Bulls

Thibodeau, Noah discuss ex-Bulls head coach Skiles leaving Bucks

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Thibodeau, Noah discuss ex-Bulls head coach Skiles leaving Bucks

DEERFIELD, ILL. Former Bulls head coach Scott Skiles and the Milwaukee Bucks agreed to mutually part ways Monday evening. Chicagoans will recall that Skiles was technically fired from the Bulls on Christmas Eve, 2007, in the middle of the 2007-08 campaign.

Just like back then, Skiles longtime assistant coach, Jim Boylan, will take over head-coaching duties. It was reported earlier in the week by NBA.com though it was an open secret in league circles that Skiles informed Bucks management that while he was in the final year of his contract, he wasnt interested in an extension.

Its unfortunate. Scott, I know him, I coached him. I think hes a great coach and Im sure hell do well in the end. Hes proven to be a great coach in this league. You hate to see it. You hate to see anyone leave in the middle of the season, but I guess thats the nature of the business and as I said, Im sure hell do well, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said after Tuesday afternoons practice at the Berto Center.

The way I measure him is whoever he has, he gets the most out of them. I know what its like to coach against him. Ive done it for a number of years, some as an assistant, some as a head coach. Sometimes, its the personnel, too. That changes over time. I think if you have serious-minded players, Scotts going to be a great coach for you. Hes proven that and I dont buy all that other stuff.

I saw some of that when I had the opportunity to work with Doc Rovers in Boston. Unfair criticism that went his way and after being around Doc, and seeing what a great coach he is, I think it said a lot about the Celtic organization, Danny Ainge, the ownership, that they saw what Doc was doing every day and they didnt fire him because he had a bad record. They knew that he was a great coach, continued Thibodeau, who coached Skiles in Philadelphia, when he was a 76ers assistant.

Scott Skiles is a great coach, and sometimes, everyone wants to pin something on the coach. Sometimes, its circumstance. Maybe its injuries; part of the schedule, they took some tough injuries. A few years ago, when Dallas won the championship, that year, Dirk Nowitzki went out and they went a stretch where they didnt win any games, so injuries are big part of this. But Scotts a great coach. Im sorry to see that.

Joakim Noah was a rookie during Skiles final season in Chicago. The center recalls that during that campaign, things were drastically different for him, compared to now.

I think about it sometimes. I think about it in the shower a lot, he quipped. How I was almost out of the league, basically. I wasnt having any playing time. I remember coming into the game a few times and getting booed at the UC. You cant make this stuff up. Thats really what happened. It was tough. There were a lot of things going on around that time. I wasnt used to it.

A lot of learning experiences, Noah continued, before referencing the dj vu of the circumstances. Its not the first time Ive seen that. They Skiles and Boylan run pretty similar things. I was always a big Boylan fan because he gave me my first opportunity to play, so I wish him nothing but the best, except against us.

Ironically, Milwaukee is the Bulls next opponent, Wednesday evening at the United Center. Thibodeau doesnt expect much to change, as Boylan, who served as the Bulls interim coach after Skiles departure from Chicago, will likely keep the system intact.

The strengths and weaknesses of the team arent going to change and in one day, youre not going to change your philosophy. You may tweak something, how to play, change maybe one scheme defensively, if that. But Jim Boylans a terrific coach. Hes been part of Scotts staff for a long time, so I dont see dramatic changes and as I said, the tendencies of the players are not going to change, Thibodeau explained.

Theyve changed their roster around quite a bit. Scotts teams are always well-balanced. Theyre going to play hard and smart on defense, and theyre going to play hard and smart on offense. Theyre going to share the ball. Their backcourt is very dynamic. They have some young big guys that are very active. Their penetration can lead to a lot of problems. Dunleavy has played extremely well for them. Hes a proven player in this league. The only thing thats slowed him down is some injuries. So, its a very dangerous team. They played a great game against Miami on the 29th. We have to be ready.

While most observers have focused on the Bucks explosive backcourt tandem of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, another key to the Bucks success theyre currently seventh in the Eastern Conference, making Skiles departure even more puzzling third-year big man Larry Sanders has been a revelation this season, similar to the campaign power forward Ersan Ilyasova had a year ago, prompting a long-term contract extension over the summer. Sanders, though undersized at center, has developed into a reliable scoring threat offensively and has utilized his athleticism to become the leagues current top shot-blocking force on the defensive end of the floor.

If youre playing in this league, youre talented. Sometimes, it just takes a couple games. A guy can get going, get his confidence and really play well. He had a defensive mindset when he came into the league and now, hes gotten some experience and you can see that his confidence has grown. So, hes a tough player, Thibodeau said. Henson has played well for them. Udoh has played well. Theyre active, theyre quick to the ball and again, their dribble penetration leads to second shots. Its constant pressure on you.

In addition to Skiles, Thibodeau mentioned that he also coached his Bulls predecessor, Vinny Del Negro, as well as another peer fired this season, former Nets head coach Avery Johnson, both of whom played under him when he was an assistant in San Antonio.

I had an opportunity to coach Avery, I coached Vinny, so all three guys, you could see when they were playing, that they would be good coaches. They studied the game, they gave you everything they had each and every day, he recounted. When you looked at them, you said, Oh, okay. They have the right characteristics. They were great teammates, they played unselfishly, they played to win, they were sound fundamentally and they were all driven.

Of his current players, Thibodeau thought hard before giving a diplomatic answer about who could be a future NBA coach after their playing days end.

We have a few guys that I think would make really good coaches. At this point, usually early on in a career, no one wants to coach. Theyre smart. Now, management, they all want to be in management. A few, ownership. Thats the way to go, he cracked. The big thing is the commitment that it takes. Its a huge time commitment and I think what a few guys wrestle with is the sacrifices they make with their families during their playing career, they dont want to continue on with a coaching career.

Thibodeau did say sidelined point guard Derrick Rose, if he chose, could become a coach.

He definitely could be a coach. He could be a coach, but I dont know if hed want the headache. But hes got the right mindset, hes got a great demeanor, he said. Im sure that hasnt even crossed his mind at this point. Hes just thinking about playing and what our team has to do.

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.