Bulls

Boozer-Thibodeau rift much ado about nothing

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Boozer-Thibodeau rift much ado about nothing

Friday, Jan. 7, 2011
12:28 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

PHILADELPHIANobody whos paying attention should be surprised. This was foreshadowed back in July.

When the Bulls hired Tom Thibodeau as head coach in June, then acquired Carlos Boozer in July, any astute NBA observer could have predicted that the defensive guru and the offensively gifted power forward would have growing pains as the latter, never known for his defense, adjusted to a new system.

But Wednesday nights loss to the lowly Nets, in which Boozer didnt see the floor in the fourth quarter, wasnt some rubber-hits-the-road situation. It was merely a teachable moment.

Asked about his lack of playing time after the game, an obviously frustrated Boozer told reporterstwiceYouve got to ask Thibs about that.

A multiple All-Star, gold medalist, college national champion and established playoff performer, if he didnt bristle at having to sit during the contests most crucial stretch, that would be the shocker. Of course, if the Bulls had won, hed say all the right things, as hes done consistentlyby all accounts, Boozers also walked the walk and been a model teammatesince arriving in Chicago.

But perhaps thats the issue. Since Boozers debut, the Bulls have justifiably received rave reviews. The easiest way to measure a teams performance is by wins and losses and at 23-11, the end results have been unimpeachable.

However, there have been chinks in the armor. The Bulls have beaten up on the teams theyre supposed to beat since Decembersave Wednesdays game and Vinny Del Negros triumphant return to Chicagobut, as anybody who's watched them play recently can attest to, it hasnt been pretty and with losses to the likes of the Knicks, Magic and Celtics (all likely playoff teams), theres a mild cause for concern.

Thats all big-picture stuff, however. Prior to Fridays shootaround at Philadelphias Wells Fargo Centerwhere the Bulls will take on the recently-improved 76ers, whom they beat by 45 in Chicago last monthBoozer spoke about the so-called incident.

Im looking forward to tonight and on to the next one. Like Jay rapper Jay-z said, you cant live in the past. Cant worry about what happened in New Jersey. We just know weve got to play better, have more energy, play better D and give us a chance to win tonight, Boozer told CSNChicago.com. We Boozer and Thibodeau squashed it. Its already over and done with. Im looking forward to tonight.

Thibodeau was just rolling with the guys that were making the comeback. Im not worried about it. Its not really an issue. Weve got Philly tonight and Im looking forward to a bounce-back game, Boozer told reporters. I was mad we lost. I was pissed we lost. And of course when you lose, you want to be out there to help your team playing as a competitor. I felt like if I was out there I would help my team win. Thats over and done with now. You cant go backwards. We have to move forward.

I dont worry about that being on the floor in crunch time. Thats not an issue to talk about. Im looking forward to the game tonight. Any more segues where I can get us to the game tonight? Great game tonight, he went on to joke. The starters were horrible. Thats why Coach was riding with the guys who were out there. The bench played great. They got us back in the game. The way C.J. played, the way Ronnie played, those guys got us back in. Kyle hit a couple 3s to get us going. It was a good decision. We almost won the game. Because we lost, I think everybody in the locker room was upset, not just me.

It was a tough night. No excuses. But we played the night before, we got in at 4 in the morning. Every team goes through that. It was one of those nights they got the better of us. They had three days rest. We didnt have too much of it. This is the NBA. Every team goes through that. We didnt step up to the challenge, Boozer continued, We know we didnt have the energy they had. They play better at home. They play fast. We didnt have the energy to compete with it. Looking back, we wish we could do it over again, but you cant go backwards.

Thibodeau stuck to his guns before shootaround, elaborating on his Wednesday-night explanation that the starters as a whole wasnt playing with energy and he stuck with his reserves because they gave the Bulls the best chance to beat New Jersey.

It wasnt necessarily Carlos. It was our whole team. We were low energy going into the fourth quarter, down 13 points, so we were looking to get more energy into the game and the second unit went in and they were playing well. We had to make up ground. We were down 13. They made up the 13 very quickly and I just decided to ride that group because they were playing well, said Thibodeau. It had more to do with we went small with Luol at the four to get another shooter onto the floor and again, it was more to try to keep that group together because I thought they had made up the ground. Most of the time, Carlos is certainly going to be on the floor at the end of games and I prefer to have our starters on the floor closing the game, but again, it was a game in which the third quarter wasnt a good quarter for us, the start of the game wasnt a good quarter for us, so we were just searching and thats what it boiled down to, what we felt would give us our best chance to win.

