Chicago Bulls: Luol Deng

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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Who is the Bulls' best backup free-agent option if they don't land Carmelo Anthony?

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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.

3 Points: Bulls' (other) big weakness?

May, 1, 2014
May 1
11:07
AM CT
By Staff
ESPNChicago.com
Noah-Gibson AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJoakim Noah and Taj Gibson would benefit from some quality backups next season.
Every week, ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.

1. Aside from scoring, what is the Bulls' biggest weakness that needs to be addressed this summer?


Friedell: Lack of depth. It's up to general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president John Paxson to get on the same page with coach Tom Thibodeau about this. When the Bulls went to the Eastern Conference finals in 2011, they basically had a set of another five guys to bring off the bench -- the popular "Bench Mob." The Bulls must find a way to get more breaks for guys like Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler or else they run the risk of watching them wear out again next season.

Jon Greenberg, ESPNChicago.com columnist: Frontcourt depth. Noah and Taj Gibson are great, but they need backups. Nazr Mohammed is a first-team role model, but the Bulls have to get a little younger. I'm assuming Carlos Boozer is gone, via the amnesty provision or salary-matching trade. Although Noah has blossomed into an All-Star the past two seasons by playing the bulk of the minutes at center, the Bulls still miss Omer Asik, who is an excellent defender. Chicago needs to draft at least one big man this summer and sign another in free agency. Maybe Greg Smith, signed in mid-April, could be one of those backups. But the Bulls could use a bruiser in the Marcin Gortat mold.

Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist: Health and roster spots. To me -- and I'm probably the only one of this group who feels this way -- the Bulls don't need to make a Carmelo Anthony-like splash in the offseason to put themselves into title contention going into next season. Just getting Derrick Rose (even if he's not at 100 percent old-school D-Rose) back and an equal replacement for Luol Deng will work. They don't need a max-deal type of player. They need an above-midlevel baller, who along with Noah and Rose, could play in some All-Star Games. A DeMar DeRozan-type, a Harrison Barnes-type, a Wesley Matthews Jr.-type, a Chandler Parsons-type. That's the biggest thing they need to address. But right, right, right below that: They need a serious rebounder. Desperately. If Nene and Gortat exposed anything about the Bulls in the final minutes of those last two losses, the Bulls need someone to stop other teams from turning 24-second possessions into 90-second plays.


2. Do you view the Bulls' season as a success or failure?


Friedell: Success. This team could have mailed it in when Rose got hurt. Or when Deng got traded. It didn't. It continued to fight all the way until the end. Yes, it is disappointing that the Bulls couldn't get out of the first round, but they weren't going to the NBA Finals either way. This team should be praised for continuing to play even when the obstacles were stacked against it.

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How would you classify the Bulls' season?

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Greenberg: Really, you have to break it down into three parts. Rose got injured again, which made the season an early failure. No bones about it. I'd call the season a success if you judged it from January until the playoffs. The Bulls overachieved and saw significant growth in their two best (remaining) players, Noah and Gibson. Both players are approaching 30, so it's a good time to start peaking. And then the abbreviated playoff run was nothing but a dismal failure. Five games? No way to spin that. Overall, I'd judge it a minor success on the basis that they overachieved without Rose and Deng.

Jackson: Big success. Regardless of how the playoffs played out, losing to the Wizards in 5, to me, doesn't negate what they did and overcame to get to that point. And I refuse to be one of those fickle/flaky fans/journalists who loved the Bulls two weeks ago and was calling for Thibs to be coach of the year and is now saying that the season was a failure and that Thibs needs to change his coaching style. I wrote earlier in the season that the Bulls were pound-for-pound the best team in the NBA. Now, I can't say that they played that way against the Wizards, but I do feel comfortable in saying that their entire season was very far from a failure.


3. How do the Bulls reverse the trend of being worn out at the end of the season?


Friedell: Thibodeau is one of the best coaches in the NBA, but he must sit down with Forman and Paxson this summer and come up with a better strategy for doling out minutes in the regular season. He has to make the rotation deeper and play more than just seven guys on a regular basis, an area Forman and Paxson can help. They have to get through to Thibodeau that winning regular-season games is great, but being as fresh as can be in the postseason is more important. Running out of gas by the playoffs has developed into a trend for the Bulls.

[+] EnlargeTom Thibodeau
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsTom Thibodeau has to be able to play more than just seven players next season if the Bulls are going to last the entire season.
Greenberg: Get a deeper team, I suppose. It's easier said than done with the salary-cap restrictions. Every team is tired to some degree by the postseason. There just isn't enough rest available. The playoffs afford you a chance to catch your breath, with the lack of back-to-backs and all. In the Bulls' case, having to play catch-up nearly every game was more the cause of their second-half meltdowns than big minutes in March. But as Deng said to a group of reporters after the preseason ended, he wouldn't have minded the Bulls' trying things the San Antonio way, just as an experiment. Thibodeau might want to set aside a few rest days for his starters in the last two months. First, he needs a healthy team to do that.

