Chicago Bulls: Tom Thibodeau

Thibodeau's rotation likely goes nine deep

October, 2, 2014
Oct 2
9:00
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The magic number for Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau this season appears to be nine.

That would be nine players as the ideal number in his rotation. While plenty of decisions are yet to be made, Thibodeau acknowledged after Wednesday's practice that nine is the number he feels most comfortable with in a rotation.

"Usually most teams are around nine," he said. "And then as the playoffs get closer you're going to pare that down some more. We'll see. My first two years we played nine, sometimes 10. Ten is hard, most likely nine."

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Which player has the best chance to crack Tom Thibodeau's rotation?

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Having depth is a problem every coach loves to have. After struggling to fill out a consistent rotation in the past couple seasons, Bulls general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president John Paxson did a good job of filling Thibodeau's roster with better players this season.

In the midst of giving an update on Joakim Noah's health, Thibodeau offered a glimpse into how he chooses his rotation.

"I think any preseason you want your whole team to get some minutes," Thibodeau said. "And then the last couple preseason games you narrow it down to your rotation that you'll start the season with. And I think it's important, sometimes you have tough decisions to make. Are you going with a nine-man rotation? Are you going with an eight-man rotation? I think the important thing is to decide on that. You try to play too many then nobody plays well. So get your rotation. I think we'll have a really solid bench. I'm looking forward to that. But over the course of the season you need everybody; things happen, and when your time comes just be ready.

"I think for the most part our guys have done that. We've had guys change roles a lot in the last two years. Guys go from being bench guys to starting. Guys who are out of the rotation being in the rotation, coming off the bench. Even some guys that probably weren't in the league that had a chance to perform for us. The first part of that is understanding what you should do -- knowing what your job is and then having the ability to go out there and do your job so that the team can function well when you're on the floor. It's really about the team. We're asking everyone to make sacrifices and to put winning first."

Those sentiments are part of any championship-caliber team, but the reality for the players is that with a roster that is 12-deep on paper, some talented players will be left on the bench. The locks for the rotation right now are Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Kirk Hinrich.

That leaves rookies Doug McDermott, Nikola Mirotic, second-year swingman Tony Snell and veterans Aaron Brooks and Nazr Mohammed fighting for the last two spots. The early returns on both rookies have been good and injuries will surely change how much each player sees the floor during the season, but it will be interesting to see how Thibodeau manages all the minutes in the beginning of the season.

Noah may have summed up the attitude Thibodeau wants all of his players to have while discussing how much his role may change this season.

"Time will tell," Noah said. "Whatever it takes, man. I don't care. It's not about me. It's about this team. And I've always had that mentality, and my mentality's not going to change."

10 Bulls storylines: All starts with Rose

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
9:04
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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Rose/ThibodeauNathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesBulls coach Tom Thibodeau likely will be cautious with Derrick Rose's minutes, at least early in the season, as he comes back from knee surgery.
CHICAGO -- The anticipation is high and the expectations are higher. As the Chicago Bulls head into media day on Monday afternoon, they'll be doing so with the same championship aspirations they had to begin last season. Only this time, they'll be doing so with a deep, talented group that expects to have a healthy Derrick Rose leading the way.

With that in mind, let's take a look at 10 of the top storylines facing the Bulls this season:

Can Rose stay healthy?



It's the question that won't go away for the Bulls. Nobody knows the answer. The former MVP didn't play very well as a member of Team USA at the World Cup earlier this month, but he played, and that's a good sign for the Bulls. He still has a lot of rust to shake off and fans shouldn't rush to judge his game early in the year, but if the Bulls want to compete for a title, everyone in the United Center knows Rose must be able to stay on the floor. It's going to be very interesting to see how coach Tom Thibodeau uses Rose early in the season. The guess here is that Thibodeau will be extra cautious with his star. Despite Thibodeau's track record of piling up the minutes, I'd be very surprised if Rose consistently played close to 40 minutes a night early in the season.

Can Noah have another All-Star season?

Joakim Noah has proved himself to be one of the best centers in the game and an integral part of everything the Bulls do. He had offseason knee surgery and said earlier in the summer that he'd be fine once training camp rolled around. With Rose on the floor he won't have as much pressure to create offensively, but he is a much better player than he was the last time Rose played anywhere close to a full season. Noah should be able to continue building on the great play he's put together the past two seasons.

