Bulls

Tom Thibodeau on time with Bulls: 'No regrets'

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Tom Thibodeau on time with Bulls: 'No regrets'

A smiling, jovial Tom Thibodeau greeted the media contingent that made its way to the former Bulls coach after Team USA went through a light practice in Las Vegas to query his thoughts in the weeks since his dismissal after the playoffs.

And to his credit, Thibodeau took the high road, preferring not to get into a war of words with his former employer, even after the scathing remarks from Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf in the statement announcing his firing.

“I have no reaction to that. My experience was great,” Thibodeau said. “I appreciate all the players did for me. I appreciate the opportunity Jerry gave me. I’m moving on, they’re moving on. I wish them well. If they’re healthy I think they’ll have a great season and I hope they do.”

Thibodeau was replaced by Fred Hoiberg in what seemed to be the worst-kept secret after it became obvious Thibodeau’s relationship with the Bulls front office was beyond repair.

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“It was a great run, I had a great staff,” Thibodeau said. “I enjoyed them. The players were terrific. My whole experience there was great. In pro sports it happens. I’d rather reflect on the positives than any negative because the good far outweighed the bad.”

"I have no regrets."

Thibodeau, an assistant on Team USA’s staff coached by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, shared light moments on the floor with Jimmy Butler and many of the 30-something players in attendance, in celebration for how far the men’s national team has come and part of an evaluation process which will determine who goes to Rio next summer for the Olympic games.

He chose to take a celebratory tone to describe his five-year tenure as coach of the Bulls after years as an assistant in Boston and Houston.

“Very proud of what we accomplished,” Thibodeau said. “To win the games we did, to deal with the adversity we did, we dealt with Derrick (Rose) and his injuries, and we survived that. We lost players along the way but we always found a way to compete. We had a great group of guys.”

The ugly ending—a Game 6 home debacle against the Cleveland Cavaliers where the Bulls looked disjointed and ready to go home well before meeting their goal of getting to the Finals—obscures Thibodeau’s 255-139 regular-season mark, fourth-best during that time period.

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Before the controversy, before the wide divide that existed between Thibodeau and the front office, or Thibodeau and his players, was a 60-win team in 2010-11 that had the best record in the NBA, headlined by the youngest MVP in league history (Rose).

They fell short one round of the Finals, running into a buzzsaw named LeBron James who has proved to be the biggest thorn in the Bulls’ side since the Bad Boy Pistons.

“The first year was the best we had. If you study it statistically, you’d see that it was,” Thibodeau said. “We had a tough series with Miami but we could’ve won all those games. You hope to build continuity off that. The next year we have the best record but Derrick goes down. Sometimes you have no control over that. After that it’s a lot of adjusting on the fly. I thought we never made excuses, we found ways to compete. We lost a lot of guys along the way.”

Almost defiantly but in a very calm manner, Thibodeau describes the first two seasons as the best chance he had at guiding the Bulls to a title, before health got in the way when Rose tore up his knee in Game 1 of the 2012 first-round series against Philadelphia, a series the Bulls lost in a shocker.

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“When you look at that team, if you study it statistically, we were top 5 in offense and defense,” Thibodeau said. “And usually when you have that type of efficiency, you have a chance to win it all. We had toughness, guys who could go off the dribble. Luol (Deng) was a far different player. Derrick was MVP of the league at 22. And we had depth.”

By Thibodeau’s estimation, the depth had been stripped away after 2012, when dependable reserves like Omer Asik and Kyle Korver departed for other teams and bigger roles, leading to perhaps the biggest knock on Thibodeau—how often he uses his players.

“There’s always things that are gonna be said,” Thibodeau said. “You look at what the players accomplished. The only way that happens is through your effort, concentration, willingness to commit to excellence.”

Butler, whose minutes have become Exhibit A to Thibodeau detractors, was something Thibodeau defended himself on.

“The numbers say exactly what it is. Facts are facts,” Thibodeau said. “If you look at it statistically, Jimmy played the same amount of minutes as LeBron, (Kevin) Durant, Nic Batum, Carmelo Anthony, it’s all I’m saying. Nobody’s gonna be perfect. You’re gonna get some wrong. But I’m proud of what the team did.”

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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USA TODAY

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

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USA TODAY

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

Denzel Valentine’s troublesome left ankle is going to keep him on the sideline for at least the next two weeks. Fred Hoiberg said Saturday before the Bulls’ home opener against the Detroit Pistons that Valentine is suffering from a bone bruise in the ankle he sprained on the second day of training camp. Valentine will be evaluated in two weeks.

“It sucks because of all the work I put in this summer and being around the guys you want to be out there so bad,” he said. “Things happen for a reason, and now that we know what’s going on I at least have a time frame and be patient with it; it’s bad news but good news at the same time as it gives me time to get ready.”

Valentine had been practicing earlier in the week and appeared close to a return after spraining the ankle on Sept. 25. But the third year wing complained of discomfort in the ankle and missed practice on Friday. A scan of the left ankle revealed the bone bruise, and Hoiberg wouldn’t speculate on when exactly Valentine might return.

It’s the same ankle Valentine had surgery on in May 2017. Valentine also missed the last two weeks of last season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. The injury couldn’t come at a worse time for Valentine or the Bulls, who are in desparate need of help both in the backcourt and on the wing.

Though Valentine isn’t a true point guard, he averaged 3.2 assists per game off the bench last season. The Bulls could use that kind of production when Kris Dunn returns on Monday, as Cameron Payne and Ryan Arcidiacono haven’t exactly showed promise in the early going.

Instead, Valentine is on the mend and it’s unclear when he might return. Given he’s had surgery on the same ankle before, the Bulls will be cautious upon his return.

“I’m a fighter, I’m not going to quit; just deal with the hand dealt," Valentine said. "I can’t sit here and be negative, I just got to fight, stay mentally strong and this will be bittersweet when I come back and have a great year.”