Jackson: They don't. The Bulls spent most of the season not just two men down but two All-Stars down in Rose and Deng. For them to even make it to the playoffs -- let alone get home-court advantage in the first roun by finishing with the No. 4 seed -- every man on that roster had to step up. And they did. If Thibs stretched his roster and starts giving everyone minutes during the season to avoid being worn out, there's no way they would have won the games they did to get into the playoffs. People act as if the Bulls were blowing teams out to get those wins. They weren't. If you want the Bulls not to be worn out at the end of the season so that they have a better chance of beating a team at full strength in the playoffs, don't trade Deng without getting immediate help in return and hope Rose doesn't get injured. Simple.

Confident Bulls better than last season

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
12:16
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls lack an elite superstar talent without Derrick Rose on the floor, but they aren't lacking in another important category -- confidence.

[+] EnlargeJoakim Noah and Thibodeau
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhTom Thibodeau's coaching and Joakim Noah's elevated all-around game have helped the Bulls surprise this season.
That swagger is created day after day in practice and in the preparation that coach Tom Thibodeau puts his team through before the season even begins. And it helps them overcome the adversity created by the loss of Rose and the trade of Luol Deng.

As much as they still miss Deng's presence, the reality for the Bulls is that they are better right now than they were at this point last season.

"Yeah, I think so," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said recently. "I just think mentally everybody's more aware of things. Everybody's just more on edge all the time. I think last year we didn't really know what was going to happen. We were in it, but we [didn't have] too much experience. As soon as Derrick got hurt again [this year] we kind of knew what was going to happen.

"But then guys just picked it up and stepped their games up. And then a lot of guys, you look on our bench, got a lot of confidence now. Everybody's playing with a ton of confidence. Everybody already knows where they're going to get their shots, what they need to do to get themselves going, what they need to do on defense. And everybody's just all-in, and I feel it's going to help us come playoff time."

The Bulls, who face the Indiana Pacers again Monday night at the United Center, lost Deng and Rose -- but they got better.

How did they do it?

First and foremost, Thibodeau is doing the best coaching job of his career. He didn't allow his players to fall into a complete tailspin when Rose went down in November and after Deng was traded in January. He adjusted on the fly to his new group and changed aspects of his plan to put his players in better positions to succeed.

In particular, he pushed Joakim Noah and got the All-Star center to buy into his system as the focal point of the offense. He got Noah to believe in this season as a building block, not a disaster. In return, Noah pushed his teammates and got them to believe they could still win without their leaders. Gibson has become a force on both ends of the floor and will be in the running for the Sixth Man of the Year award, an honor he said would be a "dream come true," given how much work he has put into his offensive game.

After being waived early in the season by the Toronto Raptors, D.J. Augustin has been described as a "season saver" by teammates and coaches for the way he scores and runs the offense. He runs the offense better than Nate Robinson did last season and gets his teammates better shots in the rhythm of the offense.

Kirk Hinrich has stayed relatively healthy after battling injuries the past two seasons. He also has been a steadying veteran presence on and off the floor. Jimmy Butler may not be the offensive threat that Deng was, but he is just as solid defensively. Like Deng, he enjoys the challenge of guarding the opposition's best player each night.

Mike Dunleavy struggled at the beginning of the season in his new surroundings, but has bounced back well and shown why he he has succeeded in the NBA for over a decade. While he isn't shooting as well as Marco Belinelli from beyond the arc, he is a better all-around player. He fits into what Thibodeau wants to do and the veteran coach trusts him.

Veteran Carlos Boozer has regressed this season, but Gibson has been so solid that it hasn't mattered. Nazr Mohammed hasn't played enough big minutes to have that much of an impact. Rookie Tony Snell has shown glimpses of promise but hasn't gotten into the rotation on a consistent basis.

While the group wasn't built to play without Rose and Deng, Thibodeau has found a way to make it work. That's why his team continues to succeed and it's why he should win another Coach of the Year award at the end of the season.

Bulls believe in themselves again

March, 2, 2014
Mar 2
4:58
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Bulls believe again. They believe in themselves. They believe in their team. They believe no matter which team they face on a daily basis, they will win. It's a belief that was missing earlier this season after another knee injury to Derrick Rose and the trade of Luol Deng to Cleveland -- but it has come back with a vengeance and was permeating through the Bulls' locker room after Sunday afternoon's destruction of the hapless New York Knicks.

"If [the scale] was from 1 to 10," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said of his team's confidence level, "it's a 12 right now."

Jimmy Butler
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty ImagesJimmy Butler says that the Bulls buy into the team aspect of everything.
The Bulls are playing with the type of hard-nosed swagger that has defined them under Tom Thibodeau. They want to destroy teams and they want to break their will. That's what they did to the Knicks again Sunday and that's one of the biggest reasons why they've won nine out of their past 10 games. They trust each other on the floor and they have complete faith in the schemes Thibodeau puts together.

