Bulls open training camp positively positive


Sep 27

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And so began the Bulls’ 2010-11 season noon Monday at the suburban Berto Center, and I admit I was taken aback when I walked in and thought I saw Carmelo Anthony.

My mistake. It was Brian Scalabrine.

I always mix them up.

If no news was good news, there was plenty positive Monday as general manager Gar Forman said he anticipated going with the roster they have now. Which, of course, didn’t mean that much regarding trades since Forman also said he feels it’s inappropriate to discuss other teams’ business or players and would hope other teams feel the same way toward the Bulls.

Guess not based on all these anonymous alleged general managers discussing Anthony’s future, which variously has been directed toward Chicago, New Jersey, New York and other places.

Anthony at the Nuggets’ media day camp opening Monday did his best Alfred E. Newman “Who me?” about wanting to be traded. What him worry? Nah, Anthony said, he never asked to be traded. Of course, since such requests carry substantial fines now, no one is about to admit anything.

So all those breathless reports that the Nuggets had to trade Anthony before coming to camp. Never mind.

Joakim Noah did say he expected Anthony to be traded, and Noah’s name has been mentioned.

“I love it here in Chicago and definitely want to be here,” Noah said with a smile. “As of today, I’m still here.”

But it seems obvious to me one reason Noah isn’t close to agreeing to a contract extension with the Bulls is he doesn’t intend to sign anything until Anthony is traded. There aren’t generally no trade clauses in the NBA and Noah’s not about to end up shipped to Denver.

So, I don’t see any movement between Noah and the Bulls for a while, though I don’t see any urgency since the Bulls, effectively, can have Noah for two more years without extending his deal. And given Noah’s been hurt two of his three seasons in the NBA—even though he says his plantar fasciitis is fine now and he has new sneakers—it would seem crazy to me if I were Noah to wait two years and maybe three with a lockout possible before getting long term security.

But, hey, Noah does dance to very different drummers than the rest of us.

I love these goofy world wide media sessions, though this one was a bit more muted given the Bears were playing Green Bay on Monday night football. So I think a lot of alternative media were there and there was a bit of that Super Bowl media day atmosphere, and as I wandered over to talk to Kurt Thomas I heard someone asking him what he thought was the best invention in world history.

I thought this was somewhat unfair given Thomas is the team’s oldest player and the implication was he was there when the wheel was discovered.

Thomas did say he planned to play physically and be tough and let people know he was there. He didn’t grunt even once, though.

*   *   *   *   *   *

There’s always lots of solemn inquiries about this tough life these guys go through and all this “frustration (that’s a favorite)” about hearing your name in trade rumors and the pressures that go with it.

Which is why you just have to love Noah.

He basically seems to think everyone else is nuts.

Someone, tentatively, asked how frustrating his summer was given this talk about possibly being traded and unable to agree on a contract extension, which basically is something like not deciding yet whether he wants to make more than $10 million a year.

To Noah’s credit, he was aghast.

“Frustrating!” Noah exclaimed. “No way it was frustrating. I had the time of my life. I went to Hawaii, went to West Africa, went to Cameroon. I have a house there. I got to see my grandparents in Sweden. I went to Las Vegas, New York City. Then I came back to work out here. I met the president. I went to Barack Obama’s birthday party. I had a great summer.” And did he mention he flew off to France this past weekend to see his father in concert?

I just want to be the guy for a week.

Noah did tell a sweet story of the best part, which he said was the cab ride to the White House and his mother crying and reminiscing of how much she hated taking him to all those basketball practices as a kid and now here he was taking her to meet the president because of basketball.

“’I’m so proud of you,’” she said to Noah, who added, “That was the best part.”

Noah clearly liked Obama, though he did say he remains against the wars. But he did say he gained new and profound respect for the soldiers as he met many that day and heard their stories.

Noah also said he thanked the president for his support of the Bulls in free agency, like when Obama suggested LeBron would look good in a Bulls jersey.

