Chicago Bulls: Lebron James

Thibs: LeBron 'up there with all-time best'

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
9:00
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Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Tom Thibodeau does not believe it's fair to try to compare LeBron James to other players at this point in his career. After all, James is still just 29 years old and doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon. But that doesn't mean the veteran coach can't heap some heavy praise on James and his prolific, all-around game.

[+] EnlargeTom Thibodeau
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsTom Thibodeau is just 2-8 against LeBron James as a head coach.
"Obviously, what he's done has been great," Thibodeau said Monday before the Bulls' game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. "I think it would be unfair to him to judge him now. I think when you're judging greatness, it's having the ability to judge it over a long period of time. Until he's done, we won't know ultimately, but he's right up there with the all-time best. When you look at it, to do it year after year, he doesn't miss many games, he's been very durable. He's a great competitor, and he makes his team win."

Thibodeau would know. Although he had some success against James during his time as an assistant with the Boston Celtics, Thibodeau is just 2-8 in the playoffs against James as a head coach. He knows James has the rare ability to make a play even when the defense can be drawn up perfectly.

"He's a great player," Thibodeau said. "[There's] not many things he hasn't seen. Sometimes you could do it perfectly, and he still can hurt you. The idea is you want to make him work for what he gets, but you can't do it at the expense of leaving everyone else open. The challenge when you're guarding somebody like that is you're helping with him, but you're also getting back to the other guys. It requires multiple efforts and challenging shots and finishing your defense. When you're dealing with a star that passes the ball like that, what it does is it makes everyone else a lot better. He tests you in every different way."

James' test is one Thibodeau knows the Bulls must be prepared for this season. Although he does not like seeing him on the opposite end of the floor, Thibodeau appreciates how good James has become. He knows that in order to be the best, the Bulls are eventually going to have to get through the best player in the league.

"If you're a competitor, I think that's what you want," Thibodeau said. "When you're facing great teams and great coaches, that's what makes it challenging. We know it's not about one guy -- it's about the team. Same for us. When you're facing a great team, it requires you to make sure that you're committed to playing as a team. If we stray off and try to do it individually, we'll be in trouble."

In listening to Thibodeau speak about James, it's also clear the domineering head coach is appreciative of how James goes about his business. Thibodeau likes that James thinks for himself and does what he believes is right. That's why he never seemed shocked James came back to Cleveland for the second time earlier this summer.

"The one thing about LeBron is he stays true to himself," Thibodeau said. "I don't think he gets wrapped up in criticism or praise. He does what he thinks is right. He made a bold decision to leave. He made a bold decision to come back. But ultimately, he did what he felt was best for him and his family. I've got great respect for him as a competitor."

New Cavs don't change Bulls' expectations

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
1:29
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Derrick Rose respects LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, but he isn't scared of them. He made that clear when the possibility of Love landing in Cleveland came up during Team USA camp last week.

"For us, I think it wouldn't change anything," Rose said. "We know that no matter who we play that we have a legit change to beat anyone in the league. But at the same time, we know it's not going to be easy at all because guys are getting better. You have guys going to different teams and it's going to be tough. But at the same time, that's why we're in the NBA and that's why we love this game, for the challenge."

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
Sam Forencich/Getty ImagesDerrick Rose is looking forward to playing on the "most talented" Bulls team he has been on.
Rose and the Bulls are up for the challenge of knocking off the Cavaliers, who reportedly have agreed to a trade with the Timberwolves that includes sending Love to Cleveland and top overall pick Andrew Wiggins going to Minnesota.

Rose said recently that these Bulls are the "most talented" team he's ever been on. Assuming that Rose is healthy -- and that's a huge assumption, given that he's played in just 49 games over the past three seasons, including just 10 in the past two because of two serious knee injuries -- the Bulls believe they have enough to win a championship this season.

Let's take a look at a few of the reasons why:

Rose is back: It was just one week at Team USA's camp, but Rose offered a reminder that he can still be a special player. Players and coaches raved about the way he performed as he showed the speed and explosion that set him apart from the start of his career. Rose has the superstar ability to carry the Bulls at times, and everybody will feed off his presence on the floor. He must prove his body can withstand the grind of a long NBA season.

Thibs' defense: Tom Thibodeau has implemented his hard-nosed defensive schemes over the past four years in Chicago. When teams play the Bulls they know they're in for a tough and physical game. Led by Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler, the Bulls have the type of defensive prowess that is crucial to postseason success. The Cavs don't have that type of luxury. James is one of the best defenders in the game -- and has shown it in years past locking up Rose -- but Irving and Love have never been known as solid defenders. Thibodeau will make sure to have his players in the right place on defense and find a way to take advantage of the weaknesses of Irving and Love on the other end of the floor.

