Chicago Bulls

20 in 20: What must Thibodeau do for success?

255942.jpg

20 in 20: What must Thibodeau do for success?

Friday, Sept. 10, 2010
2:22 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

A historic summer for the NBA has passed and for the Bulls, while they didn't acquire quite the star power many expected andor hoped for, optimism runs high, both within the organization and throughout the team's fan base. With the offseason coming to an end, the time to fully delve into the upcoming NBA season is here. Instead of a traditional season preview, issues both throughout the league and in Chicago will be probed daily here on CSNChicago.com up until the squad officially convenes for training camp toward the end of September.
3. What does Tom Thibodeau need to do to turn the Bulls into a contender?
There's no baseline for how Thibodeau, in his first head-coaching job since he was at Salem State in Massachusetts -- back before star player Derrick Rose was even born -- will fare. However, it's fair to assume the Bulls will have more of an identity than they did during the last two seasons.

That's not a shot at former Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro (who should be better at game management -- for various reasons, most notably having some experience under his belt -- among other aspects of coaching, with the Clippers), but as management referred to during both the hiring process and Thibodeau's introduction to Chicago, he's basically a basketball junkie, who, after years of being an understudy, has formed an idea of what he'd like to with his own squad. And of course, there's the defensive mindset everybody mentions when describing "Thibs," who is regarded as the architect of the current Boston Celtics' stout defense and has been closely involved with the defensive stylings of Jeff Van Gundy's teams in the past. In short, this is a very serious man who will put his nose to the grindstone and instill the same type of mentality in his players.

At the same time, he's basically a novice. The Bulls, as currently constructed, aren't a team composed of authority-challenging knuckleheads, but after experiencing at least a modicum of success -- whether in Chicago or in previous stops -- the players are conscious of what they feel constitutes the characteristics of a successful team. For the most part, they are a group that shares a strong work ethic, a single-minded devotion to winning and an ambition to be taken seriously as a true NBA contender.

In Rose, the face of the franchise and a hometown product, Thibodeau will have a prodigious and remarkably humble star to work with. One of the primary criteria he'll be judged upon is whether he can help develop Rose's game -- the mental aspect superseding the physical, as his gifts and weaknesses are so clearly evident and only his personal aspirations can control what he's capable of doing on the floor -- and take him from a youngster with vast potential to a league-wide, transcendent superstar.

Depending on whom you ask, Rose was either not given enough direction or was kept on a leash far too short during his first two NBA seasons. Regardless of whether he was put in the right situations most of the time, his game evolved to the point where he can be considered a legit go-to guy (remember when there was a "debate" last season about whether he could and should take over games?) and at the very least, a leader by example.

Now, his maturation process must continue with him developing from a point guard by nature of his position into a true floor general, who controls the game even when he's not putting up gaudy numbers. One would assume playing alongside the likes of Chauncey Billups for USA Basketball this summer will help speed up that growth, but it's one thing to sublimate your game when playing with a team of stars and quite another to do so for 82 games with your actual team. Thibodeau will share that burden, especially on the defensive end, an often-overlooked shortcoming that should probably be focused on as much as his outside shooting, particularly when one considers Rose's physical tools to be a strong defender.

While Rose's progress will be examined closely -- as mentioned, his natural skill development will take care of some things on its own -- perhaps more important, with Thibodeau's defensive background, is Joakim Noah's role. When evaluating the Celtics, point guard Rajon Rondo's quickness and ball pressure get the lion's share of individual attention, but the gambles he takes wouldn't be possible if it weren't for having the likes of Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins in the paint to erase some of his mistakes.

Like the Boston duo, Noah isn't necessarily a Dwight Howard-style shot-blocker, but his length, presence in the paint and adept help defense certainly anchored the Bulls' defense the past two seasons. As lauded as the now-departed Kirk Hinrich was for his defensive effort on the perimeter, Noah was Chicago's most important defender, as was evident during the Bulls' skid in his absence.

Noah won't have to be sold on defense -- or rebounding, for that matter -- but as a young player, he can still be further molded into more of a force, the type Chicago hasn't seen since the Dennis Rodman days. Conversely, his continued offensive development will be key.

