Indy exhibition game gives fans their money's worth

Indy exhibition game gives fans their money's worth

Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011Posted: 9:30 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com Bulls Insider Follow @CSNBullsInsider
INDIANAPOLIS--The lineup wasn't as star-studded as Sunday's "Battle of I-95" in Philadelphia--especially with no-shows that included NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant, Chicago native Will Bynum, hometown product George Hill, Caron Butler and others--but the Washington, D.C.-based Goodman League and the Indy Pro-Am squad (consisting solely of locally-bred talent; Indy Pro-Am participants from this summer, local college heroes and even Pacers hailing from out of town played for the guests) put on a show Saturday night for fans at the University of Indianapolis, who were also treated to an extended postgame autograph session.

Instead of engaging in the absurdity of breaking down a glorified pickup game sans defense--by the way, the visitors held on for a 170-167 win--here's a look at how the NBA participants (no disrespect to the trio of Goodman League replacement players) fared in the contest:

John Wall (Goodman), Washington Wizards, 41 points, 12 assists, 11 rebounds: Wall continued his strong summer with a triple-double, playing every minute of the contest, maintaining competitiveness and intensity throughout, while giving the audience its money's worth with his aesthetically-pleasing combination of aerial acrobatics and blazing speed.

Eric Gordon (Indy), Los Angeles Clippers, 40 points, nine assists: One of the marquee names for the hometown squad, the rising star was his usual dominant self in terms of scoring, showcased some point-guard ability and overall versatility but couldn't quite complete the comeback down the stretch for the hosts.

Jeff Green (Goodman), Boston Celtics, 35 points, 12 rebounds: Somewhat of a forgotten man after being traded from Oklahoma City last season, the native Washingtonian did a little bit of everything for the squad from his hometown, as the versatile forward displayed smooth ballhandling, touch on deep jumpers and finished strong above the rim.

DeMarcus Cousins (Goodman), Sacramento Kings, 33 points, 15 rebounds: Coming off an up-and-down rookie campaign, the big man with a mean streak showed signs of his infamous attitude on occasion, but mostly displayed his undeniable talent, providing a low-post presence and flashing uncanny perimeter skills for a player of his size.
Mike Conley (Indy), Memphis Grizzlies, 25 points, five assists: Noticeably stronger following a campaign in which he led his team to a surprise postseason run (after harsh criticism for receiving a lucrative contract extension), the young floor general looked polished and his perimeter jumper, formerly a weakness, was crisp.

JaJuan Johnson (Indy), Boston Celtics, 25 points, five rebounds: The Purdue University product was one of the best players in the college game a year ago and is expected to eventually provide some relief for Kevin Garnett, but while doubts about whether his slender frame can withstand the pounding of the pro level remain, his skilled post-up game looks to be ready for the NBA.

Paul George (Goodman), Indiana Pacers, 24 points, 11 rebounds: The swingman earned a reputation as a strong defender in his rookie campaign--particularly against league MVP Derrick Rose in the first round of the playoffs--but displayed his fantastic athletic ability in this contest, soaring to make high degree of difficulty dunks seem routine, as well as showing some offensive polish.

Zach Randolph (Indy), Memphis Grizzlies, 21 points, 10 rebounds: The game's elder statesman isn't exactly built for a speed game, but held his own--and occasionally held opponents, such as Cousins; good-naturedly, of course--after a late arrival, although he mostly deferred to his younger, less vertically-challenged teammates, as he seemed mostly happy to participate.

Gordon Hayward (Indy), Utah Jazz, 20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists: Arguably the people's choice among the local fans, the former local college hero--he led Butler to the 2010 NCAA national championship game--probably functions better in a more structured environment, but his efficiency, subtle contributions and versatily ultimately led to solid production.
Lance Stephenson (Goodman), Indiana Pacers, 16 points: Defense and on-court maturity (he earned the game's only technical foul) are still issues, but the New York City product's playground background served him well and his blend of natural scoring instincts, size for either backcourt position and yo-yo handle--perhaps more impressive than even Wall's--were perfect for this setting.

