Legendary coach Brown talks Hamilton, Bulls

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Legendary coach Brown talks Hamilton, Bulls

In the NBA, it often comes down to six degrees of separation, as far as players, coaches and other league personnel being connected. When it comes to Larry Brown, however, it's usually a direct connection.

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of speaking with the legendary longtime coach for an upcoming story about Bulls shooting guard Rip Hamilton, who Brown coached in Detroit.

Brown, who spends his days with his children, grandchildren and extended family--a network of his former players and assistant coaches spread out through both the pro and college ranks--talked to CSNChicago.com about Hamilton's fit in Chicago, but also discussed Derrick Rose (who he got to know during Rose's lone college season at Memphis), Tom Thibodeau (who, like many other coaches, uses Brown as a resource), the Bulls in general and his coaching future.

Prior to the Bulls' disappointing loss to the Hawks in Atlanta on Saturday, I shared his sentiments to Hamilton--"Rip's one of my all-time favorites. Tell him I'm thinking of him"--and the currently-sidelined 13-year veteran absolutely lit up. When I relayed to Rose, dejected after the tough defeat, that Brown said he was "proud of him," the reigning league MVP paused, then briefly launched into how "LB" influenced him during his freshman campaign, though it often extended the length of the team's practices.

The coach, whose accomplishments include winning the 1988 NCAA title at Kansas (the first basketball game I ever had on tape), took the Allen Iverson-led Sixers to the 2001 Finals (as a Temple University student at the time, I saw how just a championship appearance--Philadelphia would lose to the Lakers--galvanized the "City of Brotherly Love") and even getting the lowly Bobcats their first and only postseason berth in 2010 (my first year on the beat; the Bulls beat Charlotte in the regular-season finale to qualify for the playoffs themselves), as well as taking UCLA to one of its many Final Four appearances and getting the Clippers into the playoffs, has likely forgotten more basketball than anybody reading this has ever seen.

His "play the right way" doctrine might not always sit well with players initially (though many of them would probably think of it differently if they realized the New York native was once a high-level point guard at both North Carolina and in the old ABA, where he set the league's assist record and was a player-coach), but nobody can argue with his results, and his basketball-purist philosophy lives on through the likes of Thibodeau. With no further adieu, here's the transcript from our chat:

On coaching Hamilton upon Brown's arrival in Detroit:

"Detroit was the first team that I ever took over that had a .500 record or better and when I took over. I was kind of lucky because it was a good group there and Rick Carlisle had good values that I think made the adjustment for me easier, because I think they knew the right way to play. I've been a big Jim Calhoun fan and I've known how fondly he felt about Rip, so I was kind of looking forward to being around him, to be honest.

"Early on, I thought I might have been difficult on him and Chauncey Billups, in particular, because I wanted them to play a certain way and it might have been a little different from what coaches had expected from them, but they both kind of bought in and as a result, it made the transition for me much easier, and it was probably as a good a team--because of the sacrifices they made--that I've ever been around."

On how Hamilton will fit with the Bulls:

"They had the best record in the NBA last year with Keith Bogans playing. I don't get caught up in scoring. Rip can score by accident. He doesn't need the ball. He knows how to create without the ball if you run him off screens and stuff. He's about as good off screens as anybody in the league. I've been lucky. I got to coach Reggie Miller and Reggie was phenomenal at running people off screens. But Rip, Rip can score the ball. You run stuff for him, he'll figure out ways to get a shot and he'll take pressure off Derrick Rose.

"He's unselfish and he's really an underrated defender. He can defend. He can move his feet, stay in front of people. I don't look at him at just an offensive player. I just look at him as a hell of a basketball player. But he can score. A lot of people don't have a mid-range game in our league and he's got a great mid-range jumper, he can get to the free-throw line and I know Derrick. Derrick's unselfish, so they'll complement each other."

On Hamilton's development under him in Detroit:

"I just wanted Rip to know that our whole emphasis was trying to stop people and playing unselfishly and playing hard. He's a scorer. At first, I didn't know what things to run for him. I asked them Hamilton and Billups to make a whole lot of sacrifices in their games just to give us a chance to win. They both did it. I remember I had a meeting with Chauncey and Rip one day, early in the season, and things weren't going, I felt, great for them, but after watching them play, I just felt really good about the potential of that team and I brought them both in and I told them they both needed to make certain sacrifices in order for us to coach them, in order for us as a team to grow and get better, and they walked out.

