Bulls

Sam: Thibodeau a perfect fit for Bulls, Chicago

Sam: Thibodeau a perfect fit for Bulls, Chicago

Sunday, May 1, 2011
Posted: 7:05 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

He could have been talking about a number of things.

The opportunity to coach Derrick Rose and the rest of his selfless team. Being in Chicago in general. Being an NBA head coach. Winning the 2011 NBA Coach of the Year award. But he specifically referenced coaching the Bulls.

If it meant 20 years to get this job, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau at Sundays press conference, where he was presented the aforementioned award by Bulls general manager Gar Forman at the Berto Center. It was well worth the wait.

Whatever questions observers had about Thibodeau when he first accepted the position his hard-driving reputation, his emphasis on defense, his lack of head coaching experience they were all answered this season, as he led the Bulls to a league-high 62 wins. More significant, however, was the fact that he was a perfect fit for both the team and the city.

When you look at the numbers this year, its easy to see the impact Tom had on this basketball team, said Bulls general manager Gar Forman, before listing a litany of statistics that indicated the teams success this season. But to me, its about much more than that.

In order for us to continue to build towards becoming a championship-caliber team, this team needed an identity and a base to it, he continued. You see the pace and the flow that we practice with. You see the attention to detail on a daily basis, the accountability each and every day and you see the habits that are formed.

That is a huge reason why weve had the success that weve had up to this point. Tom has created a culture on the floor with this team of professionalism, of work, of unselfishness and teamwork, of communication, of trust and through that, he has laid a foundation that will not only serve this team this year, but will continue to serve this team for years to come.

In a blue-collar city, coaching a blue-collar team, Thibodeaus understated work ethic stands out. Clearly a bit uncomfortable in the spotlight, he eschews praise and like his players, deflects it elsewhere.

"Obviously Im flattered, humbled and honored to receive this award, but I think it represents a lot more than just me. It certainly reflects our team and our entire organization. It starts at the top and of course goes down to our great management team. Im very fortunate to have such a great coaching staff, said Thibodeau, who proceeded to thank his entire coaching staff by name, before singling out the Bulls ownership for giving me a chance, as well as Forman and Bulls vice president John Paxson for assembling the squad that garnered home-court advantage throughout the current postseason.

We have a great management team here in Gar and John, and I think through their careful planning and selection of players, we not only have talented players, we have guys with high character, he continued. Its a lot more than just selecting talent, its building a team and thats what theyve done. So, when I look at the players we have and how hard theyve worked all season, and how committed theyve been from the start of not only playing together, but playing for each other Im just thrilled and honored to have the privilege of coaching this team.

Not only was he thankful for the opportunity to coach the Bulls, but Thibodeau saw early on that the team had a chance to be a special group.

I realized in training camp, the way we were practicing, how hard guys were going and how well they were concentrating, he said. When I saw their approach, I knew it would be good. I didnt know how good, but I knew it would get better as the season went along. We took on some injuries early, we had a tough early schedule and our bench guys came through with flying colors, so I knew we had quality depth. I also liked the veteran leadership that we had at the end of the bench.

We wanted to have a plan going in and we began with the end in mind. We felt very good about the team that we had in place, Thibodeau continued. We didnt know where wed end up and we still dont. We still feel like theres a long way to go.

Added Forman: I knew the first couple weeks that he was here, that we had hit a grand slam. You could just see the way he related to our players, the amount of work he put in, the knowledge that he had.

The most-overlooked aspect of Thibodeau as a coach is the enjoyment he gets out of coaching. Obviously he loves what he does to have invested so much time in his career, but his intense sideline demeanor and droll persona in front of the media often gives the impression that its more of a duty than a pleasure.

Its an honor and a privilege to coach these guys, said Thibodeau, who also referenced the multiple players in attendance. The fun part is the winning for me, but again, its enjoyable knowing that we have a group of guys that have put a lot into something. Every day, they come in, they study, they prepare, they practice hard and that, to me, makes it enjoyable.

Its their willingness to work, their willingness to share and I saw that from the first day. I saw how serious the team was to its approach, how much they put into it, he continued. When you get a team that truly commits and everybody puts everything they have into it every day, then you dont have to worry about anything else. Youve done all you can do and thats how I measure success. Were willing to live with the results. We know if were willing to do the right things every day, good will come.

