Bulls

No clear options for Fred Hoiberg at point guard

No clear options for Fred Hoiberg at point guard

Rajon Rondo’s shrieking, distinctive voice could be heard through the Advocate Center before the Bulls practiced Saturday afternoon but because his distinctive game won’t be available, Fred Hoiberg is faced with his first big playoff test as coach.

The Bulls still go into Sunday evening’s Game 4 with an opportunity to put the Celtics in a precarious position but you’d be hard-pressed to find many who believe the Bulls actually have the advantage in this series.

It's easy to forget the Bulls have a 2-1 lead, but it looked like they forgot it themselves in their 104-87 Game 3 loss Friday night.

“I feel we have a really good team,” Jimmy Butler said before practice. “I’m taking our chances over theirs. I don’t care how many games. We just have to get to four. We don’t care who counts us out. We really don’t care who wants us to win.”

With no legit point guard, Hoiberg not only has to counter Brad Stevens’ fruitful move in going small but also has to find someone credible to get the Bulls into their offense as Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams took turns being overwhelmed in trying to fill Rondo’s shoes.

One has to wonder if Hoiberg will go with a big lineup on the perimeter to counter the Celtics, as the Bulls’ best stretch was in the second quarter when Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Paul Zipser bothered the Celtics with their size and length. He wouldn’t rule it out but in true Hoiberg fashion, wasn’t about to tip his hand.

“Yeah, we’ll look at everything. That lineup was out there on the floor even though we didn’t start that way,” Hoiberg said. “That is a lineup that will obviously play together at some point in the game, but again looking back at the course of the year and going back and watching film, when Jerian was our starter we did have some very good minutes out there.”

The advantage would be forcing Thomas to guard a much bigger player and if he winds up on Butler or Wade, it could truly compromise a Celtics defense that wreaked terror on the Bulls Friday night.

It could certainly facilitate ball movement, but not the pace Hoiberg so desires as Butler and Wade playing point means the Bulls will play a slow-down game—along with the fact that chasing Thomas around on the other end for long stretches will cause issues.

“The biggest thing we were doing yesterday was taking the ball out of the net, and that just kills any opportunity you have for pace,” Hoiberg said. “Again, too much ball holding as was evident by our assist numbers. I mean 14 for the game, and we were single digits for most of it. So we’ve got to get the ball moving better.”

In theory, Hoiberg would want to keep Grant or Carter-Williams in there, but the duo combined for seven turnovers and just three assists while being hounded by Avery Bradley. In a season full of changes and tinkering it wouldn’t be shocking to see Hoiberg make a change in the first five.

But it’s hard to see a clear option that would satisfy every objective going into Game 4.

“That first quarter, we got down 20 right away and obviously we have to do a lot to prevent that from happening,” Hoiberg said. “We’re going to get through practice today and then make our final decision on the lineup for tomorrow.”

Grant said after the film session and before practice that he hadn’t heard anything about being pulled from the starting lineup, but admitted the obvious: That his performance didn’t do much in the way of inspiration, despite his experience in starting 28 games this season.

“I got to take care of the ball,” Grant said. “I had some careless turnovers, I have to push the pace …didn’t play with a whole lot of energy band so I feel that starts with me.”

Grant shot 42 percent from 3-point range in his starts and has decent size in terms of his matchup with Thomas. Carter-Williams had some decent moments against Thomas defensively but provided nothing on offense, and given the fragility of both, one wonders if Hoiberg will give either one more chance before the series goes back to Boston Wednesday.

Nerves were clearly a problem for both, which can be rectified with a more open playbook or just the familiarity of a second game at the United Center. If it’s not nerves, then it means neither are options moving forward and the organization has a problem on its hands, beyond this series, beyond this season.

“We’re confident in Jerian,” Hoiberg said. “His teammates are confident in him, so it’s just about going out there and having something positive happen out of the gate. That always helps. Again, we’ll see how things go today, and make a final decision.”

How Michael Jordan reacted to Robert Parish taunting him at Bulls practice

How Michael Jordan reacted to Robert Parish taunting him at Bulls practice

Don’t mess with The Chief. Michael Jordan learned that lesson at a practice during Robert Parish’s lone season with the Bulls in 1996-97 — the last of his 21-year career.

Appearing on CLNS Media’s Cedric Maxwell Podcast, Parish told the story of him taunting Jordan (a rare sight at a Bulls practice in the ’90s), and the shock Jordan responded with. 

“We were scrimmaging, we played like six games going to five points. And so after the first two games, Phil (Jackson) put me with the second unit who I always played with. You know, my boys,” Parish told Maxwell. “We proceeded to kick their (the first unit’s) butts like four straight games. And Michael took offense to it, so I asked him, ‘How did he like that butt whooping?’

“He took offense to it because clearly no one ever manned up to him, you know, challenged him. So he said if I wasn’t careful, he was going to kick my ass. And I told him, ‘I’m not in awe of you. I’ve played with some of the baddest fellas there walking the court … And I’m supposed to be in awe of you?' You know, he’s looking at me like I had slapped his mug (laughs).”