More than anything else, it was the ground we had to make up in the fourth quarter that led to, Okay, that group is playing well. How far do you ride them? Thats what we did, he continued. You have to weigh everything thats going on in the game and when we did that, it came down to we were struggling, we were slow, I wanted to get more energy into the game. I also wanted to try to make up ground, try to get more 3-point shooting on the floor and thats basically what we were trying to do.

At the same time, Boozers teammates have to notice that he isnt the best individual defender, not to mention Thibodeau and his staff. When the likes of Kris Humphries (best known for dating reality-television phenomenon Kim Kardashian) and raw rookie Derrick Favors are doing damage against Thibodeaus vaunted defense, something has to give.

While a grace period is acceptable for Boozer to raise his defensive effort to Thibodeaus high standards, the lapses witnessed in the Nets game were obvious and even could be considered somewhat of a regression, although any playeror teameven a high-profile star can be granted a bad day at work, just like the average Joe (or Josephine) doesnt give his or her best performance from nine to five daily. Thibodeau, however, wouldnt budge in his stance that the decision not to play Boozer was about sending any message.

Carlos has been great. The guys a winner and hes going to be on the floor most of the time. He and Derrick sat most of the fourth quarter and theyre cheering their teammates on and at that point, were just trying to find a way to get a win. Thats what that was all about. It wasnt about any other stuff and again, I thought our team, we were slow. We were low energy and thats what we were trying to change, said Thibodeau. I think hes doing fine and again, its not only individual defense and its easy to point, to say, Well, this guy didnt do this or that guy didnt do that, but we play team defense, so I thought we werent protecting our basketthats a team responsibilityin transition and in the halfcourt.

Its not just one guy, its the entire group, so that was the big thing about the energy. I knew we were low energy. Carlos has done a lot of good things defensively and his rebounding is terrific, but again, you have to evaluate the entire team and how its functioning.

Will this prove to be a season-long issue or a one-game hiccup and ultimately, much ado about nothing? In the words of Boozer, Youve got to ask Thibs about that.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Dunking Markkanen, dead-legged LaVine, no Dunn and tanking the right way

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USA TODAY

Dunking Markkanen, dead-legged LaVine, no Dunn and tanking the right way

ATLANTA — Here are the observations from the Bulls’ 113-97 win over the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena Saturday afternoon.

Not a shooter, but a scorer: The Atlanta Hawks’ gameplan was clear on Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen: Do anything but let him shoot.

They succeeded at that objective but in the words of Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, they “won the battle but lost the war” as Markkanen missed all four of his 3-pointers and didn’t hit a jump shot.

But he scored 19 including six dunks—after coming in with 28 dunks in the first 42 games. The Hawks kept putting smaller players on him after switching pick and rolls and the Bulls smartly and patiently went to Markkanen inside after ball movement.

Shooting over 6-foot-10 guys who aren’t as agile is certainly satisfying for the rookie but as Markkanen said, “dunking is fun.”

“Trying to be a complete player,” Markkanen said. “If that was their game plan, I don’t know. I can do much more than shoot. I missed how many three’s today? But that wasn’t going for me tonight so I went to something else.”

Clearly while Markkanen’s game is growing the easiest thing for opposing teams to do is to see how he’ll perform against smaller players, but as the season has gone on he’s shown more comfort with his back to the basket and being two passes away, ready to step into the lane when defenses collapse.

“I know I can’t just shoot threes, I gotta get to the rim,” Markkanen said. “Eventually it’ll open more space for 3-pointers and stuff like that. Trying to mix it up.”

Dead legs or settling in for Zach LaVine: It was tailor made for Zach LaVine to get his second slam of the season, getting the ball on a breakaway with only Taurean Prince trailing him.

Whether LaVine heard footsteps or knew he didn’t have the full lift to get there, Prince caught up with him to foul from behind as LaVine tripped before liftoff, missing a layup.

It was indicative of his early showing, as the adrenaline from the first two games has worn off and LaVine is having to get used to his body’s limitations in the moment—especially as his minute restriction was raised to 24 minutes for the next three games before he’ll be re-evaluated again.

He was 0-for-4 in the first half before catching a bit of a rhythm in the second half, finishing two-for-nine with eight points in 18 minutes, adding nine rebounds. His explosion isn’t there yet, going to the rim. And his legs on his jumper feels a little flat, too.