Depth: The Bulls didn't land Carmelo Anthony this summer, but they did add several players who can make a difference in the regular season and in the playoffs. Pau Gasol has won championships and should provide an upgrade over Carlos Boozer. Doug McDermott lit up the Vegas Summer League and has proved throughout his college career that he can knock down shots. Aaron Brooks gives the Bulls insurance as a combo guard who can play alongside Rose and Kirk Hinrich. Nikola Mirotic is a great unknown on the NBA level, but he has played in many big games in Europe and can score. Tony Snell had a good run at Summer League and appears to be taking the next step in his progression. The Cavs have a solid team with a lot of talent, but the Bulls, along with the reigning NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, have arguably the deepest team in the league. That depth should help them in every area throughout the season.

Continuity: This is the year for the Bulls to win a title. They are talented and deep and have proved they can win under Thibodeau. The Cavs have a lot of talented players (including the best player in the world in James), but like all teams, it's going to take them a little time to come together and learn new coach David Blatt's system. The Bulls run like a well-oiled machine under Thibodeau and trust each other on the floor. The core has been together now for five years, and they aren't getting any younger. It's up to Rose to stay healthy and lead them to where they want to go.

Rose: Love to Cavs wouldn't impact Bulls

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
5:59
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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LAS VEGAS -- Derrick Rose says nothing will change for the Chicago Bulls even if Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love lands in Cleveland. Love has been at the forefront of trade speculation for weeks and the growing feeling around the league is that he will eventually land with the Cavaliers since that is the only team Minnesota is currently speaking with in serious talks, according to an ESPN.com report on Wednesday.

"For us, I think it wouldn't change anything," Rose said Thursday after Team USA's practice. "We know that no matter who we play that we have a legit change to beat anyone in the league. But, at the same time, we know it's not going to be easy at all because guys are getting better. You have guys going to different teams and it's going to be tough. But, at the same time, that's why we're in the NBA and that's why we love this game, for the challenge."

If Love were to be traded to Cleveland it would go a long way toward changing the balance of power in the Eastern Conference, especially in the Central Division. Before the latest news regarding Love's future became public, Indiana Pacers All-Star Paul George said Tuesday that he believed the Central Division is the best in basketball.

"You got to," he said. "You've got three of the top teams in this league all in the Central division and we're all contenders for a championship, not just reaching the Finals. So all of us got our cards cut out for us. It's just all about getting the job done."

The growth of the Central Division has caught the attention of the basketball world over the last few weeks.

"It's going to be a tough division," Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant said. "Milwaukee's going to be pretty good. Cleveland, Detroit, so it should be a good division, man. They're going to be fighting every night to get that division crown. The Bulls and Cleveland of course are the top two teams, but everybody's going to be fighting."

George echoed those sentiments.

"It's going to be tough," he said. "There's going to be battles. Even in Milwaukee, they've got some young guys there, and adding Jabari (Parker), he's ready to make some noise in the Central division as well. But it's going to be tough. When you've got guys like Derrick, myself, LeBron (James), Kyrie (Irving). We all want that moment and want that competitiveness."

While Rose wouldn't go as far as to say it was the best division in basketball, he did acknowledge that he was looking forward to the competition it would provide night to night.

"I wouldn't say (the Central is) the best in the league, but we have a lot of competition in that division," Rose said. "Playing against them teams every night you got to make sure that you got to come out prepared well and (in) rhythm for a tough game. Because I think everybody's getting prepared right now knowing what we're doing here. Everybody's going in the gym right now just working on their game because they know we get kind of a head start playing in stuff like this."

Love decided not to participate in Team USA's training camp as his future place of employment hangs in the balance, but everyone in Las Vegas knows how his presence in Cleveland would change things in the league.

"It would be great," Washington Wizards guard John Wall said of a potential Love to Cleveland move. "That would be a big three you need, but you've still got to find a way to put that chemistry together. That's where it all starts at. It would be big for the Eastern Conference, but you've got to figure out a way to put it together."

Pippen talks LeBron, failed Melo pitch

July, 19, 2014
Jul 19
11:46
PM CT
Greenberg By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com
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Scottie Pippen, Carmelo Anthony Michael Loccisano/WireImage"'Look at the roster' -- that was pretty much it," Scottie Pippen said of the Bulls' pitch to Carmelo Anthony.
CHICAGO -- Chicago Bulls great Scottie Pippen doesn’t know what it’s like to lose in the NBA Finals, but he figures LeBron James learned a lesson in doing just that for a second time in four tries with the Miami Heat.

After judging the slam-dunk championship at the Nike Chi League all-star festivities Saturday, Pippen was asked if he was surprised James left for the Cleveland Cavaliers following Miami’s one-sided loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the Finals.

