Bulls: Taj Gibson pays no mind to trade rumors


Bulls: Taj Gibson pays no mind to trade rumors

With each game, Bobby Portis grows into more than a rotation player, more into a big piece of the Bulls’ future.

And with the crowded frontcourt being crowded as the injuries pile up for the swingmen, with Mike Dunleavy’s status unknown and Doug McDermott undergoing an MRI on his right knee, the rumor mill will keep swirling for the Bulls to make a change to balance out their roster.

Such circumstances could bring about mixed feelings for a veteran like Taj Gibson, who would be a hot name if the Bulls put him on the market—and depending on whom you believe, the front office has already put out feelers on the likes of Gibson, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol.

But Gibson, who’s adopted Portis and taken to him in practices and now games, doesn’t see it that way.

“What do you mean mixed feelings? It’s never mixed feelings,” said Gibson to CSNChicago.com on his way out of the United Center Monday night after the Bulls’ win over the Toronto Raptors.

Gibson was asked if Portis’ emergence could give the Bulls the confidence to trade someone, even himself, prompting his respectful but clear answer.

“At the end of the day I care about my teammates. I don’t worry about all that. If he plays well it’s good for us, it’s good for the team. I want him to succeed. At the end of the day, we’re millionaires. We play a game.”

There hasn’t appeared to be much movement around the league as far as trades, in large part due to the clunky nature of the Eastern Conference. There’s a 1.5-game separation between the second-seeded Atlanta Hawks and eighth-seeded Miami Heat, and teams appear to be in wait-and-see mode before making roster moves.

[RELATED: Bobby Portis shining for Bulls after opportunity]

Gibson seemed to take things in stride, as his gritty play, low-maintenance attitude and affordable contract makes him attractive to other teams. He’s the Bulls’ best low-post defender, defensive rebounder and finisher above the rim.

“Nah, my name has been in rumors my whole career. You look at things like that, it’s part of the game,” Gibson told CSNChicago.com. “At the end of the day, I play in the NBA. I can’t complain. I go out there and do my job. Whatever happens will happen. I play for the Chicago Bulls, it’s the jersey I’m wearing.”

Ports has soaked up all the knowledge given by Gibson and Noah, as the latter is sidelined by a shoulder injury.

“Man, tremendously. He's helped me a lot,” said Portis of Gibson. “He's like the big brother I never had. I've always been the big brother to all my basketball teams I've played on, I always had to be that guy to uplift people and he's uplifting me to the utmost. I really credit it to him because he always just gives me kind words every day.”

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Portis’ energy is palpable and his production is starting to meet the expectations of a player who was billed as a lottery pick but up until recently could only display his talent in practices.

“It’s a wonderful thing,” Gibson said. “Bobby’s one of those guys, he’s a young guy but he’s so eager. He challenges you every day in practice. It’s like going against one of those old Boston Celtics.”

“I told guys on the team: Rookies always work their way in. From Jimmy (Butler), myself, Joakim. Everybody always works their way in and earns their minutes. You see Bobby, he’s earning his minutes. He’s doing it the right way. He’s coming to practice, busting his tail, putting the work in, never complaining, that’s the right way. He may get criticism for coming in and not playing early like other guys, but we’re molding him right. You see tonight, it’s gonna make him an even better player later in the season.”

The work has earned Gibson’s respect and admiration, and he’s followed the tradition set forth by the veterans who took him under their wing, as in former Bulls Brad Miller, Tyrus Thomas and current Bull Noah.

“A lot of guys that had a lot of faith in me. But I had to work my way through it,” Gibson said. “Same with Jimmy, he had to work his way through the wild. Everybody had to work their way to get those quality minutes. It’s a testament to how hard we practice, a testament to how we believe in each other. It’s gonna make him a better player, watch when I tell you that.”

Zach LaVine is “tired of people talking sh*t about my defense” and working towards becoming an NBA All-Star

Zach LaVine is “tired of people talking sh*t about my defense” and working towards becoming an NBA All-Star

Zach LaVine is fed up with being underestimated and he’s going to do something about it. The Bulls guard has been having a strong pre-season so far but is looking to improve his skills as a two-way player.

“I’m just tired of people talking shit about my defense,” LaVine said. “I’ve always been a good on-ball defender. But there’s no reason I can be this good offensively and not be that on the defensive end.”

“I’m taking more pride in it,” he continued. “I’m pretty sure it’ll show. I’ll make sure of that.”

If you think LaVine sounds confident, he has good reason to be. Last season LaVine was one of only ten players to average at least 23 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists, making him stand out as an elite player in the company of MVPs and All-Stars. LaVine’s personal triumphs, however, were overshadowed by the Bulls abysmal 22-60 record last season.

So far, this preseason LaVine has been looking better on defense, averaging 1.3 steals per game through three preseason games. Any improvements on defense will greatly help LaVine’s All-Star case.

