Chicago Bulls: 2013-14 3 Points
May, 15, 2014
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesDerrick Rose has said he will never recruit players to come to Chicago.Every week, ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.
1. Given his uncertain long-term durability, does Derrick Rose need to recruit free agents now more than ever?
Friedell: Probably but he has said repeatedly he's not going to do it so there's no reason to think that's going to change now. The good news for the Bulls is that they have a guy in Joakim Noah who loves recruiting. He did a lot of that while he was at the University of Florida. It would help if Rose put in a phone call, but Noah can handle the heavy lifting.
LeBron James as Dwyane Wade. As it is, it is not Rose's natural inclination to "recruit," he's not the type to favor famous friends, but it wouldn't hurt to drop a "What's up" text or send some flowers to Carmelo Anthony, right? Otherwise, let Tom Thibodeau do the convincing -- he's very good at this -- and let Noah host the parties. Rose can recruit best by simply being healthy.
Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist: This is a yes/no answer. And neither is wrong. The reality of "yes" is that there needs to be some insurance in place in case Derrick is not the same when he comes back or if he goes down again. The "no" in this scenario is asking Derrick to do it. Not saying that it isn't his job (technically it isn't; that's why teams have GMs and presidents of basketball operations, etc.) but asking Derrick to do it is akin to him admitting defeat or surrendering to a reality that hasn't proven itself to be real. Part of finding out if he can ever get back to that elite level of play is based on his confidence and belief (and drive and determination) that he can still be that dude who can make it happen. That between he, Noah and Thibs and one more player to replace Luol Deng they can make a run at a ring. But I believe if he's asked to go out and do something that is not in his nature like help recruit someone to "help" him, it will be the first step in losing him. And in him losing himself.
2. Should the Bulls have any hesitation regarding Rose's participation with Team USA this summer?
Friedell: No. Rose needs to see where his game is at and so do the Bulls. They need to know what kind of shape he is in as they get ready to start the season. They need to see how he performs against high-level competition. This is good for all involved.
Greenberg: No, this is exactly what he needs. Competition. Rose has rehabbed for most of the past two years. Now it's time to play. Rose famously refuses to play pickup ball in the summer, and while he feverishly works out with NBA players and a trainer, it would probably help him to come into camp with an edge and in game shape. Remember, his MVP season came after a run with the national team. He won't have to carry Team USA, but he needs to work this summer. And let's face it, being cautious after the first knee injury, while wise, didn't exactly guarantee him good health, did it? Rose is almost 26, there's no need to save him from himself.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesDerrick Rose is expected to participate in Team USA's training camp this summer.
Jackson: No. None at all. In my mind, they should actually welcome it. Derrick needs to play ball. Plain and simple. He needs to work off all of the rust, work out the kinks, get the feel back, regain that confidence that has to have waned a bit given all that has happened and basically see what he can do. I would much rather have that happen on the world stage when the pressure for him to perform won't be the same for him as it will under the microscope he'll be but under once he's back in a Bulls uniform. Derrick is not going to be expected to save or carry the USA this summer, but here in Chi, he still is.
3. Will Joakim Noah be able to put up the same numbers next season with Rose?
Friedell: No. That's because he isn't going to have the ball in his hands as much. With Rose back, Noah won't have to serve as much as the de facto point guard like he did so often over the past season. Noah will put up plenty of big numbers, they just won't be as high as they were a season ago.
Greenberg: Possibly. Who cares? This isn't a team that cares much about statistics. From the top man on down, it's a team that thrives on winning. Noah's value is more than how many assists he picks up or how many points he scores. He is one of basketball's great winners, and thus, he will be more valuable with a former MVP running the show. He's improved greatly since Rose was last fully healthy, turning into an All-Star. And I think there will still be room for him to do some playmaking from the perimeter. Wouldn't it be nice to see him feeding a cutting Rose? Fist pumps and finger guns for all.
AP Photo/John RaouxJoakim Noah has become a two-time All-Star during Derrick Rose's extended absence.
Jackson: No. Only because the Bulls will eventually get someone in free agency who will take the pressure off Jo to do all that he had to do this season. The requirement for him to score hopefully will not be there next season, neither should the demand for him to get double digits in boards. So those numbers should drop. But the assist numbers (hopefully) will stay the same if not improve as well as blocks, hustle points and 50/50 numbers that don't appear on all these over-emphasized stat sheets. Now, if Noah chooses to put up the same numbers, then that's a different story, different answer. I just don't think he will based on the yet-proven fact that the desperation for him to do it will no longer be there ever again.
May, 7, 2014
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesTaj Gibson raised his game this season and proved he's ready for an even bigger role in 2014-15.Every week, ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.
1. Will Taj Gibson become an All-Star next season?
Friedell: He could be, but I don't think it will happen next year. Gibson may be the starting power forward on the Bulls next season, but with Derrick Rose back, and possibly Carmelo Anthony or another scorer, he won't have as many opportunities to put up big enough All-Star numbers.
Carlos Boozer, Gibson lamented after the last playoff game that the Bulls fell behind in every loss to the Washington Wizards. The Bulls could have used him in the post. With Rose (knock on wood) coming back, expect Gibson to get fed often near the rim to start games.
Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist: It all depends on whom they pick up in free agency over the summer. As great as Gibson played over the back end of the season, it will be hard for me to believe that if the Bulls go out and get a max-level superstar along with Rose coming back to join Joakim Noah that they will have four players make it to the All-Star Game. Miami hasn't even been able to do that. So taking in consideration that before Gibson gets a nod, Rose, Noah and the unknown All-Star-caliber player they plan to add will already be on the All-Star ballot, it's gonna be tough for Taj to make that happen. Not impossible, but hella tough.
2. What's more likely, trading or using the amnesty on Carlos Boozer?
Friedell: Amnesty. The Bulls would love to trade Boozer. They would have loved to do it at any point over the past three years, but why would any team trade for him knowing they can probably get him for next to nothing in a couple months?
Greenberg: Amnesty. Boozer is only a trade possibility if the Bulls land a free agent, like, say, Anthony, and he agrees to a sign and trade on his way out of town. Because I don't see that happening, it's more likely the Bulls wave goodbye to Boozer. While some are skeptical the Bulls will pay the freight to release Boozer, remember they saved a good chunk of money by dumping Luol Deng. You can't tell me that money wasn't earmarked for this possible situation.
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty ImagesCarlos Boozer's run in Chicago appears to be over.
Jackson: Trade. Based on Jerry Reinsdorf's history of not spending money and not liking to lose money or just throw it away, I'm hard-pressed to believe that he would let the Boozer era in Chicago end by way of amnesty. Someone will pick up Booz and the remainder of his contract and Reinsdorf knows it. Gar Forman and John Paxson just have to find the right GM who sees a value in Boozer.
3. If he has played his final game as a Bull, how would you assess Boozer's tenure in Chicago?
Friedell: Underwhelming. Boozer hurt himself -- both literally and figuratively -- from the beginning. When he tripped over a bag in his place and broke his hand before his first season began, many fans had already stopped giving him the benefit of the doubt. When he no-showed throughout most of the 2011 playoffs, many people's minds were made up. Boozer was billed by the organization as the back-to-the-basket scorer the Bulls didn't have. But he never became that player.
Jackson: Around a high C-plus. I totally get why and where everyone comes off having issues with Boozer and his overall play while he was in Chicago. But I've always taken expectations into consideration and understood how that played a bigger role in how he was judged. Remove the expectations because of the contract and the hate against Boozer isn't the same. We held his contract against him more than we did his play. As much as I understand how that is the nature of the beast that is professional sports, I try not to always be a victim of it. Boozer was necessary. In the beginning, at the time he signed, he was very necessary. And although he never turned into the Bulls' LaMarcus Aldridge, Boozer never cashed out and became their Roy Hibbert either.
May, 1, 2014
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJoakim Noah and Taj Gibson would benefit from some quality backups next season.Every week, ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.
1. Aside from scoring, what is the Bulls' biggest weakness that needs to be addressed this summer?
Friedell: Lack of depth. It's up to general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president John Paxson to get on the same page with coach Tom Thibodeau about this. When the Bulls went to the Eastern Conference finals in 2011, they basically had a set of another five guys to bring off the bench -- the popular "Bench Mob." The Bulls must find a way to get more breaks for guys like Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler or else they run the risk of watching them wear out again next season.
Jon Greenberg, ESPNChicago.com columnist: Frontcourt depth. Noah and Taj Gibson are great, but they need backups. Nazr Mohammed is a first-team role model, but the Bulls have to get a little younger. I'm assuming Carlos Boozer is gone, via the amnesty provision or salary-matching trade. Although Noah has blossomed into an All-Star the past two seasons by playing the bulk of the minutes at center, the Bulls still miss Omer Asik, who is an excellent defender. Chicago needs to draft at least one big man this summer and sign another in free agency. Maybe Greg Smith, signed in mid-April, could be one of those backups. But the Bulls could use a bruiser in the Marcin Gortat mold.
Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist: Health and roster spots. To me -- and I'm probably the only one of this group who feels this way -- the Bulls don't need to make a Carmelo Anthony-like splash in the offseason to put themselves into title contention going into next season. Just getting Derrick Rose (even if he's not at 100 percent old-school D-Rose) back and an equal replacement for Luol Deng will work. They don't need a max-deal type of player. They need an above-midlevel baller, who along with Noah and Rose, could play in some All-Star Games. A DeMar DeRozan-type, a Harrison Barnes-type, a Wesley Matthews Jr.-type, a Chandler Parsons-type. That's the biggest thing they need to address. But right, right, right below that: They need a serious rebounder. Desperately. If Nene and Gortat exposed anything about the Bulls in the final minutes of those last two losses, the Bulls need someone to stop other teams from turning 24-second possessions into 90-second plays.
2. Do you view the Bulls' season as a success or failure?
Friedell: Success. This team could have mailed it in when Rose got hurt. Or when Deng got traded. It didn't. It continued to fight all the way until the end. Yes, it is disappointing that the Bulls couldn't get out of the first round, but they weren't going to the NBA Finals either way. This team should be praised for continuing to play even when the obstacles were stacked against it.
Jackson: Big success. Regardless of how the playoffs played out, losing to the Wizards in 5, to me, doesn't negate what they did and overcame to get to that point. And I refuse to be one of those fickle/flaky fans/journalists who loved the Bulls two weeks ago and was calling for Thibs to be coach of the year and is now saying that the season was a failure and that Thibs needs to change his coaching style. I wrote earlier in the season that the Bulls were pound-for-pound the best team in the NBA. Now, I can't say that they played that way against the Wizards, but I do feel comfortable in saying that their entire season was very far from a failure.
3. How do the Bulls reverse the trend of being worn out at the end of the season?
Friedell: Thibodeau is one of the best coaches in the NBA, but he must sit down with Forman and Paxson this summer and come up with a better strategy for doling out minutes in the regular season. He has to make the rotation deeper and play more than just seven guys on a regular basis, an area Forman and Paxson can help. They have to get through to Thibodeau that winning regular-season games is great, but being as fresh as can be in the postseason is more important. Running out of gas by the playoffs has developed into a trend for the Bulls.
Greenberg: Get a deeper team, I suppose. It's easier said than done with the salary-cap restrictions. Every team is tired to some degree by the postseason. There just isn't enough rest available. The playoffs afford you a chance to catch your breath, with the lack of back-to-backs and all. In the Bulls' case, having to play catch-up nearly every game was more the cause of their second-half meltdowns than big minutes in March. But as Deng said to a group of reporters after the preseason ended, he wouldn't have minded the Bulls' trying things the San Antonio way, just as an experiment. Thibodeau might want to set aside a few rest days for his starters in the last two months. First, he needs a healthy team to do that.
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsTom Thibodeau has to be able to play more than just seven players next season if the Bulls are going to last the entire season.
Jackson: They don't. The Bulls spent most of the season not just two men down but two All-Stars down in Rose and Deng. For them to even make it to the playoffs -- let alone get home-court advantage in the first roun by finishing with the No. 4 seed -- every man on that roster had to step up. And they did. If Thibs stretched his roster and starts giving everyone minutes during the season to avoid being worn out, there's no way they would have won the games they did to get into the playoffs. People act as if the Bulls were blowing teams out to get those wins. They weren't. If you want the Bulls not to be worn out at the end of the season so that they have a better chance of beating a team at full strength in the playoffs, don't trade Deng without getting immediate help in return and hope Rose doesn't get injured. Simple.
April, 24, 2014
USA Today Sports, Getty Images When healthy, Derrick Rose and John Wall are two of the quickest players in the NBA.Every week, Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.
1. Who would you rather build your team around right now, Derrick Rose or John Wall?
Friedell: Even the most ardent Rose supporter would probably have to admit that Wall is the better option right now. That's because Wall is an All-Star who has recently proven that he can stay on the floor. Rose has only played 50 games in the past three seasons, and nobody is quite sure what kind of player he'll be when he does return. Wall is still getting better, and nobody knows if Rose will ever reach the MVP level he was at before his first knee injury.
Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist: Wall is the easy choice to say right now since we haven't seen Derrick play at peak level in 2 ½ years. I don't know if it's fair or possible to answer that question "accurately" without being a prisoner of the moment. But for the sake of conversation, I'll say Rose. Whereas Wall is a great, soon-to-be elite player in the league, Derrick (when healthy) is special. Like, LeBron/KD special.
2. What's happened to Joakim Noah's defense in this series?
Friedell: Noah has always had a problem against big centers. Notably, Dwight Howard and Roy Hibbert. Nene fits that mold, but the difference early in this series is that Nene has been able to knock down jumpers and bang down low. The reality for the Bulls is that this just isn't a good matchup for him, but I do expect him to play better.
Greenberg: Well, Nene is a tough cover. He can shoot, and he can muscle inside. Marcin Gortat can get baskets, too. Noah is uniquely valuable because he can switch on screens and disrupt pick-and-rolls. But when the Wizards are making midrange jumpers, what can you do? Noah deserved his award because it was emblematic of the team's defensive success. But he's not a one-man lockdown defender. He's just the captain of a very mobile, very frustrating defense. That defense is simply getting worked by the multifaceted Wizards offense.
Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY SportsDefensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah has struggled to contain the Wizards' Nene through two games.
Jackson: It's still there, it's just under the microscope because we are focusing on his "matchup" with Nene as opposed to what he's doing overall inside of the team's defense. Noah is not a shut-down defender, he's a team defender. He roams, and he is one of the best help-defenders in the league, as witnessed on his contest of the Bradley Beal shot that could have won the game in regulation for the Wizards. Judging Jo's defense on his individual matchup (he honestly should be guarding center Gortat, not power forward Nene) is not a true indication of how he's playing D or if his D has disappeared.
3. What should the Bulls do about their struggles to score in the fourth quarter?
Friedell: The sad part for Thibodeau is he doesn't have many choices. D.J. Augustin can score, but once Trevor Ariza switched onto him, he was a non-factor. The only other move Thibodeau could make is to play Mike Dunleavy more down the stretch. Obviously, he doesn't trust him as much defensively, but Dunleavy is a solid defender and can hit shots. It's time for Thibodeau to try something different in the final few minutes.
Greenberg: Score more points? Seriously, the only options are either try to insert Dunleavy for Kirk Hinrich/Jimmy Butler or figure out a way to free Augustin from Trevor Ariza, or any other bigger defender the Wizards stick on him. The first is problematic because the Bulls need Hinrich to run the point when Augustin is getting dogged by big defenders, and they need Butler to defend Bradley Beal or Ariza. Carlos Boozer is a more popular option, given his ability to get buckets. Do you sub out Taj Gibson or Noah then? Maybe for a few minutes just to see if Boozer is feeling it. Perhaps Thibodeau can just do some offense/defense substitutions late in the game. Or maybe the answer is subbing out Butler, who played the entire 53 minutes last game, or Augustin before crunch time so they can be a little fresher in the last five or six minutes. With Nene in his grill, Noah can't run his point-center offense. Hinrich isn't a takeover scorer late in the game. Maybe the answer is there are no easy solutions with a limited roster.
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty ImagesWould Carlos Boozer in the fourth quarter make a difference for the Bulls?
Jackson: Make Butler shoot. Make Dunleavy shoot. Run plays for Tony Snell. Use Jimmer Fredette. Put Boozer in, put him on the blocks and let him either score, get to the line or create double teams to kick the rock out to shooters. Anything. Yes, the Bulls are at times an offensively challenged team, but we can't sit here and act as though they don't have options to score. I know it is hard for coaches to break out of their mental cycles in playoff series, but every team has 12 players for a reason. Sometimes you just gotta use them.
April, 17, 2014
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJohn Wall averaged 19.3 points and 8.8 assists during the regular season, including 20.7 points in three games against the Bulls.Every week, Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.
1. What about the Wizards should concern the Bulls?
Friedell: How will the Bulls be able to contain John Wall and will Tom Thibodeau be willing to use Kirk Hinrich more than his customary 25-30 minutes a night? Nene and Marcin Gortat have given the Bulls problems in the past. They can score and they know how to play on the blocks. It's going to be up to Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson to limit each player in what will be a physical matchup.