“I kind of figured he’d go back [to Cleveland],” Pippen said at Whitney Young High School. “I don’t know if he could hold that team up. I think [Dwyane] Wade's physical ability had him thinking, like, ‘Hey, maybe this is not the place I need to be.’ It was a great run for them. They weren’t as successful as they thought they would be, but you went to the Finals four times, so you can’t hold your head down too much about that.”

Six rings in six tries gives Pippen room for such backhanded praise.

While the Bulls reportedly had a meeting with James’ agent during this summer’s free-agency period, they failed at landing their true big target: Carmelo Anthony.

Pippen, now a special advisor to Bulls president and chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf, was a major part of the pitch to Anthony.

After Pippen’s family pictures with Anthony from a Nike European summer tour elicited great hope in the Windy City, the Hall of Famer was part of the Bulls’ daylong Chicago presentation to Anthony on July 1.

But after all the wooing, Anthony stayed in New York and signed a $124 million deal to remain a Knick. The Bulls were reportedly his second choice. It's a familiar story for the Bulls, who haven't been able to land a major free agent in the post-Jordan-and-Pippen era.

“I’m not disappointed,” Pippen said. “Guys are going to make their decision at the end of the day, so you try to make a pitch, and hopefully it works. It hasn’t worked so far, but still, we did what we had to do as an organization to try and attract one of the best free agents out there.”

What was the pitch, given that Chicago couldn’t offer a max deal?

“'Look at the roster' -- that was pretty much it,” Pippen said. “We have a roster we think has a championship pedigree. We’ve been playing good basketball the last few years, even without our star player. Just adding some pieces was the pitch we were throwing at him. We felt that he was a big piece that we needed to get over the hump.”

As far as big pieces, Pippen said he likes the addition of 7-footer Pau Gasol, who had his introductory press conference Friday.

“We have size, and we got two big guys that can really pass the ball,” he said. “Pau gives us inside scoring that’s much needed. ... It’ll be great for our basketball team because we haven’t had a dominating low-post scorer in the block for a while.”

With James in Cleveland, Pippen said he thinks the Bulls have as good a chance as any team if Derrick Rose gets back to form.

“I think it’s wide open now, other than looking at San Antonio as the defending champion,” Pippen said. “I think a lot of teams have the opportunity to step up.”

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."

New home, same LeBron obstacle for Bulls

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
1:16
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah had better get used to seeing Cleveland a lot more in the spring again.

The Bulls always knew they were going to have to get past LeBron James in order to win a championship. Now they'll just have to do it by going through Cleveland the next few years.

[+] EnlargeLeBron James and Joakim Noah
Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsJoakim Noah will have to deal with LeBron James a lot more now that he is returning to the Cavaliers.
With James' decision to return to the Cavaliers, the Bulls must hope against hope that Carmelo Anthony will turn down almost $60 million in guaranteed money from the New York Knicks, or find some way to work out a sign-and-trade. The Bulls got encouraging news in the aftermath of James' announcement, when sources told ESPN's Stephen A. Smith that Anthony had eliminated the Lakers and is deciding between the Bulls and Knicks.

If the Bulls don't land Anthony, they are looking at the very real possibility of heading into next season as the third-best team in their own division. James' choice makes the Cavaliers the new favorite in the Central. The Indiana Pacers, despite all their dysfunction at the end of the season, still have Paul George and a core that has been to the Eastern Conference finals the past couple of seasons.

If Lance Stephenson decides to sign elsewhere, that will change the dynamic within the division, but it won't change the fact that James' presence in Cleveland remains the biggest roadblock facing the Bulls.

James' decision has other ramifications on the Bulls -- namely, the backup plan of trying to acquire Kevin Love from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein that Love is "intrigued" by the possibility of playing with James, and would be open to signing a long-term deal with the Cavs.

If the Bulls don't land Anthony, the next best option is to continue calling Timberwolves president and coach Flip Saunders to see if they could work a deal to bring Love to Chicago.

The Bulls' offer figured to include Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and/or Nikola Mirotic along with a future draft pick or two. If the Cavaliers offer Andrew Wiggins, the first overall pick in last month's draft, along with a few other assets, will that be too good of a deal for the Timberwolves to pass up? Gibson and Butler are great defenders and solid players, but they don't have the potential star power of Wiggins.

No matter what happens in the coming days in free agency, the Bulls know that James remains in their path more than ever. Like it did in Miami during his first season there, it's going to take him some time to learn the intricacies of playing with new teammates like Kyrie Irving and company, but James is the type of player who makes everyone around him better.

The Bulls have the same kind of talent in Derrick Rose -- a player who opens up space for everyone else on the floor -- but Rose has played in only 49 games in the past three seasons because of various injuries. James' move doesn't change much in that regard. Rose must continue to work on his game and hope his body can withstand the grind of a long NBA season. Until he can prove that he is healthy -- and playing at the same level -- it's foolish to believe the Bulls are a serious contender to win a championship. Even if Anthony signs in Chicago, the Bulls still need an elite-level Rose to be a serious title contender.

