Chicago Bulls: Nikola Mirotic

Mirotic shines among young stars

February, 13, 2015
Feb 13
11:40
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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NEW YORK -- Nikola Mirotic couldn't lie after Friday night's Rising Stars Challenge. When asked what he could take from Friday's game back to his Chicago Bulls for the second half of the season, Mirotic had to chuckle a little bit.

"Not too much really," he said after scoring 16 points, going 6-for-9 from the field.

[+] EnlargeNikola Mirotic
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsNikola Mirotic drained four 3-pointers en route to 16 points in the Rising Stars game.
The affable rookie had a point. Like most All-Star exhibitions, defense was optional in the World's 121-112 win over Team USA. Mirotic knew that Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau wouldn't like the style of play he was participating in, but he enjoyed the experience of playing with some of the best young players in the league. As Mirotic spoke, he acknowledged that maybe Friday's performance would mean a little more to him when the Bulls play their next game on Feb. 20 against the Detroit Pistons.

"I made shots," Mirotic said. "That's the important thing. To make shots, to make fun, that's the important thing."

The 24-year-old has had an up-and-down first season with the Bulls, but he remains confident that he can turn his season back up on a high note.

"In Chicago, I know I have to improve," Mirotic said. "I have to work a lot. Right now I'm not playing on a great level. But I'm still positive and maybe after this game I'll make some shots and maybe I'm going to get more confidence."

Mirotic's ability to space the floor has been big at times for a Bulls squad that struggles to consistently knock down long- range shots. The organization remains hopeful that Mirotic can gain that confidence back in time for the postseason. Bulls GM Gar Forman was in attendance on Friday night to watch his young forward in action.

For Mirotic, his goals in the second half are simple.

"I think I have to work especially on my body, my strength," he said. "I've never worked on my -- I never lifted [before this year] ... here it's really important because they are stronger, they're faster. I'm working on that and my shot."

Bulls work on ABCs of better D

January, 13, 2015
Jan 13
3:09
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- A day after he blasted his team’s defensive effort, questioning who wanted to be in the inner circle and who was looking to get out, Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau spoke in more measured terms Tuesday.

“The good thing about our team is they’ve been through a lot of things, so today they came in, had a good approach, we watched the film, I thought we had a very good practice,” Thibodeau said. “That’s usually the start of getting it corrected.”

The tone for the solid practice Tuesday was set immediately after the Bulls were drop-kicked 121-114 to the sub-.500 Orlando Magic. The Bulls gave up 58 points in the paint, scoring only 40 inside themselves.

"It's gotta be all of us," Thibodeau said immediately after the defeat. "We gotta decide what we want to be. There are no shortcuts in this. It's a tough league. If you want to do something special, there's a serious price to pay. And there's no getting around the work. It's really that simple."

The Bulls were torched to the tune of 63 first-half points and lost at home to a team with a losing record for the second time in five days.

After a practice that wasn’t especially long by Thibodeau standards, there seemed to be a better sense of what needs to happen.

“We've got to get better; we're not there yet, but it's fine,” Joakim Noah said. “We've got time. We've just got to keep working, get better as a team, figure out what works and what doesn't.”

There didn’t seem to be one particular place to point a finger. Transition defense hasn’t been at its best, Derrick Rose continues to be attacked on the pick-and-roll, and the Bulls are still working on a unique chemistry project that has some players (Rose and Noah) returning from physical ailments, while others (Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, Aaron Brooks) are still adapting to the system.

“Teams that play against us, they’re always gonna try to get to us before we can get set,” Thibodeau said, speaking specifically about transition defense. “When you look at your defense, you usually start with defensive transition, then you talk about your shell, then your halfcourt defense, then you break it down further to your low-post defense, your catch-and-shoot defense, your pick-and-roll defense, your isolation defense.

“All those things are team-oriented, so obviously you have to take care of the ball, the paint, react out, cover the line, finish your defense, and when you’re away from the ball, you gotta make sure that you’re thinking help and understand what your responsibilities are. You have to have the ability to do more than one thing. Often times the initial part was there and the secondary part wasn’t. For us we have to make sure it’s all tied together.”