Jon Greenberg, ESPNChicago.com columnist: I'll be Captain Obvious and say Wall. In going 2-1 against the Bulls this season, Wall averaged 20 points (shooting 50 percent from the field) and eight assists. With time to prepare, the Bulls will have a solid game plan to limit his penetration, swarming him off pick-and-rolls and disrupting his flow. No one preps better than Thibodeau, and his players listen with religious fervor. But Wall is finally realizing his potential as an All-Star-caliber player, and you can't always corral talent. Another area of concern is where the Bulls are the strongest. Chicago tends to have an advantage over most teams down low when Noah and Gibson are paired together. But with bruisers Nene and Marcin Gortat, the Wizards will give the Bulls' dynamic duo some trouble.
Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist: Their ability to shut teams down defensively, and the Wizards aren't the greatest offensive team in the league. The Wizards finished 10th in the NBA in field goal percentage, and the Bulls were the second-best team (behind the Pacers) in opponents field goal percentage. Usually, especially with a team like the Bulls, when the playoffs begin, defenses have a deeper impact in games. It takes most offenses a few games to get adjusted and going, and I think that's going to be the situation with the Wizards. They have six players (including Webster at 9.7 points a game) who average double digits. In this series against the Bulls, not only are all six of those players going to have problems reaching their averages, but collectively there probably won't be one game when all six score in double figures. And that eventually will be their downfall.
2. What's the most intriguing matchup between the Bulls and Wizards?
Friedell: I'm curious to see what unfolds between Jimmy Butler and Bradley Beal. Both players are young, talented and they want to make a bigger name for themselves. They will be going after each other every game, and it should be fun to watch.
Greenberg: Hinrich vs. Wall will be interesting. While their styles are, um, different, Hinrich had a hand mentoring Wall in his rookie season, and now the student must beat the master to become a true ... Ah, just kidding. Seriously, though, Hinrich has had a great season, because he hasn't had to exert himself every game thanks to the addition of D.J. Augustin. Hinrich is averaging 29 minutes a game and has been bulldoggy on defense. While the Bulls truly play a team defense, Hinrich will be responsible for disrupting Wall's flow. Butler against Beal will be another individual matchup to watch. Here's another question: How will the Wizards defend the Noah point-center offense?
AP Photo/Jason DeCrowGuarding Bradley Beal, who averaged 17.1 points this season, will be a tough assignment for Jimmy Butler.
Jackson: Beal and whoever is guarding him from game to game. Between Butler, Tony Snell and Ronnie Brewer -- Hinrich is going to have his hands full with Wall -- Beal is going to have the Sybil of matchup problems. The Bulls are going to show him so many different looks with so many different players in front of him, it's going to be a thing of beauty either watching them confuse the hell out of him or him figuring it out and dropping 20-plus every game.
3. Who wins the series and why?
Friedell: The Bulls in six. They are playoff-tested. They want to prove this season hasn't been a waste, and they are confident. On top of all that, they are as healthy as they've been in Thibodeau's tenure heading into a playoffs -- aside from Derrick Rose of course. The Bulls just have too much talent, too much experience and too much defensive prowess in the end.
Jackson: The Bulls. They are just, excuse me, have just shown themselves to be, a better team than the Wizards over the course of this season. On the real tip though, we are going to find out in this series if the Wizards have any fight in them. We know the Bulls do, and eventually that's going to be the factor that wins it for the Bulls. But if the Wizards show that they have the will to not wanna lose, to win a few games in this series that they aren't supposed to win, then next year -- with the help of signing one midlevel vet in the offseason -- seeing them in the playoffs will be a problem.
April, 10, 2014
Getty ImagesThe Bulls should be well-represented when it comes to NBA awards this season.Every week, Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.
1. Which is most likely to happen: Joakim Noah wins defensive player of the year, Taj Gibson wins sixth man of the year or Tom Thibodeau wins coach of the year?
Nick Friedell, ESPNChicago.com Bulls writer: All three have a good shot to happen, but I'd go with Noah as the defensive player of the year in this group. He has earned a lot of respect throughout the league for the way he has led the Bulls on and off the floor this season. He is the linchpin of Thibodeau's stout defense and the player from which the rest of his teammates take their cues. Noah isn't going to win the MVP award, but this would be a nice consolation prize for him.
Jamal Crawford for the award and then, starting next season, graduates to a full-time starter.
Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist: Jo as DOY. That's easy. Not that Taj and Tom don't deserve those respective awards, but the NBA has to find a way to make up for not giving JoNo the MVP when "technically" he might be more deserving of it than anyone else in the league.
2. Will the Bulls be worn out in the playoffs like they were in years past?
Friedell: While nobody ever really knows how a team will perform in the playoffs, my guess is that the Bulls won't hit the wall as hard as they did in years past. Aside from his use of Jimmy Butler, Thibodeau has made a concerted effort to pull back on some of the heavy minutes guys such as Noah and Kirk Hinrich played, when healthy, last season. Those little bits of extra rest should help over the course of the postseason. What will be interesting is to see just how much, if at all, Thibodeau uses his bench -- besides contributors such as D.J. Augustin and Taj Gibson.
Greenberg: I don't think so, besides the typical wear and tear that every team shows this time of year. Butler is fourth in the league in average minutes at 38.3, but the next-highest Bull is Noah, who is tied for 32nd at 34.9. Noah's 2,620 minutes is tops on the Bulls but only 23rd in the NBA. Thibodeau will never live down his "minute man" reputation, but aside from Butler's workload, he has deftly handled a seven-man rotation for much of the season. I side with Thibodeau on the point that great players log big minutes, and we harp on it a bit too much. All those injuries created that storyline, though. It seems like the Bulls' tweaks to the training staff have helped. I know that Noah's training regimen is different than in years past, and he finally got rid of his old shoes. Hinrich's health is key and the addition of Augustin has been crucial to keeping him on the floor.
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastJimmy Butler is fourth in the NBA, averaging 38.3 minutes per game.
Jackson: There's a great possibility in that. To the degree that if it happens, no one should be surprised. But unlike in years past, they've had a considerable amount of time to deal with the setbacks they've had to face. Mentally that doesn't exhaust you the way it does when major players unexpectedly go down and at this time of year (Derrick Rose in 2012, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich in 2013) or when expectations are high with hope and prayers of an MVP's return that never happens. This year, as worn out as they have the right to be after what they've done during the regular season, they are better prepared to mentally fight through it than they have been in the past.
3. Will Ronnie Brewer jump Tony Snell in the rotation?
Friedell: Yes, I think so. It takes time for Thibodeau to earn a player's trust -- just ask Butler. Snell has shown flashes of being a solid rotation player, but there are still times he frustrates Thibodeau. Brewer is a proven defensive commodity. If he can get back into basketball shape -- and knock down an occasional jumper -- I think he'll take a bulk of Snell's minutes in the postseason.
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhRonnie Brewer figures to cut into rookie Tony Snell's minutes in the playoffs.
Greenberg: If he's in game shape, yes. Snell's a much better long-range shooter, but he's not Kyle Korver quite yet. He's still learning how to play on auto-pilot, as in without thinking on the floor, just reacting. I think Snell can be a very good pro, but Brewer's got that veteran split-second edge. If Brewer can show he can give Thibodeau 8-10 worry-free minutes, he'll get the call before Snell in the playoffs.
Jackson: Probably once the playoffs start, especially if the Bulls get to the second round. I'm not saying that Snell can't handle the playoff stage, but coaches shrink their benches in April, May and June, and usually vets with playoff experience get the nod over rookies that aren't superstars. Plus, Brewer was brought in to be, and is going to be, a glue guy for this team. He will be a utility player who is going to be asked to do a little bit of everything whenever he is on the court or when the Bulls are in need of something to fill a void. Snell is probably going to be asked to do only one or two things: score and cover for Butler if he gets in foul trouble. By that theory alone, Brewer will probably interrupt the rotation and Snell will be the one who suffers.
April, 3, 2014
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhThe Bulls are 2-1 against a Nets team that is 30-13 since the calendar turned to 2014.Every week, ESPNChicago.com Bulls writer Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.
1. Would the Nets be a bigger threat to the Bulls in a first-round matchup compared to last season?
Nick Friedell: Yes. They have more of a veteran presence, and Jason Kidd seems to have found more of a rhythm as coach. But the difference is that the Bulls are also a better team than they were a year ago. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson are playing the best basketball of their careers, and D.J. Augustin has become a closer for a team that was in desperate need of one. Combine those factors with the reality that Tom Thibodeau still runs one of the best defenses in the league, and it's easy to understand why the Bulls would still be the favorite in that series.
