Chicago Bulls: Kevin Durant
But most importantly, Thibodeau was relieved because he knew Rose wasn't going to have to be "the man" on a talented USA team as he takes the next step in his comeback from a torn meniscus suffered in November 2013. He wasn't going to have to be relied upon to carry the scoring load each game like he usually does with the Bulls.
"I think this is why [this camp] is so good for him," Thibodeau said on July 29, the second day of Team USA's camp. "Because of the talent level that's here. It's a chance for him to measure himself to see where he is. He doesn't have the burden to carry the load for a team."
Things have changed since then for Team USA -- and for Rose, who came to Chicago for practices Thursday and Friday before playing in an exhibition game against Brazil on Saturday at the United Center.
It's a challenge that Rose will assuredly embrace, but it's fair to say he wasn't expecting it just a couple weeks ago.
While there are plenty of scorers left on Team USA, including James Harden and Stephen Curry, both of whom have international experience, Rose will now be counted on more offensively. Although Thibodeau remains eternally confident in his star, it's a role that has to leave him a little uneasy given the circumstances.
Rose has only played in 49 games in the past three years because of all the injuries and just 10 in the past two because of two serious knee injuries. Thibodeau wanted to ease him back, but that doesn't appear to be as likely now -- and that's probably a good thing for the Bulls.
In the immediate aftermath of George's injury, some fans and undoubtedly some in the Bulls' organization had to wonder whether Rose should continue to play for Team USA this summer. What if he suffered another injury? George's misfortune was another reminder that injuries can occur anywhere.
Rose hasn't played much in three years, and Team USA has given him a platform to show what he can do on the world stage. It will be a great litmus test for him to see where he is mentally and physically heading into the Bulls' season with high expectations.
It will also give Rose a chance to prove to himself and to the rest of basketball that he can still be the go-to guy on a team when needed. Thibodeau and the rest of the coaching staff will continue to watch Rose closely, and they know that there will still be rust for the former MVP to shake off, but now he will have to shed it even quicker than expected.
If Rose's week in Vegas was any indication, that shouldn't be much of a problem. Players and coaches raved about how well he was playing, and Rose even acknowledged how much more fun he was having on the floor.
"I usually say whatever the game needs, that's what I'm going to put into the game," Rose said. "And I learned that by actually playing through my mistakes with the first injury. Just seeing that I was forcing everything, it wasn't the way that I was playing. I wasn't enjoying the game like I was before the injury. Now it feels like I appreciate it a little bit more and just enjoy being on the court and playing the game that I love playing."
He'll have even more chances to showcase his skills now that George and Durant are no longer on the roster. In the short term, that fact might make the Bulls and Thibodeau a little nervous, but it should pay off in a major way for the Bulls in the long term if Rose can stay healthy throughout the tournament.
Does he look for players who bring energy and effort every single night or do they develop that kind of mindset once they slide a Bulls jersey on over their heads?
To Thibodeau's point, that's why Joakim Noah's progression on and off the floor has been so imperative this season. While Noah has brushed off talk that he has changed in any way as a leader, his teammates and coaches see otherwise. They see someone who has grown as a player and a leader in what was viewed by many as a lost season when Derrick Rose went down again with a knee injury and Luol Deng was traded to Cleveland.
"So veteran leadership's important, having the mindset," Thibodeau continued. "In talking to [John Paxson], I love hearing the stories about Jordan and the things he did when he was here. It gives you a much greater understanding of how driven Jordan was -- because he didn't only drive himself, he drove the rest of the team. And that's what's necessary to win a championship.
"I was fortunate in Boston to be part of a group like that. We had [Kevin] Garnett, who was relentless and [Paul] Pierce and [Ray] Allen were the same, and you need that. So, hopefully, we have that. We try to bring it every night, I think that's important. You build that habit. You can't pick and choose when you're going to bring it. You got to bring it every day. And I think that's important."