Thibodeau preaches his defensive principles daily, so the message has been delivered often. If there is one obvious issue to blame for the team’s recent defensive woes, it has to be desire.

“There’s two things you always look at first: the intensity and then the execution, was it done properly?” he said. “Obviously, you can’t work on everything, so you try to prioritize the things that you feel need the most work.

“There are times that we’ve played great defense and great offense. Right now, for whatever reason, we’re low-energy, and we gotta get that corrected.”

The regular season is nearly 40 games old and nearing the midway point, so perhaps the Bulls are simply in a midseason lull, sitting somewhere between the energy that comes with the start of the season and the second wind that guides teams toward the playoffs. Their next test comes Wednesday, when they play host to the Washington Wizards.

The Bulls did start the season 13-2, after all. So what is the difference between then and now?

“I'm not sure, I just know our defense isn't very good right now,” Noah said. “We've just got to keep working at it. We saw the film, the energy wasn't very good the last couple of games. We're playing against some tough teams so we've just got to come with the right mindset and come out with some W's.”

Thibs ready to shift into regular-season mode

October, 19, 2014
10/19/14
12:31
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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Derrick RoseGary Dineen/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Bulls are still monitoring Derrick Rose's minutes as the end of the preseason draws near.


CHICAGO -- By coach Tom Thibodeau’s timetable, the last of the Chicago Bulls' preseason games will take place Sunday night at the United Center against the Charlotte Hornets.

Sure, two more unofficial games remain before the team’s season opener at New York on Oct. 29, but Thibodeau will treat Monday’s contest at Cleveland and Friday’s tilt against Minnesota as if it were the real thing.

“The last two, you sort of narrow it down to get more toward your rotation,” Thibodeau said after shootaround Sunday morning. “But usually, the first five or six (games) you’re trying to get a look at different combinations and different people, that sort of thing.”

While that means minutes for key players -- especially starters -- are expanding, point guard Derrick Rose remains a unique situation. He still isn’t playing key fourth-quarter minutes as evidenced by the fact that he was on the bench when the Bulls rallied for a victory Thursday against Charlotte.

But there are also limited chances to get Rose's minutes to where they need to be.

“Yeah, to me, (with) his injury, he is different,” Thibodeau said. “He’s been out for basically 2 years. We just have to continue to be patient. He’s feeling better and better, so that’s a good sign, and he’ll be fine.”

Rose played 21 minutes Thursday, but every other starter played more, including workhorse Jimmy Butler, who played 31 minutes and still hit the game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer. In fact, two reserves -- Taj Gibson and Kirk Hinrich -- played more minutes than Rose, while Tony Snell matched the former MVP’s playing time.

“Just keep building,” Thibodeau said when asked if Rose will get more fourth-quarter minutes soon. “We’re not fixated on, ‘Is it 21 minutes, is it 28 minutes, is it ...?’ Just keep building. Just keep moving forward. I think that’s the best way to approach it. We want him to make sure he feels good about it and we’re going to go from there.”

Perhaps as big of a concern for the Bulls is that they are running out of time to get into a flow among so many new faces that include Aaron Brooks, Pau Gasol, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic.

“There is always jelling to do; it’s basketball,” Joakim Noah said. “You need to build that chemistry and I think it’s going to keep getting better and better.

“Every time you step on the court, every time you step together as a team it’s good ... if you put the work in.”

Asked about Thibodeau’s tactic early in training camp to ramp up preparation because the team wasn’t where it needed to be, Noah gave a crooked smile.

“It doesn’t matter; right now that’s not my focus,” Noah said. “My focus is just being as ready as possible as possible for the regular season and taking it day-by-day. I’m excited. I think we have a very good group, guys who work hard, guys who are focused on the right things, so I think it’s going to be great.”

Healthy Bulls await official starting five

October, 19, 2014
10/19/14
12:17
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The run of relative good health has continued for the Chicago Bulls, despite coach Tom Thibodeau’s intense preseason regimen.

The latest scare came in practice Saturday when forward Nikola Mirotic took a finger to the eye, but he participated in shootaround Sunday and is expected to play his full complement of minutes in Sunday night's matchup with the Charlotte Hornets.

