AUBURN HILLS, MICH. The second of the Bench Mob reunions the first at the United Center will occur Saturday evening. Former Bulls reserve swingman Ronnie Brewer, now a Knicks starter, makes his first visit to Chicago since being waived over the summer.
Brewer was a much-beloved figure in the Bulls locker room over the last two seasons and made valuable contributions as a versatile defender and underrated offensive player, helping the team to back-to-back league-high regular-season win totals. Understandably, the holdovers from last season are eager to see him again.
Its going to be great to see Ronnie again," Taj Gibson said. "I keep in contact with him throughout the season. He hits me up from time to time. We talk, were real close. That was my guy. That was one of the guys I hung out with a lot on this team, so Im happy for him, being on another good team, playoff-bound team and hes playing great. I think his role is even better. Hes a starter. Hes starting on that team, hes playing great defense, hes knocking down that three-pointer, which I know he can do hes been working on it, even when he was here hes playing with a lot of confidence and hes just adjusting to that role on that team, of being one of those good defensive stoppers.
He was a real veteran. He was one of those guys that was never too high, never too low, always encouraging, always had your back. You could always count on him, he was a great teammate and hes on another good team, and you could tell the way that theyre playing, that hes inspiring them to play good defense and its showing.
Carlos Boozer, who played with Brewer both in Utah and Chicago, added: Its just going to be good to see him. Weve been talking the whole season. Hes been playing great for them, starting, obviously doing the same thing he always does, trying to lock up the other teams best perimeter player. Tomorrow, Im sure hell be on Lu a lot. But having a great season. I look forward to seeing my brother, man.
Luol Deng chimed in: Itll be cool, man. Ronnie, Kurt Thomas. Its going to be good to see those guys. Its always good to see ex- Bulls players and play against them.
Even Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, usually not one to be overly sentimental, spoke about Brewer in glowing terms.
Ronnies just a great team player. Thats who he is. He plays to win, plays for the team, hard-playing, does a little bit of everything, can score, pass, play-make, play great defense and hes a great teammate. Very coachable, the coach said. He did a great job for us when he was here and hes doing a great job for the Knicks.
Of course, once the game starts, Thibodeau might not be feeling so charitable. New York is coming off a huge blowout road win over defending champion Miami without superstar Carmelo Anthony or the sidelined Amare Stoudemire, let alone Chicago-area native Iman Shumpert and is currently the top team in the Eastern Conference, using a mix of improved defense, a three-point shooting barrage, unselfish play and a deep, experienced roster, including the NBAs oldest player, Kurt Thomas, another former Bull of recent vintage.
Tomorrows huge. Theyre flying high. They played very well against Miami yesterday. Theyre going to be rested and ready to go tomorrow, Joakim Noah said. Theyre playing very well. Theyre playing probably the best basketball in the NBA right now. Its on us to come in ready.
Deng added: Its tough. Theyre already there in Chicago, theyre waiting. They played well, theyre feeling great. They won their last game, theyre at the top of the East. Theyre playing well, so their confidence is high right now and coming in tomorrow, its going to be a tough game, but were looking forward to it.
Boozer concurred: Theyve been playing great. We watched a little bit of it last night, when they played Miami. They played phenomenal without Melo and Amare, which is hard to do, especially playing one of the more talented teams in Miami, but theyre a three-point shooting team, they have the green light, they have a monster in the middle in Tyson Chandler and theyve got great leadership. Theyve got J-Kidd, theyve got other veteran guys, Kurt Thomas is there, Rasheed is there. Theyve got guys that have been through some wars, mixed in with a good group of young talent. That being said, its going to be a great challenge for us.
Coming off a big win over Detroit -- but perhaps tougher than necessary -- and flying back to Chicago overnight after a two-game road trip before taking on the top team in the East, Thibodeau, a former Knicks assistant coach is wary of his team's upcoming test.
Theyre on top of the conference, playing very, very well," he said. "Deep, talented, shooting the ball extremely well. Playing great defense, playing together, playing hard. Weve got to be ready.