Chicago Bulls: All-Star game
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Even after winning the the NBA Coach of the Year award last season and being named the head coach of the Eastern Conference All-Star team this season, Tom Thibodeau is still flying under the radar.
As his All-Star squad walked off the practice floor Saturday afternoon, Thibodeau was ushered toward a separate exit by an NBA official. As the pair approached the barricade separating NBA personnel from everyone else, the security guard gave Thibodeau a quizzical look.
"This is the coach," the official said to the security guard.
As usual, Thibodeau took it all in stride. The veteran coach just finished conducting his first All-Star practice as the man in charge and had a big grin on his face. After two decades as an assistant coach, Thibodeau was the man calling the shots. Moments earlier, while his Western Conference counterpart Scott Brooks calmly stood on one side of the floor during the glorified walk-through watching his team shoot jumpers, Thibodeau, ever the workoholic, actually attempted to conduct a practice. He barked orders at Derrick Rose and LeBron James, all while wearing a mic so that an arena full of people and a national television audience could hear him.
"Stay up! Stay up! Stay up! Stay up," he huffed in a familiar baritone.
For a man who took a long and grueling road up the NBA coaching ranks, it was an experience he won't soon forget.
"It was great," he said. "It was a lot of fun. A lot of great players out there. First time getting together really and these guys are great. A lot of them have been around and done this a number of times so I don't think it ever gets old for them. Of course, all the new guys that are here for the first time, they're thrilled to be here so it's a lot of fun."
In order to understand how Thibodeau ended up here, how he was able to guide the Bulls to such immense success and impose his own will on the team in just a year and a half, all one needs to do is listen to his players. Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, the two Bulls who will join Thibodeau on the sidelines for Sunday night's All-Star Game, respect the fact that Thibodeau is so driven.
After struggling to find his niche over two years in the Vinny Del Negro era, Deng was just hoping to find a coach who would utilize all of his skills instead of sticking him behind the 3-point line on offense as Del Negro decided to do. Once Thibodeau was named head coach in the summer of 2010, all it took was one conversation with Thibodeau for Deng to know that he had found a coach with whom he would work easily.
"I first got to the Berto and I was supposed to just get shots up and it turned out to be a two and a half hour workout," Deng said. "And that's when I knew this guy is serious."
Deng knew the Bulls' coach was never going to be outworked by anybody. He and his teammates have talked several times about the fact that even when they come in late at night to workout, when they think nobody else is around, they can always see the light in Thibodeau's office on. He's watching tape.
"You see a lot of successful people and you never really know what they do or [what] their schedule [is]," Deng said. "For our team, we have an opportunity to see the work and the effort that goes into it. And I think for a lot of us ... what you hear and what you see might seem like this guy works too hard, this is crazy. But how many people are you around that are very successful, Hall of Famers, guys who change the game? You never really know how hard they work. As good as Michael Jordan was, I hear a lot of crazy stories that to me sound crazy, but to him it might be, 'That's the norm.'
For Thibodeau, working extremely hard is the norm, and that's why Rose loves him so much. He wants to be pushed and he knows that Thibodeau is the man who will do it on a daily basis.
"My relationship with Thibs is definitely strong," Rose said. "Where I can talk to him about anything on the court. He can come to me, we talk to each other on the phone a lot. More than any other coaches I ever had. I communicate with him the most. And his will ... when you see a coach, like before we were coming down here, he was looking at film of who we play next. This when you're supposed to have your break. I never met a coach like him. I'm fortunate and grateful to have a coach like that and I'm just happy to have him."
Rose and Deng both believe that Thibodeau's work ethic has rubbed off on the rest of their team.
"When you see how hard he works, there's nothing you can say about that," Rose said. "He works as hard as the players. And he's a coach; always looking at film. Just trying to improve as a coach. After games, he'll take the loss on himself, say it was his fault. You got to do nothing but respect that. He wants discipline. And he forces discipline. You got to love it. As a coach, you would want someone that's hard. I think I do. I think that's why he gets so much from everyone in the locker room."
