NBA PM: Bulls Ready to Take Next Step
Last season, the Chicago Bulls managed to win a league-best 62 games despite having ten new players, a first-year head coach and a number of injuries. Now, as the Bulls sit atop the Eastern Conference with a 13-3 record, the team is ready to take the next step and compete for a championship.
“You always have try to get better,” Luol Deng told HOOPSWORLD. “Last year, we made a deep run. Now, our goal is to go beyond that. The goal is always to win a championship, that’s why you play the game. We just have to take it step by step. We can’t look ahead now, we have to win these games first and get to the playoffs. Then, we’ll advance from there.”
One advantage for Chicago is their chemistry. After adding so many new pieces last year, the Bulls have brought back their same core. Their only significant addition is Richard Hamilton, who has played in the league for 13 years and gelled quickly with his new teammates. With a condensed season and limited practice time, Chicago is fortunate that many of their players are familiar with one another as well as Tom Thibodeau’s system.
“It’s great, especially since we had a shortened training camp,” Deng said. “With a shortened season, having guys that are familiar with the system helps a lot. We have a great group of guys and we’re committed to doing whatever it takes to win. That’s what makes us a good team. We face different challenges every night. Guys are going to have great games and bad games, but we’re always in it together.”
The Bulls are also one of the deepest teams in the league. Their second unit consists of talented players who would likely compete for starting jobs on other teams. C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik have done an excellent job keeping Chicago in games when the starters leave the floor.
“I think this is the deepest team I’ve ever played on,” Watson told HOOPSWORLD after scoring 23 points in Tuesday’s win over the Phoenix Suns. “Our depth is great and guys are sacrificing a lot for the betterment of the team. It just shows the character of our guys. We don’t care about who gets the credit. We just want to win, even though a lot of guys on our bench can be starters elsewhere or have been at points in their career. We just try to keep the lead or get the lead back if we’re down. When we get in the game, we try not to let it be a drop off from the starters.”
Even though the Bulls have the best record in the East, they continue to hear about teams like the Miami Heat and New York Knicks. While they have been overlooked to an extent, they have no problem with that. In fact, they prefer to fly under the radar.
“That’s fine with us,” Deng said with a smile. “The media is always going to look for things to talk about. As long as we stay together and focus on each game, we’re going to be fine. We’re not trying to get caught up in all of that.”
Chicago was able to defy all odds and lead the league in wins last season. Now, their expected to succeed and the Bulls are ready for the challenge. They weren’t satisfied with last year’s deep postseason run. They want to win a championship and won’t settle for anything less.
Utah Continues to Surprise: Entering the season, nobody viewed the Utah Jazz as a playoff team. With six rotation players under 25 years old, they were viewed as little more than a promising, up-and-coming team. Now, a quarter into the season, they are the second seed in the competitive Western Conference, above teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks.
The Jazz have been one of the pleasant surprises in the NBA this season. Their 9-4 record is a result of excellent coaching by Ty Corbin and unity among the players. The team has become very close and they trust each other on both ends of the floor.
“Guys are coming together,” Paul Millsap said. “We’ve been helping each other on defense and sharing the basketball on offense. When you do that, you’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
The coaching staff has been stressing ball movement and help defense from day one, and the players are seeing the results of their hard work. The team is having a lot of fun with this style of play, which focuses on each individual’s ability to finish at the rim rather than settle for jump shots.
“It’s fun when everybody is out there playing hard and playing together,” C.J. Miles said. “We’re passing the ball and usually that ball movement is leading to good shots, dunks and layups. We have guys capable of finishing plays like that. We’re having fun, but we’re playing hard. That’s what allows us to do that.”
Corbin has done a stellar job and is an early candidate for Coach of the Year, along with Philadelphia 76ers’ head coach Doug Collins. Both teams have exceeded expectations and won with a young group of players. Corbin enjoys coaching this team and couldn’t be happier with where they’re at in the standings.
“I really enjoy watching the guys have fun doing what they do,” Corbin said. “They really work together and they deserve to have some success. As hard as they work, with everything we go through in practice and all of the demands we put on them to make sure they stay ready, it’s great to see it all come together. They’re able to have fun and enjoy the rewards that come with their hard work.”
While the Jazz have shocked everyone with their early success, Utah’s veterans are making sure that the team stays hungry and focused going forward.
“We’re on pace to be where we want to be,” Millsap said. “We’re not there yet and we still have a lot of work to do. We still have a long season ahead of us, and we just have to stay humble and hungry.”
“As long as we stick together as a group, I think the sky is the limit,” Josh Howard said. “We’ve been doing a great job of that.”
The Jazz are a well-rounded team that will only continue to improve as their young players gain experience and their team develops chemistry. They have already beaten talented teams such as the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers, but whether they’ll continue at this pace remains to be seen.
Howard Isn’t Interested in Clippers: Dwight Howard hasn’t added the Los Angeles Clippers to his list of preferred destinations, multiple sources confirm. Right now, the New Jersey Nets appear to be Howard’s top choice, with the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers not far behind.
Howard hasn’t given the Clippers much thought and denied that his list of teams has changed when asked prior to Tuesday’s game against the Charlotte Bobcats. The superstar center is tired of the media speculating where he’s going to land.
Howard jokingly told reporters, “Sources say Dwight Howard is signing with the Harlem Globetrotters.”
Right now, Howard is focusing on winning games with the Orlando Magic. The team is off to a 10-3 start and they’ve received significant contributions from Ryan Anderson, Hedo Turkoglu and J.J. Redick. Howard and the Magic are having a terrific season, which is impressive given all of the trade rumors and distractions that are surrounding the team.