After an injury-riddled campaign that had plenty of inspirational moments, the Bulls have a lot on their plate this summer.
First on the list is the health of Derrick Rose, but with the former league MVP already on a regimen designed for him to return to his previous form next season, teammates like the All-Star duo of Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, veteran floor general Kirk Hinrich and reserve big man Taj Gibson are all players the organization will also closely monitor between now and training camp.
“We want him to get completely healthy also. That will be the focus right now, getting him back to 100 percent. He needs some rest, as most of the guys do,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said of Noah, who had a breakthrough season in earning his debut All-Star berth. “[Whether or not Noah will have foot surgery to address his plantar fasciitis] hasn’t been determined. Obviously, we’d like to avoid the surgery. He has responded a lot better. He has found something that has worked. Hopefully the surgery won’t be necessary.”
Of Deng, who missed the end of the Bulls’ playoff run after suffering from complications due to a spinal-tap procedure, Thibodeau said, “We have to get him completely healthy again.
“He’s actually feeling better,” he continued about the two-time All-Star small forward, who again led the NBA in minutes per game. “But he’s de-conditioned. It was a very unusual circumstance. We have to make sure that he’s completely healthy.”
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As for Hinrich, who had multiple separate injuries and like Deng, missed the tail end of the postseason, due to a left-calf injury, the normally tight-lipped Thibodeau shed a bit more light on the guard’s situation, perhaps because the Bulls’ season is over.
“He had two very unusual injuries that you rarely see, the one with the elbow and this one. It was his calf being kicked. The MRI didn’t reveal anything else other than a bruise but the fact it was sore this long made it an unusual type of hit. We could never get him to the point where he could run and jump,” he explained. “Obviously if you can’t run and jump, you can’t play. He’s walking a lot better, he can do the bike, but he could never run and jump.”
But despite his team experiencing so many significant absences during the season, causing them to be perpetually undermanned, Thibodeau implied that the Bulls were simply victims of misfortune.
“You have to look at, ‘Okay, what are the injuries?’ Kirk kicked in the calf, Luol spinal tap, Derrick ACL,” he said. “Some of those things, I don’t know if you can avoid them. But you’re always looking to improve.”
Regarding other Bulls returnees, Thibodeau again defended the play of much-maligned power forward Carlos Boozer, who quietly had arguably his best season since arriving in Chicago, was the Bulls’ most consistent offensive force in their first-round series against Brooklyn and after struggling initially, closed out the eventual Eastern Conference semifinals loss to Miami in strong fashion.
“The one thing is he’s been so durable, and at the end when you evaluate, and I think sometimes you can have frustration with a particular game, but when you evaluate him in totality, what he gets done over the course of a season, he’s right there at the top of his position,” Thibodeau said. “More importantly, when you evaluate what he does when we have everybody in our starting lineup, they win at a very high percentage, so I don’t think you can ever overlook that.”
The coach already declared that swingman Jimmy Butler will reprise his late-season starting role and is hopeful that the Bulls’ youngest player, rookie point guard Marquis Teague can make a leap similar to Butler in his second season.
“He’ll be back [in Chicago] shortly,” Thibodeau said. “Hopefully he can have a very productive summer, play well in the summer league, and hit the ground running next season.
“About what you would expect. Some good, some bad. Young, inexperienced, learning and I just want him to focus on his improvement,” he went on to say about Teague’s rookie-year performance, including the scant minutes the point guard received in the playoffs. “He’s not afraid.
“I think he’s still learning the league and hopefully he’ll continue to improve.”
While the likes of impending free agents Vladimir Radmanovic and Nate Robinson are unlikely to return—for very different reasons, as the latter will likely garner significant attention on the open market, probably resulting in a multi-year deal outside of the Bulls’ price range—backup center Nazr Mohammed and shooting guard Marco Belinelli are candidates to return to Chicago, to varying degrees.
“I thought Nazr was tremendous,” Thibodeau said of the Chicago native, who, at 35, proved that he has more left in the tank, and was also a positive locker-room presence. “Hopefully we’ll have an opportunity with him, but again, you don’t know what the market will call for.”
In the case of Belinelli, the Italian sharpshooter is in a similar position to Robinson, but with the Bulls needing to add outside shooting to complement the return of the penetrating Rose, there is a clear fit—at least on the floor, as Belinelli showed the entire league he was capable of playing a substantive role, with a salary worthy of that responsibility—on both sides.
“Again, the same thing similar to Nate. I thought Marco was tremendous,” Thibodeau said. “I thought he had a great year, but again, a lot will be determined by what the market calls for. I think he’ll be a great fit, but we’ll have to see.”