What kind of impact will McDermott have?



A large one. I've been asked a lot this summer about Doug McDermott and whether he will have a bigger impact this season than fellow rookie Nikola Mirotic. I think he will, and I think McDermott will become the first rookie to have a major role in Thibodeau's rotation. Omer Asik played some solid minutes in his rookie season, but he didn't get consistent minutes early on. McDermott has a chance to be a difference-maker from the start. The Bulls' staff loves the way he can shoot and space the floor for Rose & Co. If the rookie from Creighton proves he can pick up Thibodeau's defensive schemes quickly, he will see minutes early.

[+] EnlargeBulls
AP Photo/M. Spencer GreenThe Bulls bolstered their offense with the additions of rookie Nikola Mirotic and veteran Pau Gasol this summer.

Will Mirotic make an impact?



Early in the season, likely not. The Bulls' front office loves Mirotic's ability and believes he can grow into a very good player over time, but the 23-year-old must prove to Thibodeau that he can play defense and adjust to NBA competition. Mirotic could be a big factor off the bench for Thibodeau later in the season, but with Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson at the 4, there aren't a lot of minutes to go around.

How much does Gasol have left in the tank?



Gasol averaged 17.4 points and 9.7 rebounds last season and gives the Bulls the type of back-to-the-basket scorer they've been yearning for, but he is 34 years old. The former All-Star can still produce at a high level, but can he stay healthy throughout the season? Much like Rose, it's going to be intriguing to see how Thibodeau doles out Gasol's minutes to keep him fresh.

How will Thibs use Noah, Gasol, Gibson?



The educated guess here is that Gasol will be used in a similar role to that of the departed Carlos Boozer, playing 25-30 minutes a night. But it will be Noah and Gibson whom Thibodeau uses to close out games because of their defensive prowess.

Can Butler improve his shot?

Jimmy Butler shot just 39.7 percent from the field last season and struggled to find his shooting stroke throughout various points of the season. Going into his fourth season, Butler will be seeking a big contract extension this summer, but to get that he must prove he can find his offense. Butler is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA and is well-liked in the locker room, but to take the next step in his progression he must start knocking down more jumpers. The good news for him is that playing alongside Rose -- really for the first time for a long stretch -- should free up more space for him on the floor.

Can Snell take another step?



Maybe. The Bulls' coaching staff loved what Tony Snell did during the Vegas summer league, but now the second-year swingman has to prove he can play well when the games count. He showed flashes last season but didn't always look confident on the floor. After Snell added more muscle in the offseason, the Bulls hope he can take a step the same way Butler did in his second season.

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Who will win the Eastern Conference this season?

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Is there enough offense?



Always the million-dollar question behind that of Rose's health. The reality for Thibodeau is that there should be enough as long as his roster stays relatively healthy -- at least enough to get to an expected showdown with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals. Rose's presence on the floor and his ability to create make his teammates better. McDermott and Mike Dunleavy should be able to knock down open looks, while Gasol and Noah can clean up the glass. But the issue for the Bulls is the same as it ever was: Who besides Rose will be able to create offense in the postseason? Thibodeau will have to cross that bridge when he gets there.

Will Thibs actually use his bench?



On paper, the Bulls are 11 players deep, 12 if you count veteran center Nazr Mohammed, who was re-signed last week. Bulls general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president John Paxson did a nice job filling up the roster for Thibodeau after failing to land Carmelo Anthony in free agency. But now it's up to Thibodeau to use the new players throughout the season and pace his team so that it will be ready for the postseason. This team is much deeper than it was a year ago, and there is a sense of urgency within the organization that this is the year for the Bulls to win their first title of the post-Jordan era.

McDermott appears ready for impact

August, 6, 2014
Aug 6
3:20
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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Kyle Korver doesn't think Doug McDermott knows how good he has it as McDermott gets set to enter Chicago Bulls training camp as a rookie.

Korver speaks glowingly about McDermott and believes that his friend will end up being a very good pro in the NBA, but he knows that McDermott will have to make some adjustments during his time in Chicago.

[+] EnlargeMcDermott
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesDoug McDermott "plays with an edge. He wants to be really good," says his friend and NBA veteran Kyle Korver.
"He's got to learn how to deal with [Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau] every day," Korver said recently, with a laugh. "That's a lot. The thing I told him is you don't have to drive that traffic [to suburban Deerfield, the site of the Bulls' practice facility] every day now. I was like, I could go back and do either Thibs or the traffic, but I could never do both again. You don't know how good you have it."