Thibodeau believes some organizations worry too much about the minutes players can rack up during the year. He even mentioned Phil Jackson's name in defense of his own personal beliefs on how to pace a team.
"I think Phil is one of the all-time greats, maybe the greatest," Thibodeau said. "And I know from coaching against him his best players were always on the floor, and they were conditioned to be on the floor. And I've talked to Jordan about it and the way he conditioned himself both mentally and physically. When you go back through history and you look at championship teams, you see how the minutes were dispersed."
Thibodeau has been criticized in the past for riding players too hard in the regular season, but he has never bought into that notion. He believes players can condition themselves both mentally and physically to play heavy minutes during the year.
"I want to see the science," he said. "If there's some science that says if you play a guy 28 minutes a game and we can guarantee he'll never get hurt then you got something. But until then, I think how you pace your team, you get a feel for that over time."
Durant not surprised by Noah's success: While the rest of the basketball world seems to be taking notice of Noah's rise to prominence, Thunder star Kevin Durant doesn't understand why so many people are just now realizing how good Noah has been.
"He always could pass the basketball," Durant said. "There's nothing new that he's doing. He's playing his regular game, I think people are just starting to recognize what he's done. He's been doing it for the last three or four years. For some reason, you guys think it's a surprise, but he's been playing that way ever since he got into the league. Playing with high energy on both ends of the floor, passing the basketball well, that's just how he plays. Since the first time I watched him play -- so [it's] nothing new."
Durant also didn't seem surprised by the fact that his former college teammate at the University of Texas, D.J. Augustin, has been playing so well of late since signing with the Bulls in December.
"I'm so happy for him, man," Durant said. "We spent so much time together when I was at Texas. He lived next door to me. We had that connection since the first day we stepped on campus, and I was there when he got drafted. ... I think this was a perfect home for him. I think he turned their season around when he came in when those guys were hurt and just played tremendous basketball right now."
Durant knows that Augustin has taken to Thibodeau's system quickly.
"He's one of those point guards that's pass-first," Durant said. "But also can score. But he plays terrific defense. ... He's one of those system guys. No matter what he's in, he's going to come in what the coach needs him to do. And that's what he's done here, and he's found himself a nice home."
What's next: The Bulls take on the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night.
The last word: Bulls guard Mike Dunleavy, on the Bulls' mindset as they get set to face a Philadelphia 76ers team that has lost a franchise-record 21 games in a row:
"Hopefully, the last time we were there earlier in the season we recognize that we can be beat by anybody. So if that isn't motivation enough -- knowing that wounded animals are oftentimes the most dangerous animal. So I don't expect us having any issue getting up for that game."
Westbrook tore the lateral meniscus in his knee during last year's playoffs and has been dealing with the injury off and on since then. Rose didn't have the exact same injury, tearing the medial meniscus, but Westbrook understands what his counterpart is going through in rehab.
"Just being confident," Westbrook said of the toughest part of the climb back. "You got to be confident in yourself and your health and knowing that the rehab, all the work you put in, it's paid off."
Thunder star Kevin Durant, who worked out with Westbrook and Rose in Santa Monica, Calif., the past few years under the direction of personal trainer Rob McClanaghan, isn't worried about Rose returning to form.
"I'm very confident he's going to come back," Durant said. "He works extremely hard. The medical staffs that we have in this league, around this country, they are so advanced. He's definitely going to get the right treatment and I'm confident he's going to come back and I'm sure the Bulls organization and the Bulls fans are confident as well."
Rose continues to put in more rehab work, but Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has repeatedly said that it is unlikely Rose will come back to play this season.
CHICAGO -- In the midst of a hard-fought run to the end of the regular season, the Chicago Bulls caught another reminder Monday night of exactly what they miss the most. As Kevin Durant rained down jumpers and free throws while leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to victory, Tom Thibodeau and his team were left to wonder once again what could have been if Derrick Rose had been able to stay healthy. For all the grit and determination the Bulls continue to show, there is no amount of heart and hustle that can overcome the talent of a player such as Durant. There is no amount of defense to slow down a player of his caliber.
