Frustrated Thibodeau wants Bulls to stay the course

947079.png

Frustrated Thibodeau wants Bulls to stay the course

HOUSTONBulls' head coach Tom Thibodeau is between a rock and a hard place. For all of his coaching mastery and motivational ability, Thibs cant simply conjure up a recipe for success for his team right now.
Faced with the first three-game losing streak of his young, brilliant head-coaching career, while the Bulls played at least a semblance of the defense that has made them so successful over the previous two seasons, it broke down late and on top of that, the turnover issues, lack of chemistry and inability to execute in late-game situations plagued them once again in Wednesdays 93-89 loss to Houston, which snapped its own three-game skid. For this group, its not about not wanting it bad enough, but clearly theres a disconnect between the discipline Thibodeau attempts to impart on a daily basis and what occurs on the court.
Hard-fought game, came down the stretch. Couldnt get key stops and had some turnovers late. Hurt us, a frustrated Thibodeau curtly explained afterwards in the bowels of the Toyota Center, his old stomping grounds as a former Rockets assistant coach. I thought we did some good things for most of the game and then, our defensive discipline got us at the end of the game.
Thibodeau didnt single any one player outone of his most admirable qualities is that he refuses to publicly throw any of his players under the busbut a couple of hours before it officially became Thanksgiving, it was obvious that he was most thankful for a flight back to Chicago, so he could retreat to his lair at the Berto Center (in his pregame availability, Thibodeau stated this himself) to study, prepare and devise a way to cure whatevers currently ailing his team.
But then, he listed, in true basketball-purist fashion, the litany of woes that ail his team.
Everyone has a responsibility in your team scheme, pick-and-roll defense, so we have to stay disciplined and we have to stay attached, and we cant make things up and so, the fourth quarters different. Your intensity is higher and we have to stay disciplined on the defensive end, and understand on the offensive end, everythings going to happen quicker, so you cant try to thread the needle in those situations. Youve got to make the first, simple pass. We have to know what our looks are in order, okay? And thats something weve got to work on, he said.
"Right now, Im not as concerned with the streakand obviously, I hate the losing part of itIm more concerned with us doing things the right way and focusing in on our improvement, so theres a lot of things that go into winning and you have to do things the right way, and thats what we have to understand and we have to be able to do that for 48 minutes. We cant pick and choose. We have to be tied together the entire time. We have to be aware, we have to be alert, we have to make multiple effort, we have to stay on bodies, okay? We cant do the easy thing. Weve got to do the tough thing," he added.
When you look at it, these games are hard-fought and theyre going to be one or two possessions down at the end, and youve got to make tough plays. Got to make tough plays and usually, its hard to win on the road and the first thing you have to do is eliminate all the ways in which you beat yourself, so you start right with your defense. The rebounding is okay, its average at best. The turnovers are high. Its difficult to win, particularly when youre short-handed. We have to play real hard, we have to play real smart and weve got to be tied together.
"And I think you have to understand how the game is going, and whats a good three, whats a bad three, okay. The rhythm of the offense. Is it coming off a quick swing, is it coming off inside-out, okay? When is it coming? And I think thats a big part of understanding your teammates, the offense and what youre trying to get accomplished. I think, as the ball moves, you have to understand what your looks are, in order. Everyone has to fulfill their responsibilities, you have to stay disciplined, you have to be able to sustain your spacing through a second or third option, particularly late in the game, okay? So, thats when your decision-making is critical and all those things go into winning, he added.
It doesnt take a basketball mad scientist like Thibodeau to break down things that go into losing, something the Bulls were previously not accustomed to, at least on this recent skid and to be honest, even before the team left for the Circus Trip. Its easy to get seduced into thinking that simply because previous editions of the Bulls gutted out ugly wins and overcame supposed deficiencies, that this seasons squad could do the same.
The aforementioned intricacies Thibodeau mentioned are indeed accurate, but its also simpler than that, as a lack of outside shooting, poor decision-making, less than dominant rebounding and shaky chemistry on both ends of the floor stand out in both Bulls wins and losses. The good news is that like those past teams, this group also has a burning desire to win games.
The bad news is that, at the moment, they havent learned how to transform that into the consistent collective approach that made the Bulls so successful in the past. However, the season is still young and with a returning core of players who have witnessed Thibodeau work his magic, it isnt too late for the buy-in process to startalthough it better happen quicklyand make this current three-game losing streak a distant memory.

Fire putting finishing touches on roster as season nears

Fire putting finishing touches on roster as season nears

The preseason has finished and it's officially a match week for the Chicago Fire.

The Fire, which travel to Columbus on Saturday for the season opener, returned from preseason training in Florida on Sunday and began the team's first full day back in Chicago with the team's annual kickoff luncheon on Monday. The team's players, coaches and staff interact with fans and the media ahead of the upcoming season.

Two players, UNC-Charlotte products Brandt Bronico and Matej Dekovic, were introduced to the audience a couple hours before the club announced the two 2017 draft picks had signed contracts. Bronico, a central midfielder drafted in the third round, and Dekovic, a center back/left back taken in the fourth round, both signed one-year deals with club options for the following three years.

