Bulls

Noah, Deng excited about All-Star game for Bulls, each other

989143.png

Noah, Deng excited about All-Star game for Bulls, each other

DEERFIELD, ILL.For Luol Deng, this is now old-hat. For Joakim Noah, it was an event that needed to be shared with virtually everybody in his life.

But both Bulls teammates, named Eastern Conference All-Star reserves Thursday evening, were adamant in stating that their shared honor reflects upon the entire team, not just themselves individually.

Its great. Im happy for myself and the team. You really dont get to be an All-Star unless your team is doing great, Deng, the Bulls leading scorer and league leader in minutes per game, said after the teams shootaround Friday morning at the Berto Center. It says a lot about the team and my teammates. To be able to have the record we have has a lot to do with it.

Noah concurred: I wouldnt be here without my teammates, without my coaches and this organization. They believed in me. I came in as a young, loud rookie, probably a little immature and just with a big mouth, and they always believed in me through it all, through the good times and the hard times, and I just want to say I appreciate them.

The sixth-year center, who thanked many of his loved ones via Twitter throughout Thursday evening, admitted that hes still loud, but alluded to his maturity and finding his niche as a star role player whose statistics might not be eye-catching to fans, but whose game is appreciated by the leagues coaches.

Its different when you come in as a rookie, compared to when you have six, seven years, he explained. A lot of people helped me along the way, so theres definitely a lot of people to thank. Not only does it make me happy, but it makes a lot of people that were with me happy. A lot of people had to make sacrifices in order to get me where Im at today, so I just wanted to thank them.

It means a lot and I also want to thank everybody who appreciates my game. Its an unbelievable honor and its very humbling, so I just want to say thank you to all the people who showed me love and appreciate what I do, Noah continued. People were coming up to me and saying I had a shot to make it, so it was pretty nerve-wracking. Its just an unbelievable honor. I found out last night and still cant believe it."

Jo has worked so hard," Deng said. "I know there are a lot of people in the league who work hard. But Im happy Jo got the opportunity. From the start of the year, the way he has performed and his effort dealing with a lot of minutes, hes really been committed to this program and winning. Im glad hes getting the recognition."

As far as his vote in goes, Deng's happy to be called an All-Star once again.

Its exciting to do it again. Consistency is a big part of what I want to be and what I do. Im just glad Ive had the chance to do it again," Deng said.

"The way weve been playing and the coaching staff weve had the last three years, the teammates, it says a lot. I dont think I would get it if we dont have the record we have. It says a lot about our team. I didnt get it the first year with Coach Thibs but I felt I had a great year that year. The system is perfect. It allows me to show a lot more than scoring. I can show a lot of people what I can do. To do it again shows youre consistent. Thats over with and you go to the next challenge.

The mutual appreciation between the two teammates with international background goes both ways, as Noah expressed his admiration of Deng, both on and off the court.

Its huge. Im proud to be able to play with a guy like Luol Deng and Im proud also to be African. I try to go back once a year and just stay in tune with my roots, said Noah, whose mother is Swedish and father, the former French tennis superstar Yannick Noah, is originally from Cameroon. Deng's one of my best friends on the team and I think that hes somebody, for African players, hes kind of like an ambassador, somebody who does a lot for the kids out there... Theres more to playing basketball and if youre able to help others, thats just as big as anything.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was also pleased that both players were selected to play in the game, which takes place Feb. 17 in Houston.

As I told them today, first of all, I think its a great honor for both Jo and Lu. I also think its an honor for our team and our organization, and all their teammates. When you win, people recognize that, I think theres value in that. But Jo and Luol have worked so hard and theyve earned it, he said.

Theyre team-first guys. I see the work they put in each and every day, and I see the commitment that they made. To me, thats the best type of leadership you can have. Its more through their actions, what they do each and every day. A lot of people say all the right things and do none of them.

When it comes to Noah, Thibodeau recognizes the progress he's made each season.