[+] EnlargeDoug McDermott
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty ImagesDoug McDermott has spent time in the starting lineup during the preseason.
Forward Mike Dunleavy twice has been slowed by a sore knee and did not play Thursday, but Thibodeau did not list the veteran among the ailing Sunday morning. Even Joakim Noah said he is rounding into form after being slowed early in training camp.

“Yeah, I feel a lot better than I did two weeks ago,” Noah said. “It’s a work in progress, but overall I’m very happy. I have no swelling in my knee and I can keep building.”

Thibodeau already has taken away a planned off-day for the team this preseason and put his squad through a two-hour practice that afternoon instead. And while extra practice time gets his team closer to where he wants it to be, a heavy workload at this time of the year can also expose the roster to injury.

Instead, the Bulls have ended up with the best of both worlds: good health and extra court time in order to mesh four newcomers -- Aaron Brooks, Pau Gasol, Doug McDermott and Mirotic -- into the mix with returning players.

The rookie McDermott started in Thursday’s victory over the Atlanta Hawks, but Thibodeau has not named the Creighton product as one of the five that will take the court when the season begins Oct. 29 at New York.

“There are still (things to be determined), because you haven’t seen guys play together for an extended period of time,” Thibodeau said after shootaround Sunday morning. “But yeah, the guys who have been here before, you have an idea of what they can do together because they have been here, but there are a lot of new guys.

“You have the two rookies, you have Aaron, you have Pau. That’s a lot. We have to be ready. When that first game comes, everyone’s game has to be sharp. You have to be on top of it. There are no shortcuts in preparation. There are not. I have never seen that before. The work has to be done.”

Rose doesn't share Thibodeau's panic mode

October, 14, 2014
10/14/14
4:08
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Unlike his coach Tom Thibodeau, Derrick Rose is not anywhere near hitting the preparation panic button as Chicago Bulls preseason hits its second week.

Thibodeau continues to put his team through a heavy workload, concerned that a squad with a number of new players is nowhere near ready to start the 2014-15 season, which kicks off Oct. 29 at New York against the Knicks.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
AP Photo/Jeff HaynesDerrick Rose says he doesn't have to rush his shots because the Bulls have a veteran team.
Rose knows there's work to be done; he just doesn't seem stressed about it. Does he think the preparation hasn't been good enough, as his coach has suggested?

"Not at all," said Rose, who proclaimed that he feels good as the season approaches. "Everybody has their own opinion. As a coach, I think his standards are going to be high, very high, just knowing who he is individually. For the team, all we can do is come in here and get better every day, get the most out of every day and try to get better individually."

Most Bulls players are used to Thibodeau's routine by now. Whether or not they agree with their coach's style, the key is that they are willing to go along with it.

"No, I'm numb to it now. I'm used to it," Rose said. "Like today, we didn't even speak about it. We know what we have to do. It's only one goal, and we can't let anything get in the way of that goal."

Thibodeau's intensity, though, doesn't seem to be a scare tactic. He has been practicing what he preaches, meticulously breaking down game film, even though there have been just four preseason games. When he runs out of game film to break down, there is always a recent practice to parse.

"I watch every day; I watch what happens in practice, and I watch what happens in the games," Thibodeau said after Tuesday's workout. "If our standards are going to be high, we have to improve and put the work into it. And you have to do that each day. Each guy is being asked to do a lot, to put everything you have into each day. That's the only way you can build a special type of team. You can't shortcut your way through this. It doesn't work."

When it comes to Rose, Thibodeau won't sugarcoat it. The offense has been impressive. It's the defense, though, that gives the coach pause.

"He's got to do a lot better, [but] he's not the only one," Thibodeau said. "We're asking all our players to play strongly on both sides of the ball. It can't work unless everyone is tied together. We have to get everyone tied together and used to playing together. They have to bring the proper intensity each day.

"Every game reveals where you are. That's not to say there aren't good things being done. You have to strive to be a 48-minute team. The only way that's going to happen is if you're in great shape."

Rose sounds confident he will be ready to give his coach what he is looking for.

"I'm just picking and choosing when to use my talents," Rose said. "I'm picking and choosing during the games. I think my IQ for the game has gotten a little bit higher. Of course I need to stop with the turnovers, but I'm just trying to pick and choose when to attack and when to hold back and let the team play the game."

