Gasol, Bulls Confident Entering Season
When Pau Gasol was weighing his free agency options over the offseason, the two-time champion kept coming back to the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls have a ton of talent, one of the best head coaches in the NBA in Tom Thibodeau and championship aspirations, which were several things that Gasol was looking for in his next team. After giving his decision much thought, the 34-year-old ultimately settled on Chicago because he felt it was the perfect landing spot for him.
Gasol turned down other interested teams like the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder, signing a three-year deal worth $22 million with the Bulls. Chicago had just won 48 games in the previous year despite losing Derrick Rose just 10 games into the season and, entering the 2014-15 campaign, they are once again considered an elite team now that they’ll be back at full strength. Gasol wasn’t the only marquee free agent who found the Bulls to be an attractive suitor; Carmelo Anthony also strongly considered Chicago before deciding to re-sign with the New York Knicks.
Now, after practicing with his new teammates and playing some preseason games, Gasol is feeling good about his choice and confident that Chicago has what it takes to compete at a high level.
“I’m excited to play with the guys,” Gasol said. “I think we have great guys, great players, and I look forward to working with them, playing with them and seeing how we fit with each other. I think we’re a deep team so it should be a lot of fun to just compete, play basketball, get ready for the season and see how far we can get.”
With Gasol, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott, Chicago could have the best frontcourt in the NBA this season. Gasol believes that’s very possible.
“[Noah and Gibson] are going to be physical, are going to be active, and are going to make things difficult for you,” Gasol said. “You’re going to have to work to earn everything you get. I think Jo does a great job setting the tone defensively with his passion and intensity. Then, Taj is also a guy who brings athleticism and versatility out there, which is extremely important for any team. I’m happy to add to that and I think we’re going to complement each other very well.
“We’re just going to do what we’re supposed to do and hopefully dominate all the other frontcourts in the league.”
Gasol is particularly excited to team up with Noah, who helped recruit him to Chicago. Both players are skilled big men who can score, pass and defend at a high level. And both players have nothing but positive things to say about the other.
“He’s a very outgoing guy, very forward and he doesn’t sugarcoat much, which I appreciate, and I think he’s very humble for a guy that was named All-NBA First Team,” Gasol said of Noah. “[Over the summer] he shared his excitement about the possibility of playing together. What he also told me is that he and the rest of the team are extremely hungry, which I wanted to hear. That’s what I want to be a part of, that attracts me a lot, so [I said], ‘Let me think about it.’ That’s pretty much what he was; he was a guy who wasn’t trying to sell anything, who wasn’t trying to say the right things – even though he was saying them without trying. He was just being honest. He’s a guy I’m excited to play with because I’ve played against him and competed against him many times and I know what he brings to the table. I think we can complement each other very well and do a lot of great things on the floor together.”
“I think it’s going to be great,” Noah added. “I’m so excited about being able to work with Pau, somebody who has unbelievable talent and unbelievable experience too. He’s somebody who has won championships. I’m in my eighth year and having somebody who, at 30 years old, I can learn from is pretty special. It’s exciting; I feel like I can get better and I feel like I’m going to learn a lot from Pau.”
Gasol is also thrilled to team up with Rose, whom he really respects. Rose also helped recruit Gasol, calling the big man and expressing interest in playing together back in July. Gasol believes that Rose will return to superstar form this season and he can’t wait to form a one-two punch with him.
“I look forward to playing with Derrick, to develop our relationship on and off the court,” Gasol said. “I think the most important part is to just make each other better, complement each other and make the right plays for ourselves and for our teammates. I think we can develop a special bond and I look forward to seeing him play, seeing him getting confidence and dominate the game like he used too.”
“Pau is tough, man,” Rose told Bulls.com. “I can’t wait to see how we jell together. Just seeing him in a couple of practices, he’s able to use both hands very well, he’s got a couple of very good moves in the post and you can just tell he’s experienced. He’s someone who has been through, what, 12 or 13 training camps already so he knows how the NBA goes. We’re just fortunate to have him.”
Looking back on his free agency experience, Gasol admitted that he did not enjoy it and that he doesn’t want to go through the process again.
“It was a difficult decision; it was a difficult process to go through and I don’t wish to go through it again because it was just very stressful,” Gasol said of free agency. “My phone was blowing up. It got to points in the day where I just didn’t want to be by my phone so I just put it away. I don’t know who called at those times. I tried to return the calls and the messages as much as I could, because I was trying to be respectful and appreciative of the people that had interest in me. I did not expect nor anticipate that it was going to be that hectic and that stressful. So first it was hard for me to make the decision to move on from the team that I’ve been a part of and been through so much with – the Lakers. Then, after that, it was, ‘Okay, where do I want to play?’”
