Thibodeau balances end of regular season, playoff preparation

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Thibodeau balances end of regular season, playoff preparation

CHARLOTTE With five regular-season games left until the playoffs begin and his team in position to have the leagues best overall record and thus, home-court advantage throughout the postseason one might expect Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau to feel at ease. However, after a shocking home loss to the lowly Washington Wizards and his two All-Stars, ironman Luol Deng and reigning league MVP Derrick Rose, both ailing, there is also reason for him to be concerned.

But in true Thibodeau fashion, the second-year NBA head coach and frontrunner for unprecedented back-to-back league top-coaching honors, put things in perspective.

Its a compilation of things. One, your health is critical and you want to be playing well. This will be unique this year. Its different. We end on the 26th and we begin on the 28th for the playoffs, so basically, its a continuation of the regular season. Youre trying to tie all those things together, explained the coach, who left unspoken another issue, the fact that not only does he not have control of whether Rose or Deng suits up, hes sometimes in the dark about whether or not theyll play up until close to game time, as was the case Monday, according to a source familiar with the situation. But health is a priority. Playing well is a priority. Youd like to have a set rotation, where guys are comfortable knowing when theyre going into a game and things of that nature, so all of the above and youre trying to shore things up and improve as you go along.

Ideally, you try to put as many things in your favor as possible, so is home-court advantage a must? I always think if you can get it, you get it and if not, whatever your circumstances are, you make the best of those circumstances. Were young and I want us to continue to improve, learn how to win. Last year I thought home court helped us a lot, but if you dont have home court, you dont and you have to win more on the road, Thibodeau went on to say prior to the Bulls Wednesday-morning shootaround at Time Warner Cable Arena. Last year was a lot different. Last year we won our last nine going in, so I thought we hit the ground running. This year its a different season entirely. You dont have nearly as much practice time, not nearly as much rest and youre not going to have nearly as much time to prepare when you go into the playoffs. Basically, its one day and youre playing, and were going to have to be ready when it comes.

While Thibodeau has an eye on the playoffs whether or not he admits it he also would like to see his team play with more urgency in the present, despite knowing pulling off occasional miracles, playing short-handed and the squads focused, defensive-oriented and intense style has worn on them during the lockout-shortened season, something that was clear in Mondays contest.

You learn from every situation, hopefully we have. I believe we were up 11 with 10:43 to go in the game. Your fourth quarter, you want that to be your best quarter and it wasnt. We were outscored 30-21. We gave up 11 points in basically a little over a minute. We allowed three three-point plays, two threes and one conventional three-point play. During that time, I also believe we had three turnovers, said Thibodeau, who delivered some of his more pointed comments during his postgame press conference. In a minute, a game can change and we have to understand that.

Still, it would be foolhardy to think the ultra-prepared coach isnt already simultaneously managing current concerns with future plans.

The advance guys are preparing now. You have to, especially with the way the playoffs are structured this year. Youre only going to have one day between the end of the season and the playoffs. They know what their job is. Theyll have everything ready. For us, I just want them focused on the next game, he said recently. Where you are in the season, too, right now youre going head to head with a lot of the teams youre going to be facing or you have the possibility of facing. That helps in some ways, too.

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.

Five things to watch during Bulls’ training camp

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USA Today Sports Images

Five things to watch during Bulls’ training camp

All the new guys: Last October, the Bulls entered camp with essentially the same roster that lost to Cleveland in the second round of the 2015 playoffs, save for then-rookie Bobby Portis. This time, there’s no Derrick Rose, no Joakim Noah, no Pau Gasol, no Mike Dunleavy, and no E’Twaun Moore.

That’s four starters (essentially) whose performances or presence has been counted on in some way, even through some of the uncertainty that surrounded a few of these guys.

Conceivably, the Bulls can have around five new players in the actual rotation who weren’t thought of this time last year, although last year’s product left a lot to be desired.

The adjustment time and chemistry building starts Tuesday.

Who starts at power forward: All other positions in the first five are set, especially with the new faces. But the pivotal decision for Fred Hoiberg, if it hasn’t been made already, is who will start alongside Robin Lopez at center. It could be Nikola Mirotic, or Taj Gibson or even Bobby Portis, depending on Hoiberg’s sensibilities.

Smart money says it’ll probably be Mirotic considering he’s the best perimeter shooter of the three and actually a decent defensive rebounder. Gibson being a great screener, finisher and defender makes him intriguing as an option, but offensive space will be limited if he’s out there with Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. As for Portis, is he ready to take a step toward consistency in year 2?

The point guard: Rajon Rondo’s basketball intelligence is genius level, where he can master a gameplan and probably even devise one of his own that rivals his coaches. The man can counter a play before the opposing defense initiates an adjustment. That said, how will he and Hoiberg mesh this season? He clashed with Doc Rivers, had knock-down battles with Rick Carlisle in Dallas and George Karl didn’t have it in him to fight anybody in Sacramento, let alone Rondo.

Rondo likes playing the game at his speed, with his own feel and rhythm. Hoiberg will have to tailor his style for the new personnel he has, and luckily for him, isn’t a “my way or the highway” type of fellow that’s sure to rub Rondo the wrong way. Will Rondo embrace Hoiberg’s system and become an extension of the coach, or will Hoiberg give Rondo enough rope to explore Rondo’s intelligence to find a middle ground?

Will that even be enough?

The backup point guard: Just as intriguing as the starting power forward battle will be who backs up Rondo at point guard, although it’s likely that player won’t have to fill the traditional role of doing anything aside from walking the ball up and letting either Butler or Wade initiate the offense.

It’s likely Hoiberg will change his substitution patterns to have either Wade or Butler anchor second units in the second quarter, as a way to maximize the time he has with both while not having them invade each other’s space in the halfcourt. So who plays backup point could be more about who fits best next to the best player on the floor as opposed to who the best player is.

It seems to open the door for rookie Denzel Valentine since he can play three positions (although defense will be a task), along with Jerian Grant, Isaiah Canaan and Spencer Dinwiddie.

Grant was a first-rounder in 2015 who wants to show he’s worth that status, while Dinwiddie was projected as a lottery pick three years ago before tearing his ACL at Colorado.

It’s certainly not the most stressful decision Hoiberg will have to make, but a curious one.

Developing an identity: Does it happen in training camp? Who knows, but tones are often set as to what type of squad a team will be. Last season, Hoiberg believed he was building on a solid foundation after Tom Thibodeau’s defense first mentality, but signs of things crumbling began to show very early in the preseason.

This season, with so many new pieces, moving parts and overall uncertainty, there’s question as to what kind of team the Bulls will be. It’s intriguing, to say the least. But what will the Bulls hang their hats on come late October?