The key for the Bulls becomes simple now. They must hope that Anthony signs with them, which would give them the superstar scorer they've been missing throughout the Tom Thibodeau era.

Anthony's presence would take a lot of pressure off Rose and the rest of the team, and it would be an antidote for the intense defense James has played against Rose in the past. The Bulls have to hope that Anthony remembers what their pitch was -- that Chicago offers him the best chance to win right away.

The Knicks can offer the most money, but they are still selling hope. Anthony must buy into the notion that the Knicks' new kingpin, Phil Jackson, can turn around the roster in summer 2015, when he'll be working with a lot more cap space.

The Bulls have to hold onto the belief that Anthony knows that the best way to get through Cleveland and to a championship is to join forces with Rose and Noah. The reality for all parties is that they are much better equipped to do that together, not apart.

Parsons a gamble for Bulls as backup plan

July, 8, 2014
Jul 8
1:04
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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Chandler ParsonsTroy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsChandler Parsons, a second-round pick in 2011, is in for a big payday this summer.
As the basketball world awaits a decision from the top stars in the NBA, the Chicago Bulls have to continue planning for the future despite the uncertainty of the present.

If Carmelo Anthony does not sign in Chicago, the Bulls are going to have a lot of choices to make in a short amount of time. Like many teams, the Bulls have money to spend but there is a lot of competition to land second- and third-tier free agents. Once the first big dominoes of free agency fall when LeBron James and Anthony make their decisions, everything else will come down quickly.

The Bulls have several contingency plans in order and they must act decisively if they are left at the alter by Anthony.

With that in mind, here are a few of the options Gar Forman and John Paxson will have to consider if Anthony passes on the Bulls:

Chandler Parsons, SF


It always seemed like Houston would end up matching whatever offer materialized for the restricted free agent. But if the Rockets end up landing Chris Bosh, maybe the game changes for a team like the Bulls. At 25, Parsons is sure to have many suitors -- the interesting aspect of his deal, as my colleague Tim MacMahon from ESPNDallas.com noted, is that any team that signs Parsons to an offer sheet may then have to wait three full days to see if the Rockets would match the offer.

If James still hasn't made his decision in a few days and Bosh is waiting to see what happens, would a team like the Mavericks or Bulls be willing to gamble on signing Parsons to the offer sheet, in the event that Anthony picks a team?

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There are a lot of moving pieces in this scenario, but it's hard to envision the Bulls making that choice knowing that they may not end up with any of their targets if they tie up their money in the offer for three days and then Houston ends up matching anyway.

Parsons would fill a huge need for the Bulls in the form of outside shooting, but would the Bulls be willing to create enough cap space to land him? According to ESPN capologist Larry Coon, the Bulls would have about $13 million in available cap space if they use the amnesty provision to eliminate the final year of Carlos Boozer's deal and trade Mike Dunleavy. With Nikola Mirotic's arrival looming on the horizon, the Bulls wouldn't even come close to offering Parsons a competitive offer if Mirotic wants somewhere between $6 million and $8 million.

As Coon noted, the Bulls can't offer Parsons the same kind of "poison pill" contract the Rockets offered former Bull Omer Asik because Parsons has already been in the league for three years and is not bound to the same contract restrictions. Plus, if the Mavericks, or another team swoop in to sign Parsons to a big offer sheet, then the Bulls are out of contention anyway. Parsons is a close friend of Bulls center and fellow Florida product Joakim Noah, but that tight bond probably isn't going to be enough to bring him to Chicago.

Gasol

Pau Gasol, C



Gasol's name has been on the Bulls' radar for a while. The front office flew out to meet with Gasol last week in Los Angeles and he seems to be at the forefront of any non-Anthony contingency plan. As with Parsons, there are a lot of teams contending for his services. The Bulls don't figure to offer Gasol nearly as much as the Lakers will, but they can sell playing on a team that believes it has a legitimate chance to contend next season in the much weaker Eastern Conference. Still, landing Gasol is going to be tough because of the quality of suitors in the hunt for him.

Stephenson

Lance Stephenson, SG



The mercurial 23-year-old Pacers swingman has already turned down a five-year, $44 million deal from Indiana and ESPN.com's Chris Broussard reported Monday that the two sides are still "far apart on a deal." I still don't believe the Bulls will make a serious run at Stephenson because of his documented ability to upset a locker room, but if they whiff on other names, he remains a possibility, especially if the Pacers can't come to terms with him.