There's a lot of things that McDermott must learn to deal with as he begins his first season in the NBA, but Korver -- along with many coaches and executives throughout the league -- believes that McDermott is up for the challenge.

That's why the Bulls spent so much time scouting him over the past few years. And that's why the organization ended up trading so many picks -- two firsts and three seconds by the time they unloaded Anthony Randolph to the Orlando Magic in a subsequent deal -- to get him. It was love at first sight for both McDermott and the Bulls.

A short drive to the Bulls' new downtown practice facility isn't the only nice change in McDermott's first job out of college. He also gets to play with one of the best point guards in the game in Derrick Rose. The former MVP and Team USA lock raved about McDermott, who was a member of the U.S. Select Team, during Team USA's training camp last week.

"He rarely messes up," Rose said of McDermott. "He never pushes the issue I would say. He never tries things that he can't do. He knows exactly what type of play that he wants and for me I need him because you can't leave him. He has a lot of confidence in his shot, and he works on his shot every day. So when he's open -- and I was playing with him when we were back in Chicago -- I had to tell him whenever he's open and I pass him the ball he better shoot or I'm going to yell at him every time."

McDermott isn't taking the opportunity to play with Rose for granted.

"It makes it a lot easier because he draws so much attention," McDermott said. "He's an unselfish guy to play with, and he's going to find you. He makes some really good decisions with the ball."

Most of all, McDermott can knock down shots. It's the trait the Bulls are banking on most as McDermott embarks on this new stage of his career. Korver is confident that McDermott's game will grow under Thibodeau, but the Bulls are hoping that "McBuckets" can live up to his nickname this season and help space the floor for Rose.

"We've had some great shooters in the past, but with him, I've never played with a young shooter," Rose said. "He'll be the youngest player and the youngest, best shooter I've ever played with so I can't wait to play with him. He seems like he takes the game very serious [for] a young player. He knows the game and his father [grew] him into a basketball player."

McDermott played for his father, Greg, while at Creighton and won national player of the year in 2014 as a senior. His basketball acumen and ability to live up to expectations is something that those around him take pride in.

"He takes the game very serious," Korver said. "He plays with a chip on his shoulder. He plays with an edge. He wants to be really good. And he's going to work for it. He doesn't just want it. He wants to work for it. He's got a great skill set, obviously, in how he can shoot and how he sees the floor.

"He dealt with every kind of defense [in college]. He's been prepared for the NBA in so many ways. Just in how he was guarded all the time, the pressure that was on him in Omaha at Creighton. He's a younger guy, but emotionally he's very mature."

That sounds a lot like a guy who will be able to deal with the constant pressure of playing for Thibodeau, who hasn't shown a willingness to play rookies right away. But McDermott looks to be the guy who should be able to buck that trend this season.

Thibodeau, who also serves as an assistant on Team USA's staff, liked what he saw from McDermott in camp.

"Last year he had a chance to get involved with [USA Basketball] and I thought that was great for him," Thibodeau said. "And he's getting more experience this year. He played well in the summer league and this is a different level of competition so it's another opportunity for him to improve. I think any time he can do that it's all a plus."

McDermott knows he will take advantage of the experience, as well.

"It's been great just going against some of the best guys in the world," he said. "It's definitely a challenge, but it can only help a guy like me who's getting his NBA career started."

His friendship with Korver will also help. McDermott knows that he'll be able to bounce things off the 33-year-old veteran as he deals with the ups and downs that come during every player's rookie year.

As the hype surrounding McDermott's impact increases after a solid performance in the summer league, Korver wants to make one thing clear: McDermott isn't the new Korver for the Bulls. He's his own player.

"There's easy comparisons to make, right?" Korver said. "We got a similar skill set although he's got some post game that I don't have. We come from the same school. We're about the same size, all that. It's easy to say that. But he's his own person and he's got his own things to his game that I don't have and he's going to do a great job for you guys. He's really excited to be there. He's going to learn so much from Thibs. It's so great."

Rose Reax: Guard continues to impress

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
7:44
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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LAS VEGAS -- Kevin Durant is getting a little frustrated about having to answer the same question every day. He respects Derrick Rose a lot -- the two have trained together in years past -- but he isn't sure how to keep describing just how solid his friend has looked during the first four days of Team USA's camp.

