Chicago Bulls: Nick Friedell

Bulls rounding out the new Bench Mob

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
2:04
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is going to walk into training camp in September with a roster full of something it lacked the past two seasons: depth.

[+] EnlargeAaron Brooks, Stephen Curry
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsAaron Brooks, who is closing in on a deal with the Bulls, would give them a scorer off the bench.
As the Bulls continue to announce new deals, Thibodeau's group takes a shape that the veteran coach has to like. On Monday they signed second-round pick Cameron Bairstow and re-signed veteran Kirk Hinrich; later this week they likely will sign first-round pick Doug McDermott and free-agent guard Aaron Brooks.

Like the rest of the organization, Thibodeau was disappointed that the Bulls were unable to land Carmelo Anthony in free agency, but the next best option was to land several players who should make the Bulls a stronger team from top to bottom. Bulls general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president John Paxson believe they have done that over the past few weeks when they signed four-time All-Star Pau Gasol and European star Nikola Mirotic and drafted college player of the year McDermott.

On paper, the Bulls' 2011-12 roster was deeper heading into the season. That one featured Derrick Rose coming off winning the MVP trophy the season before, Joakim Noah, Rip Hamilton, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng in the starting lineup with Taj Gibson, Kyle Korver, Omer Asik, Jimmy Butler, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson, among others, coming off the bench.

While the 2014-15 roster can't match the talent right now, it may come close over time. Thibodeau has the chance to go 11 deep to start training camp, which makes the Bulls one of the deepest teams in the league. Rose will be back in the starting lineup alongside Noah, while Gasol likely fills out the rest of the group with Dunleavy and Butler.

The bench consists of Hinrich, Tony Snell, McDermott, Mirotic and Gibson. With the addition of veteran combo guard Brooks, a move that is likely to be finalized in the next couple days, the Bulls have the type of depth that every coach in the league would love. Brooks gives the Bulls an insurance policy should Rose or Hinrich go down with an injury and could be even more valuable if Thibodeau decides to play either of those two off the ball more this season.

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While this group may not have the pure talent of the 2011-12 group, it does have more outside shooting. Dunleavy, McDermott, Snell and Mirotic can all knock down long-range shots, which should give Rose, Hinrich and Brooks more room to operate. The Bulls still don't have a create-your-own-shot scorer other than Rose, a fact that may prove to be a fatal flaw in the playoffs, but they have a talented group of passers that should create open looks for one another.

The only other real question for this group on paper is at the center position. Forman and Paxson will continue to look for another backup big man to play behind Noah, who will turn 30 years old this season and needs to save as much energy as he can for the grind of the playoffs. Veteran Nazr Mohammed has said he would love to be back in Chicago for his third year. Rookie Bairstow may prove to be an answer for a few minutes each night over time, but the Bulls would be best served to bring in one more big man to back up Noah, Gasol and Gibson.

In the meantime, Forman and Paxson can take solace in knowing that they have created a luxury for Thibodeau in regard to a deeper roster. It will be up to Thibodeau to take advantage of that depth over an 82-game regular season.

The Bulls have Bench Mob 2.0 in place. It will be interesting to see if it can be as successful as its predecessor.

Bulls re-sign Hinrich, sign Bairstow

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
12:11
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls announced the re-signing of veteran guard Kirk Hinrich and the signing of second-round draft pick Cameron Bairstow on Monday.

The 33-year-old Hinrich has spent nine of his 11 NBA seasons with the Bulls, including last season when he averaged 11.8 points and 5.2 assists in 32.3 minutes a game.

Hinrich
Bairstow
"Kirk has always been a big part of creating the professional culture we want day in, day out surrounding our club," Bulls GM Gar Forman said in a statement. "He helps our team in so many ways and Kirk had other opportunities elsewhere, but we are very happy he chose to remain in a Bulls uniform."

Bairstow was selected with the 49th overall pick in last month's draft.

"We like Cameron's combination as a player with his size, energy and physicality," said Bulls GM Gar Forman said in a statement. "He is a hard worker who will only get better with time."

It is still unclear how much of a factor Bairstow will have this season, but Bulls executive VP John Paxson said the organization fielded several offers for draft night swaps when Bairstow was selected.