Nate Robinson game." But that would be the last game that Luol Deng (botched spinal tap) and Kirk Hinrich (calf injury) would play. Unless their opponent is LeBron James or Kevin Durant or the Spurs, the Bulls' biggest foe is the Bulls. As well as the Nets are playing now that they're in harmony, I think the Bulls, who won two out of three against Brooklyn this season, can take them. It might take seven games again, but as we know, this team rebounds quite well from losses. Since Jan. 1, they've lost consecutive games just once, road defeats at New Orleans and Sacramento. While Robinson's heroics were crucial last year, Augustin is a much better point guard and Chicago's finest, Noah and Gibson, can carry a team.
Scoop Jackson: Yes. They've found their flow and to be honest, it's a little scary. Since the day 2014 began (or since Kidd stopped wearing ties), they are 30-13, playing like one of the best teams in the NBA. And they've been doing it for the most part with Kevin Garnett "resting" with an injury that, come playoff time, might be a blessing in disguise. The other thing that should be of concern to the Bulls when it comes to the Nets is payback. The Nets have a deep incentive to beat the Bulls to make up for the embarrassment the Bulls put on them last year in the playoffs. That alone will make the Nets tougher this time around. That, and the fact that this time they'll be playing with a sense of purpose and pride. Two things that were nonexistent last year.
2. Have the recent struggles of the Pacers changed your opinion of the Bulls' chances against them in the playoffs?
Friedell: No, because I've always believed the Bulls had a solid chance to beat Indiana. The Bulls are not scared of the Pacers, and they are confident they can beat them in a seven-game series. That confidence has never wavered. The Pacers' recent struggles have only reinforced that confidence.
Greenberg: Yes, of course. Teams that struggle like this don't just magically rebound once the postseason begins. It's possible, yes, but this is a broken, dysfunctional team. Before the Pacers' last game in Chicago, reporters were buzzing about team meetings and the general distrust that had mutated in the locker room. Getting rid of Danny Granger for Evan Turner was a chemistry backfire. Maybe Andrew Bynum can host a team bowling night? Could the Pacers avoid the gutter, though? Indiana can't score on anyone right now, least of all the Bulls, who scored an easy 89-77 win last week. Once the Bulls got rolling, it was clear they could at least drag Indiana through a long playoff series. Now, you wonder if the Bulls could close them out in six.
Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty ImagesPaul George's Pacers were just 8-10 in March, including a loss to the Bulls.
Scoop Jackson: Nope. In the end, I still believe that the Pacers have enough individual offense (and play respectable enough defense) to beat the Bulls in a seven-game series. But I do now believe that when that series ends, we will all walk away feeling that the Pacers didn't deserve to win the series, which is something I can say I didn't feel a few months ago. Unlike the Nets of last year, there is a sense of pride inside that Pacers locker room and organization, and at some point during the playoffs, it will kick in. David West will make sure of that. The question is, though, will that pride be enough to get them past another team once the Bulls put that pride to the ultimate test?
3. What will be the Bulls' biggest shortcoming in the playoffs?
Friedell: The lack of an elite-level, go-to scorer down the stretch. Superstars win in the playoffs, specifically players who can create and score whenever they want. As great as Noah and Augustin have been this season, neither have the type of offensive game to consistently create and score in big moments against the likes of LeBron and Dwyane Wade.
Greenberg: Easy, scoring. Or shooting. Shooting and scoring. This team struggles with offense in general. The Bulls have lost 14 times since Jan. 1, and they scored 90 or more points in only three of those losses. While scoring is the Bulls' most famous shortcoming, it's not impossible for this team to score. In the Bulls' 19 wins in February and March, they've averaged 100 points. But like everything else with this team, it starts with defense. When the Bulls get on the run (see the YouTube video of Noah on the break set to "Born to Run"), they're fairly dangerous. But in a grind-it-out, half-court game, they need to be clicking, in rhythm, as Noah runs the offense from the top of the key. It'll be interesting to see how the Bulls rise to the challenge in the postseason.
AP Photo/Michael DwyerD.J. Augustin's ability to create his own shot has been a boon to the Bulls since they signed him in December.
Jackson: In one sentence? Not having an Option 1/Alpha Dawg/Hype Beast scorer to regularly dig them out of those double-digit deficits they are going to find themselves in during the playoffs. A player who has the ability, consistency and pedigree to drop 20-23 points in every game regardless of who they are playing and can counter LeBron if they face Miami and/or Paul George if they face Indiana and/or the Joe Johnson/Deron Williams/Paul Pierce trio if they face Brooklyn. Other than that, I really don't think any other shortcoming exists.
March, 27, 2014
Marc Serota/Getty ImagesDerrick Rose is practicing with the Bulls again, but the team continues to say he will not return this season.Every week, ESPNChicago.com Bulls writer Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.
1. Would a Derrick Rose return actually hurt the Bulls at this point in the season?
Friedell: In the short term, it would. Whenever Rose comes back it's going to take some time for him to get back into a rhythm with his teammates. But the key for the Bulls is that they aren't winning a title this season anyway so the best long-term answer is to have Rose come back and play whenever he is ready. If that means he's ready to play in a few weeks, then the Bulls would still welcome him back with open arms.
Scoop Jackson: Yes. Not only would it hurt the Bulls, it would hurt Derrick. Look, any talk of Derrick coming back anytime this season needs to cease. Just stop. The Bulls are better and much more secure this season than they were last year going into the playoffs. Everyone's roles are established, there's no lingering uncertainty of what they can and can't do or are capable of, no cloud hanging over their heads of whose team this is, no one questioning Thibs' decision-making, and no major injuries (so far). And Rose returning would also not be fair to Joakim Noah, who has earned the right to lead and carry this team as far as he can take it.
2. Should Jimmer Fredette get more playing time?
Friedell: No. Thibodeau's rotation is set and it's playing well. Fredette isn't going to take time from Kirk Hinrich or D.J. Augustin as long as they stay healthy. Fredette seems like a good guy, and Thibodeau appreciates the fact he can shoot, but he's not a better option than Hinrich and Augustin right now, and he hasn't proved he can play at a high enough defensive level to warrant big minutes.
Greenberg: No, because he won't get significant minutes, and he has only one talent: shooting. Are the Bulls going to run plays for their 13th man? Whose minutes should he take? Thibodeau is a man who believes in player rotations and his rotations are set. Now if one of his regulars goes down, then it's up to Fredette to prove he can handle these minutes. We know he can shoot, and his only goal this season is to stay ready to do just that if the team needs him.
AP Photo/Jeff HaynesJimmer Fredette has played 18 minutes in 13 games with the Bulls.
Jackson: Depends. It's a game-to-game call. At this point all Jimmer needs to do is be ready. The Bulls are still in a battle for positioning for one of the top five playoff spots so every game still matters to a degree. Giving Jimmer more playing time will only take away time from players they are going to rely on in the playoffs like Tony Snell and Augustin. Jimmer is a good player, but unless the Bulls are really about to flip the whole season's script and depend on Jimmer to win them playoff games, then finding more playing time for him just for the sake of playing time is kinda pointless.
3. Should Tom Thibodeau win NBA Coach of the Year?
Friedell: Yes. In my opinion, this is the best coaching job Thibodeau has done to date. Unlike last season when they had time to plan for Rose's injury, he and the front office rebuilt this team on the fly. The Bulls are actually better than they were at this time a year ago, which is impressive because they also traded away All-Star forward Luol Deng in January. Thibodeau got the players to buy into the fact that this was not a lost season, and he put them in position to succeed. The players deserve a huge amount of credit, but it was Thibodeau who set the tone that they all followed.
Greenberg: Yes, but he's turning into the Eastern Conference Gregg Popovich. Thibs is such a consistently good coach, his efforts don't stand out for merit. No offense to Phoenix's Jeff Hornacek, Dallas' Rick Carlisle, Charlotte's Steve Clifford and others, but what Thibodeau has done this season is truly special. In the past two years, I've been of the belief that Thibodeau's COY award in his rookie season was all he needed, because it was in that season, and the months leading up to it, that Thibodeau established the foundation for his success. He got his players in the Berto Center during the summer to instill his defensive philosophy. He turned ordinary visits into hard-core workouts. Maybe it's just me, or possibly some recency bias, but Thibodeau has gotten better as a coach. He talks a lot about self-improvement, and it's not an empty canard. From the increased usage of Noah as a point-center to the slightly stricter management of minutes, Thibodeau is coaching a masterpiece. When the Bulls lose, it's because they're just not talented enough offensively without Rose and Deng. I think getting a team without those players into a top-four seed in the East, weak as that conference might be, deserves a trophy.
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsImprobably, Tom Thibodeau has the Bulls fighting for the third seed in the East.