"I didn't know how they took the conversation, but then I remember Rip came back and said, 'Coach, you don't have to worry about us. We've got your back,' and I don't think I ever had to meet with Rip again. They just bought in, and they embraced each other and they can talk about not having superstars. That team--I think people get caught up on superstars being guys that can score the ball, not guys that make teams better--and in their own way, Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace and Rip and Chauncey and Tayshaun Prince, they all were superstars for me. We won a lot of games and shut people down.

"Everywhere I went after coaching Detroit, people just always embraced that 'playing the right way.' I used to always bring that up, that phrase. I've had more people come up to me--they don't even know who the hell I am, but they know I coached Detroit--they always would say, 'Oh, that team, they played the right way,' and I think, if you look at sacrifices that people have to make to make that come true, I think Rip comes first."

On Hamilton being an underrated player:

"I don't like to get into that where Hamilton stands in comparison to other great players of his era. All I know is two years with me and him wasn't enough for me. It might have been enough for him, but I loved coaching him. I loved being around him, I love what he stands for, I love what a good teammate he is and I struggled the last couple of years, hearing people talking about him and things not going good for him.

"John Kuester worked for me and is a big part of my life. I hated to see the problems that seemed to be popping up, but I'm just so thankful that he's been able to land on his feet and be in an environment in Chicago with all the players around him and everything. I'm just hopeful everybody will realize what an unbelievable player he is and what a great guy he is."

On Thibodeau reaching out to him about Hamilton:

"Tom Thibodeau called me when they made the deal. Ed Pinckney called me first and then Tom called me. My feeling is--I met with Tom after he took the job, before he coached a game. Doc Rivers and I met with him in Chicago and spent some time with him, and I'm close to Doc and I know that Doc liked Tom a lot. I hadn't been around him, other than that experience I had in Chicago and I just enjoyed being around him. You're right, he cares about the right things, he wants you to play the right way.

"He has people on that team--I helped with the French team and Joakim Noah was there--he just has good guys that don't care about individual. It's all about team and Derrick exemplifies that, every minute of every day, and Rip's just like that. He just wants to win and I think the things that he brings--they're 10 deep and they're going to have nights when Derrick can't get it going or Luol Deng's struggling or Carlos Boozer's struggling--Rip can bail you out by himself. He can get you 30 any night, but he's going to do more than that. He's going to give you that honest effort guarding guys.

"That position, people that play the two guard in our league are great. Then, you've a got a guy that can score. It makes them work hard because they've got to guard you. Then, you've got to have a guy that plays that position that's a legitimate defender and Rip is. Then, the fact that he's won wherever he's been and knows what it takes to win a championship.

"I think that's going to be positive in that locker room and he's for the coach. That's the one thing that I tried to impress upon Tom. As long as you're fair and honest with him, he's for the coach and he'll do whatever is asked of him, and do it the best way he can, so I think from Tom's perspective, that's got to be a blessing."

On Derrick Rose:
"John Calipari worked for me. He was with me at Kansas when he was a graduate assistant and when he got fired from the Nets, he came with me in Philly. I hired him. He's like my son. I spent a lot of time with him, while Calipari was recruiting Derrick. I've been with his brother and during his freshman year, John used to invite me all the time.

"John's family and Derrick's family. He makes me feel so good about the NBA. I think that whole lockout experience, I was just so hopeful that they'd get it settled, so we can embrace these young kids that are coming into our league, that are not only great players, but great kids and then, reflect how great a series it was with Dallas and Miami and build on that. So, it's pretty neat when Derrrick Rose is one of your ambassadors."

On the Bulls:

"I don't think there's great balance in the league anymore, which kind of troubles me, but they're one of the elite teams and the young big kid's Omer Asik getting better, I think Ronnie Brewer's in a real good situation for him. When you have Taj Gibson coming off the bench and Kyle Korver, and what he can do, and they have the backup point C.J. Watson, they're 10 deep.