Deng

Luol Deng, SF



Don't hold your breath for a Deng reunion with the Bulls. Deng already turned down a three-year, $30 million deal last season. He and his camp were not happy with how the Bulls approached the contract process and there are still lingering feelings on both sides. Plus, adding Deng after potentially missing out on Anthony & Co. would not satisfy a fan base that already knows what kind of team the Bulls are with Deng in the fold.

Ariza

Trevor Ariza, SF



The Washington Wizards swingman would fit into the Bulls' system on many levels. He is a solid defender and can knock down open jumpers -- as evidenced by some of his performances in the Wizards' first-round playoff win over the Bulls. Washington would still like to re-sign him, but he could be an answer if the Bulls are willing to splurge a little.

As the Bulls' front office tries to filter through all the scenarios, the big problem they have is the same one every team is dealing with. Many organizations have a lot of money to spend this summer.

As the Bulls learned in the past with Carlos Boozer, and others, teams usually have to overpay in free agency. That's why it's more imperative than ever for the Bulls to target one big free agent and lock him up right away if Anthony isn't ready to come to Chicago. The Bulls aren't going to have time to wait and see what happens in a crowded marketplace.

LeBron's decision can't alter Bulls' focus

June, 24, 2014
Jun 24
12:36
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- LeBron James is the best basketball player on the planet, and the Chicago Bulls would be wise to get in front of him again and make their best recruiting pitch just like they did four summers ago.

But that does not mean they should lose focus on what should remain their ultimate prize this summer: Carmelo Anthony.

[+] EnlargeLeBron James and Carmelo Anthony
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesThe Bulls have to pursue LeBron James, but they can't lose focus on landing Carmelo Anthony.
James, who will opt out of the final two years of his contract with the Miami Heat and become a free agent, is undoubtedly the better all-around player. He is a four-time MVP and two-time NBA champion coming off his fourth straight appearance in the NBA Finals. But it's Anthony who figures to be more attainable for the Bulls, and the interest appears mutual.

As fans consider the possibility -- however small it may be -- of James pairing up with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, remember that James passed on the chance to do the same thing in the summer of 2010. And that was before Rose had two serious knee injuries that caused him to miss the vast majority of the past two seasons.

The Bulls are in a better place than they were that summer four years ago thanks to the rise of Tom Thibodeau as one of the best coaches in the league, the development of Taj Gibson and the elevation of Noah to an All-NBA center and the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year.

But if James wasn't going to tie his professional future to Rose back when Rose didn't have any knee problems, why would he change his mind now? It's a question that hovers over every recruiting pitch the Bulls will make this summer to James and other players throughout the NBA.

The interesting dynamic of the Bulls' courtship history of James is that while he has always been respectful of the way Chicago has played under Thibodeau, he never responded to Noah's overtures about coming to play in the Windy City.

"I did not talk to LeBron," Noah told ESPNChicago.com in August 2010. "I reached out to LeBron. I think of course he's a great player, and I wanted to win, and he would have definitely helped. That being said, he did not reach back out to me. He did not want to talk to me, which is fine. I really don't give a [crap] at all. I really don't care. I think we have a really good team and we're going to be ready to compete against the Miami Heat."

The Bulls have had some intense games with the Heat over the past four years and have been bounced out of the playoffs by Miami in two of those seasons. They should do everything they can to speak to James and talk to him about playing for Thibodeau, a coach he respects.

But the front office can't lose focus on Anthony. He is the player the organization has targeted for months, and he is the player who likely gives the Bulls the best chance to topple James, wherever he may land. While it's no sure thing that Anthony lands in Chicago -- he might even team with James somewhere else -- he is a much safer bet than James when it comes to playing for the Bulls at this point.

James had the chance to play for the Bulls and turned it down. What makes this time any different?

Will Heat foil Bulls' big plans again?

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
9:45
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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HeatBill Baptist/NBAE via Getty ImagesWill Carmelo Anthony join Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James to make a Big Four in Miami?
CHICAGO -- Once again, it appears that the Miami Heat might beat the Chicago Bulls to the punch.

Four summers ago, Heat team president Pat Riley outsmarted everyone in the league by finding a way to get LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami to play alongside Dwyane Wade. Now, it's Carmelo Anthony the Heat have focused their recruiting sales pitch on heading into the summer, according to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein.

[+] EnlargeKevin Love
AP Photo/Jim MoneAcquiring Kevin Love might be even more important for the Bulls if Carmelo Anthony lands in Miami.
That news will be reverberating around Berto Center all day Thursday, given the Bulls were holding out hope that they could bring Anthony to Chicago during the next month. Now that Miami has entered the picture, the Bulls might be left in a familiar position: forever the bridesmaid of NBA superstar free agency.

Players like Chicago, appreciate the core of tough-minded players Bulls executives Gar Forman and John Paxson have put together, and they respect coach Tom Thibodeau. But in the end, they always find another place to land.