"We buy into the team aspect of everything," Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler said. "On offense and on defense. That's great because we don't have one guy that worries about just his stats. That's not the type of guys that we are, so when you've got a roster full of those guys you're bound to win."

That may be rare for teams throughout the league, but Butler doesn't know any other way. He has been raised not to give away anything for free on the basketball court because he's been raised by the Bulls' system. Every possession is a battle, every move has a purpose. That is evident in most Bulls wins, but especially Sunday considering the Bulls turned the ball over only three times -- setting a new franchise record.

(Read full post)

3 Points: Noah top center this season?

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
2:36
PM CT
By ESPNChicago.com
ESPNChicago.com
Joakim NoahRandy Belice/NBAE/Getty ImagesJoakim Noah, a center, leads the Bulls in total assists.
Every week, ESPNChicago.com Bulls writer Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.

1. Is Joakim Noah having the most impactful season of any center in the NBA?


Friedell: No doubt. Noah is playing the best basketball of his career -- and -- he's also the most important player on his team. When the Bulls lost Derrick Rose again for the year because of a knee injury and traded Luol Deng to Cleveland, the team could have easily folded for the season, but Noah wouldn't let them. He has become an even better leader off the floor, and he's dominating in various stages on it. Along with Tom Thibodeau, Noah is the biggest reason the Bulls are having another successful season.

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Who is the best center in the NBA this season?

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Jon Greenberg: We're a little biased here, so the temptation is to say, "Yes, of course." After watching him grab 17 rebounds and dish out seven assists on an off shooting night Wednesday, I'll give in to that temptation. If you look at the numbers, you can argue that more offensively gifted, less popular centers such as DeMarcus Cousins and Dwight Howard are having slightly better seasons. They too would prosper in Thibodeau's defense. Yes, even Boogie. But ask anyone in the NBA who they would rather have as a teammate and Noah, once thought to be an unpopular goof, would win hands down. Noah is just seventh among classified centers (40 games or more) in ESPN's Player Efficiency Rating. But none are as important to a team as Noah, who is all but willing the short-handed Bulls to a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference. Noah's defensive bonafides are well known, and of course harder to put into numbers, but his playmaking abilities continue to astound. How many centers make behind-the-back bounce passes into the post?

Noah is averaging 4.6 assists a game and a quarter of his possessions end with an assist. He leads the Bulls in total assists, a rarity for a center. Since Deng was traded on Jan. 7, he's had 14 games with six or more assists, including three double-digit games on February. He set his career high with 13 on Feb. 19. Going into Friday's game against the Dallas Mavericks, Noah was averaging 12.1 points and 11.5 rebounds a game in 34.1 minutes. But it's not just about numbers. He has eclipsed the injured Derrick Rose in current popularity, and his play this season has cemented him as an all-time Bulls great.

Scoop Jackson: With the exception of the impact Andrew Bynum's had on the Cavs by not playing ... then yes! It will be interesting to see if Noah gets any MVP votes at the end of the season. There always is this argument about the true meaning/definition of the word "valuable" and how it is implied and interpreted when voting for MVPs. I can argue that there have not been many, if any, players in the NBA this season that have been more "valuable" to their team and their team's success than Noah. Now, I'm not saying that he should be considered for the MVP, I'm just saying it's worth watching to see if anyone who has a vote is going to recognize or has a true understanding of Noah impact.


2. If you're the Bulls, who would you rather face in the playoffs, Heat or Pacers?


[+] EnlargeGeorge
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesPaul George's Pacers might be the deepest team in the NBA, but they are still probably a better playoff matchup for the Bulls than the Heat.
Friedell: The Pacers. Because they think they can beat them -- even this season. Miami is in the Bulls' head. They know they've lost to them in the playoffs two out of the past three seasons and they know there's a solid chance of that happening again this season. The Pacers are a much improved team, but the Bulls don't fear them.

Greenberg: Easy -- the Pacers. The Bulls can't beat either team in a seven-game series, all things remaining equal. Indiana might have the better team than Miami this year, but the Bulls still believe they can hang with them. Belief can go a long way, especially with a group like the Bulls that follows their scouting reports and feeds off their defense. It's more than a little psychological. The reverse is true with Miami. I think the Bulls want to beat Miami more than even winning an NBA title, but they know LeBron James is the hammer and they're the nail. And as good as Paul George is, he's not LeBron James. I think the Bulls could take the Pacers to seven games, and then, you never know.

Jackson: The Pacers. The Bulls have a better chance of the Pacers slipping up and looking past them because the Pacers' eyes and focus has been so directed at Miami this year. The Heat, even if the Bulls were healthy and the same squad was intact that opened this season, seemed to have their number in April/May, especially with the Bulls not having a legit scoring threat off the bench that cold also control/run the offense. The Pacers on the other hand, right now, run the (very small and slight, almost wishful thinking) risk of looking past the Bulls in a playoff series because, well, I think, they really want the Heat.