"When you have a defensive mentality and character guys and a terrific coach, you've got a heck of a chance. Their star is about team. Every time I hear Derrick talk, it's all about his teammates and his coach and winning. When you've got that, you've got a chance to be good for a long, long time."

On his own coaching future:

"Well, I could have gone to Stanford three years ago and I didn't want to take my kids out of school, and they live in Philly, but I want to coach again, badly. Now, I've been lucky because I've got so many guys that have played for me and coached with me that are coaches, in college and pro, that keep me involved.

"I've been to Villanova; I go there all the time. Mark Turgeon, who played for me and coached with me, is at Maryland. Bill Self coached with me; he's at Kansas. John lets me come to Kentucky. Tad Boyle's at Colorado. I've got so many guys that are in college and pro that have included me and kind of used me as a resource without me pushing myself on them. I don't want to ever do that.

"I want to get back badly. I just don't know. The direction the NBA's going, it seems like they just want to get young ex-players and if you look around the league, there's not a lot of older coaches anymore. 'Pop' Gregg Popovich and maybe Rick Adelman, but most of these guys are younger, so I don't know if I fit that mold, but I still believe that I have something to offer and I was disappointed the way Charlotte ended. We go to the playoffs and then, 14 games later, I'm fired.

"They get rid of Raymond Felton and get rid of Tyson Chandler, and I have Kwame Brown, Gerald Henderson and Dominic McGuire, all of those guys hurt, missing training camp. So, I'm disappointed the way that ended, but I'd love to get back if somebody gave me a chance. But I won't politic for it. I hope it happens, but I don't want to see somebody lose their job to get another job, so that's always sensitive."

Bulls headed to Parts Unknown as free agency begins

Bulls headed to Parts Unknown as free agency begins

Derrick Rose will suit up for the perpetually-woeful New York Knicks, Jimmy Butler is headed to a country that has legitimate Zika virus concerns for the Olympic Games, and neither of them has as much uncertainty as the Chicago Bulls as the franchise approaches free agency in a few days.

When the clock strikes midnight Friday, it’ll open up business around the NBA but also cement a sea change for the Bulls as far as their league-wide hierarchy. Two summers ago, the Bulls were getting ready to be the welcoming committee for free agent Carmelo Anthony, believing he was the missing piece to a championship puzzle.

Anthony chose to stay in New York, in large part due to the $50 million disparity between the Knicks and Bulls, thanks to the collective bargaining agreement giving players a greater incentive for staying at home as opposed to bolting to other teams.

The Bulls wound up with a big fish anyway, signing Pau Gasol to a three-year contract he officially opted out of a few days ago, as he and Joakim Noah will depart Chicago for Parts Unknown.

Ironically, that’s the address the Bulls are headed to. Although they have over $23 million in cap space—an amount that’s enough for one max player—they won’t be grocery shopping with the big boys this time around.

They’ll be going bargain hunting, the epitome of what general manger Gar Forman calls “retooling” instead of that other dreaded “R” word: rebuilding.

Taking a couple steps back for the sake of taking a few forward sooner rather than later isn’t the easiest route. But when they decided not to trade Jimmy Butler on draft night or any other recent evening, it was the course of action the franchise decided to take.

“We’re still trying to get a sense of what the market is going to be,” Forman said the night of the NBA Draft, after the Bulls selected Denzel Valentine with the 14th pick. “I don’t think anybody knows what’s gonna happen come July 1 because there’s never been anything like this where there’s such a spike in the cap. So we’re still evaluating that. My guess is opposed to one guy we’ll look to fill some holes and guys who fit the plan moving forward.”

Butler and new addition Robin Lopez are the only starters who can say they’re in the top half in the league at their position, with Butler being in the conversation for best shooting guard.

So if the Bulls are to overachieve and find themselves back in the thick of the playoff race, thus showing the competency in the front office and the sidelines to make themselves a destination in free agency this time next summer, they’ll have to be a team whose sum is greater than its individual parts, unless they snag a top-line wing player like Nicolas Batum (Charlotte) or Chandler Parsons (Dallas)—traditional 3-and-D guys but nowhere near superstars and not even All-Stars.

Even still, the proposition the Bulls are facing isn’t enviable but there’s opportunity for Forman to show he’s ahead of the curve and for Fred Hoiberg to rebound from his very shaky rookie season as coach.