Shelvin Mack (Goodman), Washington Wizards, 15 points: Like his former college teammate Hayward, the second-round draft pick's businesslike game wasn't the most eye-catching, but his pro-ready frame, understanding of the game and solid all-around skills should translate to a long, if not spectacular NBA career.

Jeff Teague (Indy), Atlanta Hawks, 13 points, eight assists: After his breakout second-round playoff performance against the Bulls, the young floor general showed his postseason flashes of talent was no fluke, engaging in a mini-duel with Wall, demonstrating some skillful dribble moves, showing off deep range and skying for impressive dunks and blocked shots.

D.J. White (Indy), Charlotte Bobcats, 12 points, six rebounds: A role player on the pro level, the former Indiana Hoosier was relegated to the same status with high level of talent on the floor, but managed to make the most of his limited opportunities.
Josh McRoberts (Indy), Indiana Pacers, 11 points, eight rebounds: The up-and-down, guard-oriented setting wasn't ideal for a post player, but the homegrown big man--a Pacer, born and raised in Indiana--showed off his athleticism with a handful of high-flying dunks and even some surprising ballhandling ability, exciting a crowd supportive of his efforts.

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.

Timberwolves' Tom Thibodeau appreciative of time with Bulls

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Timberwolves' Tom Thibodeau appreciative of time with Bulls

There's likely a lot Tom Thibodeau would love to get off his chest.

But the newest head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves continued to take the high road on his tumultous ending with the Bulls when he spoke to David Kaplan Monday morning on ESPN 1000.

Thibodeau, who was hired by the Timberwolves in April as head coach and president of basketball operations, said he was appreciative of his five seasons with the Bulls.

"I felt I had a great job here and I had great guys to coach," he told Kaplan. "That part, you're disappointed that it's going to end, but you know if you're in pro sports. These things happen. I was disappointed that we weren't able to win the championship, not only for our players, but for the fans here and for Jerry (Reinsdorf). Jerry took a chance on me and I'll always appreciate that he did that. I enjoyed my time here.

"Obviously I loved living here and appreciate all the support we received for our team over the five years I was here," he added. "I know what the Bulls mean to this city and I know how the organization feels about the support that they receive from the fans. This is a great, great sports city and I certainly appreciate all they did for me as well."

Thibodeau's departure coincided with Fred Hoiberg's arrival at the helm. The Bulls struggled in their first year post-Thibodeau, missing the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.

Thibodeau alluded to myriad injuries the team faced, including the season-ending shoulder injury to emotional leader Joakim Noah.

"Jo (Noah) is a big hit. You can't underestimate that, but along with Jo going down I felt that the East had gotten a lot better," Thibodeau said. "When you combine those things, and sometimes that happens. They're still a really good team. I think Fred is an excellent coach. They have to be healthy. That's a big thing for the organization, and unfortunately that hasn't been the case for the last few years."

The Bulls and Timberwolves will play twice next season.

Tom Thibodeau all smiles after seizing all the power in Minnesota

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Tom Thibodeau all smiles after seizing all the power in Minnesota

With the controversy behind him and a future that’s envied by virtually every team not in the playoffs, former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau embraced his introduction as Minnesota Timberwolves coach as a new beginning.

Of course, the smile was a little wider considering the title he’s also walking into the door with, as President of basketball operations. He’ll be able to create and establish his own culture as basketball czar, with comrade Scott Layden as general manager.

Layden will do the daily, dirty work, but Thibodeau will have final say in basketball matters—a responsibility he craved in this year away from the sidelines, and also evidenced by his partnership with the popular firm Korn Ferry, the firm that helped place Stan Van Gundy in Detroit.

"For me, personally, this is about alignment," Thibodeau said at his introduction. "It's not about power. It's not about any of that stuff. I've known Scott a long time. We've shared philosophies with each other about certain things. He was the person that I really wanted. So I'm glad we had the opportunity to get him."

Like Van Gundy, Thibodeau had a rocky relationship with his previous employer before turning the tables in his next stop to become the all-knowing basketball being.