"We were getting calls leading up to that pick with teams offering us a ton of cash," Paxson told ESPN Chicago 1000's "Waddle & Silvy Show" last month. "For people that sit there and say that the Bulls always make decisions based on money -- we never even considered taking a deal like that [on draft night]. And [owner Jerry Reinsdorf] is sitting there in the room -- because we were looking at a player that we think can maybe play a role for us down the road. And we sat there and bypassed [the offers]."

With Bairstow's deal on the books, now the Bulls must officially sign first-round pick Doug McDermott and free agent Aaron Brooks. They also must continue to look for another backup big man to take the pressure of Joakim Noah. Bairstow may eventually fill that role, but that will be determined over time.

Thibs: Taj Gibson's role won't change

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
6:36
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Tom Thibodeau was noncommittal Friday when the topic of his opening night starting lineup came up. He's still not sure how he will divvy up the minutes between a much deeper frontcourt comprised of Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic. But the veteran coach did acknowledge that no matter what happens, Gibson's role on the team will not change.

"I don't think it changes at all," Thibodeau said. "As I've spoken with all three, they're all going to have significant roles. How it plays out, we'll figure that out. We won't know that until they're on the floor and we look at how they work together and what's best for our team. We're always going to do what's best for our team. But they're all going to have a significant role."

Thibodeau was asked specifically if Gibson would be used as a starter to begin the season.

"I'm not ruling it out," he said. "I want to see what happens. I want to see how it works together, what's best for our second unit, what gives us our best chance. How are we going to finish? How are we going to start? How are all the minutes going to work out? But they're all good problems to have."

GM: Bulls offered top-10 picks for Mirotic

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
6:07
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Bulls general manager Gar Forman admitted Friday that he was offered top-10 picks in last month's draft for the rights to European star Nikola Mirotic.

"To be honest with you, we were offered a couple picks in the top 10 for his rights," Forman said on ESPN 1000's "Waddle and Silvy Show" on Friday. "So I think he's a pretty high-level player. He's got a chance to develop into one. He's 6-foot-10, he's got a motor. He can play inside and out and he can shoot the 3-ball, so that's a good skill set to have as a young player."

Mirotic was officially signed by the Bulls and introduced Friday at the United Center. The organization is hopeful that Mirotic will be able to come in and contribute right away, but the front office doesn't want to put too much pressure on Mirotic too early.

"Obviously there's going to be an adjustment coming from Europe," Forman said. "With that said, he's a little different than the average college player coming in because he's been a pro since he was 16 years old. That's been his job. He's played at a very high level; the ACB league in Spain is the second-best league in the world outside of the NBA and he was the MVP of what they call the Spanish Cup, which is the big tournament they have every year, and he's been the MVP of the Spanish league.

"So I think he's got a chance [to make an immediate impact], it will just be how quickly can he make the adjustment. First of all, coming to the States, coming to the NBA, and then within our system. But I wouldn't want to put a cap on what he can become, but I do think there will be an adjustment period for him."

It didn't sound as if Forman ever seriously considered the offers for Mirotic. The Bulls have always believed that he would be able to have a major impact on the organization because of his length and ability to stretch the floor.

"We've obviously had his rights for three years," Forman said. "We've got a lot invested in him. We've built a relationship over that time and were trying to get him here ... we were hopeful to get him this year. We thought if the buyout didn't happen this year, we were optimistic it would be a year from now. But the sooner the better that he can get over here and play against NBA-caliber players, and I think that's going to help him to continue to develop and continue to grow."

Thibs: Boozer good fit with Lakers

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
5:39
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau believes Carlos Boozer will be a good fit for the Los Angeles Lakers this season.

Boozer was claimed off waivers by the Lakers on Thursday. The final year of Boozer's deal was amnestied by the Bulls on Tuesday.

"When you look at four years and you win 200 games, he did a terrific job for us," Thibodeau said Friday. "Carlos has had a great career, he did his job here, and we wish him nothing but the best. I think the Lakers, I think that will be a good fit for him. But he did a great job for us."

Boozer averaged 13.7 points and 8.3 rebounds last season for the Bulls.

Thibs: Team USA will be 'terrific' for Rose

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
5:09
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Tom Thibodeau remains confident that Derrick Rose will not only participate at a high level during Team USA training camp at the end of the month, but he also believes that his star point guard will make the team that heads to Spain at the end of September to play in the World Cup of Basketball.