Jackson: Should? Yes. Will? No. As long as Toronto has a better record than the Bulls and as long as Phoenix is in the playoff hunt in the West, Dwayne Casey and Jeff Hornacek will be the front-runners for the COY. Thibs' job this season is subjectively more amazing than what any other coach in the NBA has done, but he will not be recognized for it. Not like that. But ask any coach around the league -- hell, ask Casey or Hornacek -- and they'll tell you Thibs deserves the coach of the year award as much if not more than Joakim deserves the MVP.
March, 20, 2014
AP Photo/Lefteris PitarakisNikola Mirotic is an expensive -- and unproven -- option for the Bulls this summer.Every week, ESPNChicago.com Bulls writer Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.
1. If Carmelo Anthony stays in New York, what's the best Plan B for the Bulls this summer?Friedell: The next-best plan would be to bring Nikola Mirotic over from Europe and see if he has what it takes to succeed in the NBA. That would mean amnestying the final year of Carlos Boozer's deal, which is fine for the Bulls since Taj Gibson has become a better all-around player. The problem with this scenario is that Mirotic's arrival still won't bring the Bulls that much closer to a championship. Anthony is the only player on the market -- if he decides to opt out -- who could push the Bulls to a championship level, assuming Derrick Rose comes back close to the same player he was before.
Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson. In some ways, he's a better Plan A, because he could fit in the salary slot vacated by the amnesty of Boozer. Stephenson is a rare find, a future unrestricted free agent at age 23. He doesn't quite fit the Bulls' archetypal player profile, and his past legal issues are troubling, but the former Brooklyn prep star would slide in nicely with this team. He's a defensive hound and an athletic offensive player. He's 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds and, as of this writing, is averaging in the neighborhood of 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists while shooting 50 percent. The Bulls need someone who can create his own shot. Would Stephenson fit in with the Bulls? Absolutely, and having Gibson and Joakim Noah around -- the two best New York City role models in the league -- wouldn't hurt his growth and development.
Scoop Jackson: Patience. Everybody seems to be in a rush to treat the Bulls like a bowl of instant grits: add water (big-name free agent) and championship is won. For other teams it might work that way, but for this team, not so much. Coach Tom Thibodeau needs a player that will give the team an ability to play from behind and make up the difference offensively when it is down by 10. Plan B should be a scorer -- not necessarily a scorer on the Carmelo/Kevin Love level, but someone who can put the ball in the basket at a 20-points-per-game rate. Now, who that Plan B is I don’t know, but that needs to be their Plan B.
2. Is there any scenario in which Boozer is playing for the Bulls next season?Friedell: Yes. The percentage isn't high, but it's possible. If the Bulls can't land Anthony and they can't convince Mirotic to come over from Europe, they could decide to just keep Boozer instead of eating almost $17 million. At this point, a divorce seems inevitable, but there's still a chance Boozer starts next season on the Bulls roster.
Greenberg: Yes, if the Bulls don't sign Melo or Stephenson and can't convince Mirotic to come over from Spain, they would probably keep Boozer for the final year of his deal or look to trade him during the season. But I don't foresee that situation coming true. Mirotic is the most likely addition this summer, and the Bulls will need to shed Boozer's salary to add him and some other complementary players. Get your fill of Boozer now, Chicago.
Brett Davis/USA TODAY SportsCarlos Boozer likely is playing his last season with the Bulls.
Jackson: I’ll reluctantly say "none," but every time I’m around the team, Boozer seems so comfortable (and they keep winning) that I often question whether he wants to be gone, and whether the Bulls want him gone. His contract has been looked at as an albatross for Chicago, when in reality it’s been a blessing in the fact that the Bulls have gotten more out of Booz that the Knicks have gotten out of Amar'e Stoudemire over the same period of time with a similar deal. But for the way the Bulls look at him -- and use him in the fourth quarter -- it’s hard too see him here next season.
3. Is it important for Rose to practice with the Bulls this season?Friedell: Yes, but not nearly as important as it is for Rose to be healthy this summer and play with Team USA. Rose practiced with the Bulls for several months last season, and it didn't seem to make a difference. The experience, and, more importantly, the confidence, Rose would gain from playing with -- and against -- the best players in the world this summer would be huge as he heads into another comeback season next fall.
Greenberg: Not really. It couldn't hurt, and perhaps it'll just be worthwhile as part of Rose's rehab process, but there aren't that many practices left, and the Bulls are focused on getting ready for the playoffs. Now, I think playing with the national team would be a very good idea for Rose, so he comes into camp with a sharper edge for what will be a very important season. Practicing and working out is one thing, but Rose needs more intense competition this summer, the kind you can't duplicate in open gyms and playgrounds. Like he said, the last time he played for the national team, he won the MVP that season.
Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY SportsDerrick Rose hopes to play for Team USA this summer.
Jackson: No. Only because everyone still looks at him as that dude. His nickname among players is still "MVP." They know. Plus, the last thing the Bulls need is people like us (the media) reading into every move Rose makes and passing/placing judgement for not playing even though he's practicing. Derrick shouldn’t give us the satisfaction. His teammates already know what he’s capable of doing, as does Thibs. He’s still the player this team is gonna ride and die with. Unless the Bulls plan on getting him back this season, him practicing with the team would be straight up stupid.
March, 13, 2014
AP PhotoIs Carmelo Anthony Phil Jackson's kind of player?Every week, ESPNChicago.com Bulls writer Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.
1. Would Phil Jackson taking over the Knicks help or hurt the Bulls' chances of landing Carmelo Anthony?
Nick Friedell: It isn't going to help the Bulls, that's for sure. I've always believed Anthony was going to stay in New York and take the extra money, but it can't hurt to have Jackson in the fold with his championship pedigree. How well he will do as an executive is to be determined, but he has the rings to back up any point he wants to make to Anthony and his teammates.
Scoop Jackson: My initial answer is hurt, but it really all depends on the position Phil takes once there, what his intentions are -- if any -- as far as coaching and whether he has any interest in keeping Melo there. That's the great and potential unknown. If/when Phil takes over and wants Melo to re-sign, what is he going to tell him that is going to make him stay? Is he going to promise him a new coach? Is he going to promise him that if that new coach doesn't work out after one year, he'll come down from his front office and do a Pat Riley and coach the team himself? Is he going to promise to get rid of J.R. Smith and get him a better point guard? It's really too soon to answer that question.
2. Can the Bulls beat the Pacers in the playoffs?
Friedell: Yes. I don't believe they will right now, but I believe they can. The reason being that they aren't scared of Indiana. The Pacers have gotten better over the past couple of seasons and almost knocked off the Heat in last year's playoffs, but the Bulls have always viewed them as a "little brother." They respect the Pacers, but they still think they can beat them in a seven-game series.
Greenberg: Yes. I don't think it would happen this season, but the Bulls can do it. The Bulls would need some good fortune and near-perfect defense, but it's possible. The obstacle to beating the Miami Heat in the playoffs is, of course, LeBron James. Paul George isn't LeBron. Indiana doesn't have that one guy, but it is a very balanced, defensively regimented championship contender. Still, the Bulls won't get mentally or physically bullied by their conference foe. While the Bulls' defense can corral Indiana, the big problem would be scoring against the only defense stingier than their own. While the Bulls' woebegone offense has picked up in the past couple of months, they have failed to score more than 80 points in three of their past four losses, and the outlier was against San Antonio, where they scored just 33 points in the first half. I'm excited to see these teams face off March 21 for the first time since Derrick Rose was injured. That will tell me a little more about the Bulls' chances.
Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Bulls are 1-1 against Paul George and the Pacers this season.
Jackson: No. Not this year. Barring any significant injury to any main/core player on the Pacers' roster, that's asking too much of the Bulls to carry out that task over seven games without having HCA (home-court advantage). Two things would have to happen over the span of two weeks: The Bulls would have to play seven games at the same intensity and efficiency level they did against the Heat last week, and the Pacers over those same seven games would have to play like they recently did during the four games in a row they just lost. That's real talk. And if anyone honestly thinks both of those things are going to happen simultaneously ...
3. Is Jimmy Butler a top-five defender like Tom Thibodeau believes?
Friedell: Yes. Butler has taken over for Luol Deng on the defensive end without a hitch. He guards the opponent's best perimeter player each night and enjoys the challenge of trying to stop him. There aren't many guys in the league who have had success guarding Kobe Bryant, Anthony and LeBron James over the years, and Butler has slowed each one of them down at times. To take the next step in his progression, he must start shooting the ball better, but his defense is great.
