Bulls' Taj Gibson makes positive impact in preseason debut


Bulls' Taj Gibson makes positive impact in preseason debut

He expected it, but Taj Gibson still had to laugh about finding himself huffing and puffing after his first time downcourt in his preseason debut after ankle surgery.

“To tell you the truth, my heart was beating so fast,” Gibson said. “I was too hyped, my first play down I couldn’t catch my breath.”

Fred Hoiberg saw all he needed to see in 10 minutes of Gibson’s return, as the veteran scored four points, making two of his three shots and grabbing a couple of boards.

“Taj was good his first time out,” Hoiberg said.

Hoiberg wasn’t happy about much in the Bulls’ 114-91 loss to the Pistons, but seeing Gibson out there, displaying his usual spunk had to please him on some level. Gibson battled through excruciating pain in the postseason, then found out after he had torn ligaments in his left ankle that hindered his athleticism and mobility defensively.

[MORE: Hoiberg unhappy with defense, slippage shows in loss to Pistons]

After going though a decent amount of practices and scrimmages, playing in an actual game was a test for him. He hit a baseline jumper and was active around the glass, so it’s a step forward in the recovery process.

“It was fun, being able to touch the ball for the first time in a long time, after rehab and a lot of work over the summer,” he said. “It just felt good to be out there.”

Gibson isn’t going to push himself too much too soon, especially considering the marathon that is the NBA season being two weeks away and the end of the season being at least two trimesters away.

Baby steps.

“It responded good,” said Gibson, referring to the ankle. “Just getting my legs back under me. The coaching staff kept me in tune. They were proud of me, understanding it’s a long process of rehab and pushing through a lot of late nights. It was fun just to be out there.”

With Bobby Portis emerging, the Bulls don’t have to rush Gibson to make sure the valuable reserve is ready to play 30 minutes a night in November.

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But if the Bulls plan on using their big lineup in some form, with Nikola Mirotic playing small forward, either Portis or Gibson should be playing power forward to add some athleticism and speed to the lineup.

“Yeah, every night Bobby comes in,” Gibson said. “I already see his determination. He gets up shots late. I come in late at night too and he’s always in here. Scrimmages and practices, he’s always listening to me.”

He also made his voice heard when discussing the state of the defense, which hasn’t been to anybody’s satisfaction thus far. Jimmy Butler voiced his concerns after Monday’s game against New Orleans, and the Bulls were still a step or three slower than their usual standards Wednesday.

“It’s our defense it’s too…it’s lackadaisical,” Gibson said. “We’ve got guys who are capable of doing a lot better. Speaking as a veteran, we got to do a lot better as a team.”

“Young guys have to lock in a lot better and that’s our fault, we have to challenge them in practice. These things are correctable. Our offense has been great. I saw it out there it was wide open. It takes time, we got a lot of games, a couple more practices out there. We’ll look at the film and it’ll tell us what we need to do.”

But at least his ankle isn’t in the back of his mind, so he can perform to as close to peak efficiency as his own standards have shown.

“It feels a lot stronger. No pain,” Gibson said. “I feel I’m jumping a lot better, a lot higher. Just having fun. My teammates are just making it fun again.”

Bulls will sign player to 2-way contract, but NBA roster is set for now

USA Today

Bulls will sign player to 2-way contract, but NBA roster is set for now

The Bulls waived Milton Doyle, Justin Simon and Simisola Shittu Saturday, which is minor news since they were mostly camp bodies competing for possibly a two-way contract.

The bigger development is that the Bulls’ roster is basically set, pending the signing of one player to the second two-way contract still available. No Iman Shumpert. No Alfonzo McKinnie. And that’s just naming two hometown products recently linked to the Bulls via the rumor mill.

The Bulls still want to see what they have in Chandler Hutchison, who did some individual shooting Saturday but missed all training camp with a hamstring injury. Denzel Valentine, currently out of the rotation, is staying ready.

And Shaq Harrison, who missed all five preseason games with his own hamstring injury but now is fully practicing, remains a Jim Boylen favorite.