[+] EnlargeRose
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesTom Thibodeau believes competing with Team USA will be good for Derrick Rose's comeback from knee surgery.
"I think it's great," Thibodeau said on Friday. "He went through summer league practices and is progressing well. I think the USA thing will be terrific for him. Go back to his MVP year, he played with Team USA that summer and I thought that prepared him well for the season. I expect that to be the same this year in terms of, he hasn't played in a long time, so it's a good opportunity to get that out of the way and it's different role for him with this team because you're going to have 12 great players."

Thibodeau, who serves as an assistant for Team USA under head coach Mike Krzyzewski, is also encouraged by the fact that Rose won't have to do as much scoring as he usually does for the Bulls.

"He won't have the burden to play a lot of minutes and score a lot of points," Thibodeau said. "He can just fit in and run the team. the way he ran the team in 2010 was a big part, I think, of why they won."

Rose, who has only played 49 games in the past three seasons because of various injuries -- including two severe knee injuries -- will be looked upon to provide a big boost for the Bulls this season. Thibodeau believes making the Team USA roster is a good first step.

"As long as it goes well," Thibodeau said, when asked if he thought Rose would make the team that heads to Spain. "Obviously, from a talent standpoint ... but there's rust he has to shake off, which he looked good in the summer league practices, he's put a lot of work in. He's spent a lot of time shooting so I'm expecting him to play well and then the ultimate decision will be made by (Team USA director) Mr. (Jerry) Colangelo so hopefully he sees it that way."

3 Points: East champ from the Central?

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
6:53
PM CT
By Staff
ESPNChicago.com
LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Paul GeorgeGetty ImagesWhose team will emerge as the best in the Central this season?
After a busy start to free agency, ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell is joined by ESPN.com's Scoop Jackson and ESPNChicago.com's Jon Greenberg to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.

1. Fact or Fiction: The Eastern Conference champion next season will come from the Central Division.


Friedell: Fact. The Cavs, Bulls or Pacers will be at the top in the end. The Central Division is going to be competitive all season, and it's arguably the most interesting in basketball. LeBron James returns to Cleveland, Derrick Rose comes back from injury and the Pacers try to take the next step toward a title. Milwaukee brings Jabari Parker into the fold, while Stan Van Gundy attempts things in Detroit. It's going to be fun to watch.

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Greenberg: Fact. And with Lance Stephenson's exodus, it's between Chicago and Cleveland. You can't really handicap it until you know what's going on with the Kevin Love rumors. LeBron with Andrew Wiggins, Kyrie Irving and the rest is going to be a tough draw in the playoffs. But if Rose is healthy, the Bulls are going to be nasty.

Jackson: Fiction, but only because I believe the Washington Wizards have a small/real chance of winning the East. Now, if Cleveland pulls off a deal and gets Kevin Love, then all bets are off. They will be the front-runners. Usain Bolt-like. But until that happens, I think the Bulls, the Wizards and the Cavs will finish 1-2-3 in the East. Just can't call in what order.


2. Fact or Fiction: The addition of Pau Gasol is bad for Taj Gibson.


[+] Enlarge Pau Gasol
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesTaj Gibson's clear path to a starting spot has been blocked by the addition of Pau Gasol.
Friedell: Fiction. I don't think it's a bad thing for Gibson. Even if Gasol starts, Gibson is still going to get plenty of time, and he's still going to play the bulk of the crunch-time minutes. Gibson isn't going to complain about his role, and he's going to be able to continue to learn from Gasol.

Greenberg: Fiction. It's not good, pride-wise, for Gibson that he could be a sixth man again, but he's already been paid, so that lessens the sting. Gibson won't be forgotten, though. Basically Tom Thibodeau has 96 minutes to split between those two and Joakim Noah. That's the beauty of this situation, with Gasol and Gibson able to play two positions. Given his salary and his ability, Gibson has to get 30 minutes a game somehow.

Jackson: Faction. As long as Taj is cool with his role as sixth man (and as long as Thibs can continue to sell him on it), then all is good. But after the season he had last season, knowing that the Bulls were possibly going to amnesty Boozer, if Taj was looking at this season as his "come up," as the one where he broke into the starting lineup to shine brighter, then I'm pretty sure he's gotta be PO'd. Which is a bad thing for him.


