Bulls

Wolves know victory was special for Thibs: 'We wanted to do it for coach'

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USA TODAY

Wolves know victory was special for Thibs: 'We wanted to do it for coach'

A group of reporters surrounded Andrew Wiggins late Tuesday night, wanting to ask the 21-year-old wing how the young Timberwolves were able to secure an improbable 99-94 road victory over the Bulls. Minnesota had trailed by 21 points midway through the second quarter against an experienced Bulls team that had won two straight at home.

Wiggins answered tactfully, responding that the Timberwolves had stuck together and fought through the early deficit. The swift defense they had played in the second half came down to will and determination, he answered.

Wiggins was then asked if Tuesday’s victory meant something more, given that head coach Tom Thibodeau was back at the United Center for the first time since being fired by the Bulls in 2014.

At the same time Zach LaVine was getting dressed at his neighboring locker.

“Hell yeah,” LaVine mumbled, though loud enough for reporters to hear.

Wiggins laughed before echoing the same sentiments, that Tuesday’s win was much more than a single tally in the win column.

“Definitely,” Wiggins said. “That’s just fuel to the fire. That made all us want it more. We wanted to do it for coach.”

It was a stark difference from the mood just outside the Timberwolves locker room, where Thibodeau had just finished speaking with reporters. During that morning’s shootaround, and even in his availaiby with reporters 90 minutes before tipoff, Thibodeau took the high road when asked about his time in Chicago, his relationship with the front office, and the manner in which he was fired.

Thibodeau’s trademark stone-faced manner remained as he exited the locker room to meet with reporters. Always in true character, Thibodeau deflected any notion that the victory meant any more to win than any other. In his mind, a 6-18 team – worst in the NBA entering the night – needed any sort of victory, no matter how it came or which team it came against.

“I think the winning part is important for us, just to build confidence,” Thibodeau said. “And so to understand what goes into winning, how hard it is to win. You can’t take any plays off, you have to play tough.”

Thibodeau said he hadn’t marked Dec. 13 on his calendar when the league schedule came out this summer. Always the perfectionist, he admitted instead that he was looking for back-to-backs, or situations where the Timberwolves would play four games in five nights.

The only formal response from the Bulls came during the starting lineups, when PA announcer Tommy Edwards read that “the Chicago Bulls welcome back Tom Thibodeau.” The announcement elicited considerable cheers from the United Center crowd of 21,146. The cheers were considerably louder than any returning player, which has included Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol.

Thibodeau gave a few waves to the crowd before going right back to the clipboard in his hand. Once the game began it was business as usual. Still, his players understood the magnitude of the game, even if their coach didn’t let on to it meaning more.

That the Timberwolves picked up the victory with Thibodeau-style suffocating defense - the Bulls shot just 34 percent after the first quarter - only made the victory that much sweeter for the team.

“It’s just another win on his belt, but it obviously means more coming back here,” LaVine said. “He coached here for five years. He’s a big known name around here. He had a great standing ovation. I’m happy they gave him a warm welcome back, and we wanted to win this game for him.”

Thibodeau expanded further on his love for the Chicago and the Bulls organization, answering each prying question with a politically correct, yet still heartfelt and genuine response.

“It’s great,” he said of the response from the crowd. “It’s a great organization. They have great history, tradition, and as I mentioned, I owe these people a lot. They gave me an opportunity. The city has been great, the organization has been great, and in the end it didn’t work out but for the most part, the way (Bulls owner) Jerry (Reinsdorf) treated me for 99 percent of it was unbelievable.

“It’s great to come back because when I think back of the experience I had here, it wasn’t just the games. It was the people. I was very fortunate to be with that group so I apprecaited it. It’s a great city, it’s a great sports town. I loved my time here and so anytime I do come back I look forward to it.”

Season in Review: Otto Porter shoots the lights out in small sample size

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USA TODAY

Season in Review: Otto Porter shoots the lights out in small sample size

Over the next month we'll be recapping each of the Bulls' individual 2018-19 regular seasons.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Shaq Harrison | Ryan Arcidiacono

Midseason expectations: Otto Porter Jr. arrived in Chicago the same night the Bulls posted a 126.3 offensive rating in a 125-120 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. Maybe that was foreshadowing for how the offense would look two days later when Porter made his Bulls debut. That was the expectation, at least, that Porter would infuse life into a stagnant Bulls offense, space the floor and give the Bulls some versatility on the defensive end. Given the Bulls were 12-42 when Porter arrived, the expectation was that he’d gain some chemistry with Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen heading into the 2019-2020 season when he’d have an entire offseason to figure out a defined role.