In Thibodeau, Rose has found a kindred spirit. He's found a coach he can call any time, day or night, to talk about whatever is going on in his world. The reigning MVP views himself as a student of the game and Thibodeau considers himself a teacher, so it's no wonder Rose is so comfortable taking direction from a man who yells at his players more than almost every other coach in the league. In terms of preparation, the 23-year-old admitted that he sees some of himself in the 54-year-old coach.
"For sure," Rose said. "I think that's why we always talk to each other, communicate with each other. We both work hard and we both respect each other."
That's music to Thibodeau's ears. As gruff as he can be sometimes, the coach was beaming with pride on Saturday afternoon while discussing Rose's and Deng's achievements.
"It's great," Thibodeau said. "They're great guys. They're great players. They've earned the right to be here. I'm just so proud of the way they've handled themselves in everything they do. On the court, off the court, every aspect of the game."
For all the good vibes emanating from Thibodeau and his players this weekend, the whispers about the demanding head coach continue to pop up once in a while. As good of a coach has Thibodeau has proven to be, will his no-nonsense approach eventually wear thin on his players over time -- a la Scott Skiles, or other coaches of his ilk?
"If you're not ready, he kind of hits you out of nowhere," Rose said. "But you'll get used to it. I remember coming in last year and [his hardcore approach] was kind of like tiring. And the more you do it, the more you get used to it. That's the way you end up playing. You go out there and try to play hard every single possession."
Rose and Deng realize that Thibodeau's style isn't for everybody, but it works for them. More important, it works for the Bulls right now. They've all bought into what Thibodeau is selling and they believe the ultimate payoff will come in the form of a championship.
They can deal with all the extra screaming and yelling because they respect Thibodeau and trust him. They know they have teammates who feel the same way. It's not a coicidence that Bulls' executives Gar Forman and John Paxson built a roster full of guys who don't make a habit of talking back to their coach and taking direction.
"That's why we're winning now," Rose said. "We've got a lot of guys that can take it. That have been in winning programs before and know what it takes to win."
Deng echoed those sentiments.
"By having leaders on the team, Deng said. "We're not a team of just one leader. We've got a lot of guys who lead. When you do that, it sets a good example for everyone else. So no one is really trying to bend the rules or anything because the majority of people are doing it."
To that point, Deng and Rose will be doing the same thing they've been doing for a year and a half now on Sunday night: Listening to Thibodeau bark orders. Rose is wondering how his coach is going to handle a game in which defense and structure is usually the last thing on most players' minds.
"I really don't know [what to expect from him]," Rose said with a smile. "I've never seen him in this environment so I don't know how he's going to be acting. If he's going to have his regular nerve like he has nerve problems where he shakes his hand a lot. I don't know how he's going to be acting."
No matter what happens on Sunday night, Thibodeau doesn't seem to be too concerned. He has a much bigger goal to accomplish later in the year. He wants to lead the Bulls to their seventh championship.
"The thing is, usually with All-Star players, their commitment is the same," Thibodeau said. "They didn't get here by accident. It's their drive, along with their talent, that has gotten them here. But I think everyone who's here understands what this game is all about. It will be a lot of fun initially, and then these are ultra competitive guys. So down the stretch they'll all play to win."
Just the way Thibodeau wants it.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Luol Deng sat atop the podium made up specifically for him on the side of a meeting room usually filled with tourists and soaked in the view.
He fielded question after question about anything reporters seemed to throw out at him and actually seemed be enjoying himself for a majority of the time.
After years of waiting, he was finally an All-Star. For Deng, Friday's media session was just the beginning of an experience he thought he deserved to be a part of for a long time.
"I've had seasons where I felt like I've played at an All-Star level," Deng admitted. "I've really had seasons where I've felt like I was playing as well as a lot of people in it. At the end of the day, you can't really control those things. It's a lot of guys that are not here that I think should be here. But at the same time, you look at who's here and you're like, 'So you put those guys in and who do you take out?' And you're like everyone kind of deserves it. It's really tough. But I've had seasons where I felt like I could have been here before."