3. Fact or Fiction: Nikola Mirotic will make a bigger impact as a rookie than Doug McDermott.


[+] EnlargeNikola Mirotic
AP Photo/Darko VojinovicThe addition of Nikola Mirotic gives the Bulls another much-needed shooter.
Friedell: Fiction. I actually believe McDermott is going to have an impact with the Bulls this season. Mirotic may become a better player over time, but the transition from Europe to the NBA can be tough. McDermott is going to have a big learning curve of his own, but Thibs will learn to love him quickly because of his shooting touch.

Greenberg: Fact. I think McDermott will be very good, playing around 20 minutes a game. But Mirotic is used to playing with grown men, at a faster pace. I think he has more impact early. McDermott could catch, and even pass Mirotic, in terms of production. But I think Mirotic nudges him for the entire season.

Jackson: Fiction. That's Stephen King, James Patterson, Nicholas Sparks-level fiction. That's J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling fiction. That's Shonda Rhimes fiction. That's Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Stan Lee fiction. That's Michael Bay fiction. Get it?

Boozer always left you wanting more

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
5:44
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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LAS VEGAS -- Carlos Boozer lost the benefit of the doubt in Chicago before he even played a minute in a Bulls uniform. The consolation prize in the 2010 free-agency pool, Boozer was hailed by the Bulls as a back-to-the-basket, low-post scorer who could help the organization develop more of a consistent inside game. Expectations were high for Boozer heading into training camp, but everything changed during the first couple days of that first camp. That's because Boozer broke his hand and missed the first two months of the season.

What made the injury even more dubious is that Boozer told the Bulls he tripped over a gym bag in his home. Some fans didn't believe the story; others just rolled their eyes at the incident. Boozer was supposed to be one of the main difference-makers for a championship-caliber team. Now he was a player who wouldn't be able to produce to start his all-important first season. When Boozer finally made his debut in December, the Bulls were playing solid basketball and the hope was that Boozer would augment an up-and-coming lineup led by Derrick Rose. Boozer struggled, though, and his teammates struggled to adjust to him.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Boozer
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhCarlos Boozer's tenure with the Bulls got off to a rocky start, and his defense never really came around enough for Tom Thibodeau.
When Joakim Noah went down for several months because of torn ligaments in his thumb, Boozer's production increased. But what was clear almost from the outset was that Boozer was no longer the serious low-post threat he had been in Cleveland and Utah.

What was also clear when Noah returned was that the pair struggled to play with one another. They often found themselves on the bench together late in games, a trend that would continue throughout Boozer's time in Chicago. Over time, Noah would move on to become the NBA's defensive player of the year and the anchor of Tom Thibdoeau's defense. Boozer's defense, which was always a weakness in his game, became a more pronounced flaw among a gritty group of young players who enjoyed carrying out Thibodeau's instructions.

What made Boozer's first year even worse were his struggles in the postseason. He had a couple nice games, but for the most part he was a non-factor for a team that ultimately lost in the Eastern Conference finals to the Miami Heat.

Over the next couple seasons, Boozer's numbers maintained a high level -- a fact that the Bulls' front office would cling to in defending their major free-agent acquisition in 2010. His third season, the one in which the Bulls played without Rose, was his best. He enjoyed being one of the focal points of the offense and the shots that came with that mantle. He also started learning to play alongside Noah, which helped both men's numbers.

But most fans saw through the mirage of Boozer's high-level production. His points and rebounds usually came in the first and third quarters, rarely in crunch time when the Bulls needed scoring most. This fact became more pronounced this past season, when Boozer rarely ever saw the floor late in games. The bigger issue for the Bulls always revolved around Boozer's defense. Thibodeau simply didn't trust him on that end of the floor, and neither did most of his teammates. Although nobody ever came out and publicly questioned Boozer, the frustrated looks on their faces when he missed a defensive assignment were always more telling than any words they could have spoken.

The same could be said about Thibodeau's responses toward the veteran power forward. Thibodeau never openly questions players in the media. He prefers to discuss matters with his players privately. But while Thibodeau tends to scream at players after mistakes during games, he rarely chose that direction when it came to Boozer. He would just shake his head and mutter something under his breath. Thibodeau understood that Boozer's fragile psyche couldn't handle the criticism -- which made the final few months even more telling.

