As regular season winds down, Thibodeau stays focused

741466.png

As regular season winds down, Thibodeau stays focused

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has dealt with a litany of injuries all season, but now, as the regular season winds downhis team has two games left in the campaignhe can finally begin to turn his attention to the playoffs. Except that, knowing Thibodeau, he wont allow his team to focus on anything but Wednesdays upcoming contest at Central Division rival Indiana.

You want to finish what you started, so we feel like theres still work to be done. This is what we all signed up for. Shortened training camp, condensed schedule. Weve said all along that its not only a lack of practice time, but its also a lack of rest. Those are two major components and you always begin the season with end in mind, so when you wind down, you want to be playing well and you want to be healthy, explained Thibodeau, who noted that his team has had exactly 101 practices I count meetings, walk-throughs, ballroom sessions, he saidthis season, approximately half of what they had last season, including the playoffs.

Heres the thing: I think, overall, this team has done a good job of meeting every challenge. Weve been short-handed. The guys who have stepped in have done good all season long. We feel very good about the bench and the job they have done, but its still a collective effort and theres along way to go. Overall, Im pleased, but theres also things we can do a lot better and were going to concentrate on those things.

The big question mark becomes when youre not sure whos going to be in each and every night. Youd like to develop some consistency going in. I think thats the important thing. We have to be consistent with our approach and how we perform, he continued.

Its how you respond to the challenge, so we want to keep moving forward. Were being tested and theres the adjustment of when guys go out and theres also the re-adjustment when guys come back, but you cant use that as an excuse. You have to be ready for whatever is in front of you and thats the way I want our guys to respond.

Speaking of respond, a word Thibodeau used after Thursdays disappointing loss at Miami, his opinion differed from the consensus that his team revealed a major weakness when faced with a physical challenge from the Heat.

When you look at the strength of the club, weve been a defensive team, weve been a rebounding team for a long time. Weve been a dominant rebounding team and you cant be a dominant rebounding team being soft. I know that, so I wouldnt say were soft, he said. Now, were we disappointed with end result in Miami? Yeah, and are we capable of playing a lot better? Yeah, and we were disappointed in our fourth quarter, but we also did a lot of good things in that game. That game was very winnable in the fourth quarter, so were going to make the necessary corrections and move forward.

With the playoffs a week away, although the Bulls head coach is focused on the task at hand, but in examining the potential competition in the East, he sees a tough road ahead for his team, who are one win away from clinching the top seed in the conference.

Just knowing that its a lockout season, you can have teams that maybe end up being a lower seed that really arent that seed. Boston is a team thats playing very well and they have championship experience. I think New York is a team thats really playing well. Indianas playing well. Youve got a lot of teams and theres great parity in the league. Theres not a big difference between the top playoff seed and the eighth seed, the second seed and the seventh seed, the third seed and the sixth seed, the fourth seed and the fifth seed, said Thibodeau, who was on the staff of the eighth-seeded Knicks during the last lockout-shortened season when they advanced to the 1999 NBA Finals.

A big part of success in the playoffs comes down to are you playing well and are you healthy, so you have to concentrate on those things. I think you know what wins in the playoffs. I think you have to be well-balanced and you have to be playing well.

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.

Report: Pau Gasol tells Bulls he has declined option, becoming a free agent

Report: Pau Gasol tells Bulls he has declined option, becoming a free agent

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, but Pau Gasol is hitting the market.

Gasol told the Bulls that he has declined his option for the 2016-17 season and will become a free agent, according to ESPN's Marc Stein.

The 35-year-old signed a three-year, $22.3 million deal with the Bulls in the summer of 2014.

In two seasons with the Bulls, he averaged 17.6 points per game and 11.4 rebounds and made an All-Star appearance.

Bulls: NBA Validation for Valentine came in the United Center last season

Bulls: NBA Validation for Valentine came in the United Center last season

Denzel Valentine’s annual growth had long been noticed by NBA executives but perhaps fittingly, it was a game in Chicago that served as the reinforcement he needed to know the NBA was in his sights.

On a national stage and on the United Center floor last November, Valentine put up one of the best stat lines in college basketball, leading Michigan State to a comeback 79-73 win over Kansas, a team ranked No. 4 in the nation at the time.

If he had any doubts about his future, a 29-point, 12-rebound and 12-assist performance served as the confirmation he was on an upward trajectory.

“I knew I could play in the NBA when I started my career at Michigan State,” Valentine said to CSNChicago.com after his introductory news conference. “Playing against guys like (Victor) Oladipo, (Cody) Zeller and those guys, I knew I could play in the NBA but I didn’t know I would be a first round, 14th pick. But I realized that this year after my triple double against Kansas.

“I realized I could be the best player in the country. It was very important because I got off to a good start and it helped me throughout the year.”

That night, the Bulls were rolling right along at 7-3, headed out West for a four-game trip and looking every bit like a team that would be in the thick of Eastern Conference contention. The likelihood of a marriage between a player billed as a mid-lottery pick and the Bulls seemed improbable if not damn near impossible.

But the Bulls hit several roadblocks and landed in the draft lottery, while Valentine put together one of the more complete statistical seasons in recent memory, averaging nearly 20 points and almost eight rebounds and eight assists.

Valentine hit a roadblock of his own with draft preparation, as word about prospective teams red-flagging his left knee began to trickle out, raising questions about his long-term availability.

At least one team in the lottery definitively passed on Valentine because of fears surrounding his knee, which was surgically worked on in high school and followed by a minor procedure in December, causing him to miss four games.

“It did surprise me because I’m healthy now,” Valentine said. “I only missed four games. I can control what I can control and let the chips fall that it may. I was a little surprised, a little angry that people were texting me asking if I were hurt. And I was like ‘what?’ But at the same time, I could control what I could control and I’m happy to be here.”

Missing a few practices here and there seemed to be the biggest side effect for Valentine through the season, as accolades followed nonetheless with him winning National Player of the Year over Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, who went sixth in last Thursday’s draft.

“He’s gonna go out there and fight,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s been in so many high-pressure games at Michigan State. For a guy that played in Final Fours, made big play after big play. He’s been a part of winning cultures since high school. That’s huge, great experience for Denzel. If he can suit up, he can play.”

The awards are certainly not a precursor for pro success, as more than a few collegiate POY’s have wound up as professional carcasses in an unforgiving game.

But the qualities Valentine was noted for in college could translate to the NBA, and from the sounds of things he’ll get every opportunity with the Bulls to show off his versatility.

He’ll be thrown into the shallow end of the pool, so to speak, in Summer League next month. New acquisition Jerian Grant (via the Derrick Rose trade), Cristiano Felicio, Bobby Portis and Spencer Dinwiddie (acquired for Cameron Bairstow) will also join Valentine in Las Vegas.

“He's a basketball player,” Hoiberg said. “That's the big thing I got from talking to coach (Tom) Izzo, is you can play him all over the court. He's a facilitator. He's an excellent positional rebounder. He can bust out with the ball. And he gives you the opportunity to play in so many ways.”

Valentine wasn’t given a definitive position, and perhaps there’s no natural one over the other. But having the ability to be a floor-spreading point guard with Jimmy Butler handling or even a small-ball power forward leaves Hoiberg and the Bulls plenty of options.

“And I think how we want to play with our young core, how Fred we wants to play, we think it's a perfect fit in regards to his skill level and his basketball IQ and what he brings to the floor,” Bulls GM Gar Forman said.