In this case, it appears more likely than ever that Anthony will either take a max contract to stay with his current team, the New York Knicks, or take less money to join up with his good friend James in Miami.

Why would he take less money to play for the Bulls if he could take less and play for the Heat, who have gone to four straight NBA Finals? Why would he come to Chicago and hitch the rest of his professional prime to Derrick Rose when he could play with the best player on the planet in James? Anthony could always decide to stay in New York, given the Knicks can offer him more money than any other team.

The whole scenario must feel a little like Groundhog Day to Forman and Paxson. They've been through this cycle. A superstar player talks openly about how much they respect the Bulls, only to sign elsewhere. As my colleague Tom Waddle likes to say: "You can't force a player to take a team's money." The Bulls have learned this lesson the hard way.

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It's not for a lack of effort in trying to recruit the best players in the game; it's a lack of execution. The Bulls, like the rest of the NBA, can't compete with Miami's star power. And the Bulls can't compete with James. He has established himself as the world's best player and elevated his game to new levels. Even if Anthony doesn't land in Miami, James still poses the biggest roadblock for the Bulls' championship aspirations.

No matter what happens in the coming weeks, it seems the chances are smaller than ever that Anthony comes to Chicago next season.

So what do the Bulls do next?

If Anthony is truly out of the picture, they must focus all of their efforts on landing Minnesota Timberwolves big man Kevin Love. While Love's presence wouldn't put the Bulls past the Heat on paper, it would give them the next best chance to contend for a title. As long as the Bulls don't have to give up Joakim Noah, every other player should be available to Minnesota for the taking.

But the issue for the Bulls in landing Love remains similar to that of Anthony. Nobody knows exactly what is on his mind. Only Love knows if he would be willing to sign an extension in Chicago -- a fact that is crucial in any potential deal. The Bulls, like many teams, won't give up many of their assets only to see Love walk in a year.

If Love doesn't land in Chicago, the Bulls are in even bigger trouble. Forman would likely push harder to land European star Nikola Mirotic, but Mirotic isn't the type of superstar talent who would push the balance of power like Anthony or Love would. The Bulls would try to sell fans on the fact that Rose is coming back and they can add two draft picks to a solid group of players, but fans will see straight through that.

The NBA has always been a players' league, a place where superstar talent wins out more often that not. The reality for the Bulls is that they still don't have enough of it to compete for a championship. Yet again, it appears that Miami might beat them in the high-stakes game of free agency, whether Anthony ends up playing with the Heat or not.

LeBron's ribbing doesn't faze Butler

March, 15, 2014
Mar 15
12:25
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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Jimmy Butler is on his most productive and healthiest stretch of the season, yet one nagging injury remains.

Butler admitted Saturday to a sore rib cage that is on the mend, saying he took a blow in last weekend’s game against the Miami Heat. Pressed a little further, Butler revealed the injury's source.

Jimmy Butler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJimmy Butler knows that nicks and dings come with playing hard, especially when guarding stars like LeBron James.
“LeBron (James) got me on a drive to the basket,” Butler said. “He let me feel that one.”

Sunday’s national televised game was the one where Butler thoroughly frustrated the Miami superstar, especially late in the game when his defense on James was the difference in the Bulls’ victory.

So was the shot to the ribs James’ attempt at revenge?

“It was an accident,” Butler said, dismissing the question.

Intentional or not, Butler knows that nicks and dings come with the territory, especially when guarding the opponents’ top scorer. On Sunday in was James, while Thursday night it was the Houston Rockets’ James Harden.

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Butler the epitome of what Bulls are about

March, 9, 2014
Mar 9
6:13
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Jimmy Butler embodies all the characteristics Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau wants his players to have. He's tough, he plays hard, he plays to win, he never gives up, but most important he's not scared. Butler isn't afraid to mix it up or get down and dirty on the floor. Never was that more evident than at times during the Chicago Bulls' impressive 95-88 overtime win on Sunday afternoon.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Butler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJimmy Butler's tenacious defense and approach for the Bulls characterizes the toughness the team has shown this season.
It was Butler who found himself in a scrum with LeBron James under the basket in the first half and didn't back down -- kicking him in the face and taking a shot to the mouth -- as both players picked up technical fouls.

It was Butler who made arguably the play of the day in the final seconds of regulation when he stripped James cleanly and forced the game into overtime. It was Butler, who in the midst of describing his attitude against James, ended up describing his entire team's mindset in the process.

"I don't back down," he said proudly. "Let's just put it like that."

That line of thinking is why the Bulls continue to surprise many around the league, but it's also what sets the third-year Marquette alum apart from many of his peers. Even when he's having a bad day offensively, he has learned that he can still make a difference in the game. He proved that again Sunday by locking up James to the tune of just 2-for-11 shooting when the players were matched up with one another, according to ESPN Stats & Information data.