"KD, he played great," Bulls center Joakim Noah said after Durant's 35-point, 12-rebound, five-assist performance. "He's a great player. You try to put two on the ball -- it opened up the rebounding and everything else for everybody. It opened up everything for everybody else. He demands a lot of attention. And you got to give credit when credit is due. He's the best player in the world right now."
On top of the fact that Durant appears to be headed to an MVP award this season, it's the attention-grabbing portion of Durant's game that hurt the Bulls the most. Durant's ability to create offensively clears space on the floor for the rest of his teammates. Thunder guard Russell Westbrook is a superstar in his own right. He almost ripped off a triple-double by playing off Durant. The Thunder's defense was solid down the stretch, but it was their offense that the Bulls had no answer for. The Bulls got open looks in the final 10 minutes, but they managed to score just 10 points during that time and shot just 7-for-21 in the fourth quarter.
"It was just one of those games that you want to take back," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "I felt like we were right there. We had a lot of clean 3s, normal 3s that we hit in the fourth. We look forward to the fourth, and it just didn't go our way."
That's the problem for the Bulls and why this particular game has to be so tough to take. They know how to knock off any team in the league on any given night -- as evidenced by the fact that they beat the Miami Heat and crushed the Houston Rockets last week. But it was the way this game played out that they have seen too many times before. With 10 minutes left to play, the Bulls cut Oklahoma City's lead to one point. From that point forward, they stalled -- on both ends of the floor. They didn't have that one particular player to turn to when times got rough.
The Bulls did not shoot well, though. They were just 34.5 percent from the field and 22.7 percent (5-for-22) from beyond the arc. When a team can't make shots against a high-level opponent, it can't win playoff series. And this Bulls team, no matter how hard it tries, will never be able to knock off a team such as the Thunder or the Heat in a seven-game series without the offensive genius of Rose -- a genius whose ability is in question after back-to-back season-ending knee surgeries.
"When you play a guy like [Durant], it's not on one person," Noah said. "It's on everybody. Overall, when you get him shooting those one-leg shots and he's hitting, you've got to give credit, but I feel like we had a few mental mistakes today that could have cost us the game. We didn't hit shots, but overall you've got to give credit when credit is due; he's a great player."
Noah is a great player -- but he's not like Durant. Nobody is, aside from James.
The Bulls didn't want to buy in to the notion that the Thunder had just too much star power down the stretch. After all, they did beat the Heat and Rockets last week, and they've beaten the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks on the road in the past month and a half. They know what it takes to win games against the best.
"You could argue that about the Heat," Bulls guard Mike Dunleavy said, discussing the superstar challenges the Thunder pose for an opponent. "A week ago we finished strong down the stretch and overtime. Every game's different, so I wouldn't read too much into that."
The book always ends the same way for the Bulls, though. Or at least it has over the past four years. They've proved they can win games anywhere -- against anybody -- in the regular season. They have not proved they can do that in the playoffs. Until they do, a loss such as Monday's to a team such as the Thunder and to a star such as Durant will always be more enduring than a regular-season victory that holds no weight in the playoffs.
Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich, who started the season with nagging issues, are rolling now, and in Noah's case, he is a long way from the player who seemed to disappoint Thibodeau early because his game shape was nowhere were it needed to be in the opening month.
It isn't like everybody is fresh. That just doesn't happen in the middle of March. And there are some known dents and bruises such as Jimmy Butler's sore ribs and Mike Dunleavy's stitches over his right eye and the subsequent bruising that resulted from an elbow on Thursday against the Houston Rockets.
"Going down the stretch, you want to be playing your best and as healthy as you can be," Thibodeau said. "At this time of the year, after 60 games in this league, most guys are nicked up. If you're playing hard, you're nicked up."