Dekovic could add some much needed depth in central defense, but is a logical candidate to go out on loan to USL affiliate Tulsa. Dekovic, 23, is Croatian and counts as an international player even though he played three years collegiately with the 49ers. The Fire have nine international players on the roster with eight slots for them. The Fire could trade for an international slot, but if Dekovic goes out on loan he won't count against that number. Coach Veljko Paunovic was asked about potential outgoing loans, but didn't give specifics other than to say they have "made some decisions" and "are still working on that."

Bronico and Dekovic don't figure to play major roles this season, but there could still be more moves ahead. The lone trialist in the final week of the Fire's training camp, former Columbus Crew defender Chad Barson, was not retained. General manager Nelson Rodriguez said Ryan Taylor will be the latest right back to join the Fire on trial. Taylor, 32, made 55 English Premier League appearances with Wigan Athletic from 2005-2009 and 61 more with Newcastle United from 2009-2015. This season he has made 12 appearances for Port Vale in England's third tier, the most recent of which on Jan. 20 when he scored a penalty kick.

 

"Ryan Taylor will join us this week," Rodriguez said. "He's a very experienced player, he plays a lot of different positions, which we like. We like that versatility. We love the attitude that he's expressed towards coming on trial, which is not easy for an accomplished player. We'll look at him this week, maybe look at him for two weeks. I don't know how long it will take, but he is an option for us."

The Englishman would also take up an international slot.

A potentially bigger move is the one Rodriguez hinted at regarding a third designated player. Currently, David Accam and Nemanja Nikolic are the Fire's two DPs, meaning one more DP spot is available.

"We have the latitude, we have the cap space, the budget space and the resources within MLS and within our ownership to add another DP," Rodriguez said. "We've looked at a few players. Two of the players that we had on our list, we didn't make offers for so I want to be clear the two players we were tracking, one signed in Mexico with a big club in Mexico and one went to China for big money so they're off our list.

"There are still two players that we're tracking. I think as we get deeper into the start of the season, even though the first window is open, it's tougher. I would say we would likely look at the summer, or, as we did last year, forego the summer and concentrate on January. I still think it's hard to integrate players midseason."

Bobby Portis relishing his chance as starter

Bobby Portis relishing his chance as starter

A milk carton was a more likely place to find Bobby Portis than on a basketball floor playing big minutes for the majority of his second season.

He could often be found in the locker room before games and listening to the older players talk to the media afterward, trying his best to fight off the frustration and admitted confusion that comes with the regression of not getting playing time.

When Portis did play, he looked nothing like the confident and borderline cocky rookie who often referred to himself in the third person in interviews. He didn't know when he would play, how long he would be out there or even worse, what was expected of him.

The trade of Taj Gibson at the deadline — preceded by the temporary benching of Nikola Mirotic — put Portis back in the spotlight and he's intent on making the most of it during the last 23 games of the regular season.

"It's fun. You know go out there every day just to know that it's another day I'm going to play," Portis said. "That's the biggest thing for me. I feel like that's already a confidence builder right there, just coming into every game knowing that I'm in the rotation. It's great fun to go out there and play."

It's no secret the front office the Bulls want Portis to succeed and not add him to the ledger of some of the first-round disappointments that can be recalled in recent memory.

The trade of Gibson was certainly underlined with the mantra that Portis should play and the way was going to be cleared for Portis, one way or another. Scoring 19 with eight rebounds against the Celtics on national TV right before the All-Star break probably gave Portis enough validation considering he was thrust into the starting lineup at power forward soon after.

"I don't care about nobody judging me," Portis said. "At the end of the day I'm going to play basketball. That's my job. I'm going to go out there and do the things I do well. I feel like sometimes people misconstrue just because you don't play and they can say some things like that. I don't really care about anybody judging me at this point. At the end of the day I'm still going to be Bobby Portis at the end of the day."

Well, clearly, the third person thing hasn't left the second-year forward, but he said he stayed in the gym waiting on his opportunity, even through a quick but confusing stint to Hoffman Estates to the D-League.

"Just being hungry. Humble and hungry," Portis said. "You know one thing I always strive off of is being humble and hungry. That kept me sane. My mom, I talked to her a lot. She kept me grounded. It's kind of tough not playing and going through the season knowing that some games you might play, you might not play. You know it's about waiting your turn, but at the same time you have to keep working."

Being the fifth big in Fred Hoiberg's rotation didn't leave him a lot of room for Portis to get much run or even find a rhythm, and like many others who've found themselves out of the rotation unexpectedly, it was without much of an explanation.

"Nah, I didn't really know what I could do to get minutes," Portis said. "The one thing that I know that I always do is just come in here every day, work as hard as I can, let the dominos fall how they fall. Every day I come in here, just bust my butt for some minutes, but sometimes it wouldn't work."

Now that he has found himself into Hoiberg's good graces, his improving range has allowed both units to play similiarly.

"I think Bobby has done a real nice job," Hoiberg said. "He was a huge part of our win against Boston in our game right before the break. He just goes out and plays with so much energy. What I really like about him right now is he has no hesitation on his shot. He's stepping into his 3 with good rhythm."