During a February trip to Sacramento, Boozer acknowledged that he was disappointed that he didn't get a chance to play late in games. It was the first time in the Thibodeau era that a player publicly questioned the demanding coach.

Thibodeau, along with many in the organization, was disappointed that Boozer decided to air his grievances in the open. Thibodeau said before that game in Sacramento that he hadn't seen the comments, but then rattled off every relevant stat as to why he chose to play Taj Gibson late in games. It was clear at that point that the writing, which had been there for some time in regard to using to the amnesty clause on the final year of Boozer's deal, was on the wall. He wasn't going to be a Bull much longer.

So how should fans remember the Boozer era?

The word that instantly comes to mind is underwhelming. Boozer's numbers were solid throughout much of his time in Chicago -- it's just that they didn't always have as much of an impact as one would imagine.

(Read full post)

More confident Snell good sign for Bulls

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
2:30
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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LAS VEGAS -- When young players come to Tony Snell and ask for advice about playing for Tom Thibodeau, the second-year swingman has a simple answer.

[+] EnlargeTony Snell
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesTony Snell is averaging a Vegas-best 25 points through two games.
"I just tell them you've got to work hard every day," Snell said recently. "Thibs likes hard workers and just keep grinding."

The soft-spoken 2013 first-round pick out of New Mexico earned praise from the Bulls' coaching staff last season for his work ethic and professionalism. He just had a hard time translating the extra work from practice into the actual performance when the games started. But if the first few days of the Vegas Summer League are any indication, Snell continues to take his own advice to heart.

He already looks different. Snell said he's added 10 pounds to his frame since the end of last season. He also ditched the cornrows that he has had his entire life. The difference in his play is what has impressed his teammates and coaches on the floor. He is shooting the ball with more confidence, looks much more comfortable on the floor and is leading the Vegas Summer League in scoring at 25 points a game.

"He's been our solid guy," Bulls assistant and summer league head coach Adrian Griffin said. "That gets us a bucket when we need it ... Tony's continued to get better and improving. It's good to see him rewarded for all the hard work that he's put in in the last couple of months."

The people who see Snell go to work every day can see that the 22-year-old is trying to take the next step in his career. The Bulls hope Snell can elevate his game the way Jimmy Butler did during his second season.

"I always say the confidence comes from the work you put in," Griffin said. "That's one thing Tony has been doing all summer starting from last season. He's just constantly in the gym, constantly in the weight room trying to get bigger, work on his game, and it's paying off for him. The thing I always say about the NBA is that game is over with and you've got to get ready for the next game. We want to see how he does over the long haul but so far, so good."

The Bulls are optimistic that Snell can become a consistent rotation player this season. They've always been high on his defensive ability and believe the added confidence will help his shooting and all-around game. For now, Snell is just trying to keep his focus on getting better each day as he prepares for his second NBA season.

"Just stay in the weight room," he said. "Try to get stronger every day. Just keep getting a lot of reps up in the gym."

Doug McDermott: I'm more than a shooter

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
3:30
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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LAS VEGAS -- Tom Thibodeau's scouting report on Doug McDermott's first week of practice in advance of the Vegas Summer League was succinct and accurate.

"He can shoot," Thibodeau said.

If his first two games in Vegas are any indication, McDermott should adjust his long-range game to the NBA level just fine. After connecting on 2 of 5 3-pointers in a 10-point summer league debut Saturday, McDermott stepped it up against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday. He scored 31 points on 12 shots thanks to five 3-pointers and a 12-for-12 performance from the free throw line.

[+] EnlargeMcDermott
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesDoug McDermott's deft shooting touch was on display in his second summer league game against the Nuggets.
Anyone who followed McDermott during his stellar four-year career at Creighton knows that. That's why the Bulls swung a deal to grab the sharpshooter and college player of the year on draft night with the 11th pick. He fills the most glaring need the Bulls have -- a lack of outside shooting. He has the ability to create space on the floor for the guards to penetrate.

"I feel like that's my biggest strength right now," McDermott said. "I feel like I'm trying to add things to my game every day. I feel like I'm a lot more than a shooter. I think I'm a complete player, and having a coach like Tom Thibodeau, he's only going to help me."

