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.