Hard play is a Thibodeau signature, especially on defense. And yet another extreme test for their energy reserves arrives Monday night with a matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder. If there is one thing the Bulls know how to do, it's to raise their game when facing one of the top teams in the league.
An imposing challenge when it began, the Bulls lost to Memphis and San Antonio, but redeemed themselves with quality victories over the Miami Heat and Houston Rockets. Saturday’s victory over the Sacramento Kings shouldn’t be anything to celebrate, but that is a squad that gives the Bulls matchup issues.
Now comes the finale on Monday when the Oklahoma City Thunder rolls to town.
“I like it,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said about the schedule’s current challenges. “It tests you in a lot of ways, lets you know where you are. We have to keep our concentration, focus on our improvement and play for 48 minutes against these teams. If you let your guard down at all, two or three bad minutes, they can score a ton of points on you.”
"He's all in," Durant said of Thibodeau. "He's one of those guys that, he relates to the players but he's a no-nonsense type of guy. I had a nice little talk with him for about 30 minutes leaving the workout and he really put that into perspective for me as a player. I learned a lot from talking to him. He's been around the game, he's been around so many great minds, won championships with Boston. He's had so much success with Chicago so he's a bright coach and I learned a lot."
The praise worked both ways. Like most coaches, Thibodeau has a soft spot for stars who work hard and are always looking to get better. Durant and Rose fit that category.
"I think our league is in really good shape because of guys like Kevin and Derrick Rose," Thibodeau said Wednesday. "They're special."
With Thibodeau now serving as an assistant coach for Mike Krzyzewski on the Team USA staff, he will likely get a chance to be around Durant and Rose during the summer. He's happy he got the opportunity to speak with Durant over the past few months and hopes to build on that relationship.
"This summer was happenstance," Thibodeau said. "He happened to be working in the same gym as Derrick, and I caught the tail end of his workout and it spoke volumes as to his commitment to his improvement, team readiness to play, all those things. When you have that type of commitment you can see why this team is so good. I know [Thunder coach] Scott Brooks. I coached Scott, and he's told me a lot about Kevin.
"And then Coach K said the exact same things about him. So it's special when you have a player like that. And those guys are never satisfied. They continue to work on putting everything they have into each and every day. And that's why they keep getting better each year."
CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah sat at his locker and scanned the box score intently late Thursday night. The emotional center had just racked up nine points, 13 rebounds and six assists in a 97-91 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and he wore the scratches on his chest to prove it. He saw the 20 turnovers the Bulls committed and he played over in his mind several stretches in the game, but he didn't need the box score to remind him what the Bulls were missing Thursday night.
That would be a superstar.
Kevin Durant, who finished with 24 points and nailed several huge shots in the final moments, played that role to perfection down the stretch for the Thunder. Derrick Rose, who actually made an appearance at the United Center on Thursday, could only watch helplessly somewhere.
"I think we did a good job on KD, he just ... he's a great player," Noah said. "He hit some tough shots at the end of the game. Off one leg, I think one of the shots he was behind the backboard. You've got to give credit when credit is due, but we feel like we could have played better."
Sure, the Bulls absolutely could have played better. They could have taken better care of the ball, they could have played better defense in the fourth quarter, Carlos Boozer could have made a couple more shots, but in the end, they didn't have the star power to overcome Durant's performance. They didn't have the guy they could turn to late in the game to turn things around. They didn't have Rose ... and it was more evident than ever on this night.
Of course, the Bulls didn't want to hear any of that.
"You can say that, but there's no excuses right now," forward Taj Gibson said. "We're a man down, but guys will have to step up. We got a bunch of good looks late, a couple in-and-outs, but you can't make excuses. That's what most guys want to do, make excuses about not having Derrick, but we just got to keep grinding until he gets back and just move forward."
Gibson and his teammates can talk about moving forward but that's going to be hard when the offense is stuck in place late in games. Without Rose, the Bulls are still trying to figure out where to go down the stretch in games. The problem is that, unlike the Thunder with Russell Westbrook, they don't have another bonafide star on the roster besides Rose. There's not another guy who can create his own shot off the dribble.
