Time for Bulls to fight

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Time for Bulls to fight

I took in the sights of Philadelphia Saturday during my down time. Having never been to the city, I thought a trip through the historical district would help take my mind off the Bulls playoff predicament. It did.

But then I decided to run up the steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The same steps Sylvester Stallone famously conquered in the movie Rocky. I was immediately taken back to the Bulls. Never, has the symbol of Rocky seemed more appropriate as the Bulls face an uphill climb in their series against the Sixers, down 2-1 and having to play without Derrick Rose and now Joakim Noah who sprained his ankle in Game 3.

Coach Tom Thibodeau said Noah was 'most likely' out for Sunday's Game 4, but any one who's seen enough ankle sprains like this in basketball knows he's probably out for the season. Noah hobbled through the lobby of the team hotel Saturday needing assistance from his mother to get up the stairs. He declined to talk to the media, but the pained expression on his face said it all.

Now, the Bulls are without their best rebounder, best interior defender and best big man playmaker. That's on top of losing their best scorer and all around playmaker in Derrick Rose. Don't forget, Rose and Noah were the emotional leaders of the team, as well.

It's like asking Rocky to beat Apollo Creed with one arm tied behind his back.

Is it doable? It depends on whether or not Thibodeau will finally recognize the dire nature of the circumstances. Show his players a compassionate side so he can re-ignite their fighting spirit. Thibs reminds me of the Drago-like machine, repeating the same mantra in robotic fashion.

"When one guy goes down, another guy steps up," says Thibodeau. "We have more than enough to win."

I must break him.

The problem is players are human beings with different strengths, weaknesses and levels of mental toughness. You have to be able to motivate from a psychological stand point as well as from an X's and O's stand point. It's what made Phil Jackson so effective. It's the whole premise of the movie. Physical training or preparedness isn't the only factor in success.

It worries me when Thibs says 'it's not about their mood' when asked about the team's state of mind after Game 3. He softened a bit when asked again and responded with a different mantra, one Bulls fans want to hear.

"We have an opportunity rise and that's what we all have to do. Obviously, there's always disappointment when you lose. That's a good thing. It tells you you have the right players. The big thing is how we respond to have the determination tomorrow to get the job done. I want us to have great fight tomorrow."

Yes, fight Rocky-style. The No. 1 seed has become the underdog in this series. They've been hit hard, but they have to get up. They have to be unafraid of the moment.

The players say they're not feeling sorry for themselves, now they just have to play like it.

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.