"He looked the same as I said [Wednesday]," Durant said. "Great."

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesAfter another successful day at Team USA camp, Derrick Rose was feeling sure of himself: "I think that I'm back, man."
Durant's feelings summed up how many people around the Mendenhall Center felt about Rose -- he really has been that good as he continues to make his way back from a torn meniscus in his right knee.

"I don't know how much more I can answer that one," Durant said. "How different I can answer, he looks great. I'm excited I get a chance to play with him on his first time back after last year."

As he has said repeatedly over the past few days, Rose is just happy to be back on the court. He said his wind is getting better each time he has been out there.

"I think that I'm back, man," Rose said. "I'm not worried about my knee anymore. I got three days under my belt and I'm just trying to keep playing, playing hard and just trying to improve every day."

A light day: Team USA had a shortened practice Thursday and just did some light work. Rose took some jumpers during the portion of practice that was open to the media. Like most of the players in Friday night's scrimmage, Rose is expected to play somewhere around 20 minutes. The international games are only 40 minutes long compared to 48 in the NBA.

"He looks great," Wizards guard John Wall said. "He looks like his old self. He'll probably be more aggressive and all that when he gets into the competition rounds but right now I think he's proven he's going to be his [old] self again. And I think that's really what everybody's worried about, would he still have his explosion and all that. I know the city of Chicago is excited and I know how hard he worked and how hard he's going to keep working to keep himself going."

(Read full post)

'Smarter' Rose aims for patience in return

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
10:28
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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LAS VEGAS -- Derrick Rose's game is going to change as he tries to make his way back from yet another knee injury, but it hasn't altered the Chicago Bulls star's mindset on the court.

The former MVP still believes he is the best player on the floor.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
AP Photo/John LocherDerrick Rose expressed confidence in his game Monday after his first practice with Team USA.
"If you're right there [in front of me], then I'm going to try to dunk," Rose said after Team USA's first practice Monday. "I don't care. My legs are healthy, so I'm not worried about injuring myself or anything. I'm just trying to do anything to win that game at that time."

But even Rose, 25, knows things will be different with this comeback. After playing in only 49 games the past three seasons, and only 10 in the past two seasons, things have changed.

So what are some of the biggest differences between today's Rose and the one from a few years ago?

"Body control," he said. "I'm able to control my body a little bit more, using my speed. Being smart with my speed, instead of just running wild out there. Just being smart. I'm a smarter player, but I'm mad it took me seven years to learn that."

Rose's outward confidence hasn't been shaken, but his game has shifted. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Rose won't try to force contact as much as he has in years past, a smart move, given his injury history.

"I think you will see that next year," he said. "Just trying to [keep] people off my body. I'm using a lot of floaters, using a lot of pull-ups, stuff like that so that I won't get touched as much."

The biggest key in the minds of Rose and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is that Rose is playing with more patience.

"I think when I came back last time I wanted it too bad," Rose said. "I was trying to force the game. And this time around I'm just trying to let the game come to me. Of course, be aggressive, but at the same time have control of the game and be smarter. And being able to run the team at the point guard position."

Rose emerged as a superstar in the 2010-11 season when he became the youngest NBA MVP in history after averaging 25 points and 7.7 assists in leading the Bulls to the best record in the NBA. After missing the entire 2012-13 season after ACL surgery, Rose's comeback lasted just 10 games last season. He showed flashes of his old explosive self in averaging 15.9 points on 35 percent shooting but was still trying to get his game back when he suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee in November 2013.

After practicing with the Bulls late last season, he has continued to rehab the knee, with the Team USA training camp his latest step. Rose is not assured a spot on the team, which also has fellow combo guards John Wall, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry.

Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski came away impressed by Rose after the first day of practice.

"I was ecstatic about watching him today," Krzyzewski said. "He's better than four years ago. Four years ago, he was 21, and he was just on the verge of becoming who he was going to be. But he had a great practice today. You don't practice like this [every day]. He hasn't been in practices like this. Now [we'll] watch what he does for the next few days."

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By the end of next season, Derrick Rose will be ...

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Thibodeau is happy Rose is coming back into this kind of environment with Team USA because he knows his star isn't going to have as much offensive pressure as he normally would with the Bulls. He said Rose has learned from his first comeback attempt.

