Bulls

Optimism overflowing at Bulls' Tip-off Luncheon

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Optimism overflowing at Bulls' Tip-off Luncheon

Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010
8:30 PM

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

Ive had the chance to attend a lot of these events over the last 20 years, and invariably, the coaches and players talk about how excited they are for the upcoming season. But for the first time since 2007, the Bulls enter the new season with hopes of being a top 4 team in the Eastern Conference and having a realistic shot at advancing beyond the opening round of the playoffs.

What are your goals for this Bulls team? What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses? Can they win 50 or more games? Please post your comments in the section below.

The optimistic view on this years team centers on an improved defense and a share-the-wealth offensive system introduced by new head coach Tom Thibodeau. If youve been watching the pre-season games, youve seen Derrick Rose pushing the ball at every opportunity with a free-flowing half-court offense that will bring out the skills of players like Luol Deng and Kyle Korver.

Deng, in particular, looks like a new man. Under Vinny Del Negros system, Deng was often asked to go to the weak-side corner and wait for passes off the high screen-and-roll the Bulls ran so often in half-court situations. Now, hes moving off the ball, coming off screens and driving hard to the basket. He looks like the player NBA general managers were calling a future All-Star back in 2006 and 2007. Deng has even added a three point shot to his game and hes connecting at a better than 50 percent clip during the preseason.

Korver should be a big factor in the Bulls offense, once he recovers from a cyst on his ankle thats limited his mobility. Kyle told me after the luncheon his ankle is feeling a lot better after receiving a cortisone injection and hes hoping to play in the final preseason game against Indiana Friday night. He said if this was the regular season, he probably would have played through the pain. But once hes 100 percent healthy again, Korver will give the Bulls half-court offense the long range shooter theyve desperately needed. His quick release allows him to get shots off quickly coming around screens and we all know he set an NBA record for 3-point accuracy last season.

The Bulls are deep at the guard position with Keith Bogans, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson battling for playing time opposite Rose. And, once Carlos Boozer returns from his hand injury, theyll have more depth up front than weve seen in a long time with the addition of 7-foot center Omer Asik and veteran big men Kurt Thomas and Brian Scalabrine.

The biggest concern right now is injuries. Korver is feeling better, and Brewer is making progress from a strained hamstring, but now Bogans is having problems with a stiff back and Joakim Noah is out with flu-like symptoms. Lets hope the worst is behind the Bulls and theyll be able to get through a tough opening month without Boozer. The schedule is loaded with home games in December, with should give the coaches a chance to work Boozer into the offense and find a consistent rotation.

AROUND THE NBA
With opening night less than a week away, its looking like Boston and Orlando will provide a stiff challenge to Pat Rileys traveling all-stars down in Miami. The Magic have won an incredible 21 straight preseason games over the last three years and Vince Carter is playing like he discovered the Fountain of Youth. Orlando is deeper than ever with the addition of solid veterans Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon and theyre determined to show the rest of the league they still have the best team in the state of Florida.

Boston went 7-1 in the exhibition season and it looks like Shaquille ONeal is planning to catch Kobe Bryant with five championship rings. Shaq is starting in place of the injured Kendrick Perkins and once Perkins returns, the Celtics will be able to call on Shaq, Jermaine ONeal and Big Baby Davis for size off the bench with wing players like Marquis Daniels, Nate Robinson and Delonte West also available in reserve. Boston came within minutes of beating the Lakers in Game 7 of the Finals back in June and they look better than ever this season. Reports out of Boston say Kevin Garnett has his explosiveness back after a long rehab from knee surgery and thats bad news for the rest of the league.

As for the Heat, theyve been dealing with a variety of injuries in the pre-season. Dwyane Wade has missed almost all of the exhibition games because of a hamstring pull and its no secret his body is starting to break down after carrying a mediocre Heat squad over the last couple seasons. Miami added veteran Mike Miller to provide a three point shooting threat for the Big 3, but now Miller is hurt again and could miss several weeks of action after injuring his thumb in practice on Wednesday. Even the King himself, LeBron James, strained a hamstring in a preseason game, but he recovered quickly. Miami will win a lot of regular season games, but dont be surprised if they come up short against either the Celtics or Magic come playoff time.

Out West, it still looks like the Lakers and everyone else, but L.A. is also dealing with injury concerns. Kobe Bryant is playing limited minutes while continuing to rehab a knee and center Andrew Bynum again will miss extended time because of his continuing knee problems. Ron Artest switched numbers again, going back to the 15 he wore as a rookie with the Bulls and from what Ive seen in the preseason, hes dropped a lot of weight and is playing a lot more fluidly than he did the last couple seasons.

The Lakers should prevail in the West, but dont count out teams like Dallas, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Portland. Denver could tumble this season, especially if they decide to trade Carmelo Anthony, and it will be interesting to see if Jerry Sloan can work his magic with the talented--but underachieving--big man Al Jefferson in Utah.

The regular season is almost here and if youre like me, it cant come soon enough. Well have a one hour preseason special before the Bulls home opener on October 30th, live on the United Center concourse at 6 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet. If youre going to the game, stop by to say hello.

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNet Central, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.

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.