While Rose has been aggressive in attacking the basket early in the preseason, it's not necessarily the approach he plans on committing to once the season starts.

"I'm just trying to really take whatever they give me," he said. "If they're giving me the lane some, I'm just trying to mix it up. I'm shooting some jump shots and get the nerves out and continuing to play aggressive. Last night we played a decent game, came back and got a nice victory. We're just trying to keep it going. We've won two games, and we're just trying to win more to get in a better groove for the team."

Despite just a handful of games to his credit over the past two seasons, what Rose mostly is concentrating on is his patience. He has been pleased with his balance of looking for his own shots while trying to facilitate others'.

"I'm not rushing anything, not forcing anything, just letting the game come to me through the offense," Rose said. "I think it's because we have a veteran team that I don't have to rush my shots. My shots are going to come through the offense, so I just have to take my time and really play team basketball."

The players seem to get what their coach wants, even though the coach himself hasn't been completely satisfied with the work so far.

"We're coming together pretty good," Rose said. "Guys still have to learn when to shoot the ball. Like [Nikola Mirotic] and Doug [McDermott], they just have to get nerves out, but this is their first year of playing in NBA games.

"They just have to get used to the speed because it is a faster speed. You have to think a little bit more, think about the sets, think about what you're going to run the next time down, think about how guys are closing down on you. It's a whole bunch of elements with playing in the NBA game, and you just have to get used to it."

In a way, Rose is getting used to it all over again. He played 21 minutes in Monday's 110-90 victory over the Denver Nuggets, two days after playing 22 minutes in a victory at Milwaukee. He played just 14 minutes in each of the Bulls' first two preseason games.

Continuing his low-stress theme, Rose isn't concerned about building himself up to regular-season minutes just yet.

"I don't know. I'm just going to listen to what they're telling me, and whatever they're telling me is what I'm going to do," Rose said. "I believe in the staff that we have here. I'm just listening to whatever they have to tell me. I think I'm fine. I'm not worried about that at all."
CHICAGO -- The preseason schedule just started, while the regular season remains three weeks away and Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau felt it was the perfect time to set a hard-working tone.

Originally scheduled as an off day, Thibodeau put his team through a two-hour practice Wednesday after the team played preseason games Monday and Tuesday, with Tuesday night's game at Detroit going into overtime. Both of those games ended in Bulls defeats.

[+] EnlargeThibodeu
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports"It's always about putting the work in" with Tom Thibodeau, says Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy.
"A lot of things concern me, so it's good to get in the gym and practice," Thibodeau said, as most of the team remained for extra shooting in the Advocate Center, the team's new practice facility. "You're building. There's a lot of stuff you have to add and clean up and improve upon.

"You look at training camp as the whole month. So we try to do a little more in shootaround. A day like today, particularly the guys who haven't played a lot, it's important they get the right amount of work."

The Bulls have plenty of new faces in guys like Aaron Brooks and Paul Gasol, not to mention highly-regarded rookies such as Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic. After solid debuts Monday, McDermott and Mirotic did not look as sharp in Tuesday's defeat at Detroit.

"Every practice for us is good," said Mirotic, who claimed he was not surprised by the additional practice time. "We need to be ready for the season. We have a lot of things to do to improve. So every day we need to do better practice to be a better team so we are really hungry. We want to be the best team. We are working good. We have a good atmosphere in the locker room, so we are really feeling good."

Thibodeau would not get into specifics about what he wants to improve upon. Asked if the team has been lacking, he responded with a terse, "It's got to be better."

Thibodeau can be as stern as NBA coaches get so his decision to take away a free day in training camp wasn't a total surprise.

"The thing is, obviously winning and losing is important any time you're keeping score," Thibodeau said, referring to preseason defeats. "What you're looking at more is, are you putting the proper amount of work into playing so the results will take care of themselves? You have to do the right things. I know what goes into winning. I've been in the league a long time. When you skip steps in this league, it's not going to be good."

Veteran Mike Dunleavy suggested that with games so close together at the start of the preseason schedule, individual game minutes were skewed. The Bulls don't play again until Saturday at Milwaukee.