"Derrick's very bright," Thibodeau said. "I think he's learned from each situation that he's been in. So that was his first comeback really [last year], and I think he had the opportunity to look back and say, 'OK, this is how I want to approach it this time.' So I think he's grown from it. I think the adversity has made him a lot stronger mentally and he's playing patiently. I think he understands exactly where he is."

When he returns to the Bulls in September for training camp, Rose is excited about the prospect of spending even more time playing off the ball with Kirk Hinrich or new acquisition Aaron Brooks running the point. That can only help take some of the pressure off Rose.

"Catch and shoot," Rose said. "Hell yeah. I've been doing a lot of catch and shooting, running off floppy [sets]. Just trying to make the game simple. Find ways to score, or find ways to affect the game by not scoring. And me playing the 2 sometimes, coming off a floppy, catching the ball getting to the hole, throwing [alley-]oops. Get other people open with just a live dribble. I think this year will be the first time I have played the most in my career with catching the ball and having a live dribble."

As Rose enters his seventh NBA season, he certainly has a lot to prove with a Bulls team, bolstered by offseason acquisitions Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and first-round pick Doug McDermott, that has title aspirations. Rose knows what it has taken to get back on the floor -- again -- and he seems at peace with his evolution as a player.

"I'm a totally different player, but it comes with experience," he said, "Just playing, playing through your mistakes. Just playing in an NBA game, you're going to learn. So I'm happy I have people around me to give me advice, learn from people, and I'm happy I have the IQ to actually learn."

Bulls still exploring marriage with Love

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
5:48
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Gar Forman has a mantra he lives by on a day-to-day basis: He's always looking to improve the club. The basketball lifer delivers that message all the time when questions about roster construction are asked.

That's why it should come as no surprise that the Bulls are still kicking the tires regarding a Kevin Love deal, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst. Love is a star player and would make any team he lands on better.

But now that the Bulls' roster has been filled with the likes of Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott and Aaron Brooks, among others, the bigger question for Forman is whether the Bulls would have to give up too much of their depth to land Love.

For several years, the feeling around the league was that if the Bulls were serious about acquiring Love, it would likely cost them a combination of Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Mirotic and some future first-round picks. That speculation will only ramp up again after the latest report, especially with the Cleveland Cavaliers reportedly offering No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins and Golden State still possibly adding Klay Thompson in a deal to pick up Love.

With the rest of the Bulls' roster in place -- the signings of Brooks and McDermott became official Tuesday -- the truth is that a Love addition would decimate the depth they have acquired in the past few weeks. If Gibson, Butler and Mirotic were included in a deal, one that wouldn't be done for several weeks, since Mirotic just signed Friday, the Bulls would take away the depth that has made them one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference.

That's why if the Bulls were really serious about landing Love, I don't think they would have pushed so quickly to add free agent Gasol. The posturing that goes on during NBA trade talks is always much more entertaining than the actual deals that go down. In the end, I don't believe Love ends up in Chicago. Plus, it's unclear if he would sign an extension to stay here over time.

The Bulls would be a better team with Love in the fold -- but how much better? Gibson and Butler are two of their top three defenders. Mirotic is a great unknown, but he has the potential to become an All-Star over time according to some experts. More importantly, in the short term, how would Joakim Noah, Gasol and Love be able to work together on the floor?

Forman will continue to work the phones and see what Love's status is in the coming weeks, but the Bulls are comfortable with the team they have and confident that this roster, led by Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau, can ultimately take the organization where it wants to go.

Thibs: Taj Gibson's role won't change

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
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."

Thibs: Team USA will be 'terrific' for Rose

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
5:09
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Tom Thibodeau remains confident that Derrick Rose will not only participate at a high level during Team USA training camp at the end of the month, but he also believes that his star point guard will make the team that heads to Spain at the end of September to play in the World Cup of Basketball.

[+] EnlargeRose
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesTom Thibodeau believes competing with Team USA will be good for Derrick Rose's comeback from knee surgery.
"I think it's great," Thibodeau said on Friday. "He went through summer league practices and is progressing well. I think the USA thing will be terrific for him. Go back to his MVP year, he played with Team USA that summer and I thought that prepared him well for the season. I expect that to be the same this year in terms of, he hasn't played in a long time, so it's a good opportunity to get that out of the way and it's different role for him with this team because you're going to have 12 great players."

