clippers for one asset too many in promising young guard Eric Gordon for the NBA-owned Hornets; perhaps to encourage Paul to remain in New Orleans?) or Chauncey Billups (the floor general, amnestied by the Knicks, was snatched off waivers by the aforementioned Clippers, in the wake of the veteran's weekend comments to Yahoo about being frustrated by the situation), not that either of those players were options for Chicago--and virtually stand pat, assuming the Hamilton deal gets done and they add a veteran big man, so far looks to be a winner.

While teams like defending champion Dallas (adding productive veterans Lamar Odom, Vince Carter and Delonte West), New York (former Bulls center Tyson Chandler via the Mavericks, with the potential Cavaliers amnesty casualty Baron Davis looming), Miami (Shane Battier and a wild card in another ex-Bulls center, Eddy Curry) and even Indiana (underrated power forward David West, erstwhile Bulls talking point O.J. Mayo and draft-day acquisition George Hill) have certainly improved, the team with the league's top record last season--as Rose said Sunday, "Maybe people forgot"--will be just fine.

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

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The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

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