So have his teammates and coaches. That's why fellow All-Star and teammate Derrick Rose was so proud to share the stage with the veteran forward.
"I'm super happy for Lu," Rose said. "Lu is someone [who] I think deserves it. I know he's been playing great for us, been consistent the whole year, and I just can't wait to see him out there."
Neither can Bulls head coach (and Eastern Conference head coach) Tom Thibodeau.
"He's been great," Thibodeau said. "And quite honestly, and I'm biased, I thought he should have made it last year. But usually that's what happens. I think when you look at his contributions to winning, his leadership ability, he's a complete player, he plays both sides of the ball. Very unselfish. Can guard four positions on the floor. You can't say enough about what he brings to winning. So I think he's earned his spot here."
Deng feels the same way. After all this time in someone else's spotlight, he feels like he's finally gotten the recognition he deserves.
"I'm very honored," he said. "It means a lot to me that I'm here and I'm selected. It just shows that people respect your game. But I told people before, if I wasn't here, I would be OK. I'm really honored and I'm excited. I'm still going to play hard. I'm still going to work hard. I still want to be the best basketball player I can be. Having this [experience] one day when I look back, I'll say I was an All-Star. But if I wasn't here, as hard as I work, I'd still be happy with what I put in."
CHARLOTTE -- Luol Deng has made his first All-Star team.
The eighth-year forward became the 14th Bull ever selected to the game and will be on the Eastern Conference All-Star team alongside his point guard, Derrick Rose.
Deng, who is averaging 16 points and 7.3 rebounds a game this season, admitted that he wanted the honor of playing in the game.
"It would be great," Deng said after Wednesday night's game against the New Orleans Hornets. "Whoever plays in this league always wants to be [an All-Star]. At the end of the day, if it doesn't [happen] you're always a little disappointed, but at the same time, it comes down to hearing from inside the locker room, the guys that you play with. If they're happy with how you play. Your coaches and going in and playing every night. Don't get me wrong, every time you play, [making the All-Star Game] is something you want to do because it's a great accomplishment. But at the same time, it's not in my hands now. You got to just play and just wait."
Deng waited, and it finally paid off, even after tearing a ligament in his left wrist in a game against the Charlotte Bobcats last month which forced him to miss seven games.
Deng decided not to have surgery because he felt the Bulls have a chance to win a title this season. His dedication to the Bulls was not lost on his teammates or coaches.
"I know that I'd probably be more hurt than Lu [if he doesn't make it]," Rose said Wednesday night. "Knowing that he has a nonchalant attitude about making the team. But I think that he deserves it."
So did the rest of Deng's teammates and coaches.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau understands Deng's impact this season. That's evident in the fact that he relies on Deng to play almost 40 minutes a night.
"You guys who follow our team, I think you understand how important he is to our team," Thibodeau said Wednesday night. "Lu doesn't have to score to have a great impact on our team and winning. He plays great defense. He plays a great floor game. He moves without the ball. He makes the extra pass. And he has very good statistics, but you can't measure his impact statistically. I know what he brings. I know all the coaches and all his teammates appreciate everything that he does."
For Deng and Rose, having two All-Stars on the team makes them believe that the Bulls are gaining even more respect around the league.
"I always said it, even last year," Deng said. "Whether it's me, Booz joining Derrick, or Jo, whoever it is, playing as well as we do, and having the record that we do, I think not only for our locker room, but for our fans, the NBA, what we're doing is something everyone is seeing. So it would be good to have more than one guy representing us out there."
NEW ORLEANS -- As much as he tries to downplay injuries, Derrick Rose's back is still bothering him. Rose played just 22 minutes in Wednesday night's win over the Hornets, scoring six points.
"The back is kind of tight," Rose said after the game. "Thibs did a great job with managing my minutes right when we saw that we had the game put away."
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau knows he's going to have to keep a close eye on Rose for the next couple of days.
"He says he feels pretty good," Thibodeau said. "So he's just got to each day, do his rehab, take care of himself. Get his rest, get his massage, and we go from there."
