Bulls

Thibodeau staying busy with summer league, free agency visits

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Thibodeau staying busy with summer league, free agency visits

The way he tells it, the NBA's offseason is a fairly cut-and-dry process. But as the league's hectic free-agency period continues -- Wednesday is the day all of these reported agreements can become official -- Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau is literally all over the place.
Between personally wooing potential Bulls' free-agent acquisitions, staying in touch with players from last season's team, overseeing the development of his team's young players and of course, watching game film, Thibodeau has been a busy man this summer.
Again, however, the coach who has won 100 regular-season games faster than any of his peers in NBA history eschews the details when breaking it down to an outsider -- in this case, a member of the media -- and simply gives an overview of the process, albeit an informative one, in which some insight into his notoriously methodical manner can be gleaned.
"In the summer, the first thing you get ready for is the draft, and then after the draft you have free agency. Then you have the summer league and then you look at what trades may be available, and then you look at developing your own players. So, theres four ways to really improve your team, and you really want to try to address all four of them in the off-season," he explained to CSNChicago.com recently. "Players have a lot of say in that free agency. They have a right to choose, so you have to determine whether something fits for you, but Ive said this many times: Were happy with the core of our team. The core of our team has won a lot of games the past two years, so we want to try to add to it."
A basketball purist, Thibodeau loves to be hands-on with players, an aspect of his abilities that date back to his 20 years as an NBA assistant coach, and even before those days. From mainstays Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson -- who he went to observe in Las Vegas at the USA Basketball Olympic training camp; Gibson is a member of the USA Select Team -- to youngsters Jimmy Butler and first-round draft pick Marquis Teague, the head coach, rather than simply delegating to his capable staff, joins in the individual instruction at the Berto Center.
"You want to polish things up, you want to work on things, you want to add some things, where you feel maybe you can add something to someones game that theyre already doing well. But the main thing is the conditioning component and just refining everything that theyre doing and also, some things that you think they can add to their game that would make them harder to be guarded the following season," Thibodeau said.
"Jimmys gotten a lot of work in this summer and hes going to play in summer league, which I think is going to be a big plus for him. Joakim has been in. Hes done very well. Hes still strengthening his ankle from the end of the season, but hes put a lot of work in. And of course, Derricks been in almost every day. So, we have a lot of guys that are here and Carlos is working out in Miami, Rips been traveling aroundhes been working outso we have a lot of guys working," he added.
After being deprived of that opportunity due to last year's NBA lockout, just being in the gym is something Thibodeau relishes, and clearly he's pleased that the majority of his players are also taking advantage of that opportunity.
Gibson, however, seems to be his pet project. The backup power forward appears to be on the verge of boosting his league-wide profile with his stint in Las Vegas, during which sources say he's been impressive, potentially leading to his free-agent stock rising next summer.
"Taj has been great. Of course, he was getting ready for the USA Select Team, hes put in a lot of work and this is a big summer for him because its really the first summer that hes healthy. I think hes picked up right where he left off. At the end of season, I thought he was playing great basketball. Unfortunately, he sprained his ankle in Game 5 in Philly, but hes playing at a very high level," Thibodeau said.
"Its great for him, I think the fact that hes being recognized outside of the organization, by his peers also. Hes put a lot of work in. I think hes gotten better and better. Hes becoming more of a complete player. Defense, theres not many guys like him, who can guard nearly every position on the floor and then offensively, I think his confidence has gotten a lot better. He can score a lot of different ways. Hes more comfortable in the post now, hes starting to shoot the ball from 16 to 17 feet very effectively, so its a big plus. But the main thing is his health and I think the fact that he can really work this summer is a big plus."
But the team's known commodities -- definite returnees Gibson, Noah, Hamilton, Butler, Luol Deng and Rose, when he is again healthy enough to play, as well as newcomers Teague and Hinrich, obviously a familiar face -- aren't the issue in Chicago, where whispers of fellow Eastern Conference teams leaving the Bulls behind in the dust in free agency are surfacing. If the Bulls aren't moving fast enough for fans' taste, it's likely by design of the front office, not due to Thibodeau's efforts.
Thibodeau flew to Los Angeles in advance of the July 1 start of free agency to meet with backup center Omer Asik, who agreed to an offer sheet with Houston. He was also in contact with eventual acquisition Hinrich repeatedly before he agreed to terms with the Bulls. He has reached out to various free agents around the league and, aside from Asik, has spoken to the team's other free agents, such as reserve point guards Mike James and John Lucas III, the latter of whom is garnering interest from rivals Boston and Miami, in addition to Toronto, Minnesota and Washington, according to Fox Sports Florida.
Thibodeau has also been in touch with multiple free agents around the NBA, according to a source, and with his knowledge of the league and understanding that his intense philosophy might not be the best fit for every player, no small amount of consideration has been put into that.
"You cant ignore the numbers, but you also have to use the trained eye and you have to see how people fit into a team," explained Thibodeau, who described the Bulls' front office as "inclusive" in discussing the organization's future. "Youre looking at film, youre looking at the numbers, youre looking at where theyve been. Can they fit into a team? All those things, all the intangibles. But you look at a compilation of things. You dont base it, I dont think, on any one particular thing."
But even with all of the work he puts into the Bulls' success, it can't be ignored that Thibodeau doesn't have a contract past the upcoming season, though the team's option for himself and assistant coaches Adrian Griffin and Ed Pinckney have officially been exercised for the 2012-13 campaign.
Another assistant coach, Rick Brunson, departed to join the coaching staff of new Charlotte head coach Mike Dunlap; former Orlando assistant Steve Clifford, who previously worked with Thibodeau in both New York and Houston, will replace him.
Thibodeau is regarded as one of the league's upper-echelon coaches, combined with a Bulls team with lowered expectations with Rose on the shelf heading into next season and the luxury tax-averse organization not getting swept up into free-agent frenzy thus far. So although the franchise has historically played the waiting game with its coaches, there's no guarantee the former league Coach of the Year will be in Chicago for the long-term future.
And although peers such as Oklahoma City head coach Scott Brooks, who played for Thibodeau and didn't have an extension after the Thunder's NBA Finals appearance, have received deals, the Bulls coach, who was offered and rejected a contract deemed to be under his market value, according to an individual with knowledge of the negotiations, publicly is unconcerned about the unresolved issue.
"Good for Scott. Obviously Scott is a good friend. I coached him in Minnesota and hes done a tremendous job in Oklahoma City, so Im very happy for him," he said after the Bulls formally introduced Teague to the media last Monday. "We havent gotten around to his contract extension yet, but Im fine. The options been picked up, so Im under contract and well address that later in the summer."

