DEERFIELD, Ill.—Besides just scoring 19 points against his former team in Wednesday night’s win, Bulls backup point guard D.J. Augustin understands that inching closer to the third-place Raptors is important as the regular season enters its stretch run.
“Yeah, it was like a playoff game. The crowd was into it, the game went down to the wire. It was like a playoff game. It was exciting for us. We like playing in those type of situations,” Augustin said of his Toronto reunion. “It was bittersweet. I was able to see a lot of the organizational people that I knew and a lot of my old teammates. Just being back in the city was great. At the same time, it felt even better getting a win. It was a big win for us. They were in third place and we want that spot, so it was a big win.
“It felt good to play well in the fourth quarter, but the biggest thing was getting the ‘W,’ especially against the Raptors. It felt good for me and it’s big for our team moving forward,” he went on to explain. “It’s just the flow of the game. Whatever’s going on in the game, whoever has it going, that’s who we’re going to go to and whatever plays Thibs runs, that’s what we’re going to do. So just let the flow of the game happen.”
Teammate Carlos Boozer also acknowledged the significance of winning the head-to-head matchup, which could factor into tiebreaking purposes for the postseason.
“Especially since we’re so close to the playoffs,” he explained. “So every game, especially head-to-head against a playoff team, counts big time. It counts double.”
Bulls’ newcomer Varnado grateful for opportunity
Known as one of the top players in the D-League, as well as one of the premier shot-blockers in the history of college basketball, new Bulls big man Jarvis Varnado isn’t exactly an unknown quantity. Having spent time in the Heat organization—he was well-regarded by Miami’s front office and coaching staff for his work ethic, according to a league source—Varnado isn’t a novice either and while he understands that the 10-day contract he signed Tuesday with the Bulls might not be the start of a long-term situation, the Mississippi State product is thankful that he has a chance to be in Chicago.
“First-class organization. I’m extremely blessed and honored just to be in this position right now. I’m looking forward to it,” he told CSNChicago.com. “This is a grind team. They grind it out every night and with all that—‘D’ [Derrick Rose] out and Luol getting traded—they’re right there, right there in the thick of things and trying to make a push for the playoffs.”
[RELATED: Augustin shines in win over former team]
Now under the luxury-tax threshold, the Bulls are likely to cycle players in and out on 10-day contracts—the return of familiar face Mike James could occur later this season, according to a person with knowledge of the situation—for the remainder of the season in order to keep a league-mandated 13th player on the roster, though they are likely to keep just 12 when possible, such as the period prior to Varnado’s signing. Varnado hopes to follow in the path of the likes of Malcolm Thomas, now on Utah’s roster for the remainder of this season, and work on his game while in a Bulls’ uniform, further developing his offense, even though it’s unlikely he’ll be in Chicago for the long haul.
“Just being patient, being more efficient. Also being able to knock down that 15-foot jump shot on a consistent basis,” he said of his offensive improvement. “I’m never going to shy away from what I do that got me here, rebounding and blocking shots, bringing that energy. I’m just going to try to do it here.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau talked about Varnado and the organization’s thought process when signing him.
“[Varnado’s best trait is he] blocks shots. Yeah, we’ve kept abreast of what he’s done. We followed him in college and of course in the D-League, Boston and Miami. He’s gotten better since, obviously, he played in college. He has a lot of the qualities that we’re looking for. We’re excited to have him,” the coach explained. “We had a few guys that we were looking at, a couple smalls and a couple bigs, and we just thought he was someone that we had followed and we wanted to get a closer look at, but at this point you’re looking probably at the best available. We didn’t have a specific need and so, I like having the size and the shot-blocking, so I think that’s going to be a good fit.”
When asked whether Varnado was ahead of forward Toko Shengeila—a second-year forward acquired from Brooklyn in the Marquis Teague trade—in the unlikely event he went that deep into the rotation, Thibodeau actually analyzed the scenario.
“I don’t know. A lot depends on the matchups. Toko, he’s missed a lot of time, too. But he’s probably more familiar with what we’re doing. But we also have the flexibility of going with Mike [Dunleavy] at the four, Jimmy [Butler] at the four and ‘Murph’ [rookie Erik Murphy] at the four,” he said. “So depending on the shot-blocking, we need energy, whatever it is that we need, we’re not afraid to use Toko, use Jarvis or certainly the guys that have been here because they’ve been here a little bit longer and understand what we’re trying to get done.”
Deadline’s biggest move comes at last minute
According to Yahoo! Sports, Indiana traded former All-Star small forward Danny Granger to Philadelphia for Chicago native and former No. 2 overall draft pick Evan Turner and reserve big man Lavoy Allen. That last-minute deal, while not earth-shattering, certainly comprises the biggest swap at the league-wide trade deadline, which ended Thursday afternoon.
Granger, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, is in the last year of his contract and struggled to adjust to a sixth-man role on a Paul George-led Pacers team, of which he used to be the leading scorer. Meanwhile, after not receiving a contract extension from the 76ers last fall, Turner emerged to have a breakout season—albeit for one of the worst teams in the league—and was rumored to be on the trading block all year, though a hurdle for interested parties is the fact that it’s widely believed that the swingman’s agent, David Falk, was looking for him to receive a lucrative free-agent contract in the offseason.
The deal certainly gives Indiana, which acquired center Andrew Bynum after he was waived by the Bulls, a leg up in its Eastern Conference arms race with defending-champion Miami, the other East team expected to challenge for an NBA Finals appearance. For the Sixers, it solidifies their tanking strategy, particularly after jettisoning another one of their few productive players, big man Spencer Hawes, to Cleveland earlier in the day.
Thibodeau still takes injury-riddled Denver seriously
Missing starting point guard Ty Lawson, small forward Danilo Gallinari, center JaVale McGee and former Bulls fan favorite Nate Robinson—the latter is out for the season with an ACL injury; Lawson is the only one of the quartet who will return this campaign—the Nuggets have it rough these days.
After feuding with first-year head coach Brian Shaw during a game, veteran floor general Andre Miller was essentially banished, depleting the Nuggets at point guard and forcing them to go with natural shooting guard Randy Foye at the position. But Denver still has plenty of athleticism with the forward tandem of Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler, so Thibodeau remains wary of the up-and-down squad, who the Bulls host Friday at the United Center.
“Their speed, the way they can push the ball,” he cited, when asked about the Nuggets’ strengths. “They have a lot of guys who can go off the dribble. Foye at the point makes it a little different. But their quickness up front is something you have to be ready to do with.”
Thibodeau added that while he was pleased with Wednesday’s victory in Toronto, he did have some concerns with the Bulls allowing the Raptors to make it a close call late in the 94-92 win after building a comfortable cushion.
“You have to play tough with the lead. The fourth quarter is different. Overall, I thought there were more good things than bad. But we just have to make sure we stay disciplined. We have to continue to move the ball, work on our spacing, make the simple play, hit the first open man,” the coach said. “Readiness to play is a big part of this league. We have to continue to do that. I think playing from a lead is important. But you have to play for 48 minutes. When you come off a break, you have to re-establish that. You have to put the work and concentration into it. You have to come out with an edge and you have to be ready to go.”
Denver, under the guidance of first-year general manager Tim Connelly, did manage to trade Miller to Washington and acquire point guard Aaron Brooks from the Rockets at the trade deadline, giving them some depth.