'Lockout League' convenient for Bulls' Watson

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'Lockout League' convenient for Bulls' Watson

Friday, Sept. 9, 2011
Posted: 12:03 p.m.

By AggreySam
CSNChicago.com Bulls Insider Follow@CSNBullsInsider
As the old saying goes, "It's not where you're from, it's where you're at." Or is the opposite true?

Either way, C.J. Watson has the good fortune of both interpretations applying to him. The Las Vegas native has been in his hometown this summer, spending time with his family and working out with noted basketball trainer Joe Abunassar and the numerous NBA players who flock to "Sin City" in the offseason.

Watson and first-round draft pick Jimmy Butler -- who wasn't able to play in NBA summer-league competition because of the ongoing lockout -- are the two Bulls committed to playing in the Competitive Training Series, reportedly the brainchild of Phoenix Suns forward Jared Dudley. Starting Sept. 12, Abunassar's Las Vegas-based Impact Basketball will host a two-week session featuring training and games for NBA players.

"It's NBA players coming out and playing on teams to stay shape because of the lockout," Watson explained to CSNChicago.com in a recent phone interview from Las Vegas. "A lot of players just come to Vegas, so it's good."

According to a Thursday press release from Impact Basketball, over 70 NBA players, including longtime Abunassar client Chauncey Billups of the New York Knicks and Washington Wizards star John Wall, will participate. While optimism can be derived from recent reports during negotiations between the league and the union in New York this week -- perhaps putting on hold tentative plans to have Competitive Training Series sessions in subsequent months -- the benefits of playing in a structured environment with training, referees, NBA rules and competition (games will be open to the public) during the work stoppage are clear.

Never before in the offseason have so many great players come together to train and play. I am thrilled to be able to provide our world-class training environment and system to so many great players," Abunassar said Thursday in a statement released by Impact Basketball. "This will be an experience of a lifetime for our Impact Academy students. Everything we do at Impact is built from our experiences of training great pros and all-stars over the past 15 years. This will certainly enhance our entire program for all of our athletes."

Added Billups: "This will be an amazing two weeks for all of us NBA players who have been working and training hard all summer to get together and have a chance to really get after it on the court against some of the best players in the league. I have trained with Joe for 14 years and Impact continues to be the worlds elite place to train and improve your game. This will be a great two weeks for everyone."

Meanwhile, Watson, who had foot surgery earlier this summer leading him to miss out on the rash of exhibition games, summer leagues and pro-am events, is sticking to his usual offseason regimen.

"It's been good. I've been getting back into, getting back in shape and playing basketball, really," said the University of Tennessee product. "Actually, my days are just like any other summer. I wake up in the morning, go work out, come back home, then I go to the gym at night to shoot," he continued. "I'm just working on my shooting, passing, getting to the basket, everything. Not just one aspect. I'm trying to do it all."

Watson wasn't definitive about whether more of the Bulls would join him. Derrick Rose, Kyle Korver and Taj Gibson all spend time training in Southern California, a hop, skip and a jump from Vegas, in the offseason. Watson did note that he's kept in touch with his teammates during the offseason. Although he's soft-spoken, he is popular on the close-knit squad. In his first season in Chicago, he gradually found his groove as time progressed, beginning with a 39-point November outburst in Denver as a starter in Rose's lone absence of the 62-win regular season.

"I love Chicago. The only bad part for me is the traffic," quipped Watson. "Last year was great. It was an adjustment for me at first to have new players, a new coach, the style of play that he wants to play. After a while, I just started to be more comfortable with the players and the coaches and the style of play.

"It's a great feeling to know that my teammates are doing well. I hope they stay healthy and continue to get better and keep improving," he continued, referring to the performances by Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Omer Asik in the ongoing EuroBasket tournament in Lithuania.

"We've just got to come out, make sure everybody's healthy first off, but come out with more focus and more drive. We know what it takes to get to where we got, but that's not what we want, so hopefully we can go a little further and do better than last year."

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.