3. Is Luol Deng regretting not taking the Bulls' offer of three years, $30 million?


Friedell: No. Deng is still probably wishing he were in Chicago and wished it could have worked in the long term, but he doesn't regret not taking the offer. He and his reps were upset the Bulls didn't negotiate with him last summer and then gave him the offer before he left. Deng understands that this is probably the last major deal of his career, and he wants to get paid. He also has too much pride to take an offer he feels is beneath him. The Bulls have moved on and so has he.

Greenberg: Um, no. If anything, the Bulls' exiling of him to Cleveland is probably emboldening his decision not to commit to the franchise that drafted him in 2004. It's not like he's stuck in Cleveland. Deng knew he was getting dealt because there was no chance he was signing an extension before testing free agency. The Bulls' final offer sounds great to us -- Who doesn't want $30 million? -- but it was a just an offer. After dealing with his agent, they knew he wouldn't accept it. If by some miracle, he did, great. While Deng wasn't pleased to head to Cleveland -- yes, even I have a source on this -- it's only a few months in purgatory. He'll be a prize in free agency and would be a valuable addition to any title contender. If anything, getting an extra month off while the Bulls grit through a playoff series or two will allow him more rest and all but guarantee good health when free agency begins.

Jackson: He shouldn't be. Once the season is over and teams will begin looking at what they really need to get them to that next level, Luol will get his money. And it may come from a team that is in better position to win a title in 2015 than the Bulls. Who knows? I'm truly of the belief that Deng no longer being here had nothing to do -- on both ends -- with money. Philosophical, structural and personal differences were at the core of the split. Nothing that couldn't have been repaired, but nothing either side was willing to accept or change. Bottom line with Lu: It was time to go.

Bulls roll past Nuggets for 5th straight win

February, 22, 2014
Feb 22
12:23
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- To understand the level at which the Chicago Bulls dominated the Denver Nuggets during Friday night's 28-point blowout win, just take a look at how the Nuggets head coach described his team's performance after the game had come to its merciful conclusion.

[+] EnlargeD.J. Augustin
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastD.J. Augustin led Chicago with 22 points, but the Bulls used a balanced scoring attack throughout to take down the Nuggets.
"I told our team that I wish paychecks were predicated on night-to-night performance," Brian Shaw said. "If you play like a star on a given night, you get paid as a star. If you play like an uninspired player, then either you don't get paid or you get paid like an uninspired player. You can't pick and choose when you want. [Thursday] night we play Milwaukee, who is obviously down players. They have injuries, they have been playing all season long and we act like the big bad wolf against Milwaukee. Then we come in tonight in a nationally televised game against the Bulls and we tuck our tails, and we hide."

The Bulls broke Denver's spirit early in this game. They controlled the tempo and executed Tom Thibodeau's plan on both ends of the floor. Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and D.J. Augustin led the way as usual, but the production was spread out throughout the game. Tony Snell racked up 20 points after Jimmy Butler went down with a rib injury. Kirk Hinrich and Mike Dunleavy played their usual steady games. This performance was one of the Bulls' best all-around contests of the season and pushed their winning streak to five games.

As a group, this team is playing with more confidence than at any other point this season. So how did this happen? How did the Bulls find continuity in the middle of what many believed to be another lost season without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng?

"I think everybody's comfortable with their roles," Noah said. "Everybody knows what to expect from each other. I think our defense is getting better. The ball movement was really, really good tonight. I think it's just going to keep getting better. It all starts with our mindset as a team -- I think we're gaining a lot of confidence and it's all positive."

To Noah's point, the Bulls are playing with a free-flowing rhythm that hasn't been seen all year. They are coming out in games and crushing spirits -- a common trait in the Thibodeau era -- but one that hasn't been seen much this year. The Bulls led 32-19 after the first quarter and have pounded teams early and often over the past couple weeks.

"We're just setting the tone early," Gibson said. "Letting the other team know we're here to play. Letting them know that it's going to be a long night. That's the kind of solid basketball that we're accustomed to playing. We've been playing like that the last couple of years."

The Bulls have gone back to their principles. They are hitting teams hard, playing solid defense and running sets as precisely as ever. It's a stunning turnaround for a team that was left for dead a couple years ago and now heads into a showdown with a familiar foe on Sunday afternoon in the Miami Heat. It's a game that many in the locker room are looking forward to because their confidence level is so high. Each time the Bulls hit the floor they expect to win -- and Thibodeau has them believing the winning will continue for a while.

"We're just feeling good right now," Gibson said. "We're playing together as a team. Everybody's smiling, everybody's just going hard for each other, and it shows."

OT: Noah: 'It's been a hell of a turnaround'

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
8:00
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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TORONTO -- The Chicago Bulls will come into Friday night's game against the Denver Nuggets three games over .500 and just a half game behind the Toronto Raptors for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. If Bulls fans are shocked by those numbers, don't worry, some of the players are still coming to grips with those facts as well. The difference is that the Bulls still feel they have much more to accomplish this season.