"We're 0-2 right now with some good, some bad and some ugly," Dunleavy said. "We just need to sharpen up a few things on the offensive end, especially with some of our plays, make sure we're in the right spots, things like that. It's nice to come in and get that knocked out and have a couple of good practices before going to Milwaukee."

If the players had an issue with the extra day of practice, they didn't seem to show it on the court.

"Yeah, it was a good day today, a good day," Thibodeau said. "Concentration was good. If you practice well, you'll play well. It's that simple. You have to understand what goes into preparing yourself to practice. You can't just show up and roll in like it's no big deal. It is a big deal. That's how you get ready to play."

It's early, but Thibodeau seems to have gotten an important point across. His early intensity hardly is out of the ordinary.

"Man, it's the same, it's the same, it doesn't change with him," Dunleavy said. "He's pretty consistent in that regard, at least since I've been here. It's always about putting the work in. We have guys who are pretty good about that, continue to do that and get ready for that opener on [Oct.] 29."

Thibs: Taj Gibson's role won't change

July, 18, 2014
7/18/14
6:36
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Tom Thibodeau was noncommittal Friday when the topic of his opening night starting lineup came up. He's still not sure how he will divvy up the minutes between a much deeper frontcourt comprised of Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic. But the veteran coach did acknowledge that no matter what happens, Gibson's role on the team will not change.

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

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

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

GM: Bulls offered top-10 picks for Mirotic

July, 18, 2014
7/18/14
6:07
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Bulls general manager Gar Forman admitted Friday that he was offered top-10 picks in last month's draft for the rights to European star Nikola Mirotic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Points: East champ from the Central?

July, 17, 2014
7/17/14
6:53
PM CT
By Staff
ESPNChicago.com
LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Paul GeorgeGetty ImagesWhose team will emerge as the best in the Central this season?
After a busy start to free agency, ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell is joined by ESPN.com's Scoop Jackson and ESPNChicago.com's Jon Greenberg to weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Chicago Bulls followers.

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Photo: New Bulls Gasol and Mirotic

July, 17, 2014
7/17/14
2:34
PM CT
By Staff
ESPNChicago.com
The Chicago Bulls will formally introduce Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic during a press conference at 11:30 p.m. CT Friday, but on Thursday tweeted out a photo of the new duo together in Chicago:



Gasol announced Saturday on Twitter that he would be joining the Bulls as a free agent. Mirotic was acquired by the Bulls in a draft-day deal in 2011 from the Houston Rockets. He has played the past three years for Real Madrid.

No sulking for Bulls, who move forward

July, 13, 2014
7/13/14
9:59
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
LAS VEGAS -- When the final story of the 2014-15 Chicago Bulls is written, this past weekend will serve as one of its seminal points in time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thibodeau hopeful Mirotic is ready for NBA

July, 13, 2014
7/13/14
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."

Fraschilla: Mirotic 'top 4' pick in '14 draft

July, 7, 2014
7/07/14
5:51
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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Nikola MiroticAP Photo/Lefteris PitarakisWhen asked for an NBA comparison, Fran Fraschilla likened Nikola Mirotic to a young Hedo Turkoglu.
CHICAGO -- Nikola Mirotic isn't ready to become the next Dirk Nowitzki, according to ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, but he is still a solid player who would have been a top-four selection in this year's draft had he been available.

"I think he would have been the guy like we said with Jabari Parker, he's the most ready to play in an NBA game right now," Fraschilla said on ESPN 1000's "Waddle and Silvy Show" on Monday. "And we might have even made the statement Andrew Wiggins may have the most upside, but I honestly think he would have been in the top [few picks]. Let's assume a healthy [Joel] Embiid, you're definitely talking about [Mirotic being] a top-four pick."

Mirotic, who was picked up by the Chicago Bulls in a draft day deal in 2011, has worked out a buyout to get out of his deal with Real Madrid, according to reports out of Europe. As the Bulls wait for Carmelo Anthony to make a decision as to where he will play next season, they're also trying to figure out just how much it will take to land Mirotic, who is not bound to the rookie scale because he was drafted three years ago.

When asked for an NBA comparison, Fraschilla compared Mirotic to a young Hedo Turkoglu, a player who can space the floor for Derrick Rose and knock down jumpers. But he also noted that fans should not expect too much too quickly.

