Short-handed Bulls ready for surprising Hawks

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Short-handed Bulls ready for surprising Hawks

One of the most impressive teams thus far in the NBA season has been the Bulls opponent Tuesday, the Hawks. Atlanta, who are 4-1 after Monday nights remarkable comeback win at Miami, didnt drastically remake their roster following a second-round playoff ouster at the hands of Chicago last spring, but some subtle changes, particularly the addition of former All-Star Tracy McGrady, have sparked a nice start to the young campaign.

Theyre a tough team. Theyre playing as well as anyone in the league. Theyre deep. Joe Johnson, their bigs power forward Josh Smith and All-Star center Al Horford are versatile, quick. Marvin Williams gets overlooked all the time; hes a tough matchup. Former Bull Jannero Pargos playing well for them, Willie Green, forward Vladimir Radmanovic is a range shooter. Backup center Zaza Pachulias a real tough, hard-nosed big. Theyre really good, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, who coached McGrady -- who scored 16 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter, against the Heat -- in Houston. McGrady is a great player, has been a great player in the league for a long time. He was derailed some by injury the last couple years, but hes a complete player. Everyone always talks about his scoring; I think the best part of his game is his decision-making. Great pick-and-roll player, great passer, hes got the size, hes got great vision, extremely smart and like I said, the only thing that slowed him down was his injuries. This guy put up huge numbers in the league and theres nothing he cant do. He can play defense, he can pass, he can shoot, he can post, he can pick-and-roll.

Added Bulls swingman Ronnie Brewer: I wouldnt say that he lost it. He was battling injuries; thats the only thing that I can put a finger on. Hes been a playmaker his whole entire career, a prolific scorer. He may not be able to drop 30 points per game like he used to, but he can definitely still put the ball in the basket, so we have to give him a lot of attention.

Brewer acknowledged that he was aware of the Hawks win over the Heat the previous night, but insisted that it didnt sway the teams opinion of Atlanta.

In my opinion, anybody can win a game or lose a game. I dont see anybody going 66-0 this year, so when a team loses, you dont say, Oh, thats the team to beat, because they beat a team thats got a lot of talent, like the Miami Heat, said Brewer, who scored 17 points, along with snatching seven rebounds and doling out five assists in the Bulls New Years Day rout over visiting Memphis. You have to take every opponent seriously. I think Thibs prepares us for that, night in and night out, and we just have to ready for that, so theyre definitely on our radar.

Brewer may start in place of the injured Rip Hamilton again Tuesday, as Thibodeau said the shooting guard, who suffered a groin injury against the Clippers in L.A. last week and sat out of the Grizzlies win, will be a game-time decision.

Rip did some shooting today, said Thibodeau. If he feels better, then well make the decision.

An injured Bulls guard who definitely won't play Tuesday, C.J. Watson, had an MRI on his sprained left elbow, suffered while diving for a loose ball Sunday, after Monday afternoons practice. Thibodeau was cautiously optimistic about the backup point guard's progress.

C.J., hes day-to-day, basically. His injury, theres no surgery involved. Basically, once we can get the swelling out and the pain subsides, then hell be ready to go, said the coach, who said Watson wasnt wearing the sling he was seen sporting after Sundays game on a full-time basis anymore. Hes a pretty tough guy, so I expect him to be back fairly shortly.

I think the fact that its also his left elbow, I think that helps, so we were fortunate in that regard, continued Thibodeau, who said it hasnt been decided yet whether Watson will travel to Detroit with the team after Tuesdays game, in case the flight could aggravate his elbow. His legs are fine, so he can ride the bike. He can do all that stuff.

Replacing Watson as Derrick Roses primary understudy will be third-stringer John Lucas III, who Thibodeau is familiar with from coaching with the Rockets, as well as coaching under Lucas father, a former NBA player and coach.

I have a lot of confidence in John. Hes already demonstrated that he can do it. He did it for the Rockets when I was there, played well in stretches. He stays ready and prepares himself well, smart player, so I expect him to do well, said Thibodeau. John, whenever hes been called upon, hes done well. C.J. was playing at an extremely high level. C.J.s size, of course, allows him to play multiple positions. C.J. gives you a lot of versatility.

However, Thibodeau noted that the Bulls could opt to use Brewer at the position on occasion while Watson is sidelined.

Actually, we did that quite a bit at the end of last year, where we used Ronnie handling the ball and brought Derrick off screens and Ronnies done it some in practice, too, so its another option that we have, he said.

Concurred Brewer: In our offense, if somebody gets the rebound, if its the big guys throwing it to Lu or myself, were able to push the ball, initiate the offense and kind of go from there, so if need be, if D-Rose needs a break, I can definitely initiate the offense and off that.

Brewer, whos got off to a strong start to the season in his role as a reserve with the cohesive Bench Mob, explained that his health has been the key to his improved play, which has featured him finishing opportunities in transition and getting to the basket as both a cutter and off the dribble, as well as knocking down open mid-range jumpers and even shots from beyond the three-point arc.

To me, its a huge confidence shift. Last year, I came in here with a lot of high hopes, with an opportunity to try to win the starting job and tweaked his hamstring right before working out here, and had to try to work my way into shape, learning the plays and its a different speed, playing with D-Rose and the level of defense that Thibs preaches. It kind of takes a little getting used to, but this years a little different. I came in a lot better shape, healthy, working on my shot and just been playing with a lot of confidence so far, he said. D-Rose gets a lot of attention, Booz gets a lot of attention and especially Lu, when he cuts, and whenever they make the pass, youve got to knock down shots for them to keep dishing the ball, so thats all Ive been trying to do.

Its still early; its not like Ive accomplished so much. Ive still got to get better every day. Thats why I continue to work with Coach Griff Bulls assistant coach Adrian Griffin, Brewer continued. Thats what youve got to continue to do in this league, so if I have a shot, Ive got to continue to shoot it with confidence and if I do that, my teammates will continue to find me.

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.”