Gibson, Boozer rise to the occasion

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Gibson, Boozer rise to the occasion

ORLANDOIts admittedly been an up-and-down season for Taj Gibson, whose dealt with a lingering ankle injury, his own inconsistent play and a contract extension right at the deadline, coinciding with the beginning of the campaign. For Carlos Boozer, hes almost been a forgotten man, even on a team without Derrick Rose, unless fans are vilifying him for an off night.

Wednesday evening at the Amway Center, however, the power-forward duo took center stage, as both had season-best performances in the absence of starting center Joakim Noah.

Each big man was a force on the glass, while Boozers dominant scoring throughout the contest and Gibsons defensive play and overall high activity level were major reasons the Bulls held on for a 96-94 win over the Magic.

Huge, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau gushed about Gibson, who started in place of Noahwho was sidelined with flu-like symptomsand scored a season-high 21 points, to go along with 11 rebounds, four blocked shots and three assists in 45 minutes of action, during which he played center for the majority of the night, but also showcased his versatility by defending the likes of perimeter-oriented Hedo Turkoglu.

Played big minutes, battled, played the five all night, just did a great job in all areas: Blocked shots, rebounding, scoring, executing, played a great game. Hes been playing very well as of late, too. Hes starting to get into a pretty good rhythm.

Teammate Kirk Hinrich added: He was big. He came in and you know Taj, what he can do. Hes very good. He just took advantage of the opportunity. When you have guys go down, you have guys step up. When a guys capable of doing that and Taj is, hes an everyday guy. You know you can count on him to do his job.

Luol Deng, who had 23 points of his own, including two free throws to seal the deal with 4.2 seconds remaining: Guys in the NBA can play, man. Taj probably saw an opportunity tonight and played well. We know how good Taj is and we definitely miss Jo, and last game, we lost when he was sick. Hes huge for us, but Taj did a good job of stepping in and making really big plays tonight, and guarding a guy that just came off 29 rebounds. The guy still had 12 rebounds, but I thought Taj did a good job of keeping him off the boards.

That guy was second-year Magic big man Nikola Vucevic, coincidentally Gibsons former college teammate at USC. Gibson was a junior when Vucevic was a freshman, but Orlando center, the son of a European pro, credits the Brooklyn native for his adjustment to basketball in the U.S.

Taj and I are good friends, Vucevic told reporters. I was 17 when I first came to USC.

He helped me a whole lot, especially on the court, he continued. After practice, we used to play one-on-one.

Gibson remembers things a bit differently and after Vucevics monster night against the defending-champion Heat on New Years Eveeclipsing the likes of Shaquille ONeal and Dwight Howard in the Magic record bookshe was ready to face his former protg.

Thats one thing about him: Hes a great rebounder. Ever since he came into USC as a freshman, I just knew he was a great rebounder. I just tried to frustrate him in the first half, tired to take him away from the rebounding aspect. But hes a phenomenal player and Im just happy we got a win, he said. Gibson and Vucevic battled every day. Because he was the one trying to take my starting role. Thats what Coach Tim Floyd always pushed him to try to do and he always pushed me to try to defend it, and it worked out the right way because hes playing phenomenal for that team.

Guys in the NBA can play, man. Taj probably saw an opportunity tonight and played well. We know how good Taj is and we definitely miss Jo, and last game, we lost when he was sick. Hes huge for us, but Taj did a good job of stepping in and making really big plays tonight, and guarding a guy that just came off 29 rebounds. The guy still had 12 rebounds, but I thought Taj did a good job of keeping him off the boards.

Same approach as every game. Just be ready, step up, help any way I can and Thibs just told me that he was starting for Noah this morning at shootaround, and I just happened to prepare the right way, focus on who I was going to guard and try to frustrate him, and thats what I did, Gibson went on to say.

It was big because were down a lot of guys. You look at our team, weve got a lot of guys banged up. Even at the shootaround, looked aroundit was toughbut weve just got to come together as a whole, take every game one at a time. But the way we just got done in the second half, especially in the final quarter, it just speaks volumes because I thought Jameer Nelson, the Magics point guard, who scored a game-high 32 points was going to make that layup. I was just being active when he blocked the shot with 11.3 seconds remaining and just trying to talk to my point guard, and help him any way that I can.

Im starting to feel way better. My ankle is feeling much better, Ive been getting a lot of treatment on it and Im just feeling real active again. Dealing with this ankle injury, it was nagging me, but I feel a lot better today.

Thibodeau even suggested that he could use the Boozer and Gibson in tandem, as he did on occasion last season: Gibson did it played center at the end of last year and so, at the end of last year, he and Carlos played extremely well together at times and it was something I was hoping we could get to this year, and Im hopeful that can happen now.

As for Boozer, while the much-maligned player doesnt speak much about himself when talking to the media these days, preferring to deflect attention to his teammates, his game did the talking Wednesday. He scored a team-high 31 points, as well as 11 rebounds, but more importantly, he carried the Bulls in the early going and then didnt disappear as time went on, pulling the team through several stretches.

I thought Carlos was terrific. That set the tone for us. He had a huge first quarter, Thibodeau said. We were searching him out and he got going early, so I thought we recognized that. Rip recognized that, Kirk recognized that. When Kirk is running the team, thats usually what happens. He usually gets 15 to 17 shotsyou can put that in the bookand if he gets his shots, hes going to score. Hes shown that throughout his career.

Deng concurred with his coachs opinion: Booz was huge. He hit some big shots, he got us going early, we kept going to him and Rip did a good job of finding him, and Booz was making his shots.

Hinrich added: We go to Carlos all the time early. Hes one of the guys we count on to go down there and make plays for us, and he had it going tonight.

Boozer certainly benefited from Hinrichs return to the lineup, as well as Hamiltons playmakingthe veteran starting backcourt combined for 17 assistsbut that didnt account for all of his production. Still, he refused to take credit for raising his level of play, perhaps knowing that among his detractors, hes damned if he does and damned if he doesnt.

Were down, weve been short-handed all season, but this game we had without Joakim. But I thought Taj had a monster game, man, he said. We had guys step up left and right. Luol was normal with his All-Star performance and we just did a good job at the end of being resilient.

Boozer might not acknowledge what he did Wednesday, but his teammates and coaches know and within the Bulls small circle, thats all that matters. That, and like Gibson also did, embodying Thibodeaus next man up mantra by rising to the occasion with the odds against them,

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.”