"It's been a hell of a turnaround," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "Definitely. But we're not satisfied with being three games over .500. Just like Thibs says all the time, things change quick in this league. Right now it's four in a row, Denver's next. ... We're happy because we know this was a big win tonight against a really good team. Now we just got to keep going, stay focused."

Butler makes play of the game: Jimmy Butler was a little frustrated with himself after the Bulls' victory Wednesday night over the Toronto Raptors. That may come as a surprise given that Butler made the biggest play of the night when he blocked a DeMar DeRozan shot that would have likely given the Raptors a win. Butler couldn't believe DeRozan, the man he had been guarding most of the night, had gone off for 32 points. Despite the tinge of disappointment, the proud Marquette alum enjoys the challenge of guarding the opposing team's best wing player every night. It's a role that his good friend, Luol Deng, used to fill for the Bulls on a nightly basis before being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in January.

"I think so," Butler said. "But I don't think I played any D tonight. [DeRozan] had what [32] points? I take pride in my defense, 30 points is a lot, especially whenever I play 45-plus minutes, so I got to get a lot better. There's no excuse for that."

It's that kind of attitude that has made Butler so popular in the Bulls' locker room.

"Jimmy battled," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. "And that's what I like about Jimmy's mindset is he is going to keep coming. You see his rhythm starting to come on offense now, which is huge for us."

Bulls center Joakim Noah believes Butler is just scratching the surface of how good he can be.

(Read full post)

'Mediocre'? Thibs says he's proud of Bulls

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
12:32
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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SAN ANTONIO -- Team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf might consider the Chicago Bulls a "mediocre" team, but coach Tom Thibodeau says he won't sell his team short as it continues life without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng.

[+] EnlargeTom Thibodeau
Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsTom Thibodeau has guided the Bulls to a 10-4 record since trading Luol Deng.
Reinsdorf, in a recent interview with WGN, said that the Bulls are "a mediocre team this year, a middle-of-the-pack team." Thibodeau knows that Reinsdorf, as the owner, can say whatever he wants, but that doesn't change the way the coach feels about his team.

"Jerry owns the team so he's entitled to say whatever he wants," Thibodeau said Wednesday. "If that's the way he feels ... and the way I feel about our team is this: It's that I'm really proud of them and we can do even better. So I'm not selling them short."

After Rose was lost for another season with a knee injury, the Bulls traded Deng, who will be a free agent after the season, to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The move gave the Bulls some salary relief and got them out of the luxury tax. Despite the loss of Rose and Deng, Thibodeau has the Bulls, who beat the San Antonio Spurs on the road Wednesday, within a game of the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

Amid talk by some national analysts that the Bulls are a cheap franchise more concerned with the bottom line than winning, Thibodeau said Reinsdorf and the Bulls are doing what they think is right.

"Jerry with me has been terrific," Thibodeau said. "I don't have any problems with Jerry. There are a lot of decisions that have to be made that are tough decisions, they're not easy ones. And so you do what you think is right. You don't get them all right, but hopefully you get a lot more right than you get wrong. We've taken some hits so we have to navigate around what happened, and that's what we're doing."

Hall of Famer Charles Barkley and former NBA coach, and Thibodeau confidant, Jeff Van Gundy are just the latest to be critical of some of the moves the Bulls have made in recent years. Both have noted the team's reputation as being frugal spenders, compounded by Derrick Rose's injuries, as a reason why the Bulls aren't viewed as a title contender. Barkley, who called the Bulls cheap on the "Waddle & Silvy Show" on Tuesday, suggested that the Bulls should go after potential free agent Carmelo Anthony this summer to be "relevant" for the next few seasons.

"We're not going to respond to every rumor and things that this guy says and that guys says," Thibodeau said. "The only thing that really matters is what we think. So we're going to make the best decisions for our organization, the things that we feel gives us the best chance to have success."

Bulls vice president John Paxson on Wednesday pushed back on the perception that his franchise is cheap.

"What I can tell you about what's happened recently is that we came into this season with a high payroll, in the [luxury] tax for the second straight year," Paxson said on "Waddle & Silvy." "With Derrick's injury and other things, we made the decision to move Lu and get under the luxury tax this year to give us some flexibility going forward. From the business standpoint, we felt like it was the right thing to do and you have to think that way. It's just the reality of the business."

3 Points: Sell high on Joakim Noah?

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
3:50
PM CT
By ESPNChicago.com
ESPNChicago.com
Joakim NoahJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJoakim Noah's play has helped the Bulls keep winning since the Deng trade.
Every week, ESPNChicago.com Bulls writer Nick Friedell is joined by two other ESPN writers to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.

1. Joakim Noah is healthy and playing better than ever. Is it time to trade him?


Nick Friedell: Not unless the Bulls are getting a superstar scorer in return. Noah is the heart and soul of this team and one of the main reasons they have turned their season around. He is by no means untradeable, but he shouldn't be moved unless the player coming back can score 25-30 a game next to Derrick Rose.