Greenberg: Sure, he's probably in the neighborhood of that arbitrary number -- how many swingmen are known for their defense nowadays? -- but what's important is that Butler believes he's the best wing defender in the game. Shutting down LeBron at home -- James shot just 2-for-11 against Butler in the Bulls' win -- will do more for Butler's confidence than looking at his Synergy Sports numbers. Thibodeau trusts Butler to guard the best offensive wings, and his teammates back him up in the Bulls' all-for-one, one-for-all defense. Butler, like the rest of the Bulls, has to approach each game like it's Game 7 to keep winning at their current pace. He's an interesting player to study because he's only had one pro coach, and that's Thibs. He's been learning the same system since leaving Marquette, and all credit goes to Butler for thriving in it.
Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsJimmy Butler held LeBron James to 2-of-11 shooting while he was guarding the Heat star on Sunday.
Jackson: Over the course of the season, I'd have to say no. But right now, without question, he is. Jimmy is playing defense at a level now that is as good as anyone in the league guarding from the 2, 3 and 4 positions. He's in a defensive zone right now that is equal to a great shooter saying, "The rim looks like an ocean." Offensive players have been at his mercy over the last month, not the other way around. The only problem is that he hasn't been consistently this dominant all season long. He'll make the All-Defensive Second Team this year and Joakim Noah will get the Defensive Player of the Year. But next year, Jimmy will not only be respected as one of the top-five defensive players in the league, he'll be rewarded by making All-Defensive First Team (with Noah).
March, 5, 2014
Gary Dineen/Getty ImagesJimmer Fredette certainly can shoot, but will he be able to crack the Bulls' rotation?Every week, ESPNChicago.com Bulls writer Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.
1. How much of an impact will Jimmer Fredette have on the Bulls this season?
Nick Friedell: Not much of one in the next few weeks, but he could find some time in the playoffs. Tom Thibodeau is confident in the rotation he has right now and he doesn't want to shake things up too much. Plus, he still wants to be able to teach Fredette the schemes and see where he's at defensively. As Thibodeau has said many times already though, Fredette does one thing better -- shoot -- than almost anyone in the NBA. If he shows he can start playing a little defense, and knocks down some shots, Thibodeau will find some time for Fredette as the Bulls head into the playoffs because he can space the floor.
D.J. Augustin has to play about 30 minutes and Thibodeau needs Kirk Hinrich to play 25-30. And you know if Jimmy Butler's playing, he's playing 40-45 minutes. The only way Fredette gets major minutes is if the guards ahead of him get injured, which isn't an optimal situation for the Bulls. But hey, all it takes sometimes is a few shots to swing a game and if Fredette could win even one game with a 3, he was worth the move. If Fredette is smart, he'll be soaking everything in, taking notes (mental or otherwise) and spending every minute of his free time working with Thibodeau and his assistant coaches on his game.
Scoop Jackson: "Will" is a much different word than "could." Jimmer could if given the opportunity in the playoffs and/or down the stretch run for a 3-seed be the guy who turns a simple 10 points per game into victories. It's all about how Thibs plays him and how much confidence is instilled in him by not only Thibs, but Joakim Noah and Mike Dunleavy. We'll see. The Bulls need a pressure releaser, someone at the 2 position who can knock down shots from 20 feet and out to make defenses respect the little bit of offensive swag they carry. Jimmer's the dude -- the only dude -- on the current roster who can do that. It's just a matter of confidence and opportunity.
2. Is it crazy if Joakim Noah receives MVP votes this season?
Friedell: No. Noah is the most important player on one of the most surprising teams in the NBA. He is playing the best basketball of his career and has been dominant at times on both ends of the floor. He sets a tone in the locker room that the rest of his teammates follow. Noah has made it his mission to make people remember his team this season, and he's taken this group to another level because of that determination.
Rick Madonik/Getty ImagesThe Bulls have thrived running their offense through Joakim Noah this season.
Greenberg: No, but let's chill a bit on this topic. Sure, I'd give him a third- or fourth-place vote, but he's so far from the top two, LeBron James and Kevin Durant, it would be like calling me the third best-looking person in a room with Kate Upton and Chrissy Teigen. Noah deserves the love, though, and should be the first-team All-NBA center, which seems unfathomable considering where he started. Give credit to Noah for providing energy, especially after the Luol Deng trade, and mostly for mastering the point-center role he learned, in part, from Brad Miller, while crashing the boards and hitting the occasional jumper. It's not wrong to say Noah is more popular than Derrick Rose in Chicago right now, and his national image has morphed from goofball to aspirational NBA player. That's worth more than MVP votes.
Jackson: Read my last entry here.
3. Is this Thibodeau's best coaching job in his four seasons in Chicago?
Friedell: Yes. This team could have easily collapsed after the Rose injury or the Deng deal. They could have mailed in the rest of the season and slid into the lottery, but Thibodeau wouldn't let it happen. He got players to buy into playing hard every night despite the fact that the odds were stacked against them. He got them to believe in themselves and the team again. Most of all, he got them to continue to trust in him and the schemes he puts together. The Bulls wouldn't be where they are without the production of Noah and Taj Gibson or the resurgence of Augustin, but it's Thibodeau who finds a way to get the most out of almost every player he coaches. He's the biggest reason the Bulls continue to pile up wins, and he's doing so without Rose and Deng. He didn't have time to plan for those absences like he did two summers ago, when he knew Rose wasn't coming back. He did it all on the fly. I think he'll get strong consideration for his second coach of the year award in four years.
Greenberg: I'd have to say yes. Last season, the team fought during the regular season with the belief that Rose would be back. And while it took seven games, it wasn't a shock that the Bulls beat the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs, even if they had to do it without Hinrich and Deng. This season was a different story. The Bulls understandably collapsed after Rose's knee injury in Portland. Who could blame them after everything the core guys had been through? But with the front office's savvy pickup of Augustin and Thibodeau's expansion of the Noah point-center system we saw last season, the Bulls were able to rise above the Deng salary dump. Thibodeau could get coach of the year pretty much every season, because he's so unyielding and so prepared. Thibodeau set the tone his rookie season, when he won the actual award, and that foundation has created the Bulls culture we see today.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesTom Thibodeau is making a strong case for his second coach of the year award in four years.
The two coaching "problems" people have nitpicked at have been his somewhat unimaginative offensive sets and his over-reliance on certain players. While the Bulls are still last in scoring in the NBA, the Noah center looks have been inspiring. And even with a shorter bench, and a propensity for playing starters in blowouts "just in case," Thibodeau has spaced out the minutes pretty well. Butler leads the team with 37 minutes a game and Noah's at 34.2. The rest of the regulars hover around 30. Yes, even Thibs can get better with repetition.
Jackson: Probably so. But unlike his first year here -- when he gave full and undisputed notice of how gifted/talented he was as a head coach -- he won't get and doesn't deserve the coach of the year this season. Jeff Hornacek in Phoenix, Dwane Casey in Toronto, Terry Stotts in Portland have done jobs this season to overshadow what Thibs has done. We may never see another coach adjust and succeed the way Thibs has been able to this season with everything that unexpectedly happened to this team. Which makes it debatable about whether this has been his best season coaching the Bulls. But if we look at his track record as a head coach here, this should be no surprise. Thibs simply proved this season that this right here is what he does.
February, 28, 2014
Randy Belice/NBAE/Getty ImagesJoakim Noah, a center, leads the Bulls in total assists.Every week, ESPNChicago.com Bulls writer Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.
1. Is Joakim Noah having the most impactful season of any center in the NBA?
Friedell: No doubt. Noah is playing the best basketball of his career -- and -- he's also the most important player on his team. When the Bulls lost Derrick Rose again for the year because of a knee injury and traded Luol Deng to Cleveland, the team could have easily folded for the season, but Noah wouldn't let them. He has become an even better leader off the floor, and he's dominating in various stages on it. Along with Tom Thibodeau, Noah is the biggest reason the Bulls are having another successful season.
DeMarcus Cousins and Dwight Howard are having slightly better seasons. They too would prosper in Thibodeau's defense. Yes, even Boogie. But ask anyone in the NBA who they would rather have as a teammate and Noah, once thought to be an unpopular goof, would win hands down. Noah is just seventh among classified centers (40 games or more) in ESPN's Player Efficiency Rating. But none are as important to a team as Noah, who is all but willing the short-handed Bulls to a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference. Noah's defensive bonafides are well known, and of course harder to put into numbers, but his playmaking abilities continue to astound. How many centers make behind-the-back bounce passes into the post?
Noah is averaging 4.6 assists a game and a quarter of his possessions end with an assist. He leads the Bulls in total assists, a rarity for a center. Since Deng was traded on Jan. 7, he's had 14 games with six or more assists, including three double-digit games on February. He set his career high with 13 on Feb. 19. Going into Friday's game against the Dallas Mavericks, Noah was averaging 12.1 points and 11.5 rebounds a game in 34.1 minutes. But it's not just about numbers. He has eclipsed the injured Derrick Rose in current popularity, and his play this season has cemented him as an all-time Bulls great.
