The biggest Chicago Bulls stories this NBA preseason have revolved around their bigs: the possibility of trading/and later the signing of Joakim Noah and the injury to splashy offseason acquisition Carlos Boozer.
This has taken attention away from the other solid, if not spectacular players on Chicago’s front line: small forward Luol Deng, the man with the most absurdly expensive contract in team history, and second year man Taj Gibson, who will start at the four again, at least until Boozer gets back.
Both the Boozer and Noah stories are essentially non-stories. Booze gets hurt every season and seems to miss 20 games every year. He’s just getting it out of the way early this season. And for all the Noah trade rumors- he’s still here and likely will be for awhile.
That said, let’s look at the forwards who avoided the limelight this preseason.
By Paul M. Banks
Last year Taj Gibson emerged out of USC to become a member of the NBA All-Rookie team and put up 18 double doubles at the four position for the Bulls. He was one of just two guys in the team to suit up for all 82 last year; scoring double figures 35 times and leading the team in boards 24 times. His development led to so many “The Rise of Taj” headlines that employing the Van Wilder movie reference soon became exceedingly cliche.
Getting major minutes last season will give Gibson plenty of confidence this year.
“They had a lot of faith in me, even early. I came off the bench, then a starter, then I came off the bench again so I had a chance to see from both angles, starting and off-the-bench so I look forward to attacking either way,” Taj said.
“Being a part of the second unit, I look at the Phoenix Suns: how they won a lot of games with their second unit, and it fires me up,” he continued.
It’s expected that the Bulls will improve a lot this year considering they have a huge upgrade at Coach with Tom Thibodeau replacing Vinny Del Negro. I asked Gibson about the difference in coaching styles from last year to this year.
“One coach is more of a laid back player coach and not so aggressive. And Thibodeau, he’s more aggressive, more hands-on, he’s like a drill sergeant. Not saying Vinny didn’t, but he expects you to do things on a higher level. The way their coaching styles are- it’s just totally different,” he answered.
Luol Deng has been in the NBA for five years, but he’s already on his 4th coach. At Media Day he discussed the early phases of the new Thibodeau era.
“He’s a hard worker, very team-oriented, very big on defense and I love that,” Deng said.
The key to this season will probably be defense, as it’s something the Bulls lacked for much of last season, and truly lacked in the season before last. A new coaching regime will stress defense this winter, so Deng knows that he must prioritize the ability to “d up;” as should the rest of the team.
“It’s so easy to say what we should be like and all that. Us as players we have to come in and make the commitment defensively and make sure that we’re all on the same page and defense is who we are, it’s what defines us,” Deng said.
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest webzine. He is also a regular contributor to the Tribune’s Chicago Now network, Walter Football.com, the Washington Times Communities, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com
You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbankFollow paulmbanks