Raptors' Lucas still connected to Bulls

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Raptors' Lucas still connected to Bulls

TORONTOPrior to the Bulls overtime road win over Toronto, Raptors backup point guard John Lucas III held court.

A third-stringer in Canada, Lucas has fond memories of his tenure with the Bulls, during which, he had a handful of memorable moments, such as out-dueling LeBron James to propel the Bulls to a win over the Heat at the United Center last season.

But just being in Chicago and playing in that arena meant more to Lucas than even his best individual efforts.

Just the Madhouse. More than the game, just the fans and pulling up to the arena, seeing the Jordan statue. Just knowing that you played in the same arena that MJ damn near built, and coming out of the tunnel and seeing the fans. The intro music. You heard that music in 93, 94, when you were watching the game and youre out there with the jersey on, so thats my biggest memory, just being part of that, he said.

Its one of the top franchises in the league and everywhere you go in the world, you see the Bulls logo everywhere, every sports stadiumI dont care where you are in the worldand just to be a part of that was special.

Although Lucas is in a different uniform, hes still close to his former teammates, as evidenced by the warm reception he received in the visiting locker room at the Air Canada Centre after the game.

Its a different atmosphere, different city. Its all right. Im enjoying it, though.
I watch most of all their games, just because I like to see Thibs get mad for little, bitty stuff that he shouldnt really get mad about. Those are my guys. Those are like my brothers, Lucas said. Like my little brother, I stay on top of him, so I talk to them at least once a week, especially Booz.

Lucas is extremely close to Derrick Rose and has had several conversations with the injured superstar during his recovery process.

Off and on, just basically talking to him about his health is coming along, hows the rehab been going and what he thinks about coming back, just stay on top of it, make sure he comes back 100 percent and doesnt try to rush into anything, Lucas explained, before hazarding a guess at when Rose could return to the lineup. Knowing him, probably after All-Star break, though it may be the next month, March, at the end. I just want him to come back 100 percent because the game needs him, not just the Bulls, but the NBA needs him, too.

As much as Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau can be a taskmaster, especially when it comes to his notorious practice sessions, Lucas expressed his gratitude to the man who gave him his first real shot in the NBA.

Thibs believed in me. He knew what I could do and Ill forever be grateful for that because hes the one coach that took the chance and let me just play exactly how I play. It made me show the rest of the NBA that I belong in here and this is not a fluke. Its just a matter of me coming in and making it happen when my opportunity was there. I always felt like when I had that opportunity to play, I was going to do just kick the door down and I had the opportunity last year when D went, and I just wanted to come in, pick up where he left offthats a big pickupbut at least keep it above water and just come in, show everybody, Look, I can play this game. This is what Ive been born to do. This is what Ive been working hard for, he said. We wouldnt have been the No. 1 team the past two years without practices like that, so I embraced it. It doesnt matter to me. I like playing the game, I like the grind, I like going through the long hours we did because I knew it would be better for us as a team and also individually. I improved my game, everybody else improved their game and to me, this is what we get paid for, so youve got to come in, do your job. Were not going to a nine-to-five. Youve only got to come in for games and practices, so why not give everything youve got while youre in here? People every day bust themselves every day from nine to five to make it happen, so weve got one of the best jobs in the world, in my opinion, so why not go in, and if its for an hour-and-a-half, two hours, just give it everything youve got? Youve got the rest of the day to whatever you want to do, so it didnt bother me at all. I actually enjoyed it.

Everyones new, basically, on the team, bench-wise. Those guys come in, learn their new system. Theyve been under another system for so many years or theyve been on this team, that team, so theyve got too many systems that they know. So, they really dont know exactly what their roles are. One thing about Thibs, you know your role, you know exactly what youre supposed to do and everything is just routine. You just constantly go over the same thing until its like second nature, until its like you never forget. To this day, I was watching the film, I knew every play that was happening, when it was happening for them because just in practice, we went over the same plays over and over again, so as soon as I saw the monitor, I was like, Oh, thats this. This is whats going to happen next. You ever see the movie Semi-Pro?thats how Thibs is. Hes just constantly putting it in your mind, putting it in your brain, to where it becomes second nature, Lucas continued, showing how much he still keeps up with the Bulls, later noting, They got smacked! You sure they were at that game? when referencing Atlantas historic loss Monday night to the Bulls. Even though we complained, game time comes and we knew exactly where to be and when to be there. Thats the whole point. Its boring, but usually stuff thats boring is always effective. Thibs knows what hes doing. Hes one of the top coaches in the league and hes been proving that for years, even as an assistant. But now, hes a head coach. Hes paving the way to be one of the top coaches in the NBA.

In his new residence, Toronto, Lucas is appreciated by Raptors head coach Dwane Casey for his leadership, even if that hasnt translated into consistent playing time yet.

Ive said from Day 1 how much I love John Lucas and hes done a heck of a job. He had a great exhibition. He did a really good job of shooting the ball, hit a little slump offensively, probably because of playing time being up and down a little bit, but the guy knows the game, Casey said before the game. I think hell be a great coach whenever he gets ready to retire from basketballI think its in his DNAbut totally positive. I talk to him all the time, letting him know how important he is to our team, the character of our team, the fiber of our team. But he can be on my team, any team, any time of the day.

For the first time in his professional career, Lucas is armed with some security, as a result of his two-year, guaranteed deal, but he still speaks with a tinge of regret when discussing his departure from Chicago.

Ive never been put in that type of position. I just wanted to play ball, but also turning 29, I had to make a decision financially and set myself up for the rest of my life, and thats really what it boiled down to, he said. I didnt want to leave, but everybody makes decisions. They went in a different direction and I went in a different direction.

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.”