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So who needs help? Not the Bulls

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Dec 11

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

I can probably come up with a better historical figure to quote and don’t suggest any particular resemblance to anyone living or dead or in the Bulls offices, but after spending Sunday afternoon at the Bulls’ annual Berto Center media day to officially open camp for the 2011-12 season the overwhelming vibe was to quote Alfred E. Newman from Mad magazine, “What, me worry?”

General manager Gar Forman deftly swatted away questions about Richard Hamilton, Dwight Howard, shooting guards, backup centers and spy versus spy by saying the Bulls priority all along has been to just build on what the team accomplished last season and basically keep the group together.

That’s right, forget Dwight Howard, even if he did have Chicago on his short list of teams he wants to play for, which he did not. C’mon, Dwight, the Nets? I know you’re a goofball at times, but, really? Really?

As for shooting guards, the generally accepted biggest need, it seems the Bulls are waiting for Hamilton to go through the official buyout/waiver process. If that should somehow fall through, it would seem Jamal Crawford and Kirk Hinrich remain fallback options. Keith Bogans doesn’t appear as if he’ll be back as the Bulls wait whether they’ll need his expiring contract in a trade if there is a change with Hamilton. Which is not likely. For now, Ronnie Brewer has been practicing with the starting team.

“I don’t think you can ever have enough shooting,” coach Tom Thibodeau offered while saying the Bulls did have enough. Though he always says things are fine, except, of course, during games in terse comments to his players, like:

“Get up! Get up! Aaaarrrrrggghhhhh!”

Anyway, this hesitancy on the part of NBA free agents to embrace what we generally are told is the world’s second greatest city has had a lot of us thinking that maybe there’s something else wrong with Chicago we don’t know about. Does everyone have under arm odor and we really don’t smell it because we all have it so bad? Is it dead fish?

Yes, we know it gets cold. But it does in New Jersey, too. Brooklyn as well since that’s where I’m from and I know it’s stunk since the Dodgers left. But from Tracy McGrady to Grant Hill to Eddie Jones to LeBron, Wade, Bosh and now Howard, Chicago can’t seem to get a sniff. Though we did get Adam Dunn and E-Rob.

“Obviously, the sense I get talking to a number of agents Chicago is a very attractive place at this time,” insisted Forman. “A very good, young team centered around Derrick Rose, first rate coaching staff, major market, great city. My feeling moving forward is this is a very attractive situation and I think we remain very attractive as we go into the future.”

Actually, I thought so, too, but Jason Richardson, Caron Butler and Kurt Thomas, all saying at the end of their careers it was time to be with a winner chose Orlando, perhaps without Howard, the Clippers and Portland, not so respectively.

Carlos Boozer said he thought the Bulls were “high on the list for guys wanting to win (and) a group of guys they’d like to be a part of.”

And, of course, Chicago native Rose said you’d hear no questions from him.

Said Rose: “You come here you can do whatever you want to. There’s opportunity here. The front office is great. The fans are the best in the world. Chicago speaks for itself, especially with basketball.”

New Jersey, Dwight?

Anyway, I’ve digressed, as I tend to do.

“Our plan was to bring this team back, the nucleus of this team and give this group a chance to continue to grow,” said Forman. “The core group of guys we have is a talented nucleus of young guys. They had a lot of positive experiences a year ago winning 62 games, advancing in the playoffs and the experience these guys had in the playoffs will serve them well. Our goal was to bring back the nucleus of this team and we have. We love the makeup and character of this team and the chemistry we have.”

In other words, these are your Chicago Bulls. They won 62 games, they made the conference finals and they had the MVP and coach of the year. So what’s the problem? And they did it with Keith Bogans starting every game. Hamilton can’t be worse, although you might get a different story from John Kuester, who tried to throw Hamilton off the Pistons last season amidst an apparent mutiny.

But Bulls players seemed welcoming about the prospect of Hamilton joining the team.

“Did we get him?” wondered Rose, who thought a reporter first was asking his reaction to a Hamilton signing. “I don’t even know. If he was to (sign), I think he’ll be great. He’s always in perfect shape, running around, especially for his age. He has the experience, in college, I know you have to be a good player to play at Connecticut. I know he’d help us if we get him.”

