In March, Carlos Boozer has struggled. Some of that can be attributed to sixth man Taj Gibson’s stellar season eating into his minutes, but while the much-maligned power forward has always been under heavy scrutiny during his time in Chicago, this current stretch has been one of the toughest he’s endured in a Bulls uniform.
Never before has discussion of him being amnestied in the offseason sounded like such a foregone conclusion and though he’s been good at blocking out the criticism of his game he’s at times unfairly received, it might be taking a toll on him. That, and the fact that Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has now seemingly committed to playing him almost solely in the first and third quarters of games seem to be having an adverse effect on his performance.
“We need everybody. We’re at the time of the year where we need everyone at their best. Everyone has to get their house in order. We have to put maximum work into it. We have to play for the team. Everyone has a job to do. You have to put the team first. I don’t where it’s going to come from. If you play well, you’re going to play,” Thibodeau said about whether or not Boozer remains an integral part of the team. “His scoring and his rebounding, we need that. I thought he made a couple of great plays [in Sunday’s win over Miami], passes where we got layups. Those are the things that can help a team win and that’s what we want. Whatever the role we’re asking you to play, do it great. Embrace your role. Just be ready.”
For all of his well-documented flaws on the defensive end of the floor, the Bulls have been a top-tier defensive team since Boozer’s been in town. Furthermore, his strengths — specifically, spacing the floor with his mid-range jumper, his underrated passing and consistent rebounding — don’t get as much as acclaim as they perhaps should.
If this is indeed Boozer’s last season with the Bulls, he would be a hot commodity for either a contending team with a need at power forward, one of the most stacked positions in the league, or for an up-and-coming squad desiring another piece to help them take another step. Either way, as Boozer has privately wondered, maybe his decreased playing time, while not something he’s a fan of, could help prolong his still-viable career.
Popovich praises ex-Spur Mohammed
Bulls veteran center Nazr Mohammed once played for the Spurs and was a starter on San Antonio’s 2005 title-winning squad. Nearing the end of his career, Mohammed has expressed an interest in transitioning into NBA front-office work, something Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich believes he’s qualified to do.
“Absolutely,” Popovich said. “He’s intelligent and he understands the game. He knows how it’s played and he’s been in enough situations where he knows what works and what doesn’t.”
Popovich still has fond memories of Mohammed’s time in San Antonio and isn’t surprised that although the Chicago native doesn’t play big minutes for the Bulls, he’s still a member of the team’s regular rotation.
“Not at all,” the coach explained. “Nazr’s the same now as he was then. He’s one of those rare guys who knows exactly what his skills are. He knows exactly what it takes to be on a team and help a team, and he’s got a really high sense of maturity and team play. So playing defense, getting a rebound, taking a shot here and there is what he does, and he’s smart enough to know that that’s important to a team. So he’s done for these guys exactly what he did for us.”
Former Bull Belinelli a fit in San Antonio
Marco Belinelli, in his first season with the Spurs after a memorable one-year stint in Chicago, has fit right into his new team’s international culture — stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, among other players, all have international backgrounds — and style of play. Popovich, however, believes his time with the Bulls has also helped Belinelli’s transition.
“He’s an all-around player. He passes the ball really well, he’s competitive, he’s really good in the pick-and-roll. He drives me crazy defensively, just like he did Thibs probably,” Popovich said. “But Thibs made him better that way and we’re hoping to do the same thing with him. But it’s his all-around play that’s really helped us, not just his shooting, But his passing, his cutting. He plays with Manu and Patty Mills off the bench really, really well. It’s a good group because they’re passing and moving, and not holding the basketball.”
Popovich, a noted food and wine connoisseur also quipped, “He is a great source for Italian restaurants around the league. We argue consistently about what’s good and what’s not.”
Thibodeau compared the games of Belinelli and Mike Dunleavy Jr., his de facto replacement.
“They’re different. Their professionalism is similar, but I think Marco is more of a pick-and-roll type player, Mike more of a catch-and-shoot. Mike has a lot more size, so I think of the rebounding component,” Thibodeau said. “Marco has really improved significantly defensively. His anticipation, and he’s reading things a lot better. He’s really played great for them. They spread you out, have multiple guys that can hurt you with the pick-and-roll, and they all share the ball, which I think is critical. And none of them hold onto it. Every decision made is very quick.”
Thibodeau reminisces about short stay in San Antonio
Thibodeau was a Spurs assistant coach under John Lucas in San Antonio, where he briefly crossed paths with Popovich, then the team’s new general manager.
“Yeah, for like three days. I had a lot of stays like that unfortunately,” he joked. “I was there, and Ron Adams was with me at that particular time. John Lucas took over, and John had taken the Philadelphia job, so we were sort of up in the air. Pop was the new general manager. He wasn’t the coach at that particular time, and he was in a coaching search. But the timing, like we had to make a decision. That team was a 50-win team with great character, but we had to make a tough decision, but we couldn’t take a chance without knowing who the coach would be so we moved on to Philly.”