I interrupted that Obama’s help didn’t succeed, but Noah was quick to that one.

“I think we were very successful in free agency,” he said.

Yes, the so called media day kickoff to the season is like baseball spring training. Everyone is healthy, chemistry is great. No one has missed a shot yet.

*   *   *    *    *

There was a lot of talk, of course, about the Miami Heat and it’s threesome of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Noah admitted he was tired of hearing all the talk and he was glad to get ready to play, a sort of strap it on and let’s get at it and see what everyone’s got and enough of the bull.  

“I think a lot of people are very mad at them for the way they did things,” said Noah, not mentioning the word “collusion,” as Phil Jackson slyly did at the Lakers’ opening. “They are going to be very good. In terms of talent, we have never seen anything like that. But I think we’ll be very good and it’s up to us to be the best we can be.”

I liked Derrick’s Rose’s oblique take, though, when he was asked about the USA Basketball World Championships team this summer. Rose said he was excited to finally be on a championship team again since he hadn’t since high school. Yes, almost five whole years!

Rose said it was a great experience with the team.

“Just having fun, playing video games and like that,” he said. “We weren’t talking about playing with one another.”

Yes, like LeBron, Wade and Bosh obviously did in 2008.

Right, fooled us.

But I also liked Rose’s subtle arrogance. He wasn’t involved in the recruiting of any of the summer free agents, obviously not that it would have mattered. But his point seemed a bit of he didn’t think he needed to go begging. He’ll win and succeed with whomever is there.

“Why can’t I be the MVP of the league,” he said. “Why can’t I be the best player in the league? I don’t see why (not). Why can’t I do that? I dedicate myself to the game and sacrifice a lot of things, and I know if I do what I can get out of it.”

Asked about playing the Heat, Rose scoffed: “I don’t think it’s gonna be fear.”

That’s the attitude.

*   *   * * * *

I walked over to talk to Omer Asik, mostly because I was curious if he spoke English. Frankly, I admire the international players a lot. They learn our language. We never learn theirs. Many of us barely learn ours. And while Asik was a bit halting, he understood the questions and answered in English. He seemed thrilled to be with the Bulls. I knew this because he also said so.

“I am excited,” he said. “I am happy to be here, to be part of it. I hope I am helping the team. It is going to be a short period for me to adapt to the team.”

I generally try to fix up the sentence structure a bit so as not to make the multilanguage guys sound bad, though we never have to fix the quotes as much as they do with Ozzie Guillen and Mayor Daley.

I had heard around the team that in some informal workouts Noah was having difficulty making moves against Asik’s huge size, and Noah was positive about Asik and said he felt he’d help sooner than many expect.

Noah, by the way, like Rose, said he worked more on his game this summer than ever and did every workout personally with coach Tom Thibodeau, who already has given him a primer on where he wants him to catch the ball for his offense, where his shots should come from and what shots. Noah said he’s worked extensively on a hook. Uh, oh.

It’s always easy to criticize the previous coach, but the Bulls with major changes did make the playoffs twice with Vinny Del Negro. But it was no surprise to hear how outsiders viewed the Bulls game.

* *   *   *   *

One of the more interesting additions is going to be Kyle Korver, who, like all the new guys, was friendly. But Korver also elaborated on details that you don’t often hear from players.

C.J. Watson, the new backup point guard, obviously is quiet and somewhat shy and while he gladly answered questions, he gave mostly answers like the cliché lesson from Bull Durham.

Korver was talking about how Rose would have it easier this season, that he’d play more a traditional point guard role like Deron Williams did in Utah with Carlos Boozer to throw it to in the post and options off that.

“You played against the Bulls the last few years and a big part of it was him backing up,” said Korver, “then pick and roll and have him drive to the basket and whatever happens, happens, and play off that.”

Yes, we know that offense. Or what you’d call an offense.