What has impressed coaches most about McDermott since landing in Chicago, aside from his shooting, is the fact that he is willing to put in the work to get better. It's a characteristic the Bulls look for in draft picks and one that McDermott knows will put him on Thibodeau's good side from the start.

"I feel like I'm going to have to gain his respect, definitely," McDermott said of Thibodeau. "I'm going to have to work my tail off to get to that point, and I definitely will. I'll be in Chicago all summer up 'til training camp, working on my game, getting back in shape, and we'll see what happens."

What McDermott knows for sure is that he is going to get plenty of open looks playing alongside Derrick Rose. While Thibodeau loves a solid work ethic, the demanding coach loves production even more. That's why McDermott is so happy about the chance to play with Rose on a regular basis.

"It's great," McDermott said of Rose. "He finds people so fast. He makes those quick decisions when he gets around the basket, so it's great to have a guy like that."

McDermott said Rose, who has missed most of the past two seasons with knee injuries, appears to be ready to roll.

"He looked great," McDermott said. "You could tell he's trying to get into better shape, but he looked really healthy to me. He was doing stuff he normally does, so that was great to see."

What has been great for the Bulls' personnel to see is McDermott's confidence growing each day. He admitted after Sunday's win over the Nuggets that the game slowed down for him. That was clear as he connected on 5-of-9 3-pointers and was 7-of-12 from the floor overall.

"It was impressive to see how he could score from the inside, he could put it on the floor, he could space the floor," Bulls assistant and summer league coach Adrian Griffin said. "He has a very high basketball IQ. And that's what these games are about, just to see where these guys are and see how much improvement they need to be ready in the fall."

McDermott wants to be known as more than just a shooter, and he will have to learn Thibodeau's defensive schemes to earn any meaningful minutes. But if he keeps knocking down shots the way he has throughout his career, the Bulls will be ecstatic.

No sulking for Bulls, who move forward

July, 13, 2014
Jul 13
9:59
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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LAS VEGAS -- When the final story of the 2014-15 Chicago Bulls is written, this past weekend will serve as one of its seminal points in time.

It started Saturday afternoon a few hours before the Bulls' summer league team played its first game. That's when the organization came to the realization that Carmelo Anthony was staying in New York for sure and taking all the extra millions that came with that decision.

[+] EnlargeTom Thibodeau
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesTom Thibodeau will have an improved roster to work with in 2014-15 after the Bulls' busy weekend in free agency.
The Bulls were upset. They felt confident Anthony understood and appreciated their direction and the opportunity to contend for championships right away. But instead of sulking over the choice, they went into action with their contingency plans. Pau Gasol announced he was headed to Chicago soon after Anthony made his decision. The Bulls came to terms with veteran Kirk Hinrich on Sunday -- and then a few hours later, prized European prospect Nikola Mirotic tweeted out that he was headed to Chicago. In a 36-hour span, the Bulls improved a roster that was already solid.

Is it a roster that can contend for a championship? Only time will tell -- the Bulls still lack the type of create-your-own-shot scoring that Anthony would have provided -- but it is unquestionably deeper on paper than it was at any point in the past season. Obviously, the health of Derrick Rose hovers over everything the Bulls do, but the front office did a nice job of loading up the rest of the rotation with players who should be able to contribute in several ways.

Rose is the key, but Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy, Hinrich and Gasol are all proven veterans who know how to play. Jimmy Butler is one of the best defenders in the league and, if he develops a consistent shot, will make himself a lot of money. Tony Snell struggled at various points this past season but has played well to start summer league.

Rookie Doug McDermott has also looked solid to start summer league play and is being counted on to help the Bulls stretch the floor with his shooting prowess. Mirotic remains a bit of a question, in the sense that he has never played an NBA game, but the Bulls' front office has always believed he would produce at this level, and his length should help spread the floor for Rose.

That's 10 players Thibodeau should be able to count on to produce in some form this year. What is left for the front office in the coming weeks? They have to decide if they believe second-round pick Cameron Bairstow can make the roster this season. No matter what, they must continue to try to add another backup center to take a little pressure off Noah. Veteran Nazr Mohammed remains interested in playing for a third season in Chicago, but it it's unclear if he'll be back.

The Bulls must continue to evaluate backup point guard options. With their recent moves, they have the ability to wait and see how the market unfolds, but D.J. Augustin isn't an option anymore after agreeing on a two-year deal with the Pistons on Sunday. Bulls GM Gar Forman needs another veteran in the mix for this role and has had good luck filling that need the past few seasons.