Scoop Jackson: With the exception of the impact Andrew Bynum's had on the Cavs by not playing ... then yes! It will be interesting to see if Noah gets any MVP votes at the end of the season. There always is this argument about the true meaning/definition of the word "valuable" and how it is implied and interpreted when voting for MVPs. I can argue that there have not been many, if any, players in the NBA this season that have been more "valuable" to their team and their team's success than Noah. Now, I'm not saying that he should be considered for the MVP, I'm just saying it's worth watching to see if anyone who has a vote is going to recognize or has a true understanding of Noah impact.
2. If you're the Bulls, who would you rather face in the playoffs, Heat or Pacers?
Friedell: The Pacers. Because they think they can beat them -- even this season. Miami is in the Bulls' head. They know they've lost to them in the playoffs two out of the past three seasons and they know there's a solid chance of that happening again this season. The Pacers are a much improved team, but the Bulls don't fear them.
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesPaul George's Pacers might be the deepest team in the NBA, but they are still probably a better playoff matchup for the Bulls than the Heat.
Greenberg: Easy -- the Pacers. The Bulls can't beat either team in a seven-game series, all things remaining equal. Indiana might have the better team than Miami this year, but the Bulls still believe they can hang with them. Belief can go a long way, especially with a group like the Bulls that follows their scouting reports and feeds off their defense. It's more than a little psychological. The reverse is true with Miami. I think the Bulls want to beat Miami more than even winning an NBA title, but they know LeBron James is the hammer and they're the nail. And as good as Paul George is, he's not LeBron James. I think the Bulls could take the Pacers to seven games, and then, you never know.
Jackson: The Pacers. The Bulls have a better chance of the Pacers slipping up and looking past them because the Pacers' eyes and focus has been so directed at Miami this year. The Heat, even if the Bulls were healthy and the same squad was intact that opened this season, seemed to have their number in April/May, especially with the Bulls not having a legit scoring threat off the bench that cold also control/run the offense. The Pacers on the other hand, right now, run the (very small and slight, almost wishful thinking) risk of looking past the Bulls in a playoff series because, well, I think, they really want the Heat.
3. Is Luol Deng regretting not taking the Bulls' offer of three years, $30 million?
Friedell: No. Deng is still probably wishing he were in Chicago and wished it could have worked in the long term, but he doesn't regret not taking the offer. He and his reps were upset the Bulls didn't negotiate with him last summer and then gave him the offer before he left. Deng understands that this is probably the last major deal of his career, and he wants to get paid. He also has too much pride to take an offer he feels is beneath him. The Bulls have moved on and so has he.
Greenberg: Um, no. If anything, the Bulls' exiling of him to Cleveland is probably emboldening his decision not to commit to the franchise that drafted him in 2004. It's not like he's stuck in Cleveland. Deng knew he was getting dealt because there was no chance he was signing an extension before testing free agency. The Bulls' final offer sounds great to us -- Who doesn't want $30 million? -- but it was a just an offer. After dealing with his agent, they knew he wouldn't accept it. If by some miracle, he did, great. While Deng wasn't pleased to head to Cleveland -- yes, even I have a source on this -- it's only a few months in purgatory. He'll be a prize in free agency and would be a valuable addition to any title contender. If anything, getting an extra month off while the Bulls grit through a playoff series or two will allow him more rest and all but guarantee good health when free agency begins.
Jackson: He shouldn't be. Once the season is over and teams will begin looking at what they really need to get them to that next level, Luol will get his money. And it may come from a team that is in better position to win a title in 2015 than the Bulls. Who knows? I'm truly of the belief that Deng no longer being here had nothing to do -- on both ends -- with money. Philosophical, structural and personal differences were at the core of the split. Nothing that couldn't have been repaired, but nothing either side was willing to accept or change. Bottom line with Lu: It was time to go.
February, 13, 2014
AP Photo/Daily Herald, John StarksTaj Gibson already finishes games in place of Carlos Boozer. Should he start them too?Every week, ESPNChicago.com Bulls writer Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.
1. Should Taj Gibson now start over even a healthy Carlos Boozer?
Friedell: Yes. He's the better all-around player. But [coach Tom Thibodeau] has been consistent about keeping Boozer in the starting lineup if he's healthy. The difference is Gibson is just as good as Boozer offensively, and he's much better defensively. At this point, we know Gibson is going to play the crunch-time minutes so he'll be out there when it matters. Whether he starts won't make that much difference in how much he affects the game.
Thanks to his heavy workload as a spot starter, Gibson is averaging 29 minutes a game, five above his career average. Boozer is averaging 29.9, about two fewer than his average. Gibson has performed better as a starter, because that's when Thibodeau is short-handed and also because he trusts Gibson more late in games anyway. In seven games as a starter, Gibson is averaging 18.6 points and 9.4 rebounds while playing a whopping 41 minutes per game. As a sub, he only plays 27 minutes a game and averages 11.7 points and 6.1 rebounds. Either way, he's effective. Boozer has only started this season and is averaging 14.4 points and 8.6 rebounds.
Coaching isn't just about numbers and matchups. Thibodeau knows how to motivate and cajole and control. For "esprit de corps," he's probably better starting Boozer. But Gibson should be getting a few more minutes a game because he makes good use of them.
Scoop Jackson: Only if the Bulls are trying to trade Boozer. If they have Carlos on the blocks and have told themselves that this is the route they'd like to go instead of amnesty, then getting Taj comfortable in the starting lineup now makes sense if eventually he's officially going to be their power forward going into the playoffs and/or next season. Personally, I think Boozer is not going to be here much longer. That's why I say Taj might as well start. Remember how before Deng was traded, he had a mysterious injury that kept him out of a few games before he was sent to Cleveland? I'm just saying.
2. What's closer to reality, Jimmy Butler in last season's playoffs, or this season's Butler?
Friedell: Butler is better than he's shown this season, but I'd argue it's more this year's version than last year's version. That's because I'm not sure if Butler's jumper will ever be consistent enough to think that he will be able to score 15-20 a game. He will put in the work to make himself better, but that hard work hasn't been showing up right now on the floor. He must find a way to knock down that 16- to 18-footer more consistently.
Andrew Richardson/USA TODAY SportsJimmy Butler's shot remains the biggest question mark in his game.
Greenberg: Well, there's really not that big of a gap between the two, so I'll be optimistic and say last season's playoff Jimmy, despite the smaller sample size. In 12 playoff games, Butler averaged 13.3 points and 5.2 rebounds while playing 40.8 minutes per game. He shot 43.5 percent from the field and an impressive 40.5 percent on 3-pointers. Through his first 37 games this season, Butler is averaging 12.4 points and 4.8 rebounds in 36.8 minutes per game. He's shooting a wobbly 36.7 percent from the field and 27 percent on 3s. Let's look closer at that latter stat to see how close 40.5 and 27 percent really are. In the playoffs, he averaged 1.3 made 3s and 3.1 attempts. This season, he's averaging 1 make and 3.6 attempts. Not a huge chasm there. This is Butler's first full season as a starter. He started 20 games in the 2012-13 regular season. He's definitely one to watch in the second half, but I think we'll see those numbers improve, if only a tick.
Jackson: Butler in the playoffs. I think by the time the All-Star break is over, Butler will refocus and finally settle into his role as option uno in the Bulls' offense. No excuses (really), but he's had no stability to deal with this entire season. He's gone from the No. 4 offensive option to begin the season, then to No. 3 when Derrick Rose went down, to No. 2 when Luol Deng was traded, to No. 1 now that Boozer is injured/riding the bench. One of the main components that leads to an NBA player finding success is consistency. Players need to know game in, game out what their role is going to be for long stretches of time. Once the trading deadline passes and the Bulls' roster is secure for the rest of the season, Butler will know and be totally comfortable with what he needs and is expected to do every game.
3. Should the Bulls re-sign Kirk Hinrich this summer?
Friedell: If Hinrich will sign for the veteran's minimum and Thibs will keep him on a minutes limit like he's on now, then why not? Hinrich has been mostly solid this season and provides a stabilizing presence in the locker room. He is well-liked by his teammates and can still perform at a high level. The only question with him is whether he can stay healthy. If the Bulls are investing about $1 million in his future, then it's worth the risk.
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsKirk Hinrich's leadership is still valuable to the Bulls.
Greenberg: No. He's had a hell of a run -- well, two runs -- but I think his time is up. The Bulls need a more dependable, dare I say slightly dynamic, backup. It's certainly not Hinrich's fault he has missed time (22 last season, nine and counting this season), and he never thought he was coming back as a starter. But at best, he's a backup combo guard who shoots at a low (and getting lower) percentage. If he wants to come back at a bargain rate to be a pure backup, sure. Obviously, the Bulls should want D.J. Augustin to stay, but I imagine he wants to start somewhere else. An intriguing possibility would be to sign him as the point and slot Rose as the 2 and let them both play on and off the ball. But I'm getting away from the question at hand, and my answer is still no.