Luol Deng said he’s known Hamilton since he as 14 working out at UConn with his brother. “One thing I’d say about Rip,” said Deng, “all his teammates like him. He’s a great guy in the locker room, a great teammate. He’s a guy who’s been there, won a championship. He knows what it takes know what takes and if he were to join us he’d make us better.”

Deng, actually, looked the best I’ve ever seen him to start a season. He looked mean as well with a new haircut and a line of facial hair that suggested some confidence, if not a touch of arrogance, the “I will do it” instead of, “I can do it.”

And he told me to stop trading him.

Boozer also looked better, clearly slimmer, especially in the face as the consensus seemed to be he’d lost 20 pounds. You wouldn’t think that always is a great idea playing inside, but Boozer didn’t have that quickness most expected last season. Perhaps it was injuries, which were a problem from the beginning. But he said he’d be better as did Joakim Noah, who missed about half of last season and never was the same after his hand surgery.

This generally seemed to be the “How we will improve and beat Miami” mantra for the day. Sure, the Bulls won a league high 62 games against all odds, that being Bogans starting at shooting guard and all the injuries. Not that the Bulls would have won 70 without the injuries. But everyone seemed sanguine about the lack of involvement in free agency.

As expressed most eloquently by Rose.

“We hear everything,” Rose said about all the talk of Miami, the Lakers, the Celtics. “It’s just going to push us. We had the No. 1 record in the NBA last year. I guess people forgot that. If anything, that will make us go out and play harder.”

And Rose said, of course, Thibodeau is laying it on like the Bulls had the poorest record in the NBA. Rose said Thibodeau even had the team order 30 new stationary bikes so the players could be on them while watching film instead of just sitting on chairs. No wasted time for these Bulls.

So as I wandered around — and who’s idea was it, anyway, to have media day just as the Bears game started? — here’s some more from the first day of the next phase of the Bulls’ lives.

– Boozer has provoked the most questions about whether he can regain the form that had so many excited when he was signed in 2010. He did lose weight, and Forman speculated, even though real men don’t like to mention it, Boozer likely didn’t do well with the adjustment, particularly away from his kids in the wake of a divorce. This was my own little stat, but when Boozer was with his kids in the Miami series he averaged more than 20 points and 10 rebounds. Forman said “Historically when the major free agents change teams they show more improvement from year 1 to year 2.” Of course, if that’s the case with Bosh and LeBron the Bulls have other issues.

– Thibodeau said a lot of teams in the East have gotten better and there was much work to do and there would be “striving every day to get better.” Just like Phil Jackson might have said it. Or not.

Thibodeau mentions statistics casually, but he is a statistics wonk with such sophisticated player by player analysis it is picked up in Harvey Pollack’s annual stats look at the NBA. Thibodeau said the Bulls were No. 1 in defensive efficiency, but No. 11 in offensive efficiency, though he always does say the Bulls can win with what they have. He said so again.

– I loved Deng saying he loved the schedule, which everyone around the league is moaning about. He said it should be fun going through all the games squeezed in, especially with basically the entire group returning after doing so well with a new group and coaching staff.

– Noah said he was working on a hook shot all summer, though didn’t want to quite challenge Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. “Just a normal hook,” he said. No over/under yet on whether it hits the rim.

– And Derrick, of course, you wanted to hug. He had no such bold predictions, like MVP last season, but said he was further motivated to play hard after seeing rookie Jimmy Butler taking extra shooting practice. “That makes you want to work as hard as you can when you come see a rookie shooting like that,” said Rose. Leave it to Rose, the MVP, to say he was motivated by a rookie taking extra shooting. And you know he meant it.

Rose talked about how much better he’ll be on defense and it was clear Thibodeau already is pushing him to help and recover as Rose rested more on defense last season. But who would blame him with what he had to do on offense.

He talked again about winning a championship, how hard he trained that even when he toured China in the summer he ran constantly — and not because he didn’t drink bottled water — that management was bringing in the right players for attitude and chemistry, that his basketball IQ is much higher and that in studying so much of the Miami film from last playoffs they won’t get away with overplaying him as much as they did.

He said they’ll go inside more to feature Boozer, and the best news of all that he’s ready to sign an extension, likely in the next few weeks, to stay with the Bulls.

“If it’s up to me,” said Rose, “yes, I would sign quick. I know I’m not worried about that. When the time comes, I know that I’ll sign.”

That is the best news the Bulls could hear. No need to worry.

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