Isaiah Canaan will start Game 5, but Bulls need more adjustments against Celtics

Isaiah Canaan will start Game 5, but Bulls need more adjustments against Celtics

If the Bulls were doubting Thomases before Sunday afternoon, Isaiah made them pay for it dearly with each turn of his hand, each herky-jerky dribble and each devastating floater.

Perhaps wiser to their errors, the Bulls will go into Game 5 in Boston with an Isaiah of their own in the starting lineup, as Isaiah Canaan will make the start at TD Garden on Wednesday night.

Having been banished to the inactive list and end of the bench, Canaan's best moments under the United Center lights had been one-on-one matchups with his teammates hours before the real games began.

So being tossed in with 2:15 left in the first quarter and the Bulls already behind 13 points presented both opportunity and some nerves given the stakes. Having played a total of 92 minutes since the calendar turned to 2017, beggars can't be choosers.

"Throughout the season you just wonder when that opportunity is going to come," Canaan said. "I believe everything happens for a reason. You never can see what it may be, from going from not playing for the second half of the season mostly to playing in the most crucial time of the season in the playoffs, I guess God just sent me a sign to mentally be locked in and really battle your faith."

He responded by pressuring Thomas in a way Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams couldn't with any effectiveness, probably due to his quickness and similar build to Thomas.

"My job is to make his job miserable," Canaan said. "He's a great player and he can find different cracks, but I'm just going out there trying to interrupt their timing, try and milk as much time as I can off the shot clock and just keep him uncomfortable. Not let him get settled in for what they want to run, so I'm just out there to make him uncomfortable and speed him up."

Canaan scored 13 points in 33 minutes, hitting three 3-pointers and being a +11 while on the floor, so it's easy to see why Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg wasn't going to mess around with the Grant and Carter-Williams combo that hadn't done much of anything in the friendly confines of the United Center over the weekend.

"I really thought he did a good job picking up the ball and pressuring the pickup point a full 94 feet," Hoiberg said. "I thought his initial ball pressure was good. We have to get off to a much better start if we want to have any chance of winning another game in this series. That's two games in a row now we've gotten ourselves down 20 points and fought all the way back."

[VIVID SEATS: Get your Bulls playoff tickets right here!]

Still, Thomas scored 33 points and exploited a once-aggressive Bulls defense that seemed to be on its heels for most of the second half against Thomas, leading to Hoiberg's claims about Thomas carrying the ball to give himself an advantage in his hesitation moves.

Hoiberg wouldn't revisit the topic before Monday's practice and praised the Celtics guard who's battling through the devastating loss of his sister, who died right before the series opened in Boston last weekend.

"I'm a huge Isaiah Thomas fan. He's as big a competitor as we have in our league," Hoiberg said. "Obviously, he's as tough a guy to guard as we have in our league. I think the world of the kid, especially what he's going through now, how he's fought through that and like I said last night, he's a warrior to go out there and do what he's done so far in this series."

Thomas has averaged 25.8 points on 45.8 percent shooting with six assists and four rebounds per game. At times, the Bulls' size has bothered Thomas at the rim, particularly Jimmy Butler coming over to help alter his share of attempts, but since the Celtics have altered their approach Thomas has found easier traction to the basket.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens inserted Gerald Green in the starting lineup and the move has worked masterfully, with Green scoring 18 points with four 3-pointers and one highlight-worthy baseline dunk.

It's rendered Robin Lopez effectiveness to a minimum, as he was an unsung hero on the offensive glass in the first two games, meaning Stevens' move to play smaller was a risk, albeit a calculated one.

The Bulls didn't adjust at all to it in Game 4 after the Celtics won decisively Friday night, but changes besides Canaan have to be in store if the Bulls hope to come home looking to clinch a berth in the second round as opposed to fighting off elimination in Game 6.

"It changed it entirely. Obviously when it was big-big, we dominated them," Dwyane Wade said. "Dominated them defensively, incredibly. They made adjustments, we didn't need to because we were up 2-0. Then coming off Game 3, we felt watching the film we played with low motor, not enough energy so we didn't feel the gameplan was the key. 

"But it was coming out of Game 4. So now it's a few adjustments we hope to make and hopefully it makes a difference."

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