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3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

The Bulls recorded their first win of the preseason with Sunday night’s 105-91 win over the Raptors. Here are three takeaways:

We got a peek at Jim Boylen's regular-season rotation

We had a clue that Boylen was going to go with Tomas Satoransky as his starter after he chose to sit him with the starters in the Bulls third preseason game against the Indiana Pacers. Sunday confirmed this idea. Boylen stated before the game that he would be starting to roll out his regular season rotations, and we saw "Sato" start next to the regular Bulls starting group of Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and the returning Wendell Carter Jr.

On top of seeing the starting group, we got to see Thaddeus Young in his probable role as the sixth man, coming in for Carter to provide the Bulls with more of a small look where Markkanen acts as the center.

Markkanen was particularly effective on the glass against the smaller Raptors frontline sans Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam. Lauri collected a double-double, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds, including four offensive rebounds. 

Giving an even greater effort on the glass will push Markkanen closer to All-Star status and it is not out of the question as we have seen him raise his rebounding average every season. Games like Sunday night's show that all of the muscle Markkanen added this offseason is going to pay dividends in the 2019-20 NBA regular season and beyond, which will allow the Bulls to play smaller more often to get dynamic scorers like Coby White on the floor.

White came in as a substitute for Porter, giving the Bulls another small-ball lineup in which LaVine acts as the small forward next to him and Satoransky.

Satoransky was great, finishing with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 turnovers in 21 minutes. Sato pushed the pace but also could sense the right time to pull the ball back out and run a play in the halfcourt.

In general, the Bulls trotted out more three-guard lineups in this game, and the size of big guards like Satoransky and Kris Dunn help the Bulls blur the lines between wing and guard, mitigating some of the risks involved with not having a traditional wing on the floor.

On the flip side, the perimeter skills of a big man like Young allow the Bulls to play bigger lineups in which Young plays small forward next to two big men. In Sunday night's win over the Raptors, Young finished the game second on the Bulls in rebounds (7) and assists (3), while being in the right spot more times than not on D. 

With stretch-five Luke Kornet (2-of-7 from 3-point line vs Raptors), the gritty, playmaking Ryan Arcidiacono (3 assists, no turnovers), and rookie Daniel Gafford rounding out the rest of the new Bulls' Bench Mob," Boylen will have the ability to play many different ways, affording us a fair chance to see what he is made of as an NBA head coach. He is already passing his first test of showing that he is open to change, with the Bulls shooting 49 3-pointers on Sunday night, keeping their promise of being more aggressive from deep.

The Zach LaVine All-Star push starts now 

Overall, Zach LaVine has not been shy about already being at an All-Star level of play, you just have to ask him.

LaVine came into Sunday night's game sixth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 22.0 points per game through two contests, and he kept up that scoring onslaught in a big way. He finished Sunday's win over the Raptors with 26 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals in just 24 minutes of action. He finished the night with four turnovers as well, and while you would like to see the assist-to-turnover ratio improve, high turnover totals are just the name of the game for high-usage stars.

Besides, Boylen and Co. likely would rather see LaVine collect some turnovers trying to make the extra pass—something the Bulls have committed to hard this preseason—rather than trying to iso and make a play for himself.

Notably, the LaVine-Markkanen pick-and-roll that figures to be a staple of the Bulls offense for a long time again made an appearance in this game, looking crisp at moments as defenses struggle with scrambling to Markkanen at the 3-point line or worrying more about LaVine's oftentimes dominant drives to the rim.

While it is encouraging to see LaVine score effortlessly, that is not a new development for Bulls fans. The true mark of improvement for LaVine will be his defense and playmaking, both of which looked good on Sunday night.

LaVine racked up two steals and showed an improved awareness and aggressiveness when prowling the passing lanes. What makes defense so huge for LaVine, besides the fact that his effort-level sets the tone for the team, is that he so often turns opponent turnovers into points in transition for Chicago.

The Bulls had 14 fastbreak points and 17 points off of turnovers in their win over the Raptors, with LaVine's efforts playing a large hand in the win. 

Coby White continues to score in bunches 

It has been stated many times how Coby White was more of a shooting guard in high school and only transitioned into being more a lead guard at North Carolina. And those natural scoring instincts have shown up time and time again in the NBA preseason, especially in transition. 

If you get White going towards the rim with a head of steam in transition, he will make it to the basket before the 24-second shot clock hits the 19-second mark, a remarkable display of his blazing speed.

Of course, everything is to be taken with a grain of salt in the NBA preseason, as we are often seeing White (and others) face off against a team's backups or even worse, players that won't even make an NBA roster. But what White has done well should play in the regular season, too. He scored 18 points on 37.5% shooting from the field, including hitting 4 of his 12 attempts from 3-point range. White was 2-2 from the free throw line and finished with one assist and no turnovers. 

It looks like it will be a while before we see Coby White look like an NBA-level floor general but he is already playing like an uber-confident, spark plug shooting guard.

The Bulls can utilize White's scoring in the regular season knowing that even if his court vision isn't where they want it to be, his shoot-first mentality and propensity to keep the ball moving should result in lower turnover totals than your usual score-first point guard.