While new addition Carlos Boozer is a pretty well-rounded offensive player, Noah -- an underrated passer, even without being a major scoring threat -- is likely to be Chicago's best interior passer, something made even more important with Brad Miller gone. Rose racks up assists by virtue of his outstanding dribble penetration and Boozer is sure to draw at least the occasional double team, but Noah's court vision and ability to find teammates out of the high post will open things up for slashers like Luol Deng and Ronnie Brewer, post players Boozer and Taj Gibson and shooters like Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson. Thibodeau's ability to take the team's vocal leader's game to the next level -- especially if Noah comes back with more refined post moves and is able to knock down the elbow jumper (don't worry about how pretty it looks; by the end of last season, he was able to be a threat from 15 feet out) on a more consistent basis -- will make his debut season in Chicago much easier.

Now, in Boozer, Thibodeau faces a different sort of challenge. Offensively, the Alaska native brings everything the Bulls need -- a low-post scoring threat with the ability to play physically, rebound at a high level and even knock down outside jumpers -- to the table in a power forward. Defensively, however, Boozer's willingness to play with the same type of effort has been questioned -- and that was under tough-as-nails Jerry Sloan in Utah.

Thibodeau, though, has seen this kind of situation before. When the Celtics formed their "Big Three," Ray Allen wasn't known as the most committed defender. Now? Maybe he won't make the league's all-defensive team, but his determined effort against some of the league's best shooting guards can't be impugned.

While it would be a stretch to say Boozer's job would be in jeopardy if he wasn't a stout defender here in Chicago, last year's starter at his position -- first team NBA all-rookie team selection Gibson -- has already made a name for himself on that end of the floor. Perhaps that will serve as motivation for Boozer, but Thibodeau's task will be to mold him into, if not a standout, at least a solid defender in the team concept.

In the case of Deng, Thibodeau has to be excited. Maybe some Bulls fans don't appreciate everything the product of Sudan is capable of doing (just a few years ago, many observers considered him one of the league's up-and-coming players at his position and even overall), but the long and versatile small forward has plenty for Thibodeau to work with.

With the presence of Boozer, he'll have less weight on his shoulders as Chicago's third option, so Deng's offense won't be the issue. Neither will his defense, even though quicker small forwards will always give him issues. The problem with Deng -- outside of injuries, which are beyond his control -- has been consistency.

Not to overdo it with Celtics comparisons, but prior to the arrival of the aforementioned Garnett and Allen, Paul Pierce -- while clearly in a higher tier than Deng at their shared position -- was viewed by many as a player who showed up when he felt like it, as evidenced by the Celtics' dismal performance prior to the arrival of his fellow superstars. Say what you want about Pierce now -- and I'm sure most Chicagoans will -- but he comes to play, even on days when his shot isn't falling or he doesn't get the touches he feels he deserves.

If Thibodeau can tutor Deng on how to make an impact every night, even when his scoring isn't impacting the game, watch it coincide with increased team success. Not that Deng doesn't do that on occasion already, but with the additions the team made, it will be even more important for him to grasp that concept now.

As far as the team's reserves and role players, they are already tailor-made for Thibodeau. Mature, defensive-minded veterans like Kurt Thomas and Keith Bogans, active, live bodies like Gibson and Brewer and players with games catered to specific roles like the sharpshooting Korver and backup point guard Watson make it clear that the Bulls are a well-balanced group -- they could probably use another outside shooter and maybe another big man, but that's another story -- pending chemistry.

Chemistry -- that's the one thing that can't be evaluated before the season begins, particularly with so many new players on the team. It can be assumed that while Thibodeau is known for his defensive strategy, after all these years as an assistant, he probably has developed some theories he'd like to try out on the offensive end, especially with his notorious habit of watching tape (it's likely he caught a few Bulls games here and there, even before he got the job) deep into the night, and it's been reported that he's worked with and observed many of his new players in the Berto Center this offseason, so familiarity is building.

In a few weeks, it'll be time to put everything into action for training camp, then the preseason and subsequently, the real thing. Will the Bulls win a championship this upcoming season, as Boozer suggested is possible? It's doubtful. But with the pieces he has at his disposal and a mind that's been chomping at the bit for this very opportunity, it wouldn't be shocking to see the Bulls challenging for the opportunity in the near future.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

michaelporter.jpg
USA TODAY

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

2018 draft class is loaded at the top

Quietly, you can bet Bulls' front office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman had a little celebration after hearing that prep star Marvin Bagley III was going to graduate from high school early and enroll at Duke for the 2017-18 season, making him eligible for the 2018 draft.

Bagley, a 6'11 power forward from Los Angeles, is being compared to longtime NBA star Chris Bosh, right down to his smooth left-handed shooting touch. Bagley averaged 24.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and two blocked shots during his junior season for Sierra Canyon H.S. He's also fared well against NBA competition at the highly-regarded Drew League in L.A. this summer. Bagley’s physical tools are off the charts, and you can count on Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski preparing him well for life in the NBA.