What went right: How about 49 percent from beyond the arc? Again, it was a small sample size, but Porter connected on 39 of his 80 3-point attempts in 15 games with the Bulls. Perhaps a change of scenery and leaving that nightmare of a John Wall-less Wizards offense, was exactly what he needed. Past his lights-out shooting, Porter showed a knack for distributing that he rarely showed in Washington.

Consider that Porter had 40 assists in 15 games with the Bulls, half of the 80 assists he had with the Wizards in 41 games. He had a career-high eight assists for the Bulls in a March game against the Pistons, three more than his high in Washington last season. Porter is never going to initiate offense but playing well in pick-and-roll action and keeping the ball moving around the perimeter only adds to his value.

What went wrong: Pegged as two-way player when he arrived in Chicago, Porter didn’t do all that much on the defensive end. The Bulls were 1.1 points per 100 possessions better defensively when Porter sat than when he played. It’s a small sample size, and the Bulls defense was a mess regardless of who was or wasn’t on the floor, but it’s hard to pick out any real significant defensive plays that Porter made in his 15 games.

The Stat: 111.5

We’ll disclaim here that it was just a 17-game sample size, but that’s still more than 20 percent of the season. In the 17 games between Porter’s acquisition and when he was shut down for the remainder of the season, the Bulls’ 111.5 offensive rating was ninth best in the NBA, better than teams such as the Warriors, Hawks, Sixers and Nuggets.

What’s more, their turnover percentage (13.3%, 13th), effective field goal percentage (53.0%, 11th) and offensive rebound percentage (26.1%, 15th) were all top half of the league. It was their best stretch of the season, and it was no coincidence that it came while Porter was in the lineup and healthy. Small-ish sample size? Yes. Still promising? Yes.

2019-20 Expectations: A lot. No, the Bulls didn’t give Porter that massive contract. But it’s going to stick with him as long as the Bulls are paying him. Expectations are clear: Continue to be an elite 3-point shooter and move the ball – whether it be around the perimeter or in pick-and-roll action – once the defense shifts.

Speaking of defense, Porter will be tasked with changing the narrative in Chicago. The Bulls need to improve their defense if they’re going to have any change of competing for a playoff spot and much of that responsibility will fall on Porter. He’ll routinely be guarding the opponent’s best wing and will need to hide Zach LaVine at times. It’s a tall order, but it comes with the territory while making $27 million per year.

Report: Bulls possibly interested in adding Jrue Holiday?

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Report: Bulls possibly interested in adding Jrue Holiday?

According to a story by Sporting News NBA writer Sean Deveney, the Bulls may be looking for help in the form of one of the NBA’s better two-way players.

In the post, Deveney goes over the most salient points made by brand new New Orleans Pelicans vice president of basketball operations David Griffin. This included the fact that Griffin stated that Pels head coach Alvin Gentry will be back and that Jrue Holiday is considered “a franchise building block”.

This could be a bit of gamesmanship from Griffin, hoping to drive up the asking price for an All-Star caliber player such as Holiday.

But Deveney suggests that New Orleans may indeed be serious about their efforts to keep building with Holiday on the roster. Deveney stated, “if the Pelicans don't trade Holiday, it will set up the team for an attempt at a fast turnaround rather than a long, slogging rebuild......It will also frustrate teams looking for a versatile point guard in his prime, hoping that Holiday would be on the block.”

Phoenix was mentioned as the “top contender” for Holiday’s services should he be made available, as the Suns are one of the few teams with an obvious hole at PG. Along with the Suns, Chicago and Orlando were the other teams listed as having interest in Holiday. The Magic completed a low-risk trade during the 2018-19 season that landed them 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, so they may not be inclined to give up solid assets in a deal.

As far as the Bulls are concerned, any serious inquires on Holiday are likely to come after the May 14 NBA Draft lottery.

Depending on where the Bulls lottery pick ends up, the Pelicans could be much more inclined to make a deal with the Chicago front office. The Pelicans ended the season tied with Memphis and Dallas for the 7th spot in the draft lottery odds, and their specific organizational goals could make moving up in the draft order worth losing a valuable player like Jrue Holiday. And for the Bulls, nabbing a player like Holiday helps build onto the positive team culture that Jim Boylen wants to establish and gives the Bulls a perfect guard to pair in the backcourt with Zach LaVine.