Or, to put it simply, it was worth the wait.

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.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

There's not often hype surrounding a game between two of the NBA's worst teams, but Tuesday's Bulls-Lakers matchup was intriguing to many because it offered a chance to see a pair of top rookies compete. 

Oh, but you didn't think we meant Lonzo Ball and Lauri Markkanen, did you?

Nah, it was two different, less-touted first-year players that ended up stealing the spotlight at the Staples Center. 

Kyle Kuzma and Antonio Blakeney may not be household names, but they sure played like they were in the Bulls' 103-94 loss. 

Kuzma, the Lakers rook drafted 27th overall, has been a spark for Luke Walton's squad all season long. Boasting a terrific scoring arsenal, the Utah product carried the load for the Lakers' offense in the first half, dropping 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting. He finished the game as L.A.'s leading scorer with 22 in 40 minutes. But if you still need a more in-depth scouting report on Kuzma, just let Lonzo break it down:  

More importantly for Bulls fans, though, was the play of their undrafted guard who's signed to a two-way deal. 

Blakeney, the unofficial Summer League MVP, came off the bench on Tuesday and immediately left his mark on the game. The 21-year-old out of LSU posted 15 in the first half, finishing through contact as well as connecting on outside jumpers. 

Blakeney's shooting isn't reliable quite yet, but his energy has clearly influenced Hoiberg's rotation. The guard went from playing one NBA minute in the Bulls' first 11 games to playing 75 in the last four. Given that his two-way deal allows him to only spend 45 days with the team, it'll be fascinating to see how creative Gar Forman and John Paxson will get with his contract if this type of production continues. 

In a season that's obviously going to have its share of rough moments, an offseason flyer hitting is a huge plus for the rebuild. 

As for the recognized rookies, Lonzo's shooting woes persisted and Markkanen had maybe his worst offensive performance of his young Bulls career. Combined, they finished 7-for-30 with 21 points. Not ideal. 

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

The Zach LaVine comeback is one step closer as the shooting guard was cleared for contact practice after checking with his doctors in California. 

LaVine will go through a step by step process over the next few weeks and the Bulls will gauge his progress to see when the best time for his return will be. 

But, given the nine-month process from his ACL injury he suffered in February, he's right on track and there doesn't appear to be any setbacks. 

"There’s no real timeframe, I guess," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said at practice Monday. "It’s really going to be on how he feels. We’ll try to do a little more every day with him. We did a little bit, got him some light contact today just to get the process started.

"He’ll be able to play a little two-on-two with not a lot of practice time these next 10 days. But we’ll throw him out there and continue to try to get him feeling better. There’s going to be a mental hurdle that he’s going to have to clear as well. I know he’s excited. His teammates are excited and the coaches are obviously excited as well."

LaVine's recovery has gone as planned since his arrival in Chicago from the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night. Targeting a mid-December return seems realistic but of course, the Bulls will take every precaution to make sure he's healthy for the long term, both for LaVine and the franchise, as he's a restricted free agent this summer--and they have no plans on letting him walk. 

LaVine told NBC Sports Chicago recently that he wants to get on the floor immediately but the Bulls know they'll have to protect him from himself in the meantime. 

"He’s going to have to string together a lot of really good days, and he knows that," Hoiberg said. "He understands that. The important thing is he’s right on track from where it was said after the injury. He’s been doing a great job with his rehab. He’s on time. He’s doing everything that’s asked of him. His strength numbers are where they’re supposed to be. I’m confident he’s going to keep making progress. But we’ll absolutely monitor it daily and hopefully it’ll just continue to get better."

The Bulls aren't sure if they'll send LaVine to the G-League but it's certain they have plans on not only how to use him when he steps on the floor but also a regimen they've stuck to, to ensure there are no real setbacks. 

Hoiberg has been salivating over having a true scorer at that position since trading for him, and LaVine has been eager since his arrival to prove to the Bulls and fans that he is a franchise player. 

Prudence in the moment of progression, though, appears to be the approach taken by both sides.