"I think the biggest thing is when we have a lead, we just got to figure out a way how to increase it," veteran guard Rip Hamilton said. "Just take it a possession at a time. I think we're OK. I just think once we get a lead, we got to figure out a way how to extend the lead."
Doing that against mediocre teams such as Cleveland is one thing, but doing that against an elite team such as the Thunder is another. Bulls fans will point to games last season in which guys like C.J. Watson and John Lucas III stepped up in place of Rose and knocked down several huge shots late. The difference in those cases is that both of those guys could create their own shot off the dribble. The Bulls don't have many of those guys now. Nate Robinson can fill that role at times, but he was just 1-for-6 on the night with a turnover.
"It's a long season," Bulls forward Luol Deng said. "It's early. We just got to find ways without having Derrick there, even if you're having a bad night, you just got to find ways to win those games."
The problem the Bulls are going to run into this season without Rose is that Deng's sentiment is easy to say but hard to accomplish against championship-caliber teams such as the Thunder and MVP-caliber players such as Durant.
CHICAGO -- The Oklahoma City Thunder committed 22 turnovers and won on Thursday.
The Chicago Bulls committed 20 turnovers and lost.
The Thunder can afford to make such mistakes because they have players like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook who can make up for them. On Thursday, the Thunder eliminated a six-point deficit in the fourth quarter and outscored the Bulls 31-19 in the final 12 minutes for a 97-91 victory.
The Bulls, on the other hand, have little room for error, especially against the NBA’s elite teams, without their own star to counter.
“Like I said, we have to sustain our defense and take care of the ball,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, whose team fell to 3-2. “We did not sustain our effort, and we need to have low turnovers. That will put us in a position to win.”
The turnovers were a problem across the board for the Bulls. Carlos Boozer committed five of them, Joakim Noah and Richard Hamilton had four apiece and Luol Deng had three.
After the game, Noah sat at his locker and shook his head as he thought just how close the Bulls were to knocking off the defending Western Conference champions.
“We turned the ball over too much,” said Noah, who had nine points and a game-high 13 rebounds. “It was a frustrating loss. We really had a chance to win this game. They’re obviously very talented, but a couple of our shots down the stretch just went in and out. Overall, I felt we played hard, but those turnovers definitely haunted us.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about W’s and L's. We got an L tonight. We got to learn from it. We always feel like we can play against anybody. It’s just frustrating -- you do one or two things differently and you win the game. When you lose by such few possessions it’s tough.”
Deng didn't think the Bulls were that far away from winning such games. He said the Bulls needed to play mostly the same, but just find a way to close out games. Four of their five games so far have been decided by seven points or less.
“You can’t be surprised when it’s a close game,” said Deng, who scored a game-high 27 points. “There’s going to be a lot of those games. You just got to be tough minded to win those games in the end.
“No one has to change the way they play. We just got to keep playing. ... We’re right there in the game. We got to have a better fourth. That’s what we normally do, and that’s what we got to get back to.”
CHICAGO -- Let's take a quick look at how the Oklahoma City Thunder squeaked out a 97-91 Thursday night at the United Center.
How it happened: Kevin Durant finished with 24 points and hit several big shots down the stretch to ice the win. Serge Ibaka added 21 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots, playing great defense throughout the night. Luol Deng led the Bulls with 27 points. Rip Hamilton had 20 points and eight rebounds, while Joakim Noah pulled down 13 rebounds.
What it means: The Bulls miss Derrick Rose every night, but they missed him badly down the stretch in this one. Durant was simply overwhelming down the stretch and ended up breaking the Bulls down in the final seconds with jumpers and free throws. The Bulls just didn't have an answer. Tom Thibodeau has got to be pleased with the way his team competed, but they made too many mistakes throughout the game to overcome. Thibodeau will not be happy with the 20 turnovers his team committed. The Bulls are never going to roll over against any team, but they simply don't have the star power to overcome great individual efforts on nights when players like Durant decide to take over.
