Bulls

Bulls begin 'necessary' new era by creating a culture 'to take steps forward'

Bulls begin 'necessary' new era by creating a culture 'to take steps forward'

The busiest Bulls offseason since Gar Forman took as over as general manager and John Paxson became vice president in 2009 came to a close Monday with the unofficial start of the season. The Bulls begin training camp Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the Advocate Center, and they’ll do so with eight new faces on the floor, and without perhaps the two biggest faces of the franchise in the 2010s.

But Paxson admitted in his press conference at media day “it was time” to turn the page on a talented group once expected to compete for an NBA title that never lived up to that billing. The decision to trade Derrick Rose and move on from free agent Joakim Noah – as well as Pau Gasol – were difficult ones given those players’ place in Bulls history, but also necessary to move the franchise forward into a new era.

“I didn’t feel that group had a collective fight to it,” Paxson said. “And I think all of us looking back on it, that was true. Change was necessary.

“We had ridden that group a long way. With a little more luck we might have had more success, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. And we just felt it was necessary to try to take some steps forward.”

And while the sweeping overhaul of the roster was noticeable on paper, management is also seeing a different culture transforming on the Near West Side of Chicago they hope will usher in this new period of Bulls basketball.

It’s the reason Forman and Paxson were excited to bringing in Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. With a combined 23 NBA seasons, 260 playoff games and four NBA titles, the two longest-tenured NBA veterans on the roster have already begun leaving their mark.

Forman noted specifically that Rondo has been around the team’s facility “a good part of the summer,” and that his work ethic and time spent in the community has rubbed off on his teammates. Wade walked around the Advocate Center floor with a certain larger-than-life persona, and the future Hall-of-Famer’s accolades speak for themselves. Paxson referred to Taj Gibson as “the ultimate pro,” and Jimmy Butler even noted Monday that he wants Fred Hoiberg to coach him harder than any player on the team, to use him as an example in practice and to “get on me about every little thing.”

“That’s another reason changes were necessary,” Paxson said of helping younger players progress. “And it’s created an environment in this building. We have to start from a base level, and a base level is culture and how guys go about their jobs every day. That’s why we’re talking about accountability.”

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Forman and Paxson are also excited about the balance they’ve created. There was some criticism about the Wade and Rondo signings after Forman had said the team was looking to get younger and more athletic – both Wade and Rondo have dealt with serious knee injuries in the past. In that sense, management feels as though they’ve done just that.

In addition to drafting Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine and German wing Paul Zipser, both of whom are 22, the Bulls received 23-year-old Jerian Grant and 28-year-old Robin Lopez in return for Rose. Add 23-year-old Spencer Dinwiddie and Isaiah Canaan (25), and as Forman noted the Bulls will have 12 players in camp under the age of 27, in addition to 10 players with three years or fewer NBA experience.

“And in doing that (retooling with youth) you still want to create a culture that’s conducive to professionalism, a team-first attitude. Some of those things, those intangibles, that are so important. And having that type of veteran experience around your young guys is critical as we go through this phase that we’re changing over the roster.”

Of course, simply overhauling a roster to management’s liking won’t produce wins. That won’t automatically place the Bulls back in the playoffs after they missed out last season for the first time in 2008.

All the pieces need to fit together – no executive, coach or player who spoke Monday seemed overly concerned about Wade, Butler and Rondo (the three Alphas) sharing the spotlight – and head coach Fred Hoiberg will need to show improvements in his second season.

With a plethora of young talent comes training-camp battles that Paxson said will be healthy for the team. Players like Bobby Portis, Doug McDermott, Valentine and whoever wins the back-up point guard spot will have not just the opportunity to learn from Wade, Rondo and Butler, but to play alongside them in expanded roles. Paxson went as far to say that how the Bulls’ role players perform “will probably dictate how well we do.”

It began with Forman and Paxson overhauling the roster, and continued into a busy summer full of individual workouts that impressed both upper management and the coaching staff. But now the speculation and critiques of the roster are over. The start of a new era has arrived in Chicago.

“The vibe that’s with this group right now is just really positive. I think ultimately the expectation (over the summer) was that they had to be professional in their approach every day,” Paxson said. “There’s going to be accountability to everything that they do, and that if we’re going to have any success in any way it’s going to come from us being together and giving great effort.

“That’s the great thing about a new season starting and putting together a team: it’s all out there in front of us.”

What to watch for when Derrick Rose and the Pistons visit the Bulls for the second time this season

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USA Today

What to watch for when Derrick Rose and the Pistons visit the Bulls for the second time this season

In a matchup of two stumbling squads, the Bulls look to begin the process of righting the ship against the Pistons. The game tips off at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here’s what to watch for:

In spite of it all, a winnable game

The Bulls enter this game with a bad, no-good, rotten 4-10 record. Lucky for them, their opponent is 4-9, and has lost five of their last six.

En route to their own disappointing start to the season, the Pistons have dealt with injuries to key players in Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson and Derrick Rose, devolved into one of the lowest rated defenses in the league and struggled mightily with turnovers. They’re actually a pretty good shooting team, but play at such a slow pace (99.96 possessions per 48 minutes, 25th in the NBA), that they haven’t been able to fully maximize that efficiency in the way many modern offenses do.