Trading Rose was a start, and teams will be interested in Taj Gibson (as they always are), but it’ll be fascinating to see how the Bulls navigate the territory of employing enough veterans to help the young pieces grow while not wasting the valuable time of a respected player like Gibson.

The prudent decisions, the tough ones the good franchises make are usually through trades—players with existing contracts and not the inflated ones the market will bear.

Athleticism is a need, along with a point guard considering the Bulls are inheriting one who had the lowest-scoring point-per-game average in the league last season in Jose Calderon (7.6 points).

While Calderon’s on-floor leadership and ability to spread the floor from the top (41 percent from 3 last season) will be highly valued should he stick around, the Bulls would be better served looking to upgrade the position, despite a class that won’t initially inspire observers at first glance.

Memphis point guard Mike Conley will certainly be the apple of many teams’ eye, but at 29 he’s at the precious age where not only is this the last big long-term contract he’ll likely sign. But he’ll likely want to do it on a team with a clear trajectory upward as opposed to a slow slope down.

Brandon Jennings is a full year removed from Achilles’ recovery, and could take a short deal to rejuvenate his value on the open market, similar to what Gasol did two years ago but on a different level. Jeremy Lin will command a lot of attention, as will Rajon Rondo.

The athletic wings are a bit deeper, but with the league putting a premium on versatile players who can defend the perimeter, run the floor and shoot, the competition will be stiff and it appears as if the Bulls will have to overpay for quality.

Knicks free agent guard Arron Afflalo could be an intriguing, if not understated option as a wing who can defend and be credible as an outside shooter, able to alleviate pressure on Butler to play 40 minutes on the opposing team’s best scorer.

The Bulls’ interest in Golden State’s Harrison Barnes has been an open secret, given his ties with Doug McDermott, Hoiberg and now-Olympic teammate Butler. But as a restricted free agent it leaves any suitor in limbo for three days while the Warriors decide if they want to match—or if Kevin Durant decides to join the juggernaut.

And given Barnes’ underwhelming performance in the postseason, teams should be wary of Barnes not being able to play above the level he’s been at in Golden State, where he was a fourth option.

Hawks swingman Kent Bazemore is an example as a quality player who’ll be in high demand, but his ceiling isn’t too much higher than his reality.

The Bulls would be wise to resist making a splash in multiple areas, as more than a few teams will commit big money to players who can’t change their stripes no matter what the price tag is.

But if the Bulls are able to resist the trends, they can emerge from Parts Unknown and find themselves in a few years on a road marked “May”—and if they’re geniuses, “June.”

Why the 2016 free agency period could be a quiet one for Bulls

Why the 2016 free agency period could be a quiet one for Bulls

With the start of NBA free agency coming at 11:01 Central time on Thursday, prepare to be bombarded with news about meetings and potential signings.

But when the dust clears sometime in mid-July, don't be surprised if the only free agent transaction involving the Bulls is the re-signing of veteran guard E'Twaun Moore.

The reason for this is two-fold. First, the Bulls really like Moore. General manager Gar Forman praised the former Purdue star during the news conference to introduce top draft pick Denzel Valentine, and head coach Fred Hoiberg is also a big fan of Moore's versatility and toughness. Second, with just about every team in the league having significant cap room, the bidding war for second- and third-tier players could get out of the Bulls’ comfort zone and they might choose to keep their powder dry for a much deeper free agent class next year.

If the Bulls are able to re-sign Moore at a starting salary of somewhere between $8-10 million, don't be surprised if he begins the season as the starting point guard. Moore would definitely be the best defensive option at the position, and his size would allow the Bulls to switch on ball screens, with both guards (Moore and Jimmy Butler) able to defend taller players.

The Bulls do like the potential of former Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant, but at this point in his development a reserve role is probably best for the second year pro. Grant also has the ability to play off the ball at 6-foot-4, giving the Bulls another big guard with Butler and Valentine when Hoiberg wants to go to a small-ball line-up.

So, which external players might the Bulls be targeting in free agency? Remember, if they re-sign Moore at a starting salary of $8 million, that leaves them only about $16 million left to spend in what could turn out to be a crazy marketplace.

