Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010
By Mark Schanowski
After just a couple days of training camp, one thing is clear about this years edition of the Chicago Bulls: They wont lose games because theyre unprepared or unable to adjust to what opposing teams are throwing at them.
New head coach Tom Thibodeau wont get outworked and he wont be surprised by anything he sees during the course of games. Thibodeau has worked tirelessly since taking over the Bulls job just before the NBA draft in late June. Hes been a fixture at the Berto Center from early morning to late at night, breaking down tape of last seasons games and working individually and collectively with Bulls players. Joakim Noah even joked about being unable to avoid his new coach when he showed up for evening shooting sessions over the summer. Noah says those brief visits to the gym turned into one-on-one tutoring sessions with Coach "Thibs." And the result is Noah will be given even more freedom on the offensive end to shoot his side-spin jump shot and jump hooks in the post.
How many times over the last two seasons under Vinny Del Negro did we see the Bulls slow to respond to the oppositions strategies on either end of the floor? Del Negro never came up with a consistent defensive strategy against the most basic of NBA plays, the screen-and-roll, and he took too long to change defensive match-ups that were hurting the Bulls. That should be a thing of the past with Thibodeau in charge. Hes recognized around the league as one of the top defensive coaches in the game, and the Bulls front office will tell you he also has a number of innovative ideas on the offensive end of the floor.
With Carlos Boozer now on board to provide a consistent low-post scoring threat, the Bulls should have their most versatile offensive attack in years. Thibodeau wants his guys to push the tempo, and you couldnt ask for a better player to do that than All-Star point guard Derrick Rose. With Rose leading the break, flanked by Boozer, Luol Deng and Ronnie Brewer, the Bulls should be able to score more transition points than weve seen in recent seasons. The Bulls are also much deeper than in years past, with sharp-shooter Kyle Korver, explosive combo guard C.J. Watson and last years all-rookie first-teamer Taj Gibson coming off the bench.
The preseason schedule starts Oct. 5 with the Bulls traveling to Milwaukee, and it will be interesting to see how Thibodeau plans to utilize his personnel. Dont forget, hes a defense-first coach, and that will determine which players get the most minutes off the bench. But whichever combinations Thibodeau puts on the court, the Bulls should be able to avoid those long scoring droughts that hurt the team over the last couple seasons. Theyre not just a perimeter shooting team anymore, and that should be a big plus when the Bulls go up against the other heavyweight teams in the league.
Training camp observations
It seems to me this whole Carmelo Anthony mess is going to end very badly for Denver. After backing away from a four-team trade that would have landed Anthony in New Jersey, the Nuggets are left with an unhappy star who has no interest in communicating with the front office and will be a distraction for as long as he remains in the Mile High City.
Word out of Denver is the Nuggets will try to trade Anthony as soon as possible, but if hes not willing to sign a contract extension with any team except the Knicks, what kind of market is there? New York wont give away its top young players like Anthony Randolph, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler once they realize theyre the only team in the bidding. If the Melo soap opera carries into the season, who knows what kind of trade package the Nuggets might have to accept down the road.
The Bulls have inquired about Anthony, but theyre not willing to trade Noah, and its not likely Denver would take the four years remaining on Luol Dengs contract, so basically theyre not a serious contender to acquire the high-scoring forward.
Are you as tired of hearing about the Miami Heat as I am? Basically, its been non-stop LeBron, D-Wade and Bosh ever since teams reported to camp. We hear about how vocal LeBron has been at practices, and how he might wind up playing a lot of point guard this season. Sure, the Heat will be a very strong team this season, but the national attention on Pat Rileys traveling All-Stars will become insufferable before long. Why not wait until the playoffs before crowning the Heat as the best team the NBA has ever seen?
Dont forget about Boston when discussing championship contenders for the upcoming season. Danny Ainge was busy this off-season, adding Shaquille and Jermaine ONeal to his roster, along with scoring guards Delonte West and Von Wafer. He also re-signed Marquis Daniels and Nate Robinson. The Celtics are deep and versatile at every position on the floor. And I have a feeling Rajon Rondo will come out with a vengeance this season after basically getting cut from the U.S. World Championship team this summer.
The NBA has made a dramatic shift to becoming a point guard oriented league. The battles between Rose and Rondo should be something to watch this season. And dont forget about Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, Brandon Jennings in Milwaukee, Tyreke Evans in Sacramento, Stephen Curry with the Warriors and rookie John Wall in Washington, D.C. These young stars join the likes of Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Chauncey Billups, Chris Paul and Deron Williams among the growing ranks of elite point guards.
But in handicapping the upcoming season, how can you pick against the two-time defending champion Lakers? Sure, Andrew Bynum is expected to miss the first month following his latest knee surgery, but the Lakers are still loaded with size, speed and depth. G.M. Mitch Kupchak improved his bench with the additions of Matt Barnes, Steve Blake and Theo Ratliff. And I dont think Kobe Bryant will be intimidated going up against Miamis "Big 3." Bottom line, the Lakers are the champs until someone knocks them off, and that will be tougher than ever this season, especially since the Western Conference is weaker with the defection of Boozer, Amare Stoudemire and possibly Anthony to the East.
I cant wait for the season to get started. How about you? Please post your comments on the Bulls and the rest of the NBA in the section below, or feel free to send me an e-mail. We will continue to answer questions throughout the season.
Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNite, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.