Stat of the night: The Thunder outscored the Bulls 46-34 in the paint.
Hits: Kirk Hinrich bounced back with a nice game, scoring 12 points and dishing out five assists, but he will be frustrated with himself for missing a few shots in the final moments.
Misses: Carlos Boozer was just 3-for-9 from the field and did not play much in the fourth quarter for the second game in a row.
What's next: The Bulls take on the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night at the United Center.
"It's a different team," Westbrook said.
In the next breath, the All-Star guard paid the Bulls a compliment they've been getting throughout the young season.
"But they're still are a good defensive team," he said. "They've still got their same group of guys that's been here, so they're still a good team."
There's no question the Bulls are different without Rose on the floor, but players and coaches around the league still have a lot of respect for the way coach Tom Thibodeau has prepared his team for the season.
"The Bulls are very good," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said after Thursday morning's shootaround. "There's a bunch of things that they do well; one is they play hard. They play extremely hard. Their offense is run with great execution, they set great screens, their bigs are very skilled. Their defense is sound, they play hard, they help each other, they don't give a lot of easy buckets and they contest shots. But they're one of the best teams in basketball and coach Thibs, he does a good job with the group."
Brooks understands it was a huge blow when Rose went down, but like many around the NBA, he doesn't expect the Bulls to take as much of a hit as many fans think. That's because Thibodeau has defense and intensity ingrained into the DNA of his team.
"Like every team in this league, (if) you're losing one of your best players you're not going to be as good," Brooks said. "But the way they play, it never changes. They play with great energy, they play with great hustle and toughness and they have good players. Coach Thibs does a great job -- when you lose one of the best players in basketball, it's impossible to be a better team. But they're managing it through all the work they're putting in, and just knowing Thibs, he coached me a couple times as an assistant coach, he's a great coach, a worker and he gets the most out of everybody he has on his team."
Martin a fan of Rip: Kevin Martin is still adjusting to his new role with the Thunder, but his offensive game probably isn't going to change much at all. He's a shooter and always will be. The veteran admitted Thursday that one of the players he watched to learn more about the game was Bulls guard Rip Hamilton.
"I used to watch a lot of (his game) because I knew I was going to have to score without the ball when I first got to Sacramento playing with Mike Bibby and Chris Webber and how they passed the ball," Martin said Thursday. "So I watched a lot of film on Rip in his Detroit days when he was scoring 20 points on 11, 12 shots night in and night out. So he was definitely a big idol of mine."
The last word: Kevin Durant, on why he believes Derrick Rose will come back better than ever from his knee injury:
"He's a hard worker, he works extremely hard and he's one of those guys (who) has a lot of faith in himself, and I can tell that he has a lot of confidence in what the guys are doing around him, as far as rehabbing and guys helping him out with his knee. If guys go down with knee injuries that are serious, I always hope they are coming back stronger and better, that's just me. Playing with Derrick on the USA team and getting to know him a little bit over these last few years, I just hope and pray that he comes back like he was when he left or even better (than) when he left. He's going to be a lot stronger, and I've been watching videos online, you can see how hard he's been working ... so I'm looking forward to him coming back. It's going to be good for the game."
It's the question general managers have been asking themselves on a daily basis for a while. It's the question basketball fans have bounced around ever since the Miami Heat pulled off what was then unthinkable by signing LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh two summers ago. It's the question that players wonder about as they sit in locker rooms across the league.
So what's the answer? Well, it depends who you ask.
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau only has one star in Derrick Rose, but Rose is going to miss most of the year as he recovers from a knee injury.
"It's different for every team," Thibodeau said before Thursday's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. "I think you can win different ways. A lot of people think it's three, three players in the top five. But over the years there have been teams that are deep, two deep at every position, and they've won, so I'd say the one thing that you probably have to have are good players."