Thibs inching closer to All-Star berth: With just a couple more wins, Thibodeau will lock up an All-Star berth of his own. He'll be the head coach for the Eastern Conference All-Stars in Orlando at the end of the month.
"I know that that's something that he'd [like] the honor of doing, coaching that game" Rose said. "But if he's coach and I'm on the team, I'd love it."
So would Luol Deng, another potential All-Star.
"It doesn't get any better than that," Deng said. "Whether I'm there or not. First of all, for Derrick to make it ... Derrick making it and getting MVP, you always feel part of it because you're out there with him every night. And now if the coaches get it, you're even more happy because you've got the best record and your coaches are getting recommended, so it just shows what we're doing in here."
Of course, Thibodeau isn't thinking like that.
"Good try," Thibodeau said, cutting off the question. "The challenge for everybody is to stay focused on what's important. That is only our next game. Study, get ready for Charlotte. If you start looking ahead to the break, or you look behind, that's when you're going to have a misstep. So the challenge is to stay focused on the things that are important which is getting ready for Charlotte. And that's it. Don't get side-tracked. And winning takes care of everything. And that's all we have to take care of. Study."
The last word: "We're playing well right now. We're coming out early, defending, running the floor, getting the lead and playing well with it. We just got to keep doing that," -- Deng.
Rose, who already earned a starting spot in the game when he was voted in by fans last week, badly wants his teammate to make this year's game in Orlando, Fla. He believes that Deng has done enough to earn a spot this year. Deng is averaging 16 points and seven rebounds a game and he is probably the Bulls' best defender.
"I know that I'd probably be more hurt than Lu [if he doesn't make it], Rose said. "Knowing that he has a nonchalant attitude about making the team. But I think that he deserves it."
So do the rest of Deng's teammates and coaches.
"I hope they're good," Bulls' coach Tom Thibodeau said of Deng's chances. "You guys who follow our team, I think you understand how important he is to our team. Lu doesn't have to score to have a great impact on our team and winning. He plays great defense. He plays a great floor game. He moves without the ball. He makes the extra pass. And he has very good statistics, but you can't measure his impact statistically. I know what he brings. I know all the coaches and all his teammates appreciate everything that he does."
That doesn't mean Thibodeau will go out of his way to get extra votes for Deng. As much as he believes in his forward's cause, he doesn't think recruiting will help much.
"Nah, I know how I am when people do that," Thibodeau said. "I think that doesn't get you very far. These coaches, they know, they look, they study. I think his play speaks for itself. And I think if you value winning, you appreciate all the things that he does."
"I feel like I'm still a rookie compared to all these guys," Rose said. "You look at KG [Kevin Garnett], this is like his 14th one. He's got so many stars on the back of his warmup.
"It makes you want to fight to get more. Makes you want to go in and work out harder, just because you want to get to the All-Star Game the number of years the other guys did. "
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SAN FRANCISCO -- The Chicago Bulls are 34-14 but they managed to get only one player on the Eastern Conference All-Star team. Why didn't anyone else make it?
Deng: He is having the best season of his career. Luol Deng is averaging 18 points, six rebounds and almost three assists a game. He's also played in every one, which, given his history, is impressive. But was he really going to make it over Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Ray Allen, Chris Bosh, Al Horford or Rajon Rondo? All of those guys are name brands. Deng has been great for the Chicago Bulls, but his game is the opposite of flashy. Unless you've been watching the Bulls closely you don't understand how solid he has been under new head coach Tom Thibodeau. He has done everything for the Bulls, but he has done it so quietly that the rest of the league still hasn't taken much notice.
The coaches went for the safe bets and, it seems, gave the benefit of the doubt to aging stars Allen, Garnett and possibly the personal pleas of East head coach Doc Rivers. Deng isn't just a complementary player, he's the type of player who can drop 25 on you without the other teams noticing it. That's great for the Bulls, but it doesn't work as well as well during a "me-first" game like the one that will be played in Los Angeles in three weeks.
