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Sam: Thibodeau will lead Bulls in the right direction

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Sam: Thibodeau will lead Bulls in the right direction

Friday, June 11, 2010
8:32 PM
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

With the NBA Finals currently knotted up at two games apiece after Thursday night's Boston home victory, continued praise has been heaped upon the defensive strategies of the Celtics and their associate head coach Tom Thibodeau, who also happens to be the recently-hired head coach of the Chicago Bulls. Although the hiring has not yet been made official--the decision was made last weekend, but won't be announced until after the conclusion of the Finals--the longtime NBA assistant ascension to head coach has been eagerly anticipated amongst his peers seemingly forever.

While any speculation about how Thibodeau, who reportedly has a three-year contract for 6.5 million, will fare as a first-time head coach in the league is premature, there is some insight as to how he would perform in a return to a role he hasn't had since he was a 26-year-old head coach at his alma mater, Salem State College in Massachusetts.

"There's nobody I can think of in the NBA that deserves this opportunity more than Thibodeau does," Paul Biancardi, a college basketball recruiting analyst for ESPN and Scouts, Inc. and high school basketball television analyst for ESPN told CSNChicago.com. "I don't think you ever question how long the process takes."

"He got the opportunity," continued Biancardi. "Some guys get it too quick, some guys it takes a little longer and it was his time to get it."

"He'll probably tell you he's more prepared for this than he was 10 years ago."

Biancardi was a senior, team captain and the sixth man for Thibodeau's Salem State squad during the 1984-85 season.

"I just knew from day one how much he loved the game of basketball, how dedicated he was and he always tried to make himself a better coach," said Biancardi, a longtime college basketball assistant coach at schools like Boston College and Ohio State, as well as the former head coach at Wright State. "He's one of the main reasons I got into the coaching profession of basketball, because I saw such a passion and a persistence in him and it excited me more about the game."

"I was already excited about the game when I played for him and as a captain of his team in '85, but he got me more involved and more passionate about the game. It became a profession for both of us," said Biancardi, who, at 22, was only a bit younger than his head coach, who moved on to be an assistant at Harvard University the next season before being hired as an assistant for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1989, the first of his many jobs--he went on to be an advanced scout for Seattle, an assistant in San Antonio, a New York Knicks assistant for seven season under Jeff Van Gundy and a Van Gundy assistant in Houston before assuming his current role under Doc Rivers in Boston--around the league.

Biancardi has observed Thibodeau's career arc and believes his former coach will coach will be successful in Chicago.

"Obviously he's been noted and celebrated as an excellent defensive coach," said Biancardi. "He'll get them to play his defensive schemes and there's some talent there, so he'll get that talent to defend."

"He's coached under some great guys--Jeff Van Gundy, he's worked for Doc Rivers--so his offensive philosophy has grown over time," he continued. "I think he'll take the time to invest in and develop the young players. He knows how to invest his time into players, he's committed to making the young players better, he'll understand the veterans that he has and every player on that team will be prepared for their individual matchup and the in-game plan. There won't be a team that will be more prepared and I think that's the difference between him and some of the other coaches in the league."

"Also, his personality has grown over time. He's been an assistant for a long time, but he's been right next to that head coach so I think he'll deal with the players very, very effectively," Biancardi concluded.

Along with his former player's favorable opinion of him, Thibodeau is also well respected by his peers.

"I see Tom being a hands-on coach because he's been a lifelong assistant," Brian James, another longtime NBA assistant, told CSNChicago. "As an assistant coach at his various stops around the league, Thibodeau, always had a series of things his team needs to get done in training camp--different late-game situations, what to do if a team does this. If Tom follows the mold of everything he's been taught and his experience over the last five to 10 years, he's going to be fine."

"He's a protoge of Jeff Van Gundy," said James, who was an assistant under Doug Collins in Detroit and Washington and is expected to join Collins' new staff in Philadelphia, as well as stints in Toronto and Milwaukee, told CSNChicago.com. "He'll have a no-nonsense approach, he lives and dies basketball, that's his passion."

James praised Thibodeau's renowned work ethic ("he devotes 100 percent of his time to the game") and defensive philosophy, but believes Thibodeau's ability to develop players--something key on a young team like the Bulls--is often overlooked.

"I saw the work Tom did with Yao Ming down in Houston. He did a tremendous job with him. Yao had some of the best seasons of his career with Tom there," James, who worked as an advanced scout for Milwaukee this season. "I know tom will work endless hours on his development of players. That's one of Tom's strong suits anyway. He knows how to develop players and push them to their limits."

Still, James acknowledges Thibodeau will certainly have some growing pains in his new role.

"I think anybody under the glaring lights and intensity of Chicago will be analyzed and criticized," said James, who began his coaching career as a high school coach in Illinois, including Glenbrook North High School, where he coached former Duke player and current assistant coach Chris Collins. "It happened with Vinny Del Negro, Doug Collins, you name it, and I think the same goes for Tom."