Most NBA scouts and execs expect the No. 1 overall pick to come down to either Bagley or Michael Porter Jr., who will play his one season of college basketball at Missouri. The 6'10 Porter averaged an amazing 34.8 points and 13.8 rebounds last season against Seattle high school competition. He's considered a more dynamic scorer than Bagley with more range on his jump shot. Some scouts believe he could quickly develop into one of the league's elite players with Kevin Durant-type length and shooting ability at the small forward position.

International swingman Luka Doncic is also highly coveted by NBA teams. The 6'8 swingman has excellent shooting range, and is also capable of creating his own shot with outstanding ball-handling ability. Forget the stereotype of European players being mechanical and unable to compete athletically, Doncic is capable of being an 18-20 point scorer in the NBA and should go in the top five next June. He's considered one of the best international prospects in the last decade.

Two 7-footers also will hear their names called early on draft night 2018. University of Arizona freshman DeAndre Ayton averaged 19.8 points and 12 rebounds in high school last season, while Texas freshman center Mohamed Bomba has an incredible 7-foot-9 wingspan. Sure, the NBA has moved away from the traditional low post center, but teams are still looking to acquire agile big men like Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside. Depending on how they fare against top level college competition, Ayton and Bomba could round out the top five.

Other names to watch in the lottery portion of next year's draft include Texas A&M power forward Robert Williams, Michigan State's forward duo of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., and the latest one-and-dones from John Calipari's Kentucky program, center Nick Richards and small forward Jarred Vanderbilt.

In case you missed it, ESPN released its preseason win total expectations for the Eastern Conference on Wednesday, and the Bulls were dead last with a projected record of 26-56. Now, I'm not sure a team with veterans Dwyane Wade and Robin Lopez and the three young players acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade with Minnesota will be quite that bad, but if you're going to rebuild, the idea is to get the best draft pick possible, and the Bulls appear to be on course for a top-five selection depending on how the lottery falls.

If the Bulls are able to land an elite talent like Porter Jr., Bagley III or Doncic in the draft, then use their $40-50 million in cap space to land a couple of quality free agents, the rebuild might not be as painful as some fans are fearing.

Last dance for LeBron in Cleveland?

Well-connected NBA writer Chris Sheridan dropped this bomb on Twitter Wednesday, quoting an NBA source, "This will be LeBron's final season in Cleveland. He is 100 percent leaving. Relationship with owners beyond repair." Don’t forget, Sheridan was the first national writer to report James was going to leave Miami to go back to Cleveland in 2014, so his reports definitely warrant a little extra attention.

Okay, we've already heard countless rumors about James planning to join the Lakers after next season. He's built a mansion in Brentwood, is close with Magic Johnson and will be able to bring another superstar with him to L.A. like Paul George or Russell Westbrook. Plus, the Lakers have a number of talented young players in place like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. and a promising coach in Luke Walton.

Add in the likelihood Kyrie Irving will be traded before training camp opens and LeBron's long-standing poor relationship with Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert, and you have the perfect formula for another James' free agent decision next July. Although, I'm not sure why LeBron would want to go West, where Golden State is positioned to dominate the league for another five seasons, with strong challengers like the Rockets and Spurs still in place. 

But if we've learned anything from watching James over the years, he's clearly a man who wants to align the odds in his favor. So don't rule out anything when it comes to James' free agent decision. If the Cavs make a home run trade for Irving, maybe LeBron decided to plays out his career in his home state. If not, look for him to find a team with the cap space to bring in another top star to run with him.

Back in 2010, the Bulls carved out the cap space to add two max contract stars, but lost out to Pat Riley in Miami. This time around they won't be on James' July travel itinerary.

One thing we know for sure. Where LeBron plays in 2018 will be the number one story throughout the NBA season.

Report: Bulls expected to reach buyout agreement with Dwyane Wade

Report: Bulls expected to reach buyout agreement with Dwyane Wade

Dwyane Wade's homecoming may not last much longer. 

According to Nick Friedell's ESPN report, the Bulls are expected to reach a buyout agreement with the 12-time NBA All-Star "at some point in the next few months." 

The news comes two months after Wade picked up his player option, choosing $24 million over earning less on a more competitive team. 

If Gar Forman and John Paxson indeed decide to buy D-Wade out, the "Three Alphas," which consisted of Wade, Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo, would all be out just one season after coming together. 

The buyout may also mean more ping-pong balls in next year's stacked draft