Oh, man. They’re kind of the anti-Bulls.

In that vein, the area in which Detroit struggles the most could play directly into the Bulls’ hands. Literally. The Pistons are currently tied for 27th in the league in turnovers (17.5) per game and 28th in opponent points off turnovers (28th) per game, while the Bulls rank first in both opponent turnovers (18.9) and points off turnovers (21.9) per game. 

In the first meeting of the season between the two teams — a six-point Bulls win on Nov. 1 — the turnover battle was largely even. But tonight, look for that and the Bulls’ ability to turn takeaways into fast break opportunities to be a factor.

Holding ground in the paint and on the wing

Sure, the Bulls have already beaten these Pistons. But much has changed for both teams since their first meeting — chiefly: Blake Griffin is back for Detroit, and both Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison are missing for Chicago. (Hutchison was inactive for their first matchup, too, but Porter started and notched 22 points and six rebounds while shooting 3-for-4 from three.)

Andre Drummond beat the Bulls up on the glass en route to 24 rebounds and Detroit dominated the points-in-the-paint battle 66-40 on Nov. 1. And while not yet at full strength, the addition of Griffin to Detroit’s rotation should only exacerbate those disparities — especially considering the struggles the Bulls have had rebounding, protecting the rim and scoring around the basket. Losing the long, solid and athletic Hutchison just hours before the contest doesn’t help, either.

Boylen may choose to counter with another dose of Daniel Gafford, a strategy many Bulls fans — and players — would certainly endorse. Monday night, the Bulls both outrebounded and won the points-in-the-paint battle against the Bucks, a great rebounding and interior scoring squad. It’s hard to credit all of that to Gafford, but he remains an intriguing option in spurts in this matchup.

On the wing, it’s worth monitoring what buttons Boylen pushes with his rotations. He’ll likely have to call upon Denzel Valentine and/or Shaq Harrison to eat minutes out there (something he’s shied away from doing early in the season), and don’t be surprised to see three-guard lineups — a configuration Boylen has demonstrated an affinity for — galore.

Can Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen bounce back?

Of late, the cornerstones of the rebuild have looked anything but. In Monday’s game against Milwaukee, LaVine and Markkanen combined to shoot 6-for-28, and spearheaded a crunch-time unit that failed to score a field goal in the final six minutes of the fourth quarter.

Their struggles go deeper than that one game, but a Detroit defense that has had issues defending on the perimeter presents an opportunity for each of them to bounce back. In the aforementioned Nov. 1 matchup, LaVine notched 26 points, five rebounds and three assists on 8-for-20 shooting. Markkanen tallied 14 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals (3-for-7 from three), but took only nine shots. Neither of those lines are stamping them tickets to All-Star weekend, but any hint of improvement would be a welcome development. 

Right now, the hope — especially for Markkanen — is that things can only go up from here.

Derrick Rose returns (again)

Last season, there were ‘MVP’ chants. This year, a standing ovation. What will another Derrick Rose return to the UC hold? No one can say for certain, but at the very least, a reunion with an old friend:

 

And, of course, there’s a game to be played, too. As mentioned, Rose has been in and out of the Pistons rotation early in the season with a nagging hamstring injury. When he’s played, he’s been excellent, averaging 18.4 points and 5.8 assists in 24.5 minutes per game with 54.1/37.5/89.7 (all career-bests) shooting splits. 

And he always shows out in Chicago. In three games as a visitor against the Bulls, Rose has averaged 20.7 points, 8.7 assists, 3.7 rebounds and two steals per game on 25-for-48 (52.1%) shooting.

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Chandler Hutchison (sore shins) inactive against Pistons, with no timetable on return

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USA Today

Chandler Hutchison (sore shins) inactive against Pistons, with no timetable on return

If you thought the Bulls were strapped on the wing before, buckle up.

In the run-up to the Bulls' matchup with the Pistons, head coach Jim Boylen announced that Chandler Hutchison, who has started the last five games in place of an injured Otto Porter Jr., will not play against Detroit after experiencing soreness in his sins. 

"Hutch is out. He has very sore shins, and doesn't feel comfortable going," Boylen said after Wednesday's shootaround. "He came in yesterday and it flared up for him, and today it was very sore. We held him out of shootaround, he did a couple things and those things bothered him. So, I'm not gonna put anybody in jeopardy of hurting something else because something's hurt. I'm not doing that."

Boylen wasn't ready to commit to a decision on who will start in Hutchison's place, though he confirmed Shaq Harrison, Denzel Valentine and Ryan Arcidiacono will all be considered. He did rule out the possibility of sliding Thad Young into the starting lineup.

Meanwhile, Porter suffered a setback in his rehab after a return MRI revealed additional bone bruising in his left foot. He'll be re-evaluated by the team in two weeks.

As for a timetable on Hutchison's return? For the moment, it's unclear, but Boylen didn't speak of the injury as a minor setback.

"He's out tonight, and that's about as much as I can tell you," Boylen said. "It doesn't seem to be a quick fix, I don't want to give you a timetable there... We hope he's back as soon as possible."

Boylen also said they've considered calling up reinforcements from Hoffman Estates, but didn't offer anything concrete. 

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