The Chicago Bulls held their Media Today at the Berto Center, their practice facility in Deerfield, Illinois, and these are the most noteworthy snippets of the afternoon:
Gar & Vinny Address the Ben Gordon Loss
First order of business—how does the Bulls organization replace the 20+ points per game they lost by letting Ben Gordon walk this past season? Vinny Del Negro echoed what I think many other people suspected by suggesting it will have to be the result of everyone stepping up their game.
MJ college pics from SI.
After 2 season of injuries Luol Deng is ready -
The basketball court was only one source of Luol Deng's angst. In the ever-important court of public opinion, Deng is lucky he wasn't sentenced to hang.
As a professional athlete, the Chicago Bulls forward had it all going against him. First, he turned down a contract with the kind of numbers that make most normal people choke on their cornflakes ($57.5 million, five years). Then, he signed an even bigger deal ($71 million, six years), but not before his play dipped (strain of negotiations). It was all compounded by injuries, and the team bottomed out at 33-49.
When Deng did not bounce back at the start of last season, then got hurt again -- missing 11 games with hamstring and ankle problems and sitting out the final 22 games, plus the playoffs, with what the team termed "mild inflammation" while he was calling it a "tibial stress fracture" -- well, let's just say Deng wasn't having his dinner check picked up by adoring fans on a regular basis.
The fact that Deng happens to be one of the most upstanding and charitable-minded young athletes in all of sports mattered very little compared with his failure to materialize into the next big thing.
That's what we were calling him after 2006-07, when the Bulls embarrassed the Miami Heat and pushed the Central Division champion Detroit Pistons to six games.
Deng was christened a future All-Star, and it was not unreasonable.
Bench strength -
While sifting through the incredible amount of data over at 82games.com, I came across the NBA Team Starter/Reserve stats page for the 2008-09 season. Check this out:
Last season, the Bulls bench ranked 13th in points per 100 possessions (106.3), 10th in rebounds per game (14.3), ninth in points per game (31.0), tied for 7th in assists per game (6.9), tied for fourth in steals per game (2.7), and an amazing third in the league (behind Boston and Utah and ahead of the Lakers and Cleveland) in net points (+462). That’s some pretty impressive bench production! And note that the four teams around them in net points were a combined 241-87…that’s a winning percentage of 73 percent. So bench-wise, the Bulls were in elite company in 2008-09.
Rose took SAT -
For the second straight day, Derrick Rose was asked about the allegation that someone took the SAT exam for him during his senior year of high school. Again, Rose denied any wrong doing and said he took the exam himself.
"I'm not worried about that," he said. "Right now, I'm worried about the season. I just want to put that behind me."
Bulls and VDN growing together -
Vinny Del Negro surveyed the Berto Center court between Saturday's first day of double practices, took a deep breath and smiled.
"No question this morning's practice was by far the best practice we've had this year so far," the Bulls coach deadpanned.
Rim shots aside, Del Negro knows the need for the Bulls' development isn't merely limited to players. Like Derrick Rose, Del Negro no longer is a rookie, and the pressure is on for both individuals to take the next step.
"I need to improve, and I will improve," Del Negro said. "I made a lot of very smart decisions last year and some I wish I could redo. But it's just part of the growing process as a coach."
Del Negro's candor is a refreshing contrast to last season, when he refused to second-guess himself for not having timeouts at the end of playoff games or repeatedly using single coverage on a hot Paul Pierce.
Del Negro is entering the second year of a three-year contract with expectations the Bulls must build on last season's first-round playoff loss to the Celtics.
"My expectations personally are always very high," he said. "That's just the way I'm built. Having an understanding of the speed of the game as a coach, the managing of people as a coach, the managing of time during practice as a coach ... there are so many things thrown at you, especially when you haven't done it before. There's definitely more of a comfort level for me."
Defense is top priority -
Bulls.com: Obviously there are a lot of priorities to address as camp begins, but would you say that defense is the top priority?
Forman: “It really is. We have got to have a defensive mentality about how we play, and that’s got to start on the first day, Saturday, when we open up camp. It’s our goal to have a defensive base as to how we play on that end of the floor. That’s got to be from the first man to the thirteenth man on the team. With that comes maintaining our energy level, not only throughout a game, but throughout the season. Whether it is in practice or in games, when we approach things, the players are going to be held accountable to that defensive mentality. It’s a huge point of emphasis as we start the season.”
5 Bulls questions -
3. How much better can Rose be?
Even some closest to Rose believe he exceeded expectations in winning Rookie of the Year honors last season. That's why it shouldn't be a surprise if Rose takes an even bigger jump in improvement from Year 1 to Year 2.
Rose has worked out religiously, mostly in Los Angeles with trainer Rob McClanaghan, and has added muscle in his upper torso. He looked focused, composed and more outgoing during an appearance at his local basketball camp in August.
Rose has told associates he hopes to be more assertive at the defensive end and with his leadership this season.
Rose is the new clutch option -
Rose's life is basketball. He socializes like any 20-year-old millionaire, but his main focus is improving his game. It's plainly obvious to see how much the sport means to him, and watching him spin a basketball on his right finger while holding a conversation, I remembered how entertaining he is on the court.
Rose is a legitimate NBA star, especially after wowing the league in the Bulls' thrilling seven-game series loss to the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. Rose doesn't think too highly of his performance, not publicly at least.