Parish ended his career a four-time NBA champion — thrice with the Celtics (1981, 1984, 1986) and once with the Bulls (1997). He cited his experience playing with all-time greats from Larry Bird to Kevin McHale to Bill Walton to Maxwell as reason for not being intimidated by Jordan. 

Still, his gumption apparently sent shockwaves down the roster. 

“Derrick Dickey (Dickey Simpkins?) couldn’t believe that I talked to Michael like that,” Parish told Maxwell on the podcast. “Clearly, Michael was the alpha, you know, it was his team. He ran the ballclub and everybody kind of like got out of his way and let him do his thing.”

Parish added that he respected Jordan’s brazen leadership style, but that he preferred the manner in which Bird operated.

“Everybody got their own style, and the way they lead. Michael was in your face, he challenged his teammates,” Parish said. “Larry was our leader (with the Celtics), and he led by example. You know, he wasn’t a vocal leader, he let his play dictate how we should play. I think Larry’s style and philosophy makes the best leaders, because if you are a yeller and a screamer, after a while your voice fall on deaf ears and players just kinda tune you out, don’t hear what you got to say.

“I respect both leadership styles, but I prefer Larry’s style the best. Cause you know, some nights you don’t want to hear what he got to say, speaking of Michael. He all up in your face talking trash, you know, he might get a short right, man (laughs).”

Fair enough. Jordan’s abrasive ways weren’t for everyone. Surely, he’s content to let his six rings speak for themselves.

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Michael Jordan: 'I won't play' if Isiah Thomas is on Dream Team in new audio

Michael Jordan: 'I won't play' if Isiah Thomas is on Dream Team in new audio

The plot continues to thicken on the revived Michael Jordan-Isiah Thomas feud that has bubbled during and in the wake of “The Last Dance.” Tuesday, audio surfaced of Jordan admitting that he wouldn’t play for the 1992 Dream Team if Thomas was included on the roster.

The clip comes by way of the Dream Team Tapes podcast with renowned sports journalist Jack McCallum, who authored “Dream Team,” a book that chronicled the construction of the 1992 USA Olympics squad that took the world by storm.

 

Though a bit warbled, Jordan’s ultimatum is clear: "Rod Thorn called me. I said, ‘Rod, I won’t play if Isiah Thomas is on the team.' He assured me. He said, 'You know what? Chuck (Charles Barkley) doesn’t want Isiah. So, Isiah is not going to be part of the team.'"

That audio, according to the podcast, is from an interview McCallum conducted with Jordan for the book in 2011. McCallum reported the fruits of this conversation in “Dream Team,” which came out in 2012:

Rod Thorn, who as general manager of the Bulls in 1984 had drafted Jordan, was assigned the most important task: pulling the prize catch into the boat. Thorn called Jordan directly sometime during the summer, after the Bulls had won their first championship. (In fact, all of the invitations were extended directly to the athletes, not through agents…) So let’s be clear right now about what Jordan said in that first phone call.

‘Rod, I don’t want to play if Isiah Thomas is on the team,’ Jordan said.

I wrote that in Sports Illustrated at the time, not because Jordan confirmed it, which he didn’t, but because at least two reliable sources did. At the time, Jordan more or less denied that he would stand in Isiah’s way.

But he did confirm it to me in the summer of 2011. ‘I told Rod I don’t want to play if Isiah Thomas is on the team.’ That’s what he said.

Still, controversy framed as rumor continued to surround Thomas’ exclusion from the team, including in “The Last Dance.” In a present-day interview in the documentary, Jordan denied requesting Thomas be left on the roster. 

“It was insinuated that I was asking about him. But I never threw his name in there,” Jordan said. “Based on the environment and camaraderie that happened on that team, it was the best harmony. Would Isiah have made a different feeling on that team? Yes. You want to attribute it to me? Go ahead, be my guest. But it wasn’t me.”

In an interview on ESPN’s Golic & Wingo, Thorn, who chaired the USA Basketball Men's National Team Selection Committee in 1992, echoed Jordan’s version of events.

“When I called Jordan, his first inclination was he didn’t know if he wanted to play or not because, as he said, ‘I played on an Olympic team before (in 1988),’” Thorn said. “'It’s for the younger guys as far as I’m concerned.' 

“So we continued the conversation, and at the end of the conversation, he said, ‘You know something, I’ll do it.’ There was never anything in my conversation with him that had to do with Isiah Thomas. Period.”

But now we have audio that directly contradicts those accounts, and corroborates decades-old speculation (and McCallum's reporting) that Jordan played a specific party to Thomas being left off the team. Jordan's invoking Barkley also confirms that there was Dream Team-wide anti-Thomas sentiment. And funny enough, all of this comes from Jordan himself.

Thomas said in “The Last Dance” he didn’t know what went into the decision-making process for the Dream Team, but that he wasn’t selected in spite of, in his estimation, meeting the desired criteria.

If we didn’t know already, we now know for sure what led to his exclusion.

RELATED: David Robinson: Isiah Thomas shouldn’t be surprised about Dream Team snub 

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