INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—It’s almost as if wherever C.J. Watson goes, he can’t escape his former team, the Bulls. Or vice versa.
The backup point guard, who played in Chicago for two seasons before moving on to Brooklyn last season—where the Nets fell to the Bulls in a seven-game first-round playoff series—is now with the Pacers and in his first game with his new team, not only is facing the Bulls, but will likely tangle with Derrick Rose in the former league MVP’s first game back since April of 2012.
Of course, Watson filled in for Rose when he suffered his devastating ACL injury in the first round of the 2012 playoffs and perhaps unfairly became the scourge of Bulls fans for passing the ball to Omer Asik in the waning seconds of the final game of the team’s series-ending playoff loss to Philadelphia. But that, as well, as the Nets’ disappointing playoff defeat at the hands of the short-handed Bulls last spring, is now in the past, as Watson has moved on to yet another Eastern Conference contender in Indiana.
[MORE: Rose set to make return, finally]
“No, not that I know of,” Watson responded, when asked if there was any significance to playing his former team in the preseason opener. “It’s fun to play against them. It wasn’t really my choice to go against them as rivals, but it just happened like that.
“It’s going pretty good. It’s going there, trying to learn my teammates, learning their strengths and weaknesses, and trying to put it with my game,” he continued, following the Pacers’ morning shootaround at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “I think we can be pretty good. That obviously had success last year, and they got better each and every year, and I think with the bench being a little better, I think we can go pretty deep.
“I just saw last year the backup point guard [current Toronto Raptor D.J. Augustin] played a lot of significant minutes and got a lot of freedom to play his game and that’s pretty much the big thing. And they were pretty successful, too.”
Thus far, Pacers head coach Frank Vogel is happy with Watson’s adjustment in Indiana.
“C.J.’s doing great. He’s really exceeded our expectations with his play so far. Obviously there’s a lot of basketball to be played. We know he’s a really good basketball player,” the coach said. “At least, at the minimum, a very solid backup point guard, but has done some real damage as a starter—obviously as you guys know, when Derrick was out a couple years back—so just very pleased at where we’re at with him.”
As for a potential matchup with Rose—about whom Watson reprotedly said (or was misquoted as saying) ranked below Nets floor general and ex-teammate Deron Williams in his personal point-guard rankings, though that was upon arriving in Brooklyn—the tight-lipped, soft-spoken veteran reserve was honest about what he expected to occur.
“I heard he’s looking great. I heard he’s doing very well. Obviously he’s a great player. He’s going to come back full strength and I’m sure he’s going to put on a show,” he said. “He hasn’t played in a long time, but I remember playing against him in practice all the time and I played with him obviously, so you just have to go out there and pick your poison. It’s going to be tough.
“I’m just going to guard him like normal, just go out there and play the scouting report,” Watson went on to say, laughing. “You just try to see how his game developed and how it changed from the rehab. I’ll probably get a first look at it because I’ll be on the bench, watching first, so I’ll get a better aspect of it.
“Maybe [the Pacers will attack Rose], just putting him in pick-and-rolls and stuff like that. Pushing the tempo against him, just making him play defense, I guess.”
Rose himself professed to be unaware of Watson’s presence in Indiana, although he’s been known to keep a mental catalog of opponents who express a negative of opinion of his game.
“Oh, C.J.’s here?” he asked. “I haven’t seen him in a long time, so just for him being here, being on the opposite team, it should be fun.”
Watson also discussed the differences between Vogel and Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, saying the two had a lot in common, except for one key difference.
“They’re very similar. I was talking to Booz about that last night. I just think Vogel’s a little nicer than Thibs sometimes,” he deadpanned. “They’re both pretty strong on defense, preach defense, and that’s most of the similarity.”