Knicks swingman Ronnie Brewer's return to Chicago wasn't all positive, as his current team -- which leads the Eastern Conference -- dropped a 93-85 game to the Bulls at the United Center.
Still before Saturday night's contest, the ever-congenial veteran -- who starts for New York -- was in a good mood and reminisced about his two-year Bulls tenure. His time in Chicago ended after the organization declined to pick up his one-year team option over the summer, making him a free agent.
"It feels good. I stay in contact with the majority of the guys and some of the coaches," Brewer said. "We felt like we came up a little short my first year here with all the success we had and then coming into Year 2, we had so much high expectations and then D-Rose battling injuries throughout the year, we still had one of the best records in the league, and then with him going down in the playoffs, that was super tough.
"I know I don't miss Thibs' practices," he joked. "But the city was great, the fans were great, my teammates were amazing, so I can't really have any negative things to say about Chicago because my time here was great."
Brewer isn't bitter about how his stint in Chicago ended. Being the son of a former NBA player and having been traded from his original team, Utah, he understands the nature of the business.
"You get caught up in your feelings in the NBA, you're going to have an up-and-down life. You know what? It's part of the business, part of the game," Brewer said. "At the end of the day, it's still a blessing because you're still playing basketball. That's all you can ask of Chicago, New York, whatever team it is. It's still an opportunity to get out there every day and put your best foot forward, and play the game you love. I wish we could have kept it together. It was fun out there and great atmosphere here when we had the "Bench Mob" really going, but every good thing has to end."
"But it's a business at the end of the day, so that's kind of that point that you have to look at," he continued, detailing the process from his perspective when asked about whether factors like Derrick Rose's ACL injury and the luxury tax may have played into the organization's thinking. "Just like they did not sign us, they had the opportunity to pick up my option, keep Kyle and pick up C.J.'s option. They just didn't.
"I'm not the one signing the checks and spending the money, and going into the luxury tax. There's teams that are in the luxury tax that pay and win. It's a two-way street."
The Bulls' loss has been the Knicks' gain, as Brewer (who started in place of Rip Hamilton last season while the currently sidelined veteran was injured for the majority of his debut campaign in Chicago) starts for New York, a role he had with the Jazz earlier in his career. While the Knicks' three-point shooting has been a big part of their early-season success, so has a much-improved defense, an area Brewer saw where he could contribute.
"When I came to New York, I told Coach 'Woody' Knicks head coach Mike Woodson, whatever role he wants me to play on this team, like I was here, I'm open. I just want to play, be part of something special, so I think what I'm doing here, we have a lot of talented guys on this team and you've just got to fit in where you can. That's what I've been doing my whole career, so whatever's asked of me, I just try to do it to the best of my ability," Brewer said. "I remember playing against the Knicks, watching on film former Knicks swingman and current Toronto Raptor Landry Fields, injured second-year guard and Chicago-area native Iman Shumpert, different guys coming in, playing alongside Carmelo, Amar'e Stoudemire, the injured Knicks power forward, Tyson, former Knicks point guard and current Houston Rocket Jeremy Lin, how they cut to the basket, how they got shots. I felt like I could help the team out defensively and make plays offensively when it comes my way, and I feel like I had an opportunity to win.
Brewer's new teammates and coaches have already taken note of his impact on the floor, which isn't always reflected in statistics.
"Ronnie's big time," said Anthony, the team's superstar. "Defensively, he's just another smart player that we have on the court, another guy who knows how to play the game. He plays games within the game. A lot of times we're feeding off him out there on the defensive end, too."
Added Woodson: "Brewer adds some toughness, a guy that can defend. That was the whole idea for our organization this summer, to go out and find players that were willing to sacrifice some of their offense to defend the basketball and he's been one of those guys for us. That's why he starts for us. I like everything about what he's brought to our team."
Brewer said he sees some similarities between Thibodeau and Woodson, another defensive-minded coach, as well as the Bulls and Knicks as teams.
"They're different in a lot of ways, but they are similar by they're very into detail. Thibs is very particular of positioning defensively, Coach 'Woody' is the same way. They want excellence on defense and you can tell that since Coach Woodson's taken over, he's changed the mentality of the players on this team to defend and since Thibs has been the head coach, that's what he wants out of everybody on the team, from top to bottom. To me, defense wins championships and it gets you in a lot of games, so that's why I think both coaches have had a lot of success," he said.
"I've been fortunate enough to play with some really great guys here and the common denominator is Coach Thibs is a great coach, I think Coach 'Woody' is a great coach. You have an MVP candidate in D-Rose, Carmelo. Raymond Felton really re-established himself as one of the top-tier point guards. Tyson's playing really great defense, Joakim is playing great defense, Deng is playing great defense. So, it's a number of things that's similar on both teams, but it's the same solution. You defend, you rebound, low turnovers, you're going to be in a lot of NBA games."
Even with all of the attention the Knicks are receiving, Brewer is still keeping an eye on the Bulls, who are presently flying under the radar in Rose's absence.
"I don't think they had the start that they wanted, but that happens when you have a revamped roster. But with Thibs coaching the team, you know sooner or later, they're going to click, start defending like they need to, rebounding, just get the chemistry back going," he said. "I think injuries are part of the league, so it comes with the territory. Somebody's out, you've still got to play the game of basketball. I feel like teams have to step up and play beyond themselves whenever a superstar's out, so they're a still a dangerous team with or without him. I can't say you want to try to face them without Derrick Rose because they're still a dangerous team."