Doug Padilla: Absolutely not. While Noah could bring both salary relief and solid talent in a potential deal, this guy is the main part of the team’s core moving forward. His style, while unorthodox compared to other All-Star-caliber talent, perfectly fits the style of coach Tom Thibodeau. It only makes sense to build around Noah, not to mention Rose and even Jimmy Butler, instead of moving him in the hopes of acquiring another core-type player.

Scoop Jackson: Never. At some point, even in the face of deconstruction of the team, a core has to remain. Noah is part of that core. He, Rose and Thibs should be the foundation on which the organization builds on and moves forward with. I will say this: If the Bulls trade Noah, they will lose Thibs. We may not know it, but he’ll check out and then make it official the day his contract is up. And I won’t be mad at him at all.

(Read full post)

Thibodeau trumps Deng on reunion night

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
11:16
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CLEVELAND -- After all the pregame hugs and handshakes were over and the well-wishes and deserved praise for Luol Deng ceased, Tom Thibodeau offered up another clinic as to why the Chicago Bulls will always be all right no matter which players he has on his roster.

Wednesday's win over Deng and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bulls' ninth in their past 11 games, was another reminder as to why Thibodeau is one of the best coaches in the league.

The Bulls still miss Deng's presence on and off the floor and will surely miss him down the stretch of the 82-game season. But the void he left after being dealt to Cleveland earlier this month isn't nearly as big as it could have been, thanks in large part to Thibodeau.

[+] EnlargeLuol Deng
AP Photo/Mark DuncanTom Thibodeau and the Bulls allowed Luol Deng but two makes on 11 attempts in their first meeting since his trade to the Cavaliers.
The coach was the one who devised the game plan that made Deng basically irrelevant on Wednesday, allowing him just two makes on 11 attempts. He's the one who made the adjustments that slowed down Kyrie Irving to the tune of just eight second-half points after scoring 18 in the first half.

Most of all, Thibodeau is the man who got players such as Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson to believe in the fact they could still win games after Deng left. Thibodeau made his leaders believe the season wasn't over when many others had given up hope.

"There's a resolve to our team," Thibodeau said. "There's a great fighting spirit, and there's a great will. I think if you have those things, you have a chance."

If you have a great scheme, the chances to win are even greater. Having been around Deng for so many years, Thibodeau and his players knew exactly what they wanted to do when they saw their former teammate on the floor.

"We tried to get the ball out of his hands as much as possible," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "Put a lot of pressure on him. We know both their bigs are rolling to the basket, so we were able to be more aggressive on Lu and put more pressure on him."

Bulls forward Gibson, who tied a career high with 26 points, knew what Deng's plan was and tried to keep him out of his comfort zone when he saw him on the floor.

"At times we just had to switch different guys on him," Gibson said. "At one point, he was getting a lot of foul calls, especially offensively. He got himself going at the foul line. I know Lu, too. That’s how he gets himself going. If he can’t hit a shot early, he attacks the rim and looks to get fouls. We looked to take that away from him. No long-range 3s; we were on his 3-point game. We just tried to make him frustrated. Because once he gets in his rhythm, it’s really tough to slow him down. We did a good job. D.J. [Augustin] even chipped in and guarded him some. It was a team effort."

For his part, Deng admitted what his former teammates knew going in: The entire experience was weird. Seeing Deng in a Cavs jersey, after spending nine years in Bulls jersey, was a little bizarre.

"It was strange," Deng said. "But it's the Cavs versus the Bulls. It's not so much about me. We could have played better."

This game was about Deng, though. His old teammates knew it, and his old coach definitely knew it. In order to win, the Bulls had to shut down Deng -- and that's exactly what they did.

"It felt weird because it was tension even before the game," Gibson said. "We wasn’t talking or nothing. It was exactly like how Thibs said: 'We love him but we’re going to go knock him on his butt when he tries to score. After the game, we can be friends.'

"But I felt like everybody stepped in and did a good job guarding him, taking him out of the game early, making it tough on him. And that was big because he’s been playing very well lately."

After it was over, the All-Star forward said he didn't believe he was trying to force looks against his old team.

"If I was forcing things, I would've shot 30 shots," Deng said. "I really try to play the game within myself. [Chicago] played good [defense] and I just missed shots. I'm not happy with my performance, but that's a good defensive team."

Deng knows better than anyone the Bulls are a good defensive team because of the effort their players show on a nightly basis, but mostly because of Thibodeau's will. He has the ability to get the most out of his team each and every night, and he proved again on Wednesday against one of his favorite former players.

"We're just going out there believing," Bulls guard D.J. Augustin said. "Whoever we have playing that night, we believe we can win. And that's the way we're playing, with that edge. And we're just going after every team we're playing against."

Rapid Reaction: Bulls 98, Cavaliers 87

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
8:24
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive


CLEVELAND -- Let's take a quick look at how the Chicago Bulls earned a 98-87 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.