Thibodeau, who serves as an assistant for Team USA under head coach Mike Krzyzewski, is also encouraged by the fact that Rose won't have to do as much scoring as he usually does for the Bulls.

"He won't have the burden to play a lot of minutes and score a lot of points," Thibodeau said. "He can just fit in and run the team. the way he ran the team in 2010 was a big part, I think, of why they won."

Rose, who has only played 49 games in the past three seasons because of various injuries -- including two severe knee injuries -- will be looked upon to provide a big boost for the Bulls this season. Thibodeau believes making the Team USA roster is a good first step.

"As long as it goes well," Thibodeau said, when asked if he thought Rose would make the team that heads to Spain. "Obviously, from a talent standpoint ... but there's rust he has to shake off, which he looked good in the summer league practices, he's put a lot of work in. He's spent a lot of time shooting so I'm expecting him to play well and then the ultimate decision will be made by (Team USA director) Mr. (Jerry) Colangelo so hopefully he sees it that way."

No sulking for Bulls, who move forward

July, 13, 2014
Jul 13
9:59
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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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
Jul 13
8:00
AM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
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."

Thibodeau hides disappointment over Melo

July, 12, 2014
Jul 12
9:29
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
LAS VEGAS -- It's the middle of July and Tom Thibodeau is already in midseason form.

The Chicago Bulls coach spent a few minutes with the media before his team's opener in the Las Vegas Summer League, and it was like talking to him before a regular-season game in Milwaukee in March.

The basketball lifer was obviously disappointed by the fact that Carmelo Anthony decided to stay with the New York Knicks -- Thibodeau and the Bulls invested a lot of time and effort into their recruiting pitch to Anthony -- but he didn't show his frustration. He didn't even mention Anthony by name.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesThibodeau's loyalty to his players is displayed in his restraint when speaking publicly about them, and his confidence in them shows in his resiliency in response to missing out on Carmelo Anthony.
Did he think the Bulls' pitch to Anthony went well?

"At this time of the year, [executive VP of basketball operations] John [Paxson] and [general manager] Gar [Forman] have talked to a number of players," Thibodeau said. "You make your presentation, we think we have a lot to offer. We feel we have some good options, and we're looking forward to the challenge of next year."

That's as deep as Thibodeau will go. Anybody who has followed the Bulls over the past four seasons knows to read the tea leaves with the veteran coach, though. His refrain will always remain the same: Whether Anthony landed in Chicago or not, Thibodeau was always going to be of the belief that the Bulls have more than enough to win. It's a mantra that has defined his coaching career and his tenure with the Bulls.

But there's no doubt Thibodeau will motivate his players next season by reminding them that, in the end, Anthony spurned Chicago. Anthony turned his back on Thibodeau and what was widely believed to be the best situation to win a title right away. Even if Thibodeau understands how much Anthony fought with the decision and how much money he would have left on the table, Thibodeau will use Anthony's choice as yet another motivational ploy in firing up his team. He thrives on the "us against the world" mentality and will remember that in the future when the Bulls face the Knicks.

(Read full post)

Thibodeau believes Rose will play for USA

July, 12, 2014
Jul 12
9:02
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
LAS VEGAS -- Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau reiterated Saturday night that he expects to see star point guard Derrick Rose participate in Team USA's camp at the end of the month as it prepares for the World Cup of Basketball later this summer in Spain.

Rose, who has played just 49 games in the past three seasons because of various injuries -- including two serious knee injuries -- practiced with the Bulls' summer league team as it prepared for to leave for Las Vegas over the past week.

"He had a very productive week," Thibodeau said. "That was the next step. So he'll continue to work, and then the next phase will be with Team USA. He's going step by step, doing great and he's looking forward to it."

Rose put doubt into his Team USA plans in an interview with Yahoo! Sports late last month, saying he would make the decision to play after conferring with his agent, and former Bull, B.J. Armstrong.

"I still don't know yet," Rose told Yahoo! "If I'm feeling right and the time is [right], for sure I will go out there. My body is responding good, but you never know.

"Right now, I haven't really thought about that. I am just worrying about just trying to get back every day, and I'm really taking rehab one day at a time instead of trying to think about competing."

Rose's words came as a surprise to many within the organization, given that Thibodeau, Bulls GM Gar Forman and Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski all were hopeful that he would participate. Thibodeau will be able to keep a close eye on Rose if he does participate in the camp -- he is an assistant on Team USA's staff.