"I think the Bulls are getting a really solid player here," Fraschilla said. "But they're not getting Dirk Nowitzki, certainly not at this stage of his career."

Fraschilla used a baseball reference to illustrate his point.

"Playing at the level he has for the last four years, he's hitting .330 in Triple-A," Fraschilla said. "And now you're bringing him up to the big leagues. If you're the Chicago Bulls, for example, you're hoping he's going to be a .290 hitter right off the bat."

(Read full post)

What's next for Bulls after Melo?

July, 3, 2014
7/03/14
7:05
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Carmelo Anthony remains the apple of the Chicago Bulls' eye. The organization continues to hope that Anthony turns down the financial security of a max offer, or near-max offer, from the New York Knicks as he makes his final decision on where to play in the coming days. While the Bulls remain confident in the recruiting pitch they gave to Anthony, Bulls officials understood that it was always going to be toughest to convince Anthony to leave New York. The feeling from many within the organization after Tuesday's pitch is that this is a two-team race between the Knicks and the Bulls.

The question, as has been the case all along, remains whether Anthony is willing to leave millions of guaranteed dollars on the table in order to chase a championship in Chicago. With the help of ESPN salary capologist Larry Coon, the Bulls' numbers, in regards to an Anthony deal, stack up this way. If the Bulls keep a preferred core of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and rookie Doug McDermott intact, they will be able to offer Anthony roughly $17 million next season. What that also means is they'd have to fill up the rest of the roster with a majority of minimum-salary players.

While the Bulls are holding out hope that Anthony decides to join forces with Rose and Noah, the feeling from several sources remains that Anthony will decide to stay with the Knicks. With that in mind, let's take a look at the next few options the Bulls will have if they do indeed miss out on their top target.

1. Make a push for Kevin Love again

The Bulls have kicked the tires on a Love deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves for several years. If they don't land Melo, expect them to make some more calls to Timberwolves coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders to see if they can work something out. Since Love wasn't moved before the draft, there's a solid chance that Saunders will try to persuade Love to stay one more time before potentially dealing him before the trade deadline in February.

2. Go for Gasol

The Bulls were scheduled to meet with Pau Gasol on Thursday in Los Angeles as he ponders his own future, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne. Having made a little more than $19 million last season, Gasol figures to be in line for a pay cut, but interested teams have to figure out just how much of one he's willing to take. From the Bulls' perspective, Gasol would fill a need as a back-to-the-basket offensive weapon and a solid presence in a tight locker room. According to Coon, if the Bulls amnesty Carlos Boozer and deal away veteran Mike Dunleavy, they would have roughly $13 million in available cap space.

With a number of high-quality teams pitching for Gasol's services -- and the fact that the Lakers can still offer big money -- the Bulls need to make a strong financial offer and tie it around the fact that they are ready to contend for a title right away. Even then, that might not be enough depending on the other offers Gasol figures to get.

3. Bring Nikola Mirotic over

[+] EnlargeNikola Mirotic
AP Photo/Darko VojinovicMirotic's Bulls future is bright, but he would be no substitute for Anthony if the team decided to sign him for the upcoming season.
There's been a lot of speculation regarding Mirotic's status in recent days, a fact that hasn't gone unnoticed by the Bulls front office as it tries to figure out its next move. For the moment, Mirotic's status with the Bulls this season is uncertain. The organization had always hoped it could land Mirotic for the midlevel exception, but now, in order to bring him over, it'll have to dip into its cap space to make it happen. Is Mirotic worth $7 million to $8 million per year? How much of an impact would he be able to have during his first season in the NBA? The Bulls remain high on Mirotic, but the idea that his addition would put the Bulls that much closer to a championship in his first season in the league is far-fetched at best.

4. Worst-case scenario

If the Bulls fail in Options 1-3, the frustration of the fan base will permeate throughout every aspect of the organization. Assuming they don't find any takers for a Boozer sign-and-trade, the Bulls could still amnesty the final year of his deal and move Dunleavy -- but what would they do with the $13 million left in cap space?