How it happened: Taj Gibson tied a career high with 26 points to lead the Bulls over former teammate Luol Deng and the Cavs. D.J. Augustin had another solid game, scoring 27 points, while Joakim Noah chipped in with nine points, 18 rebounds and six assists as Tom Thibodeau's team ramped up its defense in the second half. Kyrie Irving led the Cavs with 20 points, but he scored just two in the second half.

What it means: The Bulls still miss Deng, but they haven't missed him nearly as much as many fans thought because they have players such as Gibson and Noah who still play hard and produce. Most importantly, they still have Thibodeau. He's the one who devised the plan that shut down Deng all night and that made the adjustments to limit Irving in the final 24 minutes. No matter who is hurt (Carlos Boozer and Kirk Hinrich didn't play) or which players may end up also getting dealt, the Bulls will continue to win games because of Thibodeau and his ability to get the most out of his players night to night.

Stat of the night: The Bulls obviously made it a point to contain Deng. He scored 11 points but was just 2-for-11 from the field and didn't have a major impact on the game.

Hits: Mike Dunleavy had 22 points off the bench, going 4-for-5 from beyond the arc.

Misses: Jimmy Butler's shooting woes continue. He was just 4-for-12 from the field, including 1-for-7 from behind the 3-point line.

What's next: The Bulls take on the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night in Chicago.

Deng as a Cav will be odd sight for Bulls

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
12:49
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CLEVELAND -- Tom Thibodeau loved Luol Deng because he embodied all the things the coach stands for. He played hard, he played through pain and he did everything that was asked to him. He didn't complain and he set a solid example for the rest of his teammates to follow.

[+] EnlargeLuol Deng
Russ Isabella/USA TODAY SportsLuol Deng is averaging 18.7 points in six games with the Cavaliers.
That's what Thibodeau misses most as he and the Bulls get set to face off against the Cavaliers on Wednesday night for the first time since Deng was traded to Cleveland.

"He was a great leader because of the things he did on the floor," Thibodeau said. "The way he practiced, the way he played, the way he competed, and to me a lot of guys say all the right things and do none of them. He was probably the opposite. When he spoke people listened because he didn't just talk to talk. His actions were the great leadership each and every day, and he did it year round.

"The way he took care of his body, the way he stayed in great shape, and that says everything you need to know about him. The type of person he is, I think you guys all know the things that he's gone through, the goodness in him. He did a lot in the community in Chicago, and everywhere for that matter. That's just who he is. And he's not one of those guys that did it for attention. He did it because it was the right thing to do."

Deng earned respect in the Bulls locker room because of the way he produced and the way he carried himself. Several players have referred to Deng as an older brother to them and they still can't believe he'll be playing against them on Wednesday night.

Bulls center Joakim Noah said he went out with Deng on Tuesday night and caught up with his old friend.

"I know he'll be ready to go," Noah said. "We'll be ready to go. It should be a good game. ... I think he's a competitive guy. He'll definitely be ready to go. And I'm just focused on trying to win a basketball game. It's always awkward and weird playing against people you consider family, but at the end of the day I know he wants to win, and I want to win so I know it will be competitive."

Thibodeau wants to keep his team focused on the business trip at hand, but it's clear that Deng will always be a special player to him.

"He embodied all the things that we certainly value," Thibodeau said. "You know, hard work, smart play, played for the team, unselfish. Those things go a long way. When you look at his career, and it's more than just I was there, when he first arrived they were in a big hole. They were basically in the lottery every year. So that group lifted that team out of that. And then with us he took us to another level. The one thing I liked about him is you could count on him every game. You knew what you were going to get. You're never going to out-compete him, he's a great competitor."

Thibodeau doesn't want to lose sight of the fact that the Bulls, who are 6-2 since the Deng trade, will be looking for their ninth win in 11 games. It might be strange to face Deng, but he hopes the shock of seeing Deng wearing a different jersey will wear off quickly.

"We know what a fierce competitor he is," Thibodeau said. "And we know what he's going to try and do, and we want to do the same things to him. We want to go after him, and then after the game we'll exchange pleasantries."

Joakim Noah's media silence continues

January, 11, 2014
Jan 11
12:04
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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MILWAUKEE -- Early in his career, Joakim Noah used to choose his words a lot more freely. He spoke without thinking, and it would get him into trouble sometimes.

As he has gotten older, he chooses his words a lot more carefully and decides not to speak at all sometimes. The irony is by not having spoken for the past week, Noah might find himself in trouble yet again.

[+] EnlargeNoah
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty ImagesNoah posted a complete eight-point, 10-rebound, seven-assist effort on the court, then declined again to speak in the postgame locker room.
The usually outgoing and accommodating Noah has gone into a shell in regard to speaking to the media over the past week since former teammate Luol Deng was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers late Monday night. He did it again after Friday's win over the Milwaukee Bucks, telling reporters that he would speak after Saturday's game against the Charlotte Bobcats.