Gasol enough to get Bulls over the hump?

July, 12, 2014
Jul 12
8:05
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- Pau Gasol has already filled the role of Carlos Boozer for the Chicago Bulls in more ways than one. Forget for a moment the impact he will have on the floor -- Gasol is the consolation prize in free agency, like Boozer was in the summer of 2010. He is a solid player who will make the Bulls better, but he isn't the man the Bulls had their hearts set on. That man would be Carmelo Anthony, who appears to be taking all the guaranteed money and staying with the New York Knicks.

[+] EnlargePau Gasol
Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY SportsGasol's ability to score facing up or with his back to the basket adds an element the Bulls and Joakim Noah have lacked recently.
Gasol is going to be a solid fit in Chicago. By all accounts, he seems like a great teammate, he's an NBA champion, one of the best passing big men in the game and will fit in well in the Bulls' no-nonsense locker room. But as fans process the flurry of free-agent activity that started Friday afternoon when LeBron James announced his decision to go back to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the question now is how much better does Gasol make the Bulls? More importantly, does Gasol's addition give the Bulls a legitimate chance to win a title this season?

Gasol averaged 17.4 points and 9.7 rebounds for the Los Angeles Lakers last season, but he also just turned 34 years old and missed chunks of the past two seasons because of injuries. His ability to create space on the floor because of his passing and vision should mesh well with Joakim Noah. Gasol also gives the Bulls a back-to-the-basket scorer, something they thought they were getting when they signed Boozer four summers ago.

Gasol is absolutely a better all-around player than Boozer, but he has never been known for playing consistent, high-level defense. Like Boozer, there's a solid chance Gasol could end up sitting late in the fourth quarter of games as coach Tom Thibodeau decides to go with one of the best defensive combos in the league in Noah and Taj Gibson. While Gasol isn't as defensively challenged as Boozer, he isn't the best option to close down games on this roster.

The larger issue with the Gasol deal is the same one it was going to be with any player the Bulls landed who wasn't Anthony: Does Gasol -- and Nikola Mirotic, assuming the Bulls finally hammer out a deal with the European star -- put the Bulls that much closer to a title? The Bulls would be a better, deeper team with Gasol and Mirotic in the fold, but the issue for them is the same: Who scores late baskets for them in the playoffs? Derrick Rose is expected to come back in fine form to start the season and has looked great in summer league practices, according to several people who have seen him play, but the Bulls have seen before how this story ends.

The interesting wrinkle about the Gasol news is that it likely pushes the Bulls out of the conversation for a potential deal with Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love for now. With Gasol, Noah, Gibson and Mirotic likely headed to the NBA, the Bulls are loaded with big men and will still try to add a backup center in free agency.

Still, even if Rose stays healthy -- which is a huge "if" given he's played only 49 games the past three seasons because of various injuries -- Gasol isn't the type of "create your own shot" player the Bulls have been lacking. He's a skilled offensive big man who is past his prime. The Bulls still have a chance to contend in the weak Eastern Conference -- but the goal is to find ways to win championships. Gasol's addition puts them closer to that goal, but not by much.

Bad luck most to blame, not Bulls, for Melo

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
1:00
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- Just a few hours after beginning the recruiting pitch to bring Carmelo Anthony to Chicago, Bulls general manager Gar Forman exited the United Center, walking out the same entrance that Anthony had come in. It was just before 6 p.m. CT on Tuesday as Forman strolled to the parking lot alongside Chicago Blackhawks president and CEO John McDonough. The basketball lifer was in good spirits as he headed to his car.

[+] EnlargeCarmelo Anthony
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesCarmelo Anthony appears likely to take a max contract from either the Knicks or Lakers.
The first part of the meeting had apparently gone off without much of a hitch. Anthony had been whisked into the United Center by a van carrying, among others, coach Tom Thibodeau. He was given a private tour of the Bulls' new practice facility and was sold on the belief among many within the organization that the Bulls gave him the best chance to compete for a championship right away.

Signs of Anthony wearing a No. 7 Bulls jersey alongside the Larry O'Brien Trophy dotted the sides of the building. As Forman got into his car, he had a lot to feel good about. He and assistant GM Randy Brown were among several members of the organization headed over to continue speaking with Anthony at a downtown hotel. Optimism was the prevailing theme of the day as Forman left that day.

Six days later, all that optimism has been replaced by reality.