Lance Stephenson appears to be a last-ditch possibility. I don't believe he would work well in coach Tom Thibodeau's locker room, but he has the type of talent that could continue to blossom in the right situation. The Bulls will keep tabs on Chandler Parsons, a good friend of Noah's, but it's hard to believe the Rockets will let him walk as a restricted free agent -- especially if they don't land Anthony or LeBron James.

The Bulls' biggest problem is the same one it faced as free agency began: There are some solid names and possibilities on this list, but if it doesn't land Anthony or Love, the organization can't feel confident in the notion that it would start the upcoming season as a legitimate title contender.

Bulls draft hits and misses of Forman era

June, 26, 2014
6/26/14
10:00
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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BullsGetty ImagesIn their last three drafts the Bulls have had a hit (Jimmy Butler), a miss (Marquis Teague) and a work in progress (Tony Snell).
CHICAGO -- James Johnson's biggest claim to fame as a Chicago Bull had nothing to do with anything he accomplished on the basketball court.

SportsNation

What grade would you give Bulls GM Gar Forman for his five drafts with the Bulls?

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    6%
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    42%
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    38%
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    10%
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    4%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,345)

Johnson, who was Gar Forman's first selection as Bulls GM in 2009, didn't turn out to be the player the organization wanted. But he did serve as Derrick Rose's personal protector one night in Oklahoma City during the 2009-10 season.

The Bulls were staying at the Skirvin Hotel, accommodations with a documented history of ghost activity. Rose, who on the verge of playing in his first All-Star Game, took no chances. He roomed with Johnson because of Johnson's martial arts background.

"We were watching [out for] each other," Rose said with a laugh at the time. "We were just up on the computer, just talking. Just having fun the whole night."

While Johnson's tenure didn't produce solid results, Forman and his staff have hit on several other picks in the last five years.

Let's take a look back at some of the Bulls' recent selections:


2009


James Johnson (16th): Miss
He never flourished under Vinny Del Negro and couldn't find consistent minutes in the rotation. He was dealt early in Tom Thibodeau's first season. Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson and Jeff Teague were the three players drafted right after him.

Taj Gibson (26th): Hit
He has developed into one of the most consistent defensive players in the game. Gibson is one of Thibodeau's favorite players because of how hard he works on both ends of the floor.


2010



The Bulls didn't make a pick. They traded the rights to 17th pick Kevin Seraphin as part of the deal that sent Kirk Hinrich to the Washington Wizards. The Bulls wanted to clear out as much space as they could in order to land LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and/or Chris Bosh. The Bulls ended up with Carlos Boozer.


2011


Nikola Mirotic (23): TBD
The Bulls moved up to snag the lanky forward from Real Madrid. He has yet to play a game in the NBA, but is considered one of the best prospects in Europe. The Bulls are still hopeful that he will come over this summer and help them next season.

Jimmy Butler (30): Hit
Like Gibson, Butler was a late-round pick who has turned himself into one of the best defenders in the league. Butler has put a lot of heart into his game and is respected by teammates and coaches because of his work ethic. His biggest issue remains the lack of a consistent jump shot. Still, he was a solid pick late in the draft and a player that many teams missed on.


2012


Marquis Teague 29: Miss
The strange part about Teague's selection is that while the Bulls worked out a slew of different players before the draft, Teague wasn't one of them. They liked his upside, but he did not do well in Thibodeau's system. He showed flashes of promise, but he never showed much of a jump shot. He was dealt to the Brooklyn Nets last season after barely playing most of the season.


2013


Tony Snell 20: TBD
This pick could haunt Forman for a while. Snell showed some promise in his first season, but he never got consistent minutes behind Butler. The Bulls badly needed a backup big man, but Forman decided against selecting Gorgui Dieng and Mason Plumlee, both of whom had solid rookie seasons. Tim Hardaway Jr., who was taken four slots after Snell, also had a nice year for the New York Knicks. Snell still has time to turn into a solid piece, but the first returns weren't as promising for a team that was already in good shape with its wings.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Jimmy Butler
PTS AST STL MIN
20.2 3.2 1.7 38.7
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsP. Gasol 11.8
AssistsD. Rose 5.0
StealsJ. Butler 1.7
BlocksP. Gasol 1.9