“I think it’s all there for us to be very good,” said Korver. “Maybe we didn’t get the big names some teams got, Miami got. But the Bulls did a great job of bringing in pieces that fit together. When all is said and done chemistry gets overlooked by a lot of people in the media, the hype, preseason magazines.”

I tend to agree with him and I think the pieces the Bulls have do fit well. It is not fantasy basketball.

I was asking Korver whether he was a two or three and he was talking about it being interchangeable, which we heard last year about John Salmons, who didn’t quite make the adjustment. But Korver is quick and right away gave an astute analysis of Salmon’s game, though kinder than some when he said he doesn’t need to dribble around with the ball. “John’s at his best when he has the ball,” Korver noted.

He also noted there’s some edge to have the three Jazz players coming in together given they played a team style and are familiar with one another and didn’t think the adjustments would take too long.

I asked him about that amazing behind the basket shot he hit in that late season game the Jazz won on national TV, and he told a great story of how he had a video growing up of Larry Bird making a shot like that and the announcer, likely Johnny Most, screaming, “Bird over the backboard. Oh! Oh!”

Korver said he actually heard that tape again in his head as he was shooting the shot that night and went into a Johnny Most imitation. He did add he doubted it would be in the new play book.

“If anyone needs one,” he laughed, “I’ll do it.”

*  *   *   *   *

Korver’s former teammate Ronnie Brewer remains likely the one question mark in the starting lineup. He had a severe hamstring injury when traded to Memphis for salary cap relief last season, and he has seemed OK in preseason workouts and says he’s healthy.

He has that crooked arm from a fifth grade accident and shooting always has been a question. Though he’s a mover like Luol Deng and a worker.

He admitted despite his dad being an NBA player he wasn’t quite a student and didn’t know the extent of Jerry Sloan’s NBA play until he came to Chicago and saw Sloan’s number retired.

“I thought, ‘Coach, you got some game,’” he said with a laugh. “He always told me how he and (Norm) Van Lier were out there battling. He taught me so much.”

He also said growing up in Arkansas he always thought Scottie Pippen was the best Bull, or should have been.

“Everyone said, ‘Michael Jordan’ from those intros,” recalled Brewer. “I heard ‘Hamburg.’ I said, ‘The Arkansas guy has to be the best.’ I always wanted to be versatile like Scottie.”

*    *    *    *    *

The guy everyone always loves to trade, Luol Deng, seemed in great spirits. He also alluded to the somewhat predictable offense last season and said he was most excited about the plan to throw the ball inside more, which would give him more opportunities to cut and move. 

“I can go back to moving without the ball,” said Deng. “It will allow me to use my instincts. On paper, we look great.”

Deng said he feels great as well, especially because a year ago coming off the stress fracture he couldn’t work out in the summer and now came through playing for Great Britain in good shape and is healthier than he has been in years.

As for the trade talk, Deng was philosophical.

He said he was a Suns pick on draft day that the Bulls traded for so he was traded his first day in the NBA.

“And it hasn’t stopped since,” he said with a smile. “Someone’s always moving things around. You can’t do anything about that.”

*   *   *   *  *

And then there was Taj Gibson, who also was mentioned in trade talk, supposedly for Anthony, and Gibson, typically for his upbeat, I-can’t-believe-I’m-in-the-NBA attitude, was thrilled.

He said it was an honor to be mentioned in trade talk. He lost his starting job to Boozer, but he said he talks to Boozer all the time and is thrilled to be mentored by him.

“At one point, you are not even thought of about even playing,” said Gibson. “Now, teams are talking of you coming to their team. I felt flattered people tossed my name around. You come to the NBA, you want respect. It’s great Chicago has me here.”

Gibson said he’s working most on shooting and shooting range and is excited to be a leader of the bench unit. He says they’ll have to come up with one of those nicknames.

“I had fun coming off the bench,” said Gibson. “Second units come in and win a lot of games.”

Yes, still undefeated and feeling great.

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