Thibodeau staying busy with summer league, free agency visits

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Thibodeau staying busy with summer league, free agency visits

The way he tells it, the NBA's offseason is a fairly cut-and-dry process. But as the league's hectic free-agency period continues -- Wednesday is the day all of these reported agreements can become official -- Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau is literally all over the place.
Between personally wooing potential Bulls' free-agent acquisitions, staying in touch with players from last season's team, overseeing the development of his team's young players and of course, watching game film, Thibodeau has been a busy man this summer.
Again, however, the coach who has won 100 regular-season games faster than any of his peers in NBA history eschews the details when breaking it down to an outsider -- in this case, a member of the media -- and simply gives an overview of the process, albeit an informative one, in which some insight into his notoriously methodical manner can be gleaned.
"In the summer, the first thing you get ready for is the draft, and then after the draft you have free agency. Then you have the summer league and then you look at what trades may be available, and then you look at developing your own players. So, theres four ways to really improve your team, and you really want to try to address all four of them in the off-season," he explained to CSNChicago.com recently. "Players have a lot of say in that free agency. They have a right to choose, so you have to determine whether something fits for you, but Ive said this many times: Were happy with the core of our team. The core of our team has won a lot of games the past two years, so we want to try to add to it."
A basketball purist, Thibodeau loves to be hands-on with players, an aspect of his abilities that date back to his 20 years as an NBA assistant coach, and even before those days. From mainstays Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson -- who he went to observe in Las Vegas at the USA Basketball Olympic training camp; Gibson is a member of the USA Select Team -- to youngsters Jimmy Butler and first-round draft pick Marquis Teague, the head coach, rather than simply delegating to his capable staff, joins in the individual instruction at the Berto Center.
"You want to polish things up, you want to work on things, you want to add some things, where you feel maybe you can add something to someones game that theyre already doing well. But the main thing is the conditioning component and just refining everything that theyre doing and also, some things that you think they can add to their game that would make them harder to be guarded the following season," Thibodeau said.
"Jimmys gotten a lot of work in this summer and hes going to play in summer league, which I think is going to be a big plus for him. Joakim has been in. Hes done very well. Hes still strengthening his ankle from the end of the season, but hes put a lot of work in. And of course, Derricks been in almost every day. So, we have a lot of guys that are here and Carlos is working out in Miami, Rips been traveling aroundhes been working outso we have a lot of guys working," he added.
After being deprived of that opportunity due to last year's NBA lockout, just being in the gym is something Thibodeau relishes, and clearly he's pleased that the majority of his players are also taking advantage of that opportunity.
Gibson, however, seems to be his pet project. The backup power forward appears to be on the verge of boosting his league-wide profile with his stint in Las Vegas, during which sources say he's been impressive, potentially leading to his free-agent stock rising next summer.
"Taj has been great. Of course, he was getting ready for the USA Select Team, hes put in a lot of work and this is a big summer for him because its really the first summer that hes healthy. I think hes picked up right where he left off. At the end of season, I thought he was playing great basketball. Unfortunately, he sprained his ankle in Game 5 in Philly, but hes playing at a very high level," Thibodeau said.
"Its great for him, I think the fact that hes being recognized outside of the organization, by his peers also. Hes put a lot of work in. I think hes gotten better and better. Hes becoming more of a complete player. Defense, theres not many guys like him, who can guard nearly every position on the floor and then offensively, I think his confidence has gotten a lot better. He can score a lot of different ways. Hes more comfortable in the post now, hes starting to shoot the ball from 16 to 17 feet very effectively, so its a big plus. But the main thing is his health and I think the fact that he can really work this summer is a big plus."
But the team's known commodities -- definite returnees Gibson, Noah, Hamilton, Butler, Luol Deng and Rose, when he is again healthy enough to play, as well as newcomers Teague and Hinrich, obviously a familiar face -- aren't the issue in Chicago, where whispers of fellow Eastern Conference teams leaving the Bulls behind in the dust in free agency are surfacing. If the Bulls aren't moving fast enough for fans' taste, it's likely by design of the front office, not due to Thibodeau's efforts.
Thibodeau flew to Los Angeles in advance of the July 1 start of free agency to meet with backup center Omer Asik, who agreed to an offer sheet with Houston. He was also in contact with eventual acquisition Hinrich repeatedly before he agreed to terms with the Bulls. He has reached out to various free agents around the league and, aside from Asik, has spoken to the team's other free agents, such as reserve point guards Mike James and John Lucas III, the latter of whom is garnering interest from rivals Boston and Miami, in addition to Toronto, Minnesota and Washington, according to Fox Sports Florida.
Thibodeau has also been in touch with multiple free agents around the NBA, according to a source, and with his knowledge of the league and understanding that his intense philosophy might not be the best fit for every player, no small amount of consideration has been put into that.
"You cant ignore the numbers, but you also have to use the trained eye and you have to see how people fit into a team," explained Thibodeau, who described the Bulls' front office as "inclusive" in discussing the organization's future. "Youre looking at film, youre looking at the numbers, youre looking at where theyve been. Can they fit into a team? All those things, all the intangibles. But you look at a compilation of things. You dont base it, I dont think, on any one particular thing."
But even with all of the work he puts into the Bulls' success, it can't be ignored that Thibodeau doesn't have a contract past the upcoming season, though the team's option for himself and assistant coaches Adrian Griffin and Ed Pinckney have officially been exercised for the 2012-13 campaign.
Another assistant coach, Rick Brunson, departed to join the coaching staff of new Charlotte head coach Mike Dunlap; former Orlando assistant Steve Clifford, who previously worked with Thibodeau in both New York and Houston, will replace him.
Thibodeau is regarded as one of the league's upper-echelon coaches, combined with a Bulls team with lowered expectations with Rose on the shelf heading into next season and the luxury tax-averse organization not getting swept up into free-agent frenzy thus far. So although the franchise has historically played the waiting game with its coaches, there's no guarantee the former league Coach of the Year will be in Chicago for the long-term future.
And although peers such as Oklahoma City head coach Scott Brooks, who played for Thibodeau and didn't have an extension after the Thunder's NBA Finals appearance, have received deals, the Bulls coach, who was offered and rejected a contract deemed to be under his market value, according to an individual with knowledge of the negotiations, publicly is unconcerned about the unresolved issue.
"Good for Scott. Obviously Scott is a good friend. I coached him in Minnesota and hes done a tremendous job in Oklahoma City, so Im very happy for him," he said after the Bulls formally introduced Teague to the media last Monday. "We havent gotten around to his contract extension yet, but Im fine. The options been picked up, so Im under contract and well address that later in the summer."

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.