The problem for Noah is that the longer his self-imposed media ban drags on, the bigger deal it becomes. If the league decides to look into the matter -- or if Noah declines to speak to the media again after Saturday's game -- it's likely a fine will be forthcoming. Noah's decision not to speak again on Friday surely disappointed several members of the Bulls organization who asked the emotional center to get his media obligations over with by talking for a few minutes about the Deng trade and putting it behind him.

While it remains unclear exactly why Noah still hasn't addressed the matter, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand why he is still upset. Not only was he close to Deng, he also understands that the Deng deal means the Bulls are as far away from a championship as they've been in several seasons. Bulls executive vice president John Paxson said Tuesday that the Bulls aren't rebuilding -- but they aren't going after a championship this season, either.

In many ways, Noah's stance represents the way a lot of his teammates still feel. They understood that their championship aspirations went down the toilet when Derrick Rose tore the medial meniscus in his right knee on Nov. 22, but the Deng deal brought that reality home even harder for Noah. Deng was the man Noah leaned on to keep his emotions in check on the floor. With Deng gone, Noah has to come to grips with the fact that he must continue playing in a season that means little to the organization.

(Read full post)

JVG: Bulls didn't get enough for Deng

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
4:50
PM CT
By ESPNChicago.com
ESPNChicago.com
Luol DengAP Photo/Mark Duncan
Jeff Van Gundy said Friday he doesn't believe the Chicago Bulls got enough in return for trading their All-Star forward Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier this week.

The former Knicks and Rockets coach who is now an analyst for ESPN pointed to the Carmelo Anthony trade from the Denver Nuggets to the New York Knicks in 2011. The Nuggets received forwards Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari, guard Raymond Felton and center Timofey Mozgov, plus New York's first-round draft pick in 2014, second-round picks in 2012 and 2013 and cash in exchange for Anthony, who, like Deng, was playing in the final year of his contract. For Deng, the Bulls received center Andrew Bynum, whom they waived for financial savings, and a protected first-round draft pick.

"Even if you don't believe that Luol Deng is as good as Anthony, he's pretty close because he's a two-way player. ... He's not as good, but they didn't get much back for him," Van Gundy said on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN Chicago 1000. "They only got rid of Bynum's contract, and to me, when you're trading no question your second-best player, and I don't think anybody can question that, and you get very little back for him ... I was surprised they didn't explore trading for guys who have similar-sized contracts that weren't going to expire to see if they could have gotten more of a Carmelo Anthony-type haul where they had real valuable assets."

With Deng off the books, the cap savings from the Bynum deal and the potential to use the amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer's contract this summer, the Bulls could be in position to add another star player next to Derrick Rose. But Van Gundy says it's not that easy.

(Read full post)

Deng's agent: No negotiation from Bulls

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
5:02
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- Luol Deng's agent understands why the Chicago Bulls handled contract talks the way they did, but said there was no negotation allowed by the organization when it offered a three-year, $30 million contract in the days leading up to his trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"We never negotiated for a second over money," agent Herb Rudoy said Thursday. "It was a take-it-or-leave-it offer. I ran it by Lu and he decided not to accept."

[+] EnlargeLuol Deng
AP Photo/Mark DuncanLuol Deng is expected to make his Cavaliers debut on Friday.
Once Deng declined that offer last week, the wheels began spinning even faster on a deal made Tuesday that sent him to the Cavaliers in exchange for Andrew Bynum's contract and three draft picks.

"We did make an attempt to sign Lu," Bulls executive vice president John Paxson said Tuesday. "And to keep him here because we value him. He had the right to say no and he did and that's ... good for him. If he gets out of this what he wants then that's great for him. We don't wish anything against him at all."

Rudoy said he didn't have any issues with the way the Bulls handled the situation. He would have liked to have found a way to keep Deng in Chicago, especially given that Deng had said repeatedly he wanted to retire as a Bull, but it didn't look promising after the Bulls cut off contract talks before this season.

"I think it was fair," Rudoy said of the situation. "I didn't have a problem in the summer [with the way things were handled], didn't have a problem in the fall. ... It was no problem."

Rudoy didn't divulge exactly how far apart he and the Bulls were as far as figures go, but said he is confident Deng will find the money he is seeking on the open market this summer.

How much money is that?

Rudoy isn't sure yet, but he did reference the contract agreed to by the Golden State Warriors' Andre Iguodala last summer as one he feels would be commensurate to Deng's ability. Iguodala signed for four years and $48 million.

"I think he'll be highly valued around the league," Rudoy said. "He's a very unique person and player."

Rudoy accompanied Deng to Cleveland on Cavs owner Dan Gilbert's private jet once the deal became official. He said that Deng has handled the fluidity of the past few days very well.

"He's terrific," Rudoy said. "He's come a long way from the refugee camp in Egypt. This cannot be unsettling to him. He's a pretty level guy."

As for a potential return to Chicago in the future, Rudoy said he and Deng haven't talked about the possibility.

"Never discussed," Rudoy said. "I have no idea. We didn't talk about it."

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TEAM LEADERS

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