"I'm pretty happy with the way he guarded [James]," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "Jimmy was a warrior tonight. He's one of those guys, too, when things aren't going his way he can do so many things on the basketball court to affect winning. And you need guys like that."

The key for Butler is that he has taken that advice -- from teammates and coaches -- to heart. He was only 4-for-15 from the field, but his defense on James, and at times on Dwyane Wade, was one of the biggest reasons why the Bulls were able come back and win.

"Effort," Butler said. "I feel like that's what a lot of defense is. Just the want to and the will to fight through a screen. Just to try to never give up on a play, I feel like that's what I did."

(Read full post)

Thibs: LeBron is like nobody else

March, 8, 2014
Mar 8
9:33
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Tom Thibodeau has been around professional basketball for well more than two decades. He has a passion for the game and the intricacies that separate the good players from the great ones. He studies compulsively to try to make sure his Chicago Bulls team always has an advantage when it steps onto the floor. That's why his praise of Miami Heat superstar LeBron James is so telling. When asked Saturday to compare James to another player he's watched or coached against in years past, Thibodeau didn't hesitate.

"Nobody," Thibodeau said.

"Because you're combining the speed, the power, the skills, the passing, the vision. I can't recall anyone that I've coached against that's like that. There's nothing that he doesn't do. He's great with the ball, great without the ball, can post, can drive, can shoot, can really pass. If you overcommit to him he's going to make you really pay. And he keeps getting better every year. So he's an all-time great."

Thibodeau always talks about how the Bulls must play team defense against a player like James. But the reality, as the veteran coach knows, is that it's much, much easier said than done as his team once against gets set to host James and the Heat on Sunday afternoon. James is the best player in the world, and he can take over the game virtually whenever he wants.

[+] EnlargeJames/Noah
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesJoakim Noah was an All-Star teammate of LeBron James, but has been known to get fired up about how his Bulls play James' Heat -- as they will Sunday.
"The guy's 6-foot-9 and he's 280 pounds," Bulls center Joakim Noah said before a game against Miami in 2011. "And he can play the point guard. He's different. He's built different. He's pretty good, too."

The Bulls saw that again firsthand a couple weeks ago when they got throttled by the Heat in the second half of a game they would go on to lose. The performance infuriated Noah so much that he called out his entire team and the way the Bulls played. No matter how many times Thibodeau might try to downplay a matchup against the Heat, Noah and his teammates understand that these games always mean a little more.

"When we play the Miami Heat, our intensity has to be through the roof for 48 [minutes]," Noah said after the loss Feb. 23. "Regardless [if] shots are going in or not. Of course you want to win the game, but the way we're going to win is our edge -- our intensity has to be better than theirs throughout the game."

The fact that Miami has knocked out the Bulls in two of the past three postseasons is not lost on Thibodeau or his players. He liked the fire with which Noah spoke after that game, but he has always believed that actions speak much louder than words.

"You got to be ready to have the fight necessary to succeed," he said. "I think that we were disappointed that we didn't play 48 minutes against them. And we know that that's necessary in order to win. So hopefully we can bring better effort."

Effort isn't the only thing the Bulls will need Sunday. They need better execution as well. They've won 10 of their past 13 contests, but if they don't find ways to score and make the effort plays that have defined them under Thibodeau, James will find ways to break them down as he has done in the past. Thibodeau acknowledged that a case could be made that the Heat are a dynasty, having played in three consecutive NBA Finals and won two titles in a row.

The key for his team is to find the intensity that was missing in Miami. In order to do that, the Bulls must find a way to slow down James and stay in front of him. It's an assignment that Thibodeau hopes his team is ready for against the best player -- and the best team -- in the game.

"That's the challenge," he said. "In this league you're going to be challenged every day that you're in it. It doesn't matter who you are, if you're a player, coach, executive, first-year player, 15-year player -- it doesn't matter. You're going to be challenged and that's what brings out the best in people. So we're looking forward to it. We know they're tough on both ends of the floor and we got to be ready."

Bulls ready for clash with LeBron, Heat

February, 22, 2014
Feb 22
5:00
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls expect LeBron James to play Sunday. Actually, they're hoping for it. Seriously.

"I hope he's OK," Bulls center Joakim Noah said after the Bulls picked up their fifth straight win Friday night over the Denver Nuggets. "Of course we want LeBron to play. I hope his nose is OK."

[+] EnlargeLeBron James and Joakim Noah
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsThere is no love lost between Joakim Noah and LeBron James, who is questionable to play Sunday.
The challenge of slowing down James is a challenge the Bulls want. Noah, who admits that he always looks forward to playing in Miami against the Heat, wants to see how his team stacks up against the best. And make no mistake, no matter how much Noah may dislike James -- and vice versa -- the respect both men have for each other is evident every time they hit the floor.

