Son of Bulls' assistant Brunson already making noise

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Son of Bulls' assistant Brunson already making noise

Like many freshmen starting on varsity, Stevenson High School point guard Jalen Brunson has created a buzz. Unlike most, however, one-third of the Bulls' potential roster attended his game Tuesday night.

The presence of Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Ronnie Brewer and Keith Bogans in the stands may have partially diverted the focus of the crowd's attention, but by the end of the contest, all eyes were trained on the contest itself. Unheralded Stevenson knocked off the the preseason No. 2 team in the state, conference rival Warren, 44-43, in what was the still-young Illinois high school basketball season's biggest upset thus far.

While senior sharpshooter Michael Fleming -- an elite student in the classroom, reportedly considering attending academically-oriented Colgate -- was Stevenson's high scorer and made what would eventually be the game-winning shot, the Bulls players present to see "Little Rick," as well as the rest of the audience, came away extremely impressed with Brunson. One former Bull, Dickey Simpkins, was also in attendance and as his AAU coach, offered a unique perspective on the budding star.

"I really didn't have any expectations for Stevenson's ability to make that a close game or win it, but I did know that Jalen was going to be fine out there because of his poise and composure. Obviously he knows a lot of those guys because he plays in our program and he sees those guys all the time, and the fact that Jalen has worked out with those guys -- he plays up in our program -- I knew his confidence level and his poise would kick in," said Simpkins, who also coaches Division I-bound Warren seniors Darius Paul (the 6-foot-8 younger brother of Illinois guard Brandon Paul is headed for Western Michigan) and Nathan Boothe (the younger brother of Stanford women's player Sarah Boothe is a 6-foot-9 center who will attend Toledo next fall) in his NLP (Next Level Performance) program. "You're not going to rattle Jalen and that's pretty impressive for a kid as a freshman playing against the No. 2 team in the state, a team that lost in the state championship last year. Playing against them as a freshman in this early part of the season and him being as poised as he was, I pretty much expected that he was going to play at that level."

Brunson scored 14 points on the evening, an impressive total for a freshman. However, the way he played was more impactful than anything recorded in the final statistics. The 5-foot-11 southpaw ran his team flawlessly, played extremely unselfishly, picked his spots to score -- showcasing a savvy mid-range game, a deft shooting touch and range on his jumper -- and displayed some eye-popping dribble moves to excite the crowd.

More significantly, as Simpkins emphasized, he seemed unnaturally calm throughout the whole contest. It was a bit like watching a flashback.

"He does a little bit of everything that his dad did," said Simpkins, whose NBA career overlapped with Jalen's father's, Rick, now a Bulls assistant coach. "He resembles his dad to the fullest -- the left hand, the great control of the game, the craftiness and the skill set to be able to shoot the mid-range, being able to see the court and deliver it, distribute the ball -- he plays just like his dad."

For even the most ardent NBA fans, that might not seem like glowing praise initially, as the elder Brunson was considered the prototypical journeyman throughout his nine-team, eight-year career, which included two stints with the Bulls and crossing paths with head coach Tom Thibodeau in New York and Houston. But Brunson garnered tremendous respect among his peers for his determination and ability to adapt and knowledge of the game. Something developed in an accomplished amateur career that included being the co-MVP of the McDonald's All-American Game (with Chris Webber, the college teammate of another Jalen, Jalen Rose) before playing for Hall of Fame coach John Chaney at Temple University with two fellow future longtime pros, Eddie Jones and Aaron McKie, now a Philadelphia 76ers assistant.

"I'll just tell you this," said the usually loquacious Brunson. "I'm trying to teach him how to be self-motivated and work hard."

While he's refreshingly modest about his son's potential, it's obvious that Jalen has a bright future. It's too early to predict the future, but Simpkins is cautiously optimistic about his prospects.

"I think Jalen's got a lot of upside because I can imagine him getting a little bit taller. He's got good body structure, where if he continues to develop natural strength and then if he starts to to do physical strength training, he's going to become stronger. As he gets older, his athleticism should keep improving and he should develop more quickness, so I see a lot of upside for him once those things start kicking in and add to his ability, knowing the game, his basketball I.Q., feel for the game and his skill set, he has a tremendous quickness," opined Simpkins. "I think Jalen is going to be a really sought-after player for his class when he gets ready to graduate. I kind of look at Jalen right now like the kid at North Carolina sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall, a preseason All-American, according to several media outlets. He's a young version of Marshall. I think Jalen can be like him, but even better because I think Jalen can really shoot the ball better than he can. But I visualize Jalen being that kind of player and every Division I coach wanting a player like that."

