Bulls

Multiple options have emerged at the wing for Thibodeau

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Multiple options have emerged at the wing for Thibodeau

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has one of those good kind of problems right now.

With the return of shooting guard Rip Hamilton to the lineup after missing nearly a month with a torn left plantar fascia, the Bulls suddenly have a crowded wing rotation, after reserves Marco Belinelli and Jimmy Butler both emerged as reliable options during the veterans absence, not to mention the fact that league minutes-per-game leader Luol Deng rarely leaves the court.

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Saturday night, it worked out for Thibodeau, as Belinelli led the Bulls in scoring while Hamilton worked his way back into the lineup and with Deng, coming off a sprained right ankle suffered in the teams Christmas Day loss to Houston, having an off night, Butler picked up the slack down the stretch by bringing his typical energy and timely shot-making ability.

But Belinelli, who was consistently solid in Hamiltons absence, was the story Saturday, as he seamlessly adjusted to coming off the bench again.

Marco was terrific. Hes been playing well for a long time now. Big shots, big plays, said Thibodeau, who noted that he wasnt sure yet about whether Belinelli would remain a backup, adding that Were going to go back and forth with that.

I think its his confidence. When youre new to a team, I think he was trying to fit in, trying to learn the system, but hes already proven to be a good player in this league, so you knew it was a matter of time, the coach continued. Once he had a better understanding of his teammates and his teammates had a better understanding of him, hes very good. He can score a lot of different ways. He can score in catch-and-shoot, he can score in pick-and-rolls, he can score in transition, he can make plays, so well try and use him a lot of different ways, but I think hes a lot more comfortable. So therefore, hes a lot more aggressive.

Belinelli himself added: I think just aggressiveness. I came on the court in the first quarter and I tried to bring to the team a little bit of energy on defense and offense, and I think tonight was good.

I think it was more important to get confidence in my shots, the shooting guard, who indicated he didnt care whether he started or came off the bench, as long as he got ample playing time, went on to say about his improved play since struggling early in the season. He was a little bit nervous, not too much confidence in myselfwhen you play a lot, when youve got some plays for you like pick-and-rolls, floppy down when you can create something for your teammates and you win the game, you feel good, so right now my confidence is okay.

Hamilton was supportive of Belinelli afterwards, suggesting that as a shooting-guard tandem, the duo could be an effective two-man platoon.

MORE: Hamilton makes his return to Bulls' lineup

Im going to put pressure on him to continue to play that way because we need him. We need every guy on this team, he explained. I always say when youre going to a team and youre doing a scouting report, and you say, All right, this is the guy thats starting and this is the guy thats coming off the bench, and you know youve got to put out a whole lot of effort against the guy thats starting and the guy thats coming off the bench, sometimes you can relax. I dont want that to be with us. When we go out and play, the guy thats guarding us, thats out on the floor, has to worry about both of us.

I think with him, everything has to do with confidence. It was opportunity for him to have to look over his shoulder, not knowing when hes going to come out. It was an opportunity where he was thrown out there and it was like, Okay, youre going to play. Regardless of if you make mistakes or you do well, youre going to play because we need you.

As far as Deng, the All-Star small forward said his ankle felt good afterwards and didnt take offense at the fact that Butler, his understudy, finished the game in his stead.

I really didnt mind. It happens, he said. Jimmy came in and did a good job.

Thibodeau added: It was just the way the game was going. I thought Jimmy gave us some energy and right now, were playing low energy, so I thought that energy was something we needed. His defense was very good and I thought Lu played well. Its just the way that group was going, we just rode it out.

Butler understands that he could be the odd man out on certain nights, now that Hamilton is back and Belinelli will take up the majority of the remaining shooting-guard minutes, leaving him with Dengs leftovers, of which there arent many on a regular basis.

RELATED: Belinelli, Bulls hold off Wizards

But the Marquette product is determined to stay consistent and at least on Saturday, he felt Good, knowing you can give Lu a break, for one. Hell, he plays damn near 48 minutes every night, so I know hes happy about it over there, soaking in his ice bath, but it feels good to go out there and play, and have him coach me up from the sideline.

One night I could see this many minutes, the next night, this many minutes. It all depends on how hes feeling and how things are going within the game, he continued. It definitely is, but I feel like my name will get called eventually. I know that. Well, I cant say I know that for a fact, but Im hoping it does and when it does, go out there, play hard, make a few shots and guard.