No matter how the rest of the roster is filled, the Bulls' have their core in place. These are the players who will decide how far the Bulls go in the playoffs next season. These are the ones Thibodeau must mold into a contender over the next nine months. The Bulls badly wanted Anthony, but they did the best they could, given the circumstances. It's a tired refrain for frustrated Bulls' fans, but the belief within the organization is that this is still a team that has the ability to contend for a championship right away. The pieces are in place -- now it's time to find out if there's enough talent.

Thibodeau hopeful Mirotic is ready for NBA

July, 13, 2014
Jul 13
8:00
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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LAS VEGAS -- Coach Tom Thibodeau is hoping that, after three years, prized European prospect Nikola Mirotic is finally ready to come to the Chicago Bulls.

Mirotic recently worked out a buyout with Real Madrid, and the Bulls sound ready to find a way to make it all work. After finalizing the deal for Pau Gasol, their focus will turn back to Mirotic so that he will be ready to come over for the upcoming season.

"[Executive VP of basketball operations] John [Paxson] and [general manager] Gar [Forman] have been in contact with him for a long time because we have his draft rights," Thibodeau said before the Bulls' first summer league game on Saturday night. "Hopefully, something will be worked out. At some point, he will hopefully come, then we'll see where he is."

Thibs happy for James: Thibodeau didn't mention Carmelo Anthony by name on Saturday after being spurned at the altar in free agency, but the veteran coach did sound happy for Anthony's good friend and Cleveland Cavaliers megastar LeBron James about his return to Cleveland.

"It's good," Thibodeau said of James' decision. "That's what he felt was best. The one thing about LeBron, he's always stayed true to himself. So it's good."

Was he surprised by James' choice?

"I didn't really think about it, to be honest with you," he said. "He's a great player. He's been great for the league. It's a great story. [We will] just get ready for next season."

Thibodeau hides disappointment over Melo

July, 12, 2014
Jul 12
9:29
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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LAS VEGAS -- It's the middle of July and Tom Thibodeau is already in midseason form.

The Chicago Bulls coach spent a few minutes with the media before his team's opener in the Las Vegas Summer League, and it was like talking to him before a regular-season game in Milwaukee in March.

The basketball lifer was obviously disappointed by the fact that Carmelo Anthony decided to stay with the New York Knicks -- Thibodeau and the Bulls invested a lot of time and effort into their recruiting pitch to Anthony -- but he didn't show his frustration. He didn't even mention Anthony by name.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesThibodeau's loyalty to his players is displayed in his restraint when speaking publicly about them, and his confidence in them shows in his resiliency in response to missing out on Carmelo Anthony.
Did he think the Bulls' pitch to Anthony went well?

"At this time of the year, [executive VP of basketball operations] John [Paxson] and [general manager] Gar [Forman] have talked to a number of players," Thibodeau said. "You make your presentation, we think we have a lot to offer. We feel we have some good options, and we're looking forward to the challenge of next year."

That's as deep as Thibodeau will go. Anybody who has followed the Bulls over the past four seasons knows to read the tea leaves with the veteran coach, though. His refrain will always remain the same: Whether Anthony landed in Chicago or not, Thibodeau was always going to be of the belief that the Bulls have more than enough to win. It's a mantra that has defined his coaching career and his tenure with the Bulls.

But there's no doubt Thibodeau will motivate his players next season by reminding them that, in the end, Anthony spurned Chicago. Anthony turned his back on Thibodeau and what was widely believed to be the best situation to win a title right away. Even if Thibodeau understands how much Anthony fought with the decision and how much money he would have left on the table, Thibodeau will use Anthony's choice as yet another motivational ploy in firing up his team. He thrives on the "us against the world" mentality and will remember that in the future when the Bulls face the Knicks.

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Thibodeau believes Rose will play for USA

July, 12, 2014
Jul 12
9:02
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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LAS VEGAS -- Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau reiterated Saturday night that he expects to see star point guard Derrick Rose participate in Team USA's camp at the end of the month as it prepares for the World Cup of Basketball later this summer in Spain.

