LAS VEGAS — His voice already hoarse from arguing with referees and shouting out defensive instructions — screaming “Kyle!” at Korver, the ex-Bull and current Hawks sharpshooter, as if it were 2011 — and calling strategic timeouts to draw up clever inbounds scoring plays in a late, ultimately-failed comeback in Wednesday’s scrimmage, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau is already in regular-season form, regardless of the fact that it’s July and his present occupation is being an assistant coach for USA Basketball.
“Thibs doesn’t sit down. Thibs stands up the whole time, yelling. Lost his voice already, so it’s Day 3, voice is gone. Thibs is completely different,” Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said, when asked to compare Thibodeau to the national team’s former defensive-oriented assistant coach, current Indiana Pacers aide Nate McMillan. “He’s a strategist. Not to say there’s anything wrong with Nate, but Thibs’ style is a little bit different.”
Bulls general manager Gar Forman observed about Thibodeau: “I think it’s great, just the opportunity to work with these guys. We have to get him some throat lozenges, though. It seems like he’s losing his voice.”
It’s not surprising to anyone remotely familiar with the coach that his impassioned style, witnessed annually from the outset of training camp through whenever the Bulls’ season ends, has made an appearance during USA Basketball’s training camp at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center. But in addition to his usual burning desire to win, Thibodeau is gaining valuable experience under Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, the national team’s head coach, and given the Bulls’ upgrade in personnel this offseason, new offensive strategies to ponder in utilizing the likes of the returned Rose, veteran big man Pau Gasol and rookie Doug McDermott, also in attendance with the Select Team, among others.
But while many observers believe the Bulls — at least on paper — could be the class of the Eastern Conference, even with LeBron James’ Ohio homecoming, Thibodeau is only cautiously optimistic.
“It looks good. But we have to see how it unfolds. The team that won 62 games and 50 in the lockout season, they did it on the floor. So we can talk about it. But we have to put the work into it and we have to see what it looks like on the floor. I like the fact we have quality depth. I love the players we have. We’re looking forward to the challenge,” said Thibodeau, who had the top regular-season team in the entire NBA in both of his first two campaigns in Chicago.
“It’s all good. Every year, you come into a season with new and different challenges. So we had the challenge of Derrick being out and how you get around that. Now you have depth again so you look at what your team is and say what are the strengths and weaknesses of the club are and build your planning around that. We’re excited about our group. The way Jo and Taj played last year is a huge plus. The addition of Pau and a stretch four in Mirotic, picking up McDermott. But the biggest thing is Derrick. Obviously, that’s huge for our team. You can never lose sight of how important he is for our team.”
For his part, Rose is high on the additions made by the aforementioned Forman and Bulls executive vice president John Paxson this summer, believing he has the best supporting cast he’s played with professionally.
“I have that sense that they [the Bulls’ front office] went for it. They gave it their all, we got who we could get, who wanted to come, and that’s who we have to ride with. We have a lot of confidence in the players we just signed, and we know that the guys we already have here are working out very hard. It’s just a matter of fact of just getting in the gym, working out together, gelling very quickly if I’m going overseas early,” the former league MVP said.
“I think this is the most talented team I’ve played on in my NBA career, to tell you the truth. With all the players I have, the experience that everybody is bringing to the table, and the way everybody is working out individually in the offseason from what I’ve been hearing. Just seeing Tony Snell bust his [expletive] in the gym the whole summer, seeing Doug [McDermott] doing the same thing and they end up playing well [in summer league], it kind of gave me a boost and let me know that hard work pays off. So I’m watching them play summer-league games a couple of times, see them playing with a lot of confidence, it just gave me confidence coming to this trial. I think that we have a deep team and we have players that have one goal, and we’ll do anything to get there.”
Meanwhile, even with the Bulls’ potential, Thibodeau remains focused on the task at hand, the upcoming FIBA World Cup in Madrid, Spain. Team USA is expected to carry 15 players out of the 19 roster hopefuls and possible Select Team additions through its two exhibition games in New York — following an Aug. 16 matchup against Brazil at the United Center — but after each session of the five-day camp, including Friday’s intra-squad exhibition game, there’s an opportunity for evaluation, between the coaching staff, which also features New Orleans Pelicans head coach Monty Williams and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, as well as USA Basketball executive director Jerry Colangelo, like a Chicagoan like Krzyzewski.
“Just mainly how the team will fit together. Who had a good day, what do we need? You start thinking about the team in general. You’re going to be on the road for a long period of time. What are the characteristics that you’re looking for? Sometimes it’s tough because you may have to cut some deserving players, but you’re looking to bring the best team and what fits best, and who can accept a certain role,” Thibodeau said of the paring-down process. “All of the roles may be different, but the commitment to the team must be the same. So it’s an opportunity to see how guys can adapt, how quickly they can adapt to a different role and usually, it’s a different role for everyone.”