Emotional return to the court for Quincy Pondexter after missing two seasons: 'The journey is worth it'

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USA TODAY

Emotional return to the court for Quincy Pondexter after missing two seasons: 'The journey is worth it'

Quincy Pondexter’s trade to Chicago makes him a newcomer. His birth certificate makes him a veteran. But it’s his story that makes him worth listening to.

Even in the eye of team chaos, Pondexter’s debut with the Bulls had such a special meaning that when he entered the game to start the second quarter, he thought he would come to tears.

Having been out of basketball the last two years after knee surgeries went bad, Pondexter came close to dying in a New York hospital in January when his organs began to fail after a MRSA infection.

Catching MRSA can often lead to death.

“It wasn’t looking good,” Pondexter said. “It was tough. I prayed. My family was there close to me. Being able to play basketball again in less than a year is crazy. It’s all God. This journey has been amazing.”

His journey took him from being in New Orleans, where his knee troubles started, to being an addition to the Bulls in a trade months ago when the Bulls picked up cash and a second-round pick from the Pelicans.

Pondexter joined high school teammate and close friend Robin Lopez on a team needing some leadership, and due to the punch Bobby Portis threw to Nikola Mirotic Tuesday afternoon, it put Pondexter in position to get on the floor as a backup power forward behind rookie Lauri Markkanen.

If the Bulls were smart, they’d probably put Pondexter in a room to talk to his teammates about his struggles, especially the two teammates who may have to share the same floor in several weeks.

“The competitive nature of our team has been really terrific and we wouldn't want to trade that for anything,” Pondexter said. “It hurts those two guys aren't here right now. But we love them and we love what they brought to this team.

“I think my age on my ID solidifies me as one of the veterans. When you do things the right way, that's what it means to be a veteran. Show up first, last one there. That's what it means to be a veteran. Establishing myself there and doing things that are right, the guys have followed and listened and embraced me and I love it.”

No word on whether Pondexter got teary-eyed when he got a breakaway steal and dunk for his first points since the 2015 playoffs, when the Pelicans were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual champion Warriors.

“I know I’m going to get emotional on the court later on and probably tear up,” Pondexter said after the morning shootaround. “I told Robin that a thousand times. People don’t know what you’ve been through. There are a lot of times they’re not there besides your close family and friends. I appreciate them carrying me through this whole process.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg can relate to Pondexter, with Hoiberg’s heart ailment cutting his career short. When the Bulls coach speaks about the frailty of the game and how precious things are in the NBA, Pondexter is living, breathing proof.

“I’m really really happy for Quincy. For a time there, his life was in danger with his infection. I know he’s really excited to get his career going again,” Hoiberg said. “I never got that opportunity to get back out there. I tell these guys to cherish it ever day. You never know when it can end. All of a sudden. For Quincy to get this chance, it’s awesome.”

Pondexter, with the straightest of faces, called basketball his “obsession” and he felt happy to get back on the floor, if even for a few minutes.

“I love it to death. It’s my life,” Pondexter said. “Basketball is what got me through it---my family and basketball. It was like, ‘How can I make this story even better? Do I quit?’ No. I watched so many inspirational movies, 'Hacksaw Ridge.' They get you through tough times because you say, ‘That’s going to be me.’ I’m going to be able to inspire someone down the road. That’s really helped me.”

A hamstring injury slowed Pondexter in training camp, which would explain his lack of explosive lift in the season opener.

No one was really sure if the Bulls would hold onto him for the season, but it’s clear he holds value beyond the box score. When he finished his media session, Lopez turned to Pondexter and said, “Now you’re stuck with me”, putting his arm around his teammate.

“Being able to play after two and a half years, it feels like hundreds of surgeries, getting traded to this organization. It's been a lot,” Pondexter said. “I wouldn't trade any of that for this moment right now and how I feel in my heart. I can't wait to get on this floor and play with my teammates and try to do something special. The journey is worth it.”

Bulls Talk Podcast: Trounced by Raptors in season opener

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Trounced by Raptors in season opener

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Will Perdue break down the Bulls season opener vs the Raptors. They’ll explain why Bulls fans should be very happy with the debut of rookie Lauri Markkanen and Kendall points out why he expects the Markkanen/Lavine combo to be great on the offensive end. They’ll also go over their concerns at point guard, and Will shares his story of how Greg Popovich dealt with a losing Spurs team in 1996-97.