Still, the Brunson -- whose mother played volleyball at Temple, where she met Rick, her eventual husband -- is likely to stay grounded, as he gets basketball advice not only from former pros like his father and Simpkins, but from current players, such as Noah. The elder Brunson appreciates the wisdom passed down from Noah -- the son of a former professional athlete himself -- and cites one piece of knowledge as "the best advice" anyone has given Jalen: "Humble yourself or the game will humble you."

"I think that he has a chance to be a hell of a player, but when you're in ninth grade and you're getting a lot of attention, I always tell young players that it really doesn't mean anything. It's all about your character at the end of the day, how hard you're willing to work because you see it all the time," said Noah, who wasn't considered an elite-level prospect coming out of high school. "Guys start off top players in the country from a young age, get all this attention and they're not focused on getting better. If your mindset is about getting better, then it's hard to make it at this level."

Brunson is a long way from the professional ranks -- let alone college, as he'll matriculate to college in the fall of 2015 -- but with the extended network of legitimate advisers surrounding him, good genes and precocious ability, he's in excellent hands, especially if it's assumed that his father's determination was inherited. For now, however, the next four years of basketball at Stevenson should see plenty of special moments like the one witnessed Tuesday night.

Bulls begin 'necessary' new era by creating a culture 'to take steps forward'

Bulls begin 'necessary' new era by creating a culture 'to take steps forward'

The busiest Bulls offseason since Gar Forman took as over as general manager and John Paxson became vice president in 2009 came to a close Monday with the unofficial start of the season. The Bulls begin training camp Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the Advocate Center, and they’ll do so with eight new faces on the floor, and without perhaps the two biggest faces of the franchise in the 2010s.

But Paxson admitted in his press conference at media day “it was time” to turn the page on a talented group once expected to compete for an NBA title that never lived up to that billing. The decision to trade Derrick Rose and move on from free agent Joakim Noah – as well as Pau Gasol – were difficult ones given those players’ place in Bulls history, but also necessary to move the franchise forward into a new era.

“I didn’t feel that group had a collective fight to it,” Paxson said. “And I think all of us looking back on it, that was true. Change was necessary.

“We had ridden that group a long way. With a little more luck we might have had more success, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. And we just felt it was necessary to try to take some steps forward.”

And while the sweeping overhaul of the roster was noticeable on paper, management is also seeing a different culture transforming on the Near West Side of Chicago they hope will usher in this new period of Bulls basketball.

It’s the reason Forman and Paxson were excited to bringing in Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. With a combined 23 NBA seasons, 260 playoff games and four NBA titles, the two longest-tenured NBA veterans on the roster have already begun leaving their mark.

Forman noted specifically that Rondo has been around the team’s facility “a good part of the summer,” and that his work ethic and time spent in the community has rubbed off on his teammates. Wade walked around the Advocate Center floor with a certain larger-than-life persona, and the future Hall-of-Famer’s accolades speak for themselves. Paxson referred to Taj Gibson as “the ultimate pro,” and Jimmy Butler even noted Monday that he wants Fred Hoiberg to coach him harder than any player on the team, to use him as an example in practice and to “get on me about every little thing.”

“That’s another reason changes were necessary,” Paxson said of helping younger players progress. “And it’s created an environment in this building. We have to start from a base level, and a base level is culture and how guys go about their jobs every day. That’s why we’re talking about accountability.”

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Forman and Paxson are also excited about the balance they’ve created. There was some criticism about the Wade and Rondo signings after Forman had said the team was looking to get younger and more athletic – both Wade and Rondo have dealt with serious knee injuries in the past. In that sense, management feels as though they’ve done just that.

In addition to drafting Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine and German wing Paul Zipser, both of whom are 22, the Bulls received 23-year-old Jerian Grant and 28-year-old Robin Lopez in return for Rose. Add 23-year-old Spencer Dinwiddie and Isaiah Canaan (25), and as Forman noted the Bulls will have 12 players in camp under the age of 27, in addition to 10 players with three years or fewer NBA experience.

“And in doing that (retooling with youth) you still want to create a culture that’s conducive to professionalism, a team-first attitude. Some of those things, those intangibles, that are so important. And having that type of veteran experience around your young guys is critical as we go through this phase that we’re changing over the roster.”

Of course, simply overhauling a roster to management’s liking won’t produce wins. That won’t automatically place the Bulls back in the playoffs after they missed out last season for the first time in 2008.