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

The door has officially been closed on the 2017-18 season for the Chicago Bulls, and the word that most comes to mind is “unfulfilling.”

Or maybe even “indistinguishable.”

Draft night was supposed to be a culmination of a painful seven-month stretch that only had occasional yet costly moments of light.

Death lineup? Meet Death March. And Death April, while we’re at it.

The Bulls brass sold everyone on a full rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler one year ago, with an unspoken promise that this draft would bear franchise-changing fruit—hence the general feeling of angst or even indifference with the solid selection of Wendell Carter Jr. and their not-so-secret affection of Chandler Hutchison.

It was why fans believe the Bulls got cold feet about trading to move up, and why they believe the Bulls weren’t being pragmatic in staying away from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter, some believe, has star written all over him given his prep ranking this time last year and the Bulls were in position to speed up this process without having to go into a painful Process.

They were desperate for a star, believing the tankathon had produced so much suffering it had to be something on the back end.

There was the fight (or the punch).

The aftermath.

The miserable 3-20 start.

The 14-7 streak that produced the audacity of hope.

The reality that 14-7 was damaging enough to the lottery chances that a 3-11 finish couldn’t rectify.

And finally, the coin flip that cost them five spots in the lottery one month ago.

So that empty feeling has less to do with Carter and Hutchison, who’ve done nothing to earn the “blah” reaction from the fan base and some media. It has everything to do with the unanswered questions over the last 82 games and lack of clarity over the three hauls from draft night last year.

It’s not that Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn underperformed individually last season, but the lack of cohesiveness due to injuries and circumstances has led to the varying thoughts.

LaVine is approaching restricted free agency and by all accounts is taking his continuing rehab in Washington very seriously.  Markkanen has added plenty of muscle since the offseason began, appearing as if he can play Michael B. Jordan’s in-ring foil in the next installation of “Creed” as Ivan Drago’s long lost son.

And despite the report about Dunn not working as hard on the floor this offseason, that would be more of a concern if this were late August, not June.

The last time they were seen together on the floor, they looked no closer to a pecking order than the day they arrived.

What we know is that they’re productive NBA players, capable of putting an individual tattoo on a game at a moment’s notice, skillful enough to take your breath away.

And for whatever reason, the expectations changed once the three displayed they could be dynamic on their own—a star needed to be anointed and groomed to go with the star they believed was coming their way after the season.

Management is fully behind Markkanen, but Paxson’s strong words about LaVine at the season-ending news conference illustrated how much it feels LaVine has to prove next season.

With his restricted free agency status looming, the Bulls’ initial offer will show how much they value him until and if he gets a better deal on the market.

And the fact the Bulls weren’t afraid to draft Trae Young while having a healthy debate about Collin Sexton on draft night has to show they have at least some skepticism about the future at point guard.

But stars—developing stars, acquired stars, drafted stars—have to do it on their own. No amount of promotion or prodding from management will validate their faith, if that’s the route the Bulls choose to go.

This has to be a meritocracy or it won’t work and, honestly, it’s time for a reality check.

All the worry about the Bulls getting back to title contention sooner rather than later seems like folks getting ahead of themselves.

The front office has taken its share of shots from media and fans, so some questioning is earned but they’re right about one thing. Rebuilds aren’t completed in a day or 12 months.

Expecting some magic potion to arrive in the form of a top draft pick isn’t going to cure what ills this roster, and it doesn’t seem likely all the cap space will result in a free agent choosing the Bulls over the usual suspects.

However, methodical building can look like complacency if not done with a sense of urgency.

And with urgency in mind, this past season was unsatisfying to say the least—heading into the next phase with two more young pieces to develop while the first three are still in the evaluation stage.

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Donte Ingram's 2018 keeps getting better and better.

The March Madness hero, who buried a game-winning 3-pointer in the first round of Loyola's win over Miami, will play on the Bulls' Summer League team.

Ingram, a Simeon Academy graduate, had himself an incredible senior season with the Ramblers, who advanced all the way to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.

In five NCAA Tournament games Ingram averaged 7.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists for the Ramblers. He also had 18 points in the MVC Conference Championship Game to secure the Ramblers' March Madness berth.

He'll join first-round draft picks Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison on the Las Vegas Summer League team, which will begin play early next month.