Scathing comments after his firing last spring from Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf stung Thibodeau, according to reports, but was offset by Thibodeau thanking Reinsdorf for taking the chance on hiring him, not the ugly, forgettable ending.

“I don’t want to keep going back to Chicago, that’s gone,” he said afterward. “When I look back in totality, there was a lot more good than bad. That’s the way I prefer to view it. The next time you go around, you want to do it better. You analyze different teams, see the synergy between front office and coach and you try to emulate that.”

It’s easy to take the high road when two of the league’s brightest and youngest talents—Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins—are in your stead, healthy and ready to bust out.

And it’s easy to take the high road when there’s no barrier between what you want to happen and what will happen inside the building—a tricky proposition, it should be said.

The natural conflict that often exists between a front office and coach—one takes a more immediate view of matters while the other must consider the long-term effects of the franchise as a whole—won’t exist at all with Thibodeau and Layden because the hierarchy is clear.

It’s Thibodeau at the top and everyone and everything must bend to his will, per se. Considering the way he felt about the way things transpired in Chicago, where he reportedly clashed with Gar Forman and John Paxson over myriad issues, no one can be too surprised he followed the model laid out by Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers and Van Gundy, among others.

And like Van Gundy, Thibodeau has the task of getting the team with the longest conference playoff-less streak back to the land of the living—a feat Van Gundy accomplished this season with the Pistons, his second. The Timberwolves haven’t made the postseason since 2004, when Kevin Garnett won MVP.

It was four years before Garnett and Thibodeau connected in Boston in the 2007-08 season, helping the Celtics end a 22-year titleless drought. It’s Garnett, and players like Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah who helped Thibodeau earn this reputation as a master motivator and defensive wizard.

He thanked those players among others, as well as late Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders, who drafted the likes of Towns and Wiggins with the long-term view of having them develop at their own pace with the likes of veterans like Garnett and Tayshaun Prince there to guide them.

Thibodeau the coach will be there to prod, poke and push the greatness they’re expected to possess, the same way he did with Rose, Noah and Butler to varying degrees.

Thibodeau the coach won’t have much patience for mistakes, but Thibodeau the executive must resist the “trade everybody” emotions many coaches have when players go through down periods.

Having perspective was never one of his strong points, as he squeezed every ounce of productivity from his teams, but perspective must be his greatest ally in his second act in the spotlight.

Taking a long-term approach in a season when it came to minutes and players’ bodies was something he reportedly bristled at—and even if the narrative was somewhat exaggerated, the rap remains on him, unlikely to shake until proven otherwise.

Now he must take a long-term view in everything, and has to deal with the politics that come with being a top executive in the NBA, a task much easier done in fantasy than application.

Perhaps he gained that perspective in 11 months off after being fired from the Bulls, and using the time to gain insight into other franchises operations while watching the Bulls crumble from the inside.

The Bulls got what they wanted with his ouster, and it was a case of “be careful what you wish for”.

Eleven months from now, one wonders if the same mantra will apply to the coach who wanted it all and got it all.

Marc Gasol thinks brother Pau should sign with Spurs

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Marc Gasol thinks brother Pau should sign with Spurs

Pau Gasol has long been expected to opt out of the final deal of his contract with the Bulls this offseason.

And while there was a time when the interest in Gasol returning to the Bulls on a new deal appeared mutual, the liklihood is now that Gasol plays his 16th NBA season in a different uniform.

His brother, Marc Gasol, seems to think so, too.

When Gasol signed with the Bulls in 2014, he was also considering the Spurs, who at the time were the defending champions. Gasol chose Chicago over San Antonio and Oklahoma City, where he was twice named an All-Star and averaged 17.6 points and 11.4 rebounds in 150 games.

But he didn't have the success he expected when he signed. The Bulls were knocked out in the second round last year and missed the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons this year.

Gasol would make sense with the Spurs, who both tout a long track record with international players and veterans. It would also give him one last shot at earning a third NBA title, something he wasn't able to accomplish in two seasons with the Bulls.