Taj Gibson expects Tom Thibodeau to have Timberwolves ready for matchup vs. Bulls

Taj Gibson expects Tom Thibodeau to have Timberwolves ready for matchup vs. Bulls

The fact that the Minnesota Timberwolves are bringing up the rear in the NBA standings doesn’t matter much to Taj Gibson, on the eve of their matchup tomorrow.

Part of it is because the Bulls can lose to teams like the Dallas Mavericks, the one squad with a worse record than Tom Thibodeau’s 6-18 team. And the other, well, it’s pretty obvious being that Gibson knows his former coach all too well to judge him by some mere record.

“Anytime you're going against Thibs, you go against a good coach, as far as game-planning,” Gibson said at Monday’s practice. “He's going to have those young guys ready. He knows personnel, he's one of those guys who's a guru when it comes to watching film. He's a real great tactician.”

Gibson said he isn’t necessarily looking forward to the game because he knows the young and talented Timberwolves will play hard—emphasis on “talented” considering Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine are perhaps the best young trio in the NBA.

“It's hard to watch him coach now because I understand the things they go through right now,” Gibson said. “I know that he wants to do a lot better, but it's the NBA.”

They just haven’t yet put it together yet, but Gibson knows Thibodeau’s style—that he’ll try to coax whatever grit is out of that roster and manifest it on the floor. Gibson remembers the practices and games for five years under Thibodeau, with the scars to prove it.

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“He was hard-nosed coach and he loved to have his players go lay it on the line,” Gibson said. “Every practice, we played hard. Every game we went out there and played hard. Everybody knew what kind of team we were.

“We were a hard-nosed defensive kind of team and we were going to play hard to the last man on the bench. From the number of injuries we had, it really meant that way because everybody on our team got better even from top to bottom, we were always together and we played hard.”

In Gibson’s second year in the NBA and Thibodeau’s first, the Bulls had the best record in the NBA and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. With a young core and a young MVP in Derrick Rose, one would’ve thought the Bulls would be a June fixture for years to come.

It never manifested itself, of course, because of Rose’s injuries, and as has been said plenty of times in the past few years, many have suggested the Bulls should’ve won a championship.

Gibson dished out the best dose of basketball reality when he said plenty of players and teams haven’t won championships, not just these Bulls.

“Without question, we had some great years. We were just never able to get it done,” Gibson said. “You can say injuries, you can say whatever you want. Whatever we had, we mustered up enough and we got things done. Just disappointed we didn't get a championship while he was here, because he especially deserved one the way he coached us.”

As Bulls prepare for workouts, new management regime headed to Chicago

As Bulls prepare for workouts, new management regime headed to Chicago

For two men who refer to themselves as gym rats, this has been an odd time for Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley.

Hired as the respective executive vice president and general manager to lead the Bulls out of their rebuild and into a more modern NBA, they haven’t even been able to travel to Chicago because of the global pandemic.

That’s about to change.

Karnisovas and Eversley, who have been working remotely daily and diving deep into evaluation of all things Bulls, are scheduled to travel to Chicago in the near future, according to a team spokesperson. Their arrival coincides with a phased re-opening of the Advocate Center, which the Bulls have advanced in conjunction with state and local government officials and infectious disease specialists at Rush University Medical Center.

In compliance with NBA guidelines, the Bulls opened the Advocate Center for players seeking treatment and medical issues. Lauri Markkanen, who recently from a pelvis ailment four games before the league's hiatus, and Kris Dunn, who sprained his MCL Feb. 1, have utilized the facility for treatment purposes.

Voluntary, socially distanced workouts with coaches are scheduled to begin Wednesday, which is when Mayor Lightfoot has said Chicago will enter “Phase 3” of a five-stage plan to re-open the city.

Gov. Pritzker moved the state of Illinois to “Phase 3” on Friday. The Bulls have been in talks with officials at both the state and local levels to follow safety guidelines.

“We are supportive of the Mayor’s decision and are aligning our plans with the directive of her office,” a team spokesperson said.

Few players are currently in the Chicago area. With the league set to have a conference call with team owners on Friday to continue discussing return-to-play plans, the Bulls could have clarity next week on whether they’ll be invited to the league’s restart in Orlando.

Either way, those players who want to will be able to work out with coaches at the Advocate Center starting Wednesday. The Advocate Center remains closed to non-essential staff and media until further notice.

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Why the Bulls are better off not being invited to the NBA bubble

Why the Bulls are better off not being invited to the NBA bubble

Coby White could deliver some mojo again. Otto Porter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen could continue their progress after returning from injuries. Zach LaVine, well, could be Zach LaVine.

There would certainly be basketball-related benefits if the Bulls wind up one of the teams invited to conclude the NBA’s 2019-20 season in Orlando, Fla.

Having the new management regime watch players in live action and avoiding a nine-month layoff between games should the league begin the 2020-21 season on Christmas Day (as the current scuttlebutt says), represent a few.

But all those positives pale to one significant potential drawback, safety concerns (of which there are many) aside: jeopardizing the Bulls’ draft lottery position.

With the league set for another Board of Governors call on Friday as it nears proposing a suggested return-to-play policy, finalizing the format for the draft lottery is one of many fluid situations. Nothing is yet guaranteed other than — bad joke alert — the Bulls drafting seventh.

Indeed, when COVID-19 shut down the sports world in mid-March, the Bulls ranked seventh in the draft lottery standings. That translates to a 32 percent chance at a top-four pick and a 7.5 percent chance at the No. 1 pick. 

And while that doesn’t translate to a 100 percent chance at the seventh pick… Man. That the Bulls currently sit No. 7 — where they have drafted White, Wendell Carter Jr. and acquired the rights to Markkanen over the last three drafts — feels twistedly poetic.

Simply put, weak draft or not, a higher pick is more beneficial to the new front office regime than some fluky playoff run. Sorry, Jim Boylen.

Think about it: Say the league invites the top 24 teams to Orlando and the Bulls, currently 12th in the Eastern Conference, make the trip. The best case scenario? The Bulls get hot, build up a bit of good will and, who knows, maybe even advance a round. But their long-term fates don’t change. And if the NBA eventually models a revised lottery formula for this season in a manner similar to the NHL — which awards lottery odds to teams excluded from their play-in round, and teams that are eliminated in the play-in round, regardless of regular season standing — it could hurt their chances at a higher pick significantly, if not erase them entirely.

To be clear, there is currently no indication of the NBA molding its own lottery formula after the NHL’s. In fact, there is nothing concrete on that front to report at all. 

Still, for a team mired in a rebuild that needs to maximize its assets, the above would not be a good development.

And all of that’s without mentioning the flipside of a potential trip to Disney World for the Bulls. What if more than a month of potentially high-risk travel and training to retake the floor results in a quick flameout — or merely a handful of meaningless regular season games? Any evaluation that could be conducted over that period, which would be colored by the unprecedented circumstances at hand, simply isn’t worth the cost.

So be careful what you wish for, Bulls fans. Yes, everybody is starved for basketball. And, yes, the Bulls were supposed to be done tanking a while ago.

But this is one time when not getting invited to the party could be a good thing.

RELATED: Where the Bulls stand in each of the NBA’s reported resumption plans 

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