While deciding to leave the Lakers was understandably tough for Gasol, he realized it was time to move on. The team had just won 27 games, which was the second-worst record in the Western Conference and the worst record in franchise history. At this stage in his career, Gasol wanted to play for a contender, which is why he only considered top-tier teams in free agency. Walking away from the Lakers wasn’t easy, but he felt it was the best move for his career.
“[We had] a couple rough seasons after having a great run, so different factors played in,” Gasol said of leaving the Lakers. “To me, I felt like it was time to be in a different position – to be in a position where I felt I have a chance to expose my talents and add to the quality and value of the team that I would join. It felt right for me to make that decision. It was hard to do it, but life is about making tough decisions at times and it means you have to look ahead.”
“With Pau, I think he had it in his mind that he really wanted to come here,” Rose added. “We were the first team that he was really looking to go to during free agency. Right away, just talking to him, that’s what I felt. I felt like he wanted come here after I got off the phone with him. … When you add someone like Pau, it’s for sure going to make you a better team and I thank the Bulls for that because there’s going to be a lot of games where I don’t have to do a lot to win a game.”
Gasol knows that it will take some time for him to get acclimated in Chicago and for the team to reach their full potential. He’s hoping that his experience will make the adjustment period shorter, and he’s optimistic that he’ll jell with his new teammates rather quickly and that Thibodeau will figured out the best ways to utilize him.
“It takes a little time,” Gasol said. “I’ve been on many teams, and when a new player comes in it takes a little time to get that player to adjust, to assimilate everything, to utilize his strengths within the team. It takes practices, it takes games. They’re a little different so we’re going to try and maximize our opportunities so the transition happens quickly and smoothly.”
The Bulls should be one of the NBA’s best teams this season and likely the biggest inner-conference threat to the star-studded Cleveland Cavaliers. The addition of Gasol will certainly help the Bulls on both ends of the floor and make them an even scarier team.
“Right now, I’m just excited to be a part of this team and this franchise,” Gasol said. “I feel energized. I feel rejuvenated. I feel like I just can’t wait to jump on the floor and play with the guys, something that I love feeling.”
Bryant Feeling Good After Testing Himself
Last season, all eyes were on Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant as he returned from a torn Achilles tendon, but his comeback was cut short after just six games due to a season-ending lateral tibial plateau fracture in his left knee.
Now, entering the 2014-15 season, Bryant is back at full strength and determined to prove he’s still an elite player.
In Bryant’s first game in 10 months, a preseason contest against the Denver Nuggets, he finished with 13 points, five assists and two rebounds in 21 minutes. He looked very good and seemed comfortable back on the court:
Bryant has also looked great playing five-on-five during training camp. Most importantly, he says he’s feeling fine, which is excellent news for the Lakers.
“I understand the level of curiosity or whatever, but I just do what I do,” Bryant said. “I feel good, I feel fine. I mean, I’m a little sore, which is normal. Everybody gets a little heavy legs [early on], but I feel fine.”
“Each day I think he starting to get his legs in, and he’s starting to get some of the rust off,” Lakers head coach Byron Scott said of Bryant. “The more he plays, the better it is for us and for him obviously. Today, I thought he was a lot more active and lively. … I was really happy with what I saw from Kobe and Steve [Nash] today as we try to do a little bit more with them each day. I think Kobe understands that this is a marathon. This is not a sprint. This is a long season and my main objective is for when April rolls around and we are fighting for that playoff spot, that both Steve and Kobe are healthy so that we can give it a good run.”
Throughout training camp, the Lakers have been running, running and running some more. Scott wants the team to be in terrific shape, so that they can play defense at a high level for four quarters. Bryant loves the approach and believes it will pay off.
“Really, the primary emphasis is being in proper condition to play defense, that’s rule number one,” Bryant said. “You can have all the fundamentals in the world and all the schemes in the world, but if you’re not conditioned to play then you’re going to try and shortcut a lot of those things.”
In addition to working extremely hard this past summer, Bryant also changed his diet. After seeing positive results after doing the same things several years ago, he decided to give it a shot again and lost 10-12 pounds.
“It’s just being smart about nutrition, refocusing on that,” Bryant said. “I did that a couple years ago as well when we honed in on that sort of stuff, and this summer that was a major emphasis obviously.”
All signs indicate that Bryant is healthy, slimmed down and ready to dominate once again. Keep in mind, prior to tearing his Achilles tendon toward the end of the 2012-13 season, Bryant was averaging 27.3 points, 6.0 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 1.4 steals. Only time will tell if he can return to that level or if his production will dip as a result of the injuries.
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