All the pieces need to fit together – no executive, coach or player who spoke Monday seemed overly concerned about Wade, Butler and Rondo (the three Alphas) sharing the spotlight – and head coach Fred Hoiberg will need to show improvements in his second season.

With a plethora of young talent comes training-camp battles that Paxson said will be healthy for the team. Players like Bobby Portis, Doug McDermott, Valentine and whoever wins the back-up point guard spot will have not just the opportunity to learn from Wade, Rondo and Butler, but to play alongside them in expanded roles. Paxson went as far to say that how the Bulls’ role players perform “will probably dictate how well we do.”

It began with Forman and Paxson overhauling the roster, and continued into a busy summer full of individual workouts that impressed both upper management and the coaching staff. But now the speculation and critiques of the roster are over. The start of a new era has arrived in Chicago.

“The vibe that’s with this group right now is just really positive. I think ultimately the expectation (over the summer) was that they had to be professional in their approach every day,” Paxson said. “There’s going to be accountability to everything that they do, and that if we’re going to have any success in any way it’s going to come from us being together and giving great effort.

“That’s the great thing about a new season starting and putting together a team: it’s all out there in front of us.”

Bulls finalize training camp roster

Bulls finalize training camp roster

The Bulls finalized their training camp roster on Monday morning, in the lead-up to the start of the team's official media day.

The team will carry 19 players into the preseason before cutting that number down a maximum of 15 in late October.

No. 0 Isaiah Canaan, guard: Signed to a two-year, $2.2 million deal in July, Canaan will compete with Spencer Dinwiddie and Jerian Grant for minutes behind Rajon Rondo.

No. 2 Jerian Grant, guard: The combo guard will get a fresh start in Chicago after an inconsistent rookie season with the Knicks.

No. 3 Dwyane Wade, guard: The three-time NBA champion and future Hall of Famer begins the next chapter of his famed career after 13 seasons in Miami.

No. 5 Bobby Portis, forward: After showing flashes of potential in his rookie season, the 6-foot-11 Portis will be in line for an extended role following Joakim Noah's and Pau Gasol's departures.

No. 6 Cristiano Felicio, center: The Brazilian impressed plenty in last season's final month, and he should see significant minutes behind Robin Lopez.

No. 7 D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, guard: The undrafted rookie averaged 14.8 points per game in his senior season at Georgetown.

No. 8 Robin Lopez, center: One of the league's most underrated centers, Lopez was one of five players to average 10 points, 7 rebounds and play in all 82 games a year ago.

No. 9 Rajon Rondo, guard: The veteran point guard led the NBA in assists last season, but playing on his fourth team in three seasons means his best days may be behind him.

No. 11 Doug McDermott, forward: The sharpshooter showed significant improvement from Year 1 to Year 2, finishing sixth in the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage. Now about the defense...

No. 15 Thomas Walkup, guard: The All-American honorable mention went for 33 points in No. 14 Stephen F. Austin's opening-round upset win over No. 3 West Virginia.

No. 16 Paul Zipser, forward: The Bulls' 2016 second-round pick can do a bit of everything, and at 22 years old he could be ready to contribute sooner than later.

No. 20 Tony Snell, forward: It may be difficult for the former first-rounder to crack the rotation after a forgettable third season.

No. 21 Jimmy Butler, guard: An All-Star in each of the last two seasons, the 27-year-old Butler is poised for yet another career year.

No. 22 Taj Gibson, forward: The 31-year-old veteran is in a contract year, and should see an even more expanded role after starting 55 games last season - even if Nikola Mirotic replaces him in the starting lineup.

No. 24 Vince Hunter, forward: The 6-foot-8 Hunter averaged 21.8 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game for the Reno Bighorns last season as rookie.

No. 25 Spencer Dinwiddie, guard: A casuality of the Pistons' crowded backcourt, Dinwiddie has a chance to carve out a role in Chicago behind Rajon Rondo.

No 31 J.J. Avila, forward: A standout at Colorado State who graduated in 2015, Avila appeared in four Summer League games for the Knicks, averaging 1.2 points and 1.5 rebounds.

No. 44 Nikola Mirotic, forward: The Bulls will be relying on Mirotic's outside shot, which improved mightily in his second season from 31.6 percent to 39 percent.

No. 45 Denzel Valentine, guard: The jack-of-all-trades will need some time to find his role, but he's an apt passer and outside shooter with good size on the wing.