With Thibodeau's fellow longtime NBA assistant Larry Drew appearing poised to move down one seat on Atlanta's bench as the Hawks' new head coach (in somewhat of a surprise, as most observers expected Dallas assistant Dwane Casey to get the job) and the Hornets' recently hiring of Monty Williams (after Thibodeau reportedly rejected their overtures), an assistant coach in Portland, Thibodeau's hire is not the one of upward mobility. However, New Jersey's hiring of Avery Johnson follows a more typical league trend of recycling previous head coaches, while Cleveland's courting of Michigan State's Tom Izzo (though they are also reportedly considering Johnson's ESPN colleague and former NBA head coach Byron Scott, to an extent) would be a less predictable move of elevating a college coach. That means the last remaining league head-coaching vacancy with no widely-reported front-runner is the Clippers job, and with reports that record executive David Geffen is exploring purchasing a controlling stake of the franchise
from longtime, notoriously tight-fisted owner Donald Sterling, there's at least one organization left where superstar LeBron James can truly pick his coach, as the Clippers have the cap room to sign a max free agent.

All jokes aside, while James' impending free agency has dominated headlines, reports out of Phoenix that Amar'e Stoudemire is leaning toward returning to the Suns means the destination of fellow free agent Chris Bosh could determine the balance of power in the NBA next season. Translation: if Stoudemire is back in Phoenix, he's no longer the first or second option at power forward for other teams, putting more of a premium on acquiring Bosh, who is widely regarded as the player Chicago and other teams with cap space will try to pair with James.

Getting back to Thibodeau, regardless of whether the Bulls end up with James, Bosh or any other top-tier free agent, fans who expect a championship overnight because of his pedigree may not get their wish immediately, but it appears that despite his lack of head coaching experience, the organization has a leader that fits the direction in which they want to be headed. And maybe--just maybe--with a little bit of patience, the Bulls will have the same type of parade the Blackhawks had today.

Zach LaVine improving his chances for Eastern Conference All-Star spot

Zach LaVine improving his chances for Eastern Conference All-Star spot

Zach LaVine let it be known the moment the NBA announced the All-Star game was coming to Chicago in 2020 that he would love to represent the Bulls in the Sunday night main event.

LaVine’s chances looked pretty slim when both he and the team got out of the gates slowly this season. LaVine averaged 20.2 points as the Bulls finished October with a 1-4 record, and he shot just 42.6% from the field in a 5-10 November.

But since that time, LaVine has picked up his offensive output, averaging 25.1 points in December and 30 points so far in January. He’s also had two of the best fourth-quarter performances of the season, carrying the Bulls to come-from-behind wins at Charlotte and vs. Cleveland at the United Center last Saturday.

In that road game against the Hornets, LaVine scored a career-high 49 points, making 13 of his 17 attempts from 3-point range, including the game-winner at the buzzer. LaVine finished one shy of the NBA record of 14 3-point makes, set by Klay Thompson against the Bulls last season.

Against the Cavaliers, LaVine scored 21 of his 42 points in the 4th quarter to help the home team erase a 15-point deficit heading into the final 12 minutes. Plus, he outdueled All-Star reserve candidate Bradley Beal earlier this month, outscoring the Wizards’ guard 30-23 in a 115-106 Bulls win.

LaVine faces a lot of competition for the four reserve spots that are potentially available for guards (three frontcourt, two backcourt, and two wild card players will be selected by conference coaches), and it could come down to whether the coaches put more emphasis on win-loss record or individual statistics. 

If Atlanta’s Trae Young and Boston’s Kemba Walker get the starting spots, LaVine will be competing with the likes of Beal, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie, Detroit’s Derrick Rose, Boston’s Jaylen Brown and Indiana’s Malcolm Brogdon for anywhere between two and four spots, depending on how the wild card selections fall.

Given the recent history of coaches’ votes, you can expect Simmons and Lowry to get the nod for the two reserve backcourt spots, with LaVine and Beal the top candidates for one or both wild card selections. Plus, there’s always the chance NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will have to replace one of the 12 Eastern Conference All-Stars because of injury, with LaVine the likely top choice to represent the home city.

Zach has told reporters he’s more likely to do the Slam Dunk contest Saturday night if he’s selected for the Eastern Conference squad, so a lot could be riding on the announcement of All-Star reserves on January 30th.

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Who makes it to the All-Star Game?

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Who makes it to the All-Star Game?

The NBA All-Star Game voting is almost up and the biggest question is if Zach Lavine make the cut. Jason Goff is joined by Will Perdue, and Kendall Gill as they give their official East and West All-Stars for this season.

(2:05) - If Zach Lavine makes the ASG, who doesn't go?

(3:54) - Eastern Conference selections

(8:12) - Debate on if Trae Young should go to the ASG

(13:48) - Does the League have influence on who makes the ASG?

(15:38) - Should Lavine use Dunk Contest as leverage for the ASG?

(18:23) - How Chicago will react to having All-Star Weekend

(19:15) - Chance that Derrick Rose will make the ASG

(20:51) - Western Conference selections

(22:26) - Fan voting needs to be gone

Listen to the episode here or in the embedded player below.

Bulls Talk Podcast

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