Bulls

Thibodeau staying busy with summer league, free agency visits

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Thibodeau staying busy with summer league, free agency visits

The way he tells it, the NBA's offseason is a fairly cut-and-dry process. But as the league's hectic free-agency period continues -- Wednesday is the day all of these reported agreements can become official -- Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau is literally all over the place.
Between personally wooing potential Bulls' free-agent acquisitions, staying in touch with players from last season's team, overseeing the development of his team's young players and of course, watching game film, Thibodeau has been a busy man this summer.
Again, however, the coach who has won 100 regular-season games faster than any of his peers in NBA history eschews the details when breaking it down to an outsider -- in this case, a member of the media -- and simply gives an overview of the process, albeit an informative one, in which some insight into his notoriously methodical manner can be gleaned.
"In the summer, the first thing you get ready for is the draft, and then after the draft you have free agency. Then you have the summer league and then you look at what trades may be available, and then you look at developing your own players. So, theres four ways to really improve your team, and you really want to try to address all four of them in the off-season," he explained to CSNChicago.com recently. "Players have a lot of say in that free agency. They have a right to choose, so you have to determine whether something fits for you, but Ive said this many times: Were happy with the core of our team. The core of our team has won a lot of games the past two years, so we want to try to add to it."
A basketball purist, Thibodeau loves to be hands-on with players, an aspect of his abilities that date back to his 20 years as an NBA assistant coach, and even before those days. From mainstays Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson -- who he went to observe in Las Vegas at the USA Basketball Olympic training camp; Gibson is a member of the USA Select Team -- to youngsters Jimmy Butler and first-round draft pick Marquis Teague, the head coach, rather than simply delegating to his capable staff, joins in the individual instruction at the Berto Center.
"You want to polish things up, you want to work on things, you want to add some things, where you feel maybe you can add something to someones game that theyre already doing well. But the main thing is the conditioning component and just refining everything that theyre doing and also, some things that you think they can add to their game that would make them harder to be guarded the following season," Thibodeau said.
"Jimmys gotten a lot of work in this summer and hes going to play in summer league, which I think is going to be a big plus for him. Joakim has been in. Hes done very well. Hes still strengthening his ankle from the end of the season, but hes put a lot of work in. And of course, Derricks been in almost every day. So, we have a lot of guys that are here and Carlos is working out in Miami, Rips been traveling aroundhes been working outso we have a lot of guys working," he added.
After being deprived of that opportunity due to last year's NBA lockout, just being in the gym is something Thibodeau relishes, and clearly he's pleased that the majority of his players are also taking advantage of that opportunity.
Gibson, however, seems to be his pet project. The backup power forward appears to be on the verge of boosting his league-wide profile with his stint in Las Vegas, during which sources say he's been impressive, potentially leading to his free-agent stock rising next summer.
"Taj has been great. Of course, he was getting ready for the USA Select Team, hes put in a lot of work and this is a big summer for him because its really the first summer that hes healthy. I think hes picked up right where he left off. At the end of season, I thought he was playing great basketball. Unfortunately, he sprained his ankle in Game 5 in Philly, but hes playing at a very high level," Thibodeau said.
"Its great for him, I think the fact that hes being recognized outside of the organization, by his peers also. Hes put a lot of work in. I think hes gotten better and better. Hes becoming more of a complete player. Defense, theres not many guys like him, who can guard nearly every position on the floor and then offensively, I think his confidence has gotten a lot better. He can score a lot of different ways. Hes more comfortable in the post now, hes starting to shoot the ball from 16 to 17 feet very effectively, so its a big plus. But the main thing is his health and I think the fact that he can really work this summer is a big plus."
But the team's known commodities -- definite returnees Gibson, Noah, Hamilton, Butler, Luol Deng and Rose, when he is again healthy enough to play, as well as newcomers Teague and Hinrich, obviously a familiar face -- aren't the issue in Chicago, where whispers of fellow Eastern Conference teams leaving the Bulls behind in the dust in free agency are surfacing. If the Bulls aren't moving fast enough for fans' taste, it's likely by design of the front office, not due to Thibodeau's efforts.
Thibodeau flew to Los Angeles in advance of the July 1 start of free agency to meet with backup center Omer Asik, who agreed to an offer sheet with Houston. He was also in contact with eventual acquisition Hinrich repeatedly before he agreed to terms with the Bulls. He has reached out to various free agents around the league and, aside from Asik, has spoken to the team's other free agents, such as reserve point guards Mike James and John Lucas III, the latter of whom is garnering interest from rivals Boston and Miami, in addition to Toronto, Minnesota and Washington, according to Fox Sports Florida.
Thibodeau has also been in touch with multiple free agents around the NBA, according to a source, and with his knowledge of the league and understanding that his intense philosophy might not be the best fit for every player, no small amount of consideration has been put into that.
"You cant ignore the numbers, but you also have to use the trained eye and you have to see how people fit into a team," explained Thibodeau, who described the Bulls' front office as "inclusive" in discussing the organization's future. "Youre looking at film, youre looking at the numbers, youre looking at where theyve been. Can they fit into a team? All those things, all the intangibles. But you look at a compilation of things. You dont base it, I dont think, on any one particular thing."
But even with all of the work he puts into the Bulls' success, it can't be ignored that Thibodeau doesn't have a contract past the upcoming season, though the team's option for himself and assistant coaches Adrian Griffin and Ed Pinckney have officially been exercised for the 2012-13 campaign.
Another assistant coach, Rick Brunson, departed to join the coaching staff of new Charlotte head coach Mike Dunlap; former Orlando assistant Steve Clifford, who previously worked with Thibodeau in both New York and Houston, will replace him.
Thibodeau is regarded as one of the league's upper-echelon coaches, combined with a Bulls team with lowered expectations with Rose on the shelf heading into next season and the luxury tax-averse organization not getting swept up into free-agent frenzy thus far. So although the franchise has historically played the waiting game with its coaches, there's no guarantee the former league Coach of the Year will be in Chicago for the long-term future.
And although peers such as Oklahoma City head coach Scott Brooks, who played for Thibodeau and didn't have an extension after the Thunder's NBA Finals appearance, have received deals, the Bulls coach, who was offered and rejected a contract deemed to be under his market value, according to an individual with knowledge of the negotiations, publicly is unconcerned about the unresolved issue.
"Good for Scott. Obviously Scott is a good friend. I coached him in Minnesota and hes done a tremendous job in Oklahoma City, so Im very happy for him," he said after the Bulls formally introduced Teague to the media last Monday. "We havent gotten around to his contract extension yet, but Im fine. The options been picked up, so Im under contract and well address that later in the summer."

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

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AP

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”