Boozer: He missed 18 games. If he didn't, he probably wouldn't be included in this discussion. He's a 20/10 machine but he's also injury prone. In other words, he's been exactly what the Bulls thought they were getting. He will make the All-Star team again if he stays healthy.
Noah: If he hadn't torn ligaments in his thumb, Noah would have made this team. Bottom line. He is averaging 14 points and 12 rebounds on the season. Like Boozer, if he stays healthy next season he will be an All-Star.
Surely there are angry Bulls fans out there wondering how the Celtics get four players on the team and the Heat get three. It’s a fair argument considering the Bulls are one of the hottest teams in the league at 20 games over .500. But at least take heart in this: The fact that Derrick Rose is the only Bull who made this team should tell you just how good he's been this season. He has single-handedly carried the team at times, and his placement on the team will only strengthen his case in the MVP voting later this season.
CHICAGO -- Derrick Rose is willing to do almost anything to get the Bulls back on the national stage. But he won't dance ... at least not at the All-Star Game.
"I'm not doing that," Rose said before Friday night's game against the Orlando Magic. "I'm ... not ... doing ... that. No, I'm not dancing. They'll be mad. I'm not doing that. That's just ... Oh my God."
Rose didn't dance on his way out to the floor last year before last year's game in Dallas, and he isn't about to start a new trend now.
"I'm going to look silly," he said. "Then they show that video forever. They show it forever so it's going to be bad. I hope [I don't have to]. You just made me think about it."
Rose isn't so much afraid of what family and friends will say, he just knows that it will probably be bad.
Rose says he dances -- just not out in public.
"Barbecues, stuff like that," he said. "Intimate little things. Not [any] arena filled [with fans]."
The possibility for embarrassment is too much for Rose to handle as far as dancing in concerned. He cringed last year when some of All Star teammates got crazy before the game.
"I don't like seeing people embarrass themselves," Rose said. "Like in a movie, I'll turn the channel if somebody's about to embarrass themselves or something like that. So for me to do it, it would be crazy. Unless it's like a rookie starting [and older players are saying] you got to do it, I'll have to do it. but if not I'm not doing it."
Rose wants to let his play do the talking. Aside from the dancing, he knows that becoming an All-Star starter is the next step in his progression.
"Hopefully, people will see me as one of the elite players in the league," Rose said. "I'm just trying to play and stay focused and I'm just trying to win games. Winning gets you everything in this league. People have to talk about you and watch you if you're winning. No matter how you're winning, if you're winning by one, 10, 15, it don't matter as long as you're winning games."
"It's going to be crazy, man," Rose said Friday. "I've never played with him except for in the All-Star Game last year, and that was only for a little bit because I was injured. So it's going to be exciting and people should love it."
Rose has tempered his enthusiasm about being the first Bulls player to start in an All-Star Game since Michael Jordan in 1998. Part of it is modesty, and part may be the fact he's suffering through two stomach ulcers and an aching back.
"I never thought about it where I have to be on there because nobody has been on there since Jordan," he said. "I haven't really thought about it, but it's just an honor to be on the team, and I just can't wait to play in that game.
"It's great, knowing that everything's going my way right now. I feel blessed. If it wasn't for my fans, the organization, adidas, everybody playing a big role, I wouldn't have got that spot."
Rose was the Bulls' first All-Star since Jordan last season, but he was a reserve.
"This one will mean a lot," Rose said. "I said the only thing that will change is me being a starter this year. Last year I didn't start but it was a great experience. But this year I know it's going to be even better."
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is happy for Rose, but the priority is simple.
"It's great," he said. "We're happy for him. But we're also concerned about what we have to do tonight. That's a priority for us."
But it's not the type of excitement level that you might expect from a 22-year-old.
"Things like that really don't get to me," Rose said after Thursday's practice. "That's not the type of thing that's going to excite me or anything. I'll be happy for myself, but it's nothing like I'm going to have a party, or have a whole bunch of people over and celebrate. I don't know why, but it's just the way I am."
Rose admitted that if the decision is left up to him he may not even watch the telecast.