Rose, who has played just 49 games in the past three seasons because of various injuries -- including two serious knee injuries -- practiced with the Bulls' summer league team as it prepared for to leave for Las Vegas over the past week.

"He had a very productive week," Thibodeau said. "That was the next step. So he'll continue to work, and then the next phase will be with Team USA. He's going step by step, doing great and he's looking forward to it."

Rose put doubt into his Team USA plans in an interview with Yahoo! Sports late last month, saying he would make the decision to play after conferring with his agent, and former Bull, B.J. Armstrong.

"I still don't know yet," Rose told Yahoo! "If I'm feeling right and the time is [right], for sure I will go out there. My body is responding good, but you never know.

"Right now, I haven't really thought about that. I am just worrying about just trying to get back every day, and I'm really taking rehab one day at a time instead of trying to think about competing."

Rose's words came as a surprise to many within the organization, given that Thibodeau, Bulls GM Gar Forman and Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski all were hopeful that he would participate. Thibodeau will be able to keep a close eye on Rose if he does participate in the camp -- he is an assistant on Team USA's staff.

Gasol enough to get Bulls over the hump?

July, 12, 2014
Jul 12
8:05
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- Pau Gasol has already filled the role of Carlos Boozer for the Chicago Bulls in more ways than one. Forget for a moment the impact he will have on the floor -- Gasol is the consolation prize in free agency, like Boozer was in the summer of 2010. He is a solid player who will make the Bulls better, but he isn't the man the Bulls had their hearts set on. That man would be Carmelo Anthony, who appears to be taking all the guaranteed money and staying with the New York Knicks.

[+] EnlargePau Gasol
Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY SportsGasol's ability to score facing up or with his back to the basket adds an element the Bulls and Joakim Noah have lacked recently.
Gasol is going to be a solid fit in Chicago. By all accounts, he seems like a great teammate, he's an NBA champion, one of the best passing big men in the game and will fit in well in the Bulls' no-nonsense locker room. But as fans process the flurry of free-agent activity that started Friday afternoon when LeBron James announced his decision to go back to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the question now is how much better does Gasol make the Bulls? More importantly, does Gasol's addition give the Bulls a legitimate chance to win a title this season?

Gasol averaged 17.4 points and 9.7 rebounds for the Los Angeles Lakers last season, but he also just turned 34 years old and missed chunks of the past two seasons because of injuries. His ability to create space on the floor because of his passing and vision should mesh well with Joakim Noah. Gasol also gives the Bulls a back-to-the-basket scorer, something they thought they were getting when they signed Boozer four summers ago.

Gasol is absolutely a better all-around player than Boozer, but he has never been known for playing consistent, high-level defense. Like Boozer, there's a solid chance Gasol could end up sitting late in the fourth quarter of games as coach Tom Thibodeau decides to go with one of the best defensive combos in the league in Noah and Taj Gibson. While Gasol isn't as defensively challenged as Boozer, he isn't the best option to close down games on this roster.

The larger issue with the Gasol deal is the same one it was going to be with any player the Bulls landed who wasn't Anthony: Does Gasol -- and Nikola Mirotic, assuming the Bulls finally hammer out a deal with the European star -- put the Bulls that much closer to a title? The Bulls would be a better, deeper team with Gasol and Mirotic in the fold, but the issue for them is the same: Who scores late baskets for them in the playoffs? Derrick Rose is expected to come back in fine form to start the season and has looked great in summer league practices, according to several people who have seen him play, but the Bulls have seen before how this story ends.

The interesting wrinkle about the Gasol news is that it likely pushes the Bulls out of the conversation for a potential deal with Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love for now. With Gasol, Noah, Gibson and Mirotic likely headed to the NBA, the Bulls are loaded with big men and will still try to add a backup center in free agency.

Still, even if Rose stays healthy -- which is a huge "if" given he's played only 49 games the past three seasons because of various injuries -- Gasol isn't the type of "create your own shot" player the Bulls have been lacking. He's a skilled offensive big man who is past his prime. The Bulls still have a chance to contend in the weak Eastern Conference -- but the goal is to find ways to win championships. Gasol's addition puts them closer to that goal, but not by much.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Derrick Rose
PTS AST STL MIN
15.9 4.3 0.5 31.1
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Noah 11.3
AssistsJ. Noah 5.4
StealsJ. Butler 1.9
BlocksJ. Noah 1.5