"They're back-to-back champions," Noah said. "So you want to play against the best just to measure yourself against the best. We feel like we can compete against them. We've beaten them before. They're playing at a high level right now. They're playing really good basketball. They're locked in, but we're locked in, too. So we're confident we can go out there and get it done."

The subplots between the two teams are stacked high whenever they play because of their history over the last few years, both in the regular season and in the playoffs. But it's the interaction between James and the Bulls that is always most intriguing. It dates to James' days with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Bulls have always respected the special talent that James possesses -- but they just don't like him.

They don't like the way he carries himself -- as evidenced by Noah memorably yelling at James from the bench during a 2009 game in Cleveland when he thought James was dancing and showboating too much on the floor. They don't like the fact that James has always been the roadblock to reaching the next level in the playoffs. Despite those feelings, and while they may not like his personality, they still respect his ability. They know that in order to beat Miami, the biggest key of all is finding a way to slow James down.

"Just try to keep a body on him," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "Just try to frustrate him. It's hard to stop a guy like that. He is a superstar, phenomenal athlete. You just got to try and throw as many bodies as you can, try to force him to take the long-range jump shot. But it's going to take a whole team. We're just going to have to keep throwing bodies at him and stay down on the pump fakes."

There was no hesitation in Gibson's voice as he discussed the key to Sunday's game.

"Defense," Gibson said quickly. "Try to contain whoever they got out there. If it's D-Wade, if it's [Chris] Bosh, you never know. You never know who's going to play. They've got a ton of athletes on the bench, a ton of scorers. It's going to come down to will and defense. Both teams are good, strong defensive teams. We just got to take away their strong suits. But I think it's going to be a physical game."

(Read full post)

Redemption is sweet for Bulls' Snell

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
12:55
AM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- Chicago Bulls rookie Tony Snell did not actually mean that LeBron James is just another player, it’s just how it came out.

[+] EnlargeTony Snell
Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsTony Snell's second time facing the Heat proved much better than the first, as he managed eight points and also made a difference defensively.
For perspective, way back on opening night at Miami, foul trouble brought Snell on the court for his first ever appearance in a regular-season game and, as expected, he looked like a deer in the headlights while guarding James.

His nearly seven minutes of action against the Miami Heat that night yielded exactly no points, one turnover and two personal fouls.

“It was pretty tough,” Snell said of the Oct. 29 contest, the same night the Heat received their championship rings. “I didn’t know what to expect. I was a little nervous out there and got all of my nerves out that day. It helped me to be prepared today. I just felt a little more comfortable and relaxed than I did before.”

It’s essentially another world for Snell now, as the 20th overall pick in the most recent NBA draft is in the starting lineup following an injury to Jimmy Butler.

Using the mindset of focusing on defense first while letting the offense come naturally, Snell was in a flow in Thursday’s 107-87 victory over the Heat. He scored eight points -- hardly the 18 he had against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday or his 3-of-3 shooting from 3-point range against the Detroit Pistons on Nov. 27 -- but his defense made a difference.

Snell helped the Bulls hold the Heat to 41.6 percent shooting from the field and 27.3 percent (6-of-22) from 3-point range. He has been in the NBA for barely over a month and his growth has been significant.

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Rapid Reaction: Bulls 107, Heat 87

December, 5, 2013
12/05/13
11:25
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- Let's take a quick look at how the Chicago Bulls earned an impressive 107-87 win over the Miami Heat on Thursday night at the United Center.

How it happened: Carlos Boozer finished with 27 points and nine rebounds to lead the Bulls. Taj Gibson had another big game off the bench, going off for 19 points and six rebounds. LeBron James led the Heat with 21 points and five rebounds but the Bulls stuck it to Miami early and never let up.

What it means: When fans hear teams, especially the Bulls, say that every game is just one in an 82-game season, they shouldn't believe them. This was the most energy the Bulls have played with since Derrick Rose went down. It wasn't hard for Joakim Noah and his teammates to get up for a game against their hated rival. The key for Tom Thibodeau will be to try and find a way to get his team to continue playing this way. They have not been consistent since Rose went down, but maybe this game will help them get out of their funk.

Hits: Noah played his best game in several weeks. He was active on both ends of the floor, scoring 17 points and pulling down 15 rebounds.

Misses: The Heat got outworked most of the night -- second-chance points: 24-6 Bulls.

Stat of the night: The Bulls outrebounded the Heat 49-27.

What's next: The Bulls face the Detroit Pistons on Saturday night.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Jimmy Butler
PTS AST STL MIN
21.6 3.2 1.6 39.2
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsP. Gasol 10.5
AssistsD. Rose 5.0
StealsJ. Butler 1.6
BlocksP. Gasol 2.3