The Bulls could be looking to upgrade the small forward position, where Mike Dunleavy and Doug McDermott are the likely starting options. Kent Bazemore is an intriguing possibility, coming off his best season in Atlanta where he averaged 11.6 points and 5.1 rebounds while shooting 44 percent from the field. He’s also a tenacious defender with plenty of potential for growth at 27 years old.

But with every team looking to spend big dollars this summer, Bazemore's contract could approach the $20 million mark in Year 1, which might be too rich for the Bulls' taste.

Forman talked about a process of trying to make the roster younger and more athletic, which means the Bulls are unlikely to pursue free agents over the age of 30, unless they come on one year deals.

Several restricted free agent wings could be on the Bulls' radar, including Golden State's Harrison Barnes, who reportedly was seen visiting Chicago on Tuesday. Under normal circumstances, the Warriors would automatically match any offer for their talented young forward, but if Kevin Durant indicates he wants to team up with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the front office would willingly sacrifice Barnes and fellow restricted free agent Festus Ezeli, and trade away a veteran contract like Andrew Bogut or Andre Iguodala to create the cap room to make it happen.

You've probably heard about Barnes' connection with the Bulls. He was a high school teammate of Doug McDermott on a state championship team in Ames, Iowa. That's the same high school where Hoiberg starred, eventually picking up the nickname of the "Mayor" after an outstanding college career at Iowa State.

So, even though the Bulls are in the "re-tooling" process, Barnes has to sign an offer sheet somewhere to start the restricted free agent time clock. Why not Chicago?

As a Tier 1 free agent, a max offer to Barnes would start at $22.2 million, meaning the Bulls would have to move another contract (most likely Taj Gibson or Mike Dunleavy), or use the "stretch" provision to release Jose Calderon from the final year on his deal, which would save them about $5 million on next year's cap.

Golden State will have three days to match the offer sheet Barnes signs, which they will most certainly do if Durant stays in Oklahoma City or signs with a different team. But with none of the other contending teams expected to make a play for Barnes, it might be worth the Bulls tying up their cap room for a few days for a chance to acquire a 24-year-old who would fit perfectly in the offense Hoiberg wants to run. And yes, Barnes played poorly in the Finals, but his inclusion on the 12-man Team USA Olympic squad says a lot about what talent evaluators around the league think of his ability.

If not Barnes, keep an eye on a pair of Portland restricted free agents. 23-year-old Mo Harkless and 24-year-old Allen Crabbe both fit the profile of players Forman discussed - young and athletic with 3-point range. Portland made a big move in the standings to reach the playoffs last season, and their front office is looking at some of the top centers on the market such as Hassan Whiteside and Al Horford. The Blazers might not be willing to match a significant offer for one of their young wing players.

Other names to watch for the Bulls include restricted free agents Terrence Jones, Dion Waiters, Dwight Powell and Jared Sullinger, along with unrestricted wings like Evan Turner, Eric Gordon, Lance Stephenson, Jeff Green, Wesley Johnson, Solomon Hill, Brandon Bass, O.J. Mayo, P.J. Hairston and Derrick Williams.

The Bulls front office could also decide to just re-sign Moore and save the rest of their cap room for 2017, when the list of free agents includes Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kyle Lowry and Blake Griffin. Forman made it clear the "re-tooling" effort is likely a two-year process, with the Bulls hoping to add a pair of first-round picks next summer and also have enough cap room to be a significant player in free agency.

So, enjoy the whirlwind of information and rumors that will be flooding social media over the next couple weeks. Just don't expect any franchise-transforming moves from the Bulls this summer.

Carmelo Anthony: 'I'm glad (Derrick Rose) is on my team'

Carmelo Anthony: 'I'm glad (Derrick Rose) is on my team'

by Jonathan Joffe

Derrick Rose has a new fan now that he's in New York: Carmelo Anthony.

Rose's new teammate and fellow multi-time all-star is a happy to be teaming up with the former Bull.

In addition to complimenting Rose's game, Anthony applauded the Knicks' front office for making moves that allow the team to be competitive in the upcoming season.

It was once thought that Melo and D-Rose could sport the same uniform aside from Olympic competitions. While it won't be in Chicago, the two will be making that thought a reality in New York.