And that’s what the roster staying set for now is about as much as anything. The buy-in Boylen has received from players dating to voluntary September workouts and bonds that have formed could be disrupted by the waiving of someone like Harrison, whose contract isn’t fully guaranteed but his commitment is.

While the Bulls recognize proven wing depth is a question mark, they value Harrison’s toughness and defensive ability. If Hutchison or Harrison or Valentine---if he gets an opportunity---don’t produce, perhaps a move could be made at a later date.

But expect only the signing of a second player to a two-way contract to join Adam Mokoka for now.

“We’ve been talking about that,” Boylen said. “We’re working on that. We’ve got our list and have reached out to some people. We’re actively in process.”

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Lauri Markkanen is focused on team, not individual, goals for Bulls

Lauri Markkanen is focused on team, not individual, goals for Bulls

You can’t put Lauri Markkanen in a box.

Just as you can’t pigeonhole one of the faces of the Bulls’ franchise offensively, you won’t get him to bite on any statistical goals for himself. As the outside world clamors for him and Zach LaVine to represent the Bulls at All-Star weekend in Chicago, Markkanen is focused on team goals.

“We haven’t made it to the playoffs and haven’t won many games since we’ve been here,” Markkanen said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago following Saturday’s practice, alluding to himself, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. “That really bothers us. So we want to win first.”

In fact, as Markkanen fielded questions about a preseason that featured him playing more as a spot-up shooter than the dynamic, double-double machine that defined his February 2019, he shifted the focus to defense and rebounding.

Ho and hum, indeed.

“You’re trying to get me to say 22 (points) and 12 (rebounds) and 3 assists,” Markkanen said, smiling. “I don’t have those kinds of goals. I want to get our wins from 22 to whatever. And I want to get our home wins from nine to whatever. I’m not putting a number on those either. But I think guys are doing a good job of making unselfish plays and making the extra pass. We’re coming together as a team.”

In fact, Markkanen said, at least for now, his only individual goals are to “stay healthy and be consistent.” He reiterated his stance from media day that his goal is to play all 82 games after averaging 60 games his first two seasons.

“I wanted to focus on defense more this preseason and I was a little disappointed in myself in that regard early in preseason. But I watched a lot of film and I think I had my learning moments and I think I got better as preseason moved on,” Markkanen said. “I’ve talked to Coach. We both expect rebounding from me. I think we’re going to be really good offensively. It’s at a high level now, and we’re deeper. If we rebound and can limit their possessions, we have a chance to be really good.”

Don’t mistake Markkanen’s aversion to setting statistical goals for submissiveness. Early in the interview, he called his preseason “maybe not as great as I wanted to play” and acknowledged he needs to increase his free-throw attempts by getting to the rim more.

Of Markkanen’s 42 shots, 24 came from beyond the arc and he attempted just seven free throws in close to 91 preseason minutes. That average of 1.8 free-throw attempts in his four preseason games pales in comparison to the 3.8 he averaged last season.

“I haven’t got to the rim as much. I’m conscious of that. Those are easy points for us,” Markkanen said. “(Driving) is still available to me. But defenses are loading up on me more and trying not to let me get downhill. And we’re not in the post as much (offensively) as we used to be. We’re shooting a lot of 3s.”

Markkanen smiled again as he said this, so it’s clear he likes the Bulls’ approach. He also remains confident his varied offensive game will be on display at some point.

“I don’t always talk to him about his offense to be honest with you,” coach Jim Boylen said. “I talk to him about defending and rebounding and handling the ball. I’ve shown him some of his decisions in transition where he’s handled the ball.

“I want him to compete at the defensive end, rebound, handle the ball and everything else to me takes care of itself. I know he’s going to make shots. Historically, he’s been better when the lights come on.”

Those lights get flipped on for real Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C. You can’t put Markkanen in a box. But he can put pressure on himself to help the Bulls make the playoffs.

“I have really high expectations of myself,” he said. “That’s what keeps me going. I want to win."