“I don’t have all of it (legs),” LaVine said. “A couple possessions down the floor, I get tired. Get fouled and have to walk it off. I have to get the game legs back and I can’t practice it, it comes with playing.”

In two months, one would think he’ll finish that with little issues but he admitted fatigue caught up with him more than anything.

“My first two (games) I was extremely excited, energized,” LaVine said. “I just feel like it’s something I gotta get used to playing NBA games again. I feel it a little bit.”

Especially in watching Cleveland’s Isaiah Thomas go through a similar up-and-down period with his return, nobody should’ve expected LaVine’s performances to just keep rising and rising without dropoff.

This is part of the rehab, and the Bulls feel as if they’re prepared for it. Their reasoning for only marginally increasing LaVine’s workload from 20 to 24 minutes is simple: They want him to have off-days to continue strengthening his surgically-repaired knee, not just having him take the practice days as recovery from playing heavy minutes.

“You can’t anticipate any of it,” LaVine said. “I felt good the first two, I feel good now. No injury, no knick-knacks or anything. Just energy-wise and your legs, making sure you’re getting up and down the floor, making sure you’re getting elevation on your jumper and in the lane, I gotta get better at it.”

As self-aware as anyone considering what he’s been through over the past year, he offered an assurance to any who may be concerned.

“I gotta play through it, find ways around it,” LaVine said. “Regardless I’m not scared or anything. I feel fine.”

Dunn out vs. New Orleans: Kris Dunn will be out against the New Orleans Pelicans and it appears more likely he’ll miss Wednesday’s game in Philadelphia as well as he recovers from the concussion he suffered in a scary fall against Golden State earlier this week.

“He has no change in his symptoms,” Hoiberg said. “We’ll know more tomorrow but his symptoms haven’t changed.”

Initially the Bulls didn’t believe Dunn had a concussion but the symptoms emerged early the next morning.

“From what I understand with concussion symptoms, they can take up to 24 hours to develop. It sounds like the initial tests, he passed,” Hoiberg said. “Then he woke up the morning, had a headache, had some dizziness, was re-checked and that’s when they put him in concussion protocol. There’s been very little change since. He’s still having trouble with sleeping. The biggest thing is making sure he’s getting rest and he stays hydrated.”

The tank: One team successfully executed how to tank, and that was the Atlanta Hawks. Yes, the Bulls forced them into missing 37 of 48 3-point attempts, and the Bulls jumped on them early and never allowed the Hawks to take a lead, much less get too close.

“We opened with a double-digit lead right out the gate,” Hoiberg said. “Overall, really complete performance for our guys.”

“We knew we had to come out the gate with great effort.”

Robin Lopez continued his impressive play with 20 points and Justin Holiday hit a few shots late to score 13, while Bobby Portis scored 14 in 18 minutes.

But pretty, it was not.

The Bulls haven’t completely abandoned their plans for the season, as they’ll field calls for Holiday, Lopez and of course, have Nikola Mirotic’s exit being first on their docket.

But while this team is relatively whole, this is a game they should win handily.

And they did.

Yet and still, though, this applies to the 13-32 Hawks:

Does Rodney Hood make sense for the Bulls?

Does Rodney Hood make sense for the Bulls?

New York Times veteran NBA writer Marc Stein tweeted late Friday that multiple teams were interested in fourth-year swingman Rodney Hood.

We know that the Jazz are one of the rumored teams interested in embattled forward Niko Mirotic and while it wouldn’t seem to make sense on the surface, Rodney Hood could be a good fit for the Bulls.

Hood will be a restricted free agent this summer and the Bulls would retain the rights to match any offer if they felt like the former Duke Blue Devil was the right piece to join the new core of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and Kris Dunn.

There is one complication in a potential Mirotic for Hood deal; the salaries don’t quite match. Utah would need to send another player like Alec Burks to Chicago in the deal. The Bulls would have to be OK taking on Burks’ $11.5 million salary for the 2018-19 season and his cap hit in free agency. Good news though, the free agent class this summer is very thin at small forward, the main position the Bulls have a need for.

Another road block, the Bulls are set to max out LaVine this July, and they may be wary on tying up a good part of their cap space for the next four years on two players.

Acquiring Hood hurts the ‘tank’ but you’d have a three-month audition of a 25-year old shooter that on paper would seem to work with the current rotation. If the Bulls felt like Hood wasn’t a good fit, let him walk in free agency. They would then keep their cap space intact for the 2019 super free agent class.