"It went well," he said, "but if I had to grade it, it would be a C. To tell you the truth, that's how hard I judge myself. I want to win everything. No matter how hard it is, I want to win."
Salmons more versatile than BG -
Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro is going to miss Ben Gordon, but he's content with John Salmons.
"[Salmons] gives you a little more versatility," Del Negro told the Chicago Tribune. "We'll have to wait and see how all that pans out, but you like that length.
"One of the areas we struggled was defensive rebounding, so with more size at the two [shooting guard] and with Luol (Deng) back healthy and then with a couple of rookies that have some length ... it gives us some more options and versatility."
Opposing two-guards won't be able to post up against Chicago often anymore, as Salmons provides a bigger obstacle.
"The only difference is really on defense," Salmons said of moving from small forward to shooting guard. "Guarding the two and the three, sometimes, is going against two totally different players. Threes are more post-up wings, one-on-one players. A lot of twos run off screens for the most part.
Rose soaks up Kobe Karma -
The cameras were rolling. The good-natured trash talk was flying. And the video game commercial was nearing completion earlier this month in Los Angeles.
Derrick Rose says he didn't want the experience to end.
Humble to a fault, Rose still doesn't picture himself worthy of rubbing elbows with the game's elite. So the second-year Bulls guard had an ulterior motive to sharing a set with Kobe Bryant.
"When you're around people like that, of course you can learn a lot," Rose said Sunday following practice. "How they manage themselves, how they eat, how they treat people, how they take care of their business, how hard they work, how they act all day.
"If Kobe's not the most competitive person in the league, I'd like to see the person who works harder. That's Kobe. He wants to win everything. I want to win everything. I guess it's something that's just born in you."
Running with The Bulls -
An NBA media day event can quickly turn your day into a non-productive one if you go in without a plan. Covering the Chicago Bulls annual media day last Friday at the team’s practice facility, the Sheri L. Berto center in suburban Deerfield, IL, my plan was simple. While some reporters and members of various media outlets looked for stories regarding the departure of Ben Gordon, the health of Luol Deng and John Salmons, Tyrus Thomas’ contract situation, or if Derrick Rose actually took hJoakim Noahis SAT test or not, the only story I was after was a basketball one.
I wanted to know and see for myself how Rose had grown from last season going into this one? On a team who just two months earlier lost its leading scorer to the archrival Detroit Pistons, as a second year player, with a second year head coach on a still relatively young team, success or failure of the Bulls this season rests squarely on his 20-year-old shoulders now, more than it ever did. And I wanted to know how he was going to handle the pressure.
With the balance of power in the NBA shifting from west to east and considering that the Bulls made no significant moves to improve their team during the offseason, it’s going to take a lot for them to compete and remain relevant in the Eastern Conference. The days of sneaking up and surprising teams like they did last season are long gone. But if looks mean anything, then teams going up against this year’s squad had better be ready for a fight. The Eastern Conference has always been known as the more physical of the two and the Bulls look ready to live up to the nature of the east.
Maybe the dumbest/worst link I've ever posted ...
Kobe catching (or passing) MJ? -
Let me start by saying how privileged I was to watch Michael Jordan play his entire career, I saw amazing moments. As a Knicks fan, he broke our hearts millions of times. Competing against those Ewing-led frontlines was no easy task.
So when he won, he definitely earned it. New York fans hated him because he wasn't a Knick, but we still respected, admired, and were in awe of him.
I saw amazing moves, both graceful and smooth. I saw clutch shots, I saw Mike put it all on the line in the biggest moments. He was so good I could just say Mike and people know exactly who I'm talking about.
Whether they were a sports fan or not. What set Mike apart from the others was his killer instinct. He was an assassin on the court. he looked to embarrass and annihilate his opponents, especially when it really counted.
In the beginning he had the league in awe because he was an innovator. His acrobatic moves, crazy shots and dunks hypnotized us into amazement. He scored on opponents with ridiculous ease. Midway through his career, he was labeled as the best player in the league, and the best to come along in years.
That was just off of his talent alone. He wasn't in the discussion of being the best player ever until he was able to trust his teammates, get his whole team involved, and win games.
I remember one game in particular, where my respect for him really hit an all time high. It was Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, and he had the flu or a fever or something. I've heard all of that before, but for once you could see by the look of him he was really sick.
You saw the fatigue in his face. When he went to the bench he was visibly exhausted, and not from running up and down the court. He gutted it out and carried that team to a series clinching win. That pretty much sums up the will of Michael Jordan
James Johnson fighting for minutes -
Chicago Bulls rookie James Johnson was drafted for his versatility and aggressiveness, but he said he knows he has a lot of "fighting" to do to earn some minutes this upcoming season.
"I've been working on my jump shot a lot try to make it more consistent. It's been working out for me. I've been playing well and practicing well as long as I can keep up and help teammates out; that's all that matters," Johnson said.
And that included a little hazing by bringing the donuts.
"It's just fun. It's part of the game, part of being a rookie; but it's been nothing but love so far. Just a little bit of breakfast here and there, some Dunkin Donuts, Panera bread. It's all good," James said.
Asked if showing them his black belt in martial arts would end the hazing, Johnson said, "They know about it but I don't think they care," Johnson said.
Teammate Joakim Noah said, "I haven't' seen any of his martial arts skills and I hope I don't."