I think hes made steady progress throughout his career. Youre talking about a guy who had a great college career, hes gotten better each year. I look at the stuff that these guys have been through throughout their careers. When Luol got here this team was struggling, so hes gone through all of that. Jo came in, it was a little bit better, but theyve been through a lot of adversity and persevered. Theyve shown a lot of resiliency, its great, and great for our organization.

Deng said that he and Noah making the team is also a tribute to the defensive-minded Thibodeau, as neither is a flashy player or a huge scorer and in a season without the sidelined Derrick Rose thus far. The duos hard-playing styles and teams record made an impact on other coaches.

It just shows how good Coach is. Even with the record we have now, there are a lot of games you can look back at and say we shouldve won. Every game we give ourselves a chance to win. No matter who is hurt or in the lineup, he finds a way to get guys going and the next guy stepping up. He puts guys in the perfect position to succeed, Deng explained.

You get voted in by coaches and coaches see what it takes to win. When it comes to voting, a lot of fans follow the stats and flashiness and what they see on TV. Thats part of it. But when it comes to coaches, they really credit teams for the effort and what they do. With the way we play here in Chicago, it fits in perfectly. All the fans that follow us see what we do.

Bobby Portis apologizes to teammates as Bulls continue to deal with all-around complicated situation

1020_bobby_portis.jpg
AP

Bobby Portis apologizes to teammates as Bulls continue to deal with all-around complicated situation

The mending hasn’t yet begun for the Bulls, but perhaps a good sign in moving forward from the Bobby Portis punch that delivered a concussion and broken facial bones to Nikola Mirotic is that it isn’t being ignored.

Fred Hoiberg is being tight-lipped about where matters stand, but he did at least say Portis returned to practice and apologized to the team Friday afternoon. Hoiberg wouldn’t reveal the contents of Portis’ apology and Portis didn’t address the media, but it’s clear things aren’t business-as-usual at the Advocate Center.

“Bobby was back at practice. It was good to have him back in here,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously, everybody’s looking forward to having Niko back in here, as well, hopefully soon.”

When asked about Portis’ spirit, Hoiberg deflected and preferred to talk about what adjustments the team will have to make in the immediate future, especially with rookie Lauri Markkanen having to go against Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge in the home opener Saturday night.

“That’s the biggest thing we have to do as far as preparing until we get our guys back, is throwing different lineups out there and hopefully getting better with our execution,” Hoiberg said.

Justin Holiday admitted that things aren’t normal, saying the actual games to start the season won’t serve as a welcome distraction because this isn’t something that can just be treated trivially.

He wouldn’t venture into getting into his teammates’ head, saying “Bobby came into today like Bobby. We’re not quite sure what he’s thinking mentally. We can’t assume that.”

But one thing that can’t be assumed is a sweeping under or pretending.

“I mean I don’t necessarily think this is a situation for us to get past,” Holiday said. “I think it’s a situation that obviously (needs) to be brought to the forefront. It’s a situation that needs to be taken care of for those two to be able to come together and be brothers again. I don’t think we’re trying to get past it.”

Holiday has been a leader during this early time, so his words and definitive tone were noticeable.

“They say sometimes you need time to heal,” Holiday said. “Again, we have to think about both situations in this. One guy is trying to get back healthy. And again, I don’t know. I wish I did. I wish we could just fix this the right way, but that’s not the case.”

It’s complicated all around, with no real precedent.

For Hoiberg, his handling has two faces. Since Portis is able to practice but has to sit out seven more games on a team-mandated suspension, he has to walk the line of incorporating Portis in daily drills and activities but also has to prepare a team that wasn’t prepared for two power forwards being out for an extended period.

That was on display Thursday as Quincy Pondexter likely played that position for the first time in his career, and it’s highly unlikely Paul Zipser practiced there at all with the depth the Bulls had until now.

“We have to get our guys ready to play positions that they haven’t played,” Hoiberg said. “We’re getting them in here early. We’re getting a group in to work on our execution. Quincy not only hasn’t played in two and a half years but I don’t know if he has ever played the 4.

“You just have to do the best with what you have.”

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

quincypon.png
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.”