Anthony is now expected to decide between taking a five-year max contract with the New York Knicks for about $129 million or a four-year max contract with the Los Angeles Lakers for $96 million. The Bulls' offer would have started at only about $17 million next year, given that the organization would like to keep its core of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and rookie Doug McDermott intact.

According to one source with knowledge of the discussion, it was a strategy that Anthony seemed to be on board with, especially when it came to keeping Gibson. He knew the Knicks had to gut their roster when they made the original deal to acquire him from the Denver Nuggets during the 2010-11 season. He didn't want to have to endure that again if he landed in Chicago.

So does that mean Forman and executive vice president John Paxson should be criticized because it appears Anthony is going to take max money, even when he went on record earlier in the year saying that money wouldn't be the most important factor in his decision?

No, but a large portion of the Bulls' fan base will anyway.

That's because of the cumulative letdown of big-time free agency over the past four years. Forman and Paxson did not land LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the summer of 2010. Some fans still haven't gotten over that and never will. Now that it appears Anthony is headed elsewhere, all those old feelings are resurfacing.

SportsNation

Who or what is most to blame if the Bulls don't land Carmelo Anthony?

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Discuss (Total votes: 12,041)

Forman and Paxson aren't blameless in this situation. It's up to the front office to find a way to make the team better, but it's hard to fault them when a player wants to take more money elsewhere.

The larger issue with Forman and Paxson is what happened in the days since Anthony's meeting. That's when ESPN.com's Chris Broussard reported that, according to sources, Rose wasn't actually part of the formal recruiting pitch to Anthony and was "shocked" to see Anthony there. On the surface, that's hard to believe considering last Tuesday marked the first time since the Game 5 playoff loss to the Washington Wizards on April 29 that the basketball floor at the United Center was down, according to several sources.

But the perception remains that the division between the Bulls' front office and Rose's camp seems only to be growing over time. It started just before the All-Star break last season, when Rose admitted that he was still a long way from returning to the floor, even though many within the organization believed he was just a few weeks away from making his return from an ACL injury he suffered in April 2012. The disconnect grew deeper a couple of weeks later, when Rose's brother, Reggie, voiced his displeasure to ESPNChicago.com regarding the lack of movement from the front office to put better players around his brother.

It's the job of Forman and Paxson to form a united front within the organization. But between the Rose drama and the on-again, off-again drama surrounding Thibodeau's future in Chicago, the Bulls have looked anything but unified at various points in the past two seasons.

Forman and Paxson aren't alone in the blame game. Rose, once the most universally beloved athlete in town, is now one of the most questioned. He has only played 49 games in the past three years and has repeatedly said he didn't want to recruit players. Bulls officials have played coy from the beginning about what Rose's actual involvement was last Tuesday, but they would much rather their star swallow his pride and sell some of the league's brightest stars, like Anthony, on the virtues of playing in Chicago.

Whether Rose went out of his way to speak to Anthony for hours may not have made much of a difference in the end, especially if Anthony was just going to head to the biggest payday all along, but the perception is that Rose and his camp aren't on the same page with the front office. It's a perception that all involved can't shake and one that reflects poorly on the entire group.

Rose still believes he is the best player in basketball. It's that inner confidence that allowed him to become the league's youngest MVP in 2010-11, and it's that belief that elevated the Bulls to new heights in the post-Jordan era. But now that confidence -- and stubbornness -- seems to be hurting the Bulls more than helping them, which is why Rose is facing more criticism than ever from a fan base that misses watching him play at the highest level.

Passing out blame is usually one of the stages of grief fans go through when their team and city is jilted in free agency. They need a scapegoat and an outlet for the feelings of sadness. The reality for the Bulls is that maybe the blame in this situation should be chalked up more to bad luck than anything, or anyone, else.

If Rose hadn't been hurt, it wouldn't have changed the entire course of the organization. Maybe they would have been able to claw past LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2011-12 the way many within the organization still believe. Maybe Anthony would, in fact, sign in Chicago for less knowing that Rose is still one of the top players in the league, not a question mark coming off his second major knee surgery in two years.

Several people deserve at least some blame for the fact that Anthony doesn't appear to be heading to Chicago, but none of them could have overcome the one thing that has hovered over the Bulls since Rose went down with his first knee injury: bad luck.

What's next for Bulls after Melo?

July, 3, 2014
Jul 3
7:05
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
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.

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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