Even Tom Thibodeau will admit, the way Carlos Boozer introduced himself to Chicago didnt exactly endear him to the city. After tripping over a gym bag during training camp, the prized free-agent acquisition was forced to miss a huge chunk of the early season with a right-hand injury.
This season, its been a different story, as the power forward has been the only Bulls starter to play in all 50 of the first-place teams games this season. A big reason for that is that Boozer reported to training camp after the NBA lockout in much-improved physical shape.
Its huge. He got hurt early last year, but I think he came back in excellent shape, so I think thats helped him a lot and last year his injury was misfortune. Then, he had the turf toe at the end of the season and the ankle sprain, but that was probably from all the time that he had off and this year, hes just been ready, right from the beginning, said Thibodeau. Hes lighter and I think thats a very good point. Particularly for big guys, I think light and lean as they get older is critical.
I think its difficult to lead when youre injured and the team was new to him. You have to be playing to lead, really. Now that hes been here for two years, I think hes a lot more comfortable knowing his teammates, his teammates know him knowing the system. Its hard to lead when you get hurt in the first week, you dont know your teammates and you dont know the system. Carlos has been a terrific player in the league for a long time, he continued. Hes playing strong. Hes always had that strength. I think its made him quicker. I also think it helps to avoid injury.
Though Boozers numbers are down from a season ago, hes been efficient and a key cog in an overall relatively healthy big-man rotation featuring fellow starter Joakim Noah and backups Taj Gibson and Omer Asik. The quartet will have to play well Monday night against the deep, dangerous Nuggets at the United Center.
Theyre tough, said Thibodeau. Leading scorer and forward Danilo Gallinari being out makes them a little bit different, but theyre very deep. They have a number of guys on their second unit that are really starters. You look at Andre Miller, hes a starter in the league. Sixth man and veteran forward Al Harringtons a starter. Starting point guard Tywon Lawsons been terrific for them. Rookie forward Kenneth Faried is a high-energy guy. Center Timofey Mozgov is tough. Forward Wilson Chandler, of course, picking him up late after playing in China due to the lockout, hes still getting acclimated, but hes still a terrific player. And shooting guard Arron Afflalo has really established himself as a solid two-way player in this league, and each year, hes gotten better and better. Hes playing at a high level for them.
Recently acquired center JaVale McGee is another starter. Hes athletic, changes the game with his defense, can run the floor. This team flies up and down the floor, the balls in the paint, they can put it on the floor, theyre unselfish they probably dont get enough credit for that they make the extra pass and they have a lot of versatility to their lineup because they can play Lawson and Miller together. Chandlers the type of guy that can play three positions, Harrington can play four positions, so theres a lot of flexibility with the guys and theyre all hard-playing. They all play hard, he continued. "Nuggets head coach George Karl has been there a long time. Hes done a terrific job. I dont think people overlook them because theyre going to play fast, theyre going to play hard. Now, theyve taken on some injuries, so that sort of slowed them down a little bit, but theyre going to be playing with great urgency. Theres a bunch of teams that are fighting for those last spots in the West and theyre one of them, so theyll be ready to go.
Thibodeau is fortunate that the Bulls will have Noah in the lineup Monday, as the center avoided a suspension though not a league-imposed fine for being ejected from Saturdays eventual win over the Raptors after throwing a ball in the direction of an official.
Im disappointed with his frustration. I think Jo has grown quite a bit, in terms of his professionalism, and it was a tough game, said Thibodeau. As a team, we werent playing very well, but I do want him to control his emotions.
Thibodeau did let his guard down a bit when asked about the ongoing NCAA Tournament.
I follow it a little bit. I think itll be terrific. I think itll be a great Final Four. I think its a wonderful time of the year for college basketball, he said, giving his trademark politically-correct answer before being asked about whether Kentucky, led by Chicago native Anthony Davis, was the favorite to win the Final Four. They Kentucky are deep, but I tell you, I wouldnt overlook Louisville either.
That might not sit well with his star point guard, Derrick Rose, who played at Memphis for Kentuckys coach, John Calipari.
I havent talked to him since the tournament started. I dont want to jinx him or anything, so Im just going to wait until after they win it and Im just going to call him then, said Rose. Theyre a great team. If anything, I think Coach deserves it and theyre the team to do it.