DEERFIELD, ILL.First, the good news. Starting point guard Kirk Hinrich will play in the Bulls regular-season opener, apparently with no limitations in the wake of the strained right-groin injury he suffered in the preseason, according to Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.
Hes fine, the coach said after the teams Tuesday-morning shootaround at the Berto Center. Hes been fine the last two days in practice, so hes good.
Thibodeau has been pleased with how Hinrich has picked up a system thats changed since his original stint in Chicago. Although he was sidelined for two exhibition contestshe also missed a game with a right-thumb injuryHinrich appeared rejuvenated in his return to the Bulls during the preseason.
You judge your point guard by how the team is functioning and so, I thought he set the tone on offense and defense for us. The ball pressure was good, his help defense was good, he kept us organized, he played with a good pace, his willingness to read matchups, read the extra pass, the ability to understand what everybodys strengths and weaknesses are. I thought he had a very good preseason, Thibodeau said. Hes been around. Hes hard-working, hes tough. He gets in early, he stays late. Hes done a good job.
Now, the negative situation surrounding the Bulls on Halloween. The organization has an 11 p.m. Central time deadline to reach an agreement with valuable reserve Taj Gibson on a long-term contract extension.
The desire for Gibson to remain in Chicago is mutual, but the two sides have had a gap when it comes to closing the deal, though it should be noted that the Bulls would be able to match opposing offers next summer, if the fourth-year player were to hit the open market. Thibodeau believes Gibson is doing a good job of not letting the ongoing negotiations between the franchises front office and his Chicago-based agent, Mark Bartelstein, affect his play.
Hes handled it well. Hes just focused on playing, Thibodeau said of Gibson, whose peers in the 2009 draft class have found it hard to get extensions, though Golden States Stephen Curry reportedly reached a deal Tuesday morning and Denvers Ty Lawson, another point guard, agreed to terms Monday. Thats the business side and his agent will take care of that for him. Hes done a good job in practice and getting ready.
As for the Bulls opponent Tuesday, the Sacramento Kings, Thibodeau isnt underestimating the young team. Despite a mediocre record last season and low expectations for this campaign, Thibodeau lauded their talent and depth.
Theyre dangerous. They can put a lot of points on the board and they have a lot of weapons. DeMarcus Cousins skill set is unique. Jason Thompson is very underrated. Former Bull James Johnson has gotten better every year in the league, he said. Former NBA Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans can hurt you off the dribble, in the post, catch and shoot, athletic, runs the floor. Fellow Seattle native Nate Robinsons protg Isaiah Thomas, big-time scorer, had a great year as a rookie last year and they added Aaron Brooks, whos started a lot of games. Marcus Thornton is a big-time scorer off the bench. Travis Outlaws been a very good player in the league. Chuck Hayes is one of those guys I dont think you can ever measure him statistically; he can guard all five positions, hes a terrific passer, great rebounder. Thomas Robinsons a good young player.
This team, theyre very talented. Theyre talented, theyre deep and they can score. Were going to be challenged. We have to be ready.
While Evanswho is in the same boat as Gibson, but is reportedly seeking a max-level contract and is unlikely to receive onewas viewed as the future of the Kings after he drew Oscar Robertson comparisons as a rookie, Cousins has taken over that role. The volatile big man, who played alongside Gibson in July with the USA Select Team in Las Vegas, has quietly developed into one of the leagues top young post players.
Theres not much he cant do. He can face you up and he can shoot, he can post, he can pass. You dont realize how quick he is and athletic. On ball reversal, if youre not careful, hell jump out in the passing lane. He can handle the ball. Hes a basketball player, praised Thibodeau, using one of injured superstar Derrick Roses go-to phrases to describe a well-rounded player. Ive been very impressed with him.
While Thibodeau was pleased with some of his teams progress during the exhibition season, he still feels the team has a long way to go, regardless of its 5-2 preseason mark. The coach didnt go as far as using the old axiom that the preseason doesnt matter, but hes been focused on the Bulls being consistent.
Each game reveals something to you, but it doesnt stop. We want to keep evolving as it goes along, so youre going to learn more about how guys function together, what gives us our best chance, he said. That never ends and I think youre constantly studying and evaluating the team, and the game tells you the things youre doing well and the things youre not doing well, and for us, I dont want us to change what were doing. I want us to concentrate on improvement. I think we have an understanding of what we have to do to be successful and I want to make sure were moving in that direction every day.