Thunder head coach Scott Brooks offered a more humorous approach.
"I was fortunate enough to be on Houston's championship team in '94. They had (Hakeem) Olajuwon and Otis Thorpe and myself as the three stars," he said Thursday morning with a chuckle.
"We had one star, Olajuwon, and everyone knew what we were going to do," he continued. "We were going to give the ball to him in the left block. And we had a bunch of good players. You need good players. You need a bunch of stars. Does it make it easier to have a bunch of stars and All-Stars? Yeah, obviously. But you need good players. Good players win championships."
Obviously, Brooks understands how lucky he is to have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook as the leaders of his team, but he believes that the core around both players must step up and do their job.
"One star, two stars, three stars? There's enough stars in this league for everybody to have a chance to win," Brooks said. "I don't look at it that way. We build our team -- obviously we have Kevin and Russell have been All-Stars the last two or three years, and well-deserved -- but for us to win they have to play well, but we have to have our other guys playing well. Everybody has to be a star in their own right."
While both coaches agree that a team must be comprised of good players, Durant knows that it's better to have as many stars as possible.
"I think if you have a good solid team and everybody plays together, plays defense, you always give yourself a chance," he said. "But it's cool to have two very good players on your team. You always go far with talent."
Like most fans, Durant can see that the current trend in the league is to load up with two or stars and see what happens.
"You could say that," he said. "With the Miamis, the Bostons, go down the line, the Brooklyns, there's a lot of teams, Chicago. There's a lot of teams that got two or three guys that could be a star on any team. The league is definitely getting better, and I'm glad I'm playing in it at this time. It's a competitive league and we're looking forward to a long season."
Does he really believe the Bulls have enough star caliber players around Rose?
"D-Rose is out and they've still got Rip (Hamilton) and they've still got Luol (Deng) and Booz (Carlos Boozer) and (Joakim) Noah, he's coming into his own on the offensive end as well, so they've got a tough team," Durant said. "They've got a really tough team. And it's always fun playing against these guys because we know so many players on their team. So it's always a good competitive game."
“I know he’s going to get stronger and better,” Durant said. “I’ll be praying for him, of course. I’m watching his videos online. I know he’s going to have a really, really nice comeback here for the Bulls and be at full strength.
“I think he’ll be better with all the weight training he’s doing, strengthening his body and his core. He’s doing everything he needs to do. He’s going to come back stronger and better.”
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LAS VEGAS -- Taj Gibson has played for Tom Thibodeau for the past two seasons, so the intensity of his first Team USA practice wasn't a shocker.
The fourth-year forward is in town as part of a young squad put together to help the senior national team prepare for the London Olympics. It's an experience Gibson is enjoying.
"It's not really much of a difference," Gibson said of the practices. "I think it's similar to Thibs' practice, how physical it is. It's real physical, guys are really picking it up. As far as seeing Derrick (Rose) and John (Lucas) and C.J. (Watson), guys pick up full court, it's similar to this. The physicality of it was something, it brought attention to my eyes."
Gibson, who has become one of the Bulls' better defenders, says he enjoyed going up against several stars in Friday's practice.
"Kevin Durant," he said. "I had to guard Melo and Kevin a lot. It was great. It was a great first day. Just got to take it in stride and come back and get better."
The adjustment to the International game is one that Gibson and the Bulls believe will help him in the long run.
"It went great," he said. "We competed. Just getting a feel for the game, the European game, how physical it is. We had to learn the first couple games, but we'll adjust, it was fun."
As for the obligatory update on Derrick Rose's health, Gibson said he believed his friend and teammate was doing fine.
"I haven't really got a chance to talk to Derrick much the last couple weeks because I know he's been traveling around and working on his knee," Gibson said. "But I'm always in contact with the training staff and they say he's doing great. Every time I go in and I see him we talk and I know he's doing good because he's just pushing it to the limit, he's getting his upper body, his whole body is even stronger than it was last time and I look forward to just seeing him playing even better."