"If it were up to me, I'd be somewhere probably laying down, watching TV, watching some sitcom or something like that," Rose said. "My mom is over at my house so I'll probably be watching something with her, but if anything she'll be more happy than I am."
Despite the lack of outward exuberance, Rose understands that becoming an All-Star starter is the next step in his progression. He was the one who asked aloud on the Bulls' media day in September "Why can't I be MVP?" He knows that the big superstars in the NBA are usually starters every season.
"I think it was one of the goals to be a starter," Rose said. "But I think just having a winning record and getting MVP, I think that would mean definitely a lot. Of course a championship would be on the top of the list, but being a starter, it's kind of almost like being in the game."
If Rose does indeed get named as one of the starters it would be the first time a Bulls player was voted into the game by the fans since Michael Jordan did it in 1998. Rose understands how big of an accomplishment that is, but he isn't concerning himself about it right now.
"I haven't really thought about that," he said. "My whole thing was just to be on the All-Star team. It wasn't about being a starter or anything like that. For me to be the first one, if I was to make it to become a starter, it would be great, but I didn't think about Michael Jordan or anything like that."
Rose's teammates and coaches are hoping he will be rewarded for the first half of the season he's had.
"I think it's recognition for the job he's done this year," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said . "All-Star Games, those are great, and he's certainly earned it, but I'm concerned with what he's done for our team. And he's done a lot for the team. He's lifted this team up. We still have a long way to go the second half of the season, so the test continues after the midpoint. But I'm happy for him."
Rose suffered a bruised hip on Thursday after a hard foul from the Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard.
"It's going to be 100 percent," the second-year point guard said when asked whether he would play.
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Will he be able to play in the All-Star Game in Dallas?
It's clear that he really wants to be a part of the action and he earned a spot on the team by playing some great basketball over the last month and a half. Earlier Wednesday, Rose also earned a spot on the U.S. National team's roster, an honor that he seems just as proud of. I caught up with the young point guard for a few moments (before his hard fall) and it was evident that he is truly honored to be recognized as one of the best players in the country.
Nick Friedell: Can this week get any more exciting for you -- especially considering you were named to the USA National team roster today?
Derrick Rose: Man, that's a big honor. One of my goals was making that team. There's like 27 people going out there for the camp. So hopefully, I make the team in 2012 and hopefully you'll see me playing on TV with them.
NF: Have you talked to anyone else on the roster since it was announced?
DR: No, I haven't talked to anyone yet. But I know Coach K or someone will be calling my agents or something like that so I can talk to them.
NF: He mentioned earlier Wednesday that he always enjoyed seeing you at the camps and that you made a commitment to the team. How important do you think that was in getting named to this list?
DR: For a coach to say [that] to you, of his caliber, means a lot. He's a smart coach. A real player's coach. And he's all about winning no matter what it takes. And that's what I'm all about.
NF: We've talked about this before, but how much of a dream is it for you to play in the Olympics?
DR: It's a big dream. Just looking at when they were playing a while back, me and my mom watched them [in Beijing]. We were up around 3 a.m., 4 a.m. or something like that when the games used to come on. They used to come on real late in the morning, and we were up watching the games. And I know that everybody else was watching them, too. Hopefully when I make the team, or whenever I do make the team ... everybody will be watching me. As I was up watching them when I was younger.
NF: You're headed to Dallas Thursday. What has it been like getting ready to go?
DR: I've just been anxious. Just ready, man. Just to go down there and see how many fans are down there. Because the fans are the ones that just help this League keep going. And for them to already almost sell [Cowboys Stadium] out already is crazy and I'm just happy to be part of this big ordeal that's going on right now.
NF: Have you thought about what it's going to be like to walk into that huge stadium already?
DR: No, (Smiles). You can't think about something like that. You can't, to tell you the truth. You can't think about anything like that.
NF: But you've dreamed about being an All-Star as well. For it to be this close to becoming a reality has to be pretty cool.
DR: Yeah, it's cool, man. Especially to be the one right after Mike, Michael Jordan. It means a lot. Trust me. And I'm from Chicago, so it means a lot.