Jackson: No, but not because they don't need him or because he won't be of value to the team. The reason is because whatever the Bulls sign him to -- due to the time he's already spent here and how many believe he hasn't sustained a certain level of play -- it will be held against him every game, with every missed shot, with every turnover, with every point an opponent scores on him. For the Bulls, I think he could be of value on a re-sign, but for Kirk it will be miserable. He can easily get the love somewhere else. Like taking Steve Nash's place with the Lakers.
February, 6, 2014
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesWith Taj Gibson's offensive game developing, Carlos Boozer is spending more time on the bench in the fourth quarter.Every week, ESPNChicago.com Bulls writer Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.
1. Does Carlos Boozer deserve more playing time late in games?
Friedell: No. He's a poor defender. Why would Tom Thibodeau change his strategy now? Especially since Taj Gibson is much better offensively this season.
Scoop Jackson: That's a tough one. To me, that's a game-to-game decision, not a preconceived or predetermined rotation decision made by a coach who has nothing to do with the "feel" of the game that is being played at that moment. With the Bulls, Boozer has had some good fourth quarters, and he's had some not-so-good ones. That's kinda been his M.O., as has it been Thibs' to not play him much in fourth quarters in their four years together. Honestly, I think with just about any other coach in the league, looking at Booz's offensive numbers, he'd be in games at the end. But to Thibs, defense wins games. And until there's a different overall defensive commitment from Booz, "it is what it is" is going to continue.
2. Who will end up being a better NBA player, Jimmy Butler or Tony Snell?
Friedell: Both players are very hard workers. They live in the gym and spend hours working on their games. But if I had to choose the player with the higher upside right now, it would be Snell. That's because he's a better pure shooter and will get even better defensively with time. Butler can still be a very solid player, but Snell has a better shooting touch.
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonRookie Tony Snell has shown the potential to be a solid shooter with a quick release.
Greenberg: I think Butler will be the more complete, well-rounded player, but Snell could really carve out a niche for himself as a dead-eye shooter. I know he can do more than shoot, but his release is so smooth and so quick, as a spot-up shooter, he's going to be a problem for defenses for years to come. Butler's scoring hasn't picked up like we thought it would, but he's a go-to defender with attitude. He has the benefit of experience right now, and I think his personality lends itself to a more assertive role defensively than Snell, who sometimes seems as if his head is swimming with details. I'll have to see Snell in two years to really judge them against each other, but I'll still go with Jimmy for now.
Jackson: Depends on who stays with Thibs the longest. LOL. I can't see both players being here that much longer. In the greater scheme of the Bulls' rebuild, one is probably going to be gone within the next year or two. I think Tony has a slight edge as far as offensive aggressiveness goes, and right now, that is something the Bulls are looking for. But Jimmy is still a much better defensive player, and he probably always will be because his game is not predicated on how much he scores. So "better" player to me is subjective in that Butler could end up being another Shawn Marion and Snell another Kevin Martin. Which one of those two is better?
3. Will the Bulls be able to afford D.J. Augustin next season?
Friedell: Given how the rest of their cap situation will likely unfold, it appears the answer right now would be no. It all depends on what other teams are willing to pay Augustin. Thibs loves what he has done since coming to Chicago, but he also has a track record of getting everything he can out of almost every point guard who has come through not named Marquis Teague. The Bulls would like to keep Augustin, but it has to be at their price.
AP Photo/Matt YorkD.J. Augustin has rejuvenated his career with the Bulls, averaging 10.8 points and 4.6 assists this season.
Greenberg: No. His one-year fellowship in the Thibs PG Academy will end after the playoffs. Augustin doesn't want to back up Rose, and we don't yet know if Derrick Rose would want to play more off the ball to make room for Augustin. I imagine he wouldn't throw a fit about such a move, but the point is going to be moot when teams offer Augustin a solid, multiyear contract based on his play this season. This was the perfect opportunity for Augustin, filling in on a veteran-laden, serious-minded team with a basketball genius at the helm. And Augustin has been much better than expected. I think he'll find himself a nice deal next season and the Bulls will have to find another backup for Rose who can start as well. Just in case.
Jackson: They'll have to. Unless they have someone else in mind to replace him. Look, the one thing they cannot afford again is what happened to them by not re-signing Nate Robinson (even though he did recently tear his ACL and is out for the season.) What the Bulls can't afford is to be left thin at the point position in case Rose goes down again and they are left scrambling to salvage a season by finding a replacement point guard on the fly. As well as he's playing, no one is saying that D.J. is the end-all-be-all, but regardless of how much he may demand (within reason, of course), the Bulls have to overpay someone to be their insurance policy. Why not him?
January, 30, 2014
MUSTAFA OZER/AFP/Getty ImagesDerrick Rose says he's looking forward to playing with Team USA this summer.Every week, ESPNChicago.com Bulls writer Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.
1. Should Derrick Rose play for Team USA this summer?
Friedell: Absolutely. There's no better way to find out where Rose is as a player than to put him on that stage against some of the best players in the world. Tom Thibodeau has said repeatedly how much he thought Rose's experience in the 2010 world championship helped him; now Rose will have a chance to do it again. He doesn't usually play five-on-five to train during the summers so this will be good for him. Plus, Thibodeau, an assistant on Team USA's staff, will be there to keep a watchful eye on him.
Doug Padilla: So somebody who never plays games in the offseason and is coming off a second season-ending knee surgery in successive years would consider playing basketball this summer? It sounds almost laughable, but nobody should tell a guy he can't represent his country internationally. The only thing that makes this sound like a remotely sane idea is that Thibodeau will be an assistant coach on Team USA and can monitor Rose's activity on a daily basis. And if Rose is more game ready at the start of next season than he was at the start of this one, perhaps it can be justified.
2. Will Rose end up following the same path as Penny Hardaway?
Friedell: No. Not only is the medicine different now, but they also didn't have the same type of injuries. Players have come back from the knee problems that Rose has had. The key will be to see how explosive he is when he comes back. At 25, Rose is still a young man, but nobody knows if his body will be able to hold up. Still, with his work ethic, he should be able to get close to what he was before. The parallels are similar between the two players, but Hardaway didn't have quite as much freakish athleticism as Rose does.
Andy Lyons/AllsportPenny Hardaway was on a Hall of Fame trajectory before a 1997 knee injury; still, he played 14 NBA seasons.
Jackson: I don't think so. I'm more concerned with the collection of nonstop injuries than I am with the one recent knee injury this season. I've said it before in an earlier 3 Points: My fear with Rose is more Vince Carter's path than Hardaway's. That his body could just be fragile, not built to carry the whole weight. Or there's a higher plan for his basketball life not to play out the way it initially seemed promised. We say and see it all the time: Man plans, God laughs.
Padilla: Anybody who tries to answer this definitively is merely guessing. Only time will tell, but Rose seems determined to avoid taking Hardaway's ill-conceived road back to the basketball court. After Hardaway's first major knee surgery in the 1997-98 season, he rushed his recovery to play in the All-Star Game and was lost for the season soon after. Last season, Rose refused to rush his return to play on the grand stage of the playoffs, remained patient and still had surgery on his other knee this season. Hardaway's cautionary tale seems to have some influence on Rose's recovery, but another injury still occurred.
3. If they pursue Carmelo Anthony, do the Bulls have an untouchable player on their roster?
Friedell: Joakim Noah is the closest thing to an untouchable on the roster, but he isn't in that category. I wouldn't trade him, but the conversation is fair. Problem for the Bulls is if they gained Melo but lost Noah, they would be in the same place -- if not worse. The only way the Bulls can take a step toward a championship is if they get Melo and keep Noah.
Jackson: No. And that includes Derrick. But I'm one to believe that Melo isn't leaving New York and teams aren't going to pursue him the way so many people seem to think they are. That said, unless there's heavy and direct conversation between Melo's people and the Bulls management that gives them a strong indication that he is seriously willing to leave the Knicks, then putting all players on the Bulls roster on the availability block would be stupid. It would also give Thibs one more reason to think about leaving once his contract is up.
Padilla: Rose and Noah are absolutely untouchable if an Anthony deal presents itself. The whole point with getting Anthony is to develop an All-Star core that could push the team to a title. Where a tag-team duo used to be the recipe for building a champion, a three-pronged attack seems to be the way to go now. A healthy Rose, a guy in Noah who is willing to do all the dirty work and the scoring threat that is Anthony still wouldn't make the Bulls the favorite for a title, but it would put them among the legitimate contenders.