Brooks brings a spark to the Bulls
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 its 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.
The Houston Rockets have had a lot of star players in the last 17 years. Like Steve Francis, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming, Dwight Howard and James Harden. In that time, they have won one playoff series, thanks in large part to Aaron Brooks.
“Just a different dynamic, scoring, getting in the paint, creating things, pushing the ball, outside shooting. Just another piece to the team,” Brooks told reporters about what he can bring to the Bulls Thursday after practice. “I’m different from the (other reserve point guard) guys who have been here. But I’m going to come out here and work and whatever happens, happens. I can’t put myself into the role of those other guys. They’ve had some success, so I’ll do whatever they ask me to do.
“Can go left, right, shoot, Pretty much all around offensively,” Brooks said when asked how scouts might describe him. “Defensively, work hard, get up and down. I don’t know. I can’t talk about myself.”
Brooks, a six-foot guard known more for his offense, has impressed teammates and coaches thus far with his speed. Asked if he is faster than Derrick Rose, Brooks paused:
“Am I faster than Derrick?” he considered. “He’s pretty explosive. Probably line-to-line, I might be just as fast as him. But he’s definitely more explosive than I am.’’
If that’s the big difference, the Bulls may have gotten themselves a nice prize and surprise in a small and relatively inexpensive package. Brooks signed in late July as a veteran, minimum salary free agent. But his signing could prove of maximum value and not just as an insurance policy in case of injury. Brooks has experience as a productive player in big times.
When the Rockets won that 2009 playoff series over the Portland Trail Blazers, still their only playoff series win since 1997, Brooks was one of the big stars and effectively turned the series away from the favored Trail Blazers with home court advantage with a dominating Game 1 performance.
Brooks had 27 points and seven assists and made five three-pointers in Portland to immediately swing the momentum of the series to the Rockets. Brooks also led the Rockets in scoring in Game 2 with 23 points as Houston went on to a six-game win. In the conference semifinals against the Lakers, Brooks averaged 18 points and had a dominant 34 points in Houston’s Game 4 win after Yao Ming was hurt and lost for the series to even the series. Brooks then scored 26 points in the Rockets’ Game 6 win to avoid elimination. The Rockets lost in Game 7, though Brooks led the Rockets in scoring in each of the last four games with Yao out.
“We missed each other [in Houston],” said Bulls coach and former Houston assistant Tom Thibodeau. “He came in the year that I left, but I followed him closely. Actually, we’ve talked about trying to get him in the past here. We didn’t have the good fortune to get him, but I liked his experience and I know how I’ve felt when I’ve coached against him. You had to game plan for him. I thought he would be a good fit for us.
“I’m not afraid to put him out there, and again, to me, I think that’s how you build quality depth,” said Thibodeau. “When you look at a guy like Taj (Gibson), he was part of that group that was on the bench in 2010 and he had started the previous year. That’s what I like about Aaron. He was a starter, he came off the bench, and now you’re getting a high quality player and someone who has already proven that he can do it. I think that’s a big plus.
“They’re different,” Thibodeau added about Brooks and D.J. Augustin, whom Brooks, is, in effect, replacing. “They’re small point guards, but their skillset is slightly different. D.J. had to score for us, but he was more of a pass first guy. Aaron has been a scoring point guard. The one thing that I liked about Aaron was I felt that he played well in the Houston offense when (coach Rick) Adelman was there. I think that’s some of the stuff we can do here with Jo (Noah) and Pau (Gasol) at the elbow. Aaron will do whatever you ask him to do. He’s a terrific pick-and-roll player. He’ll make you pay for any mistakes you make defensively. If you try and go under on him or open up your stance the wrong way, he’s going to make you pay for every positional mistake that you make against him. He can shoot the ball, get it off quick; his speed and quickness are great assets.’’
It’s a function of the vagaries of professional life to be able to acquire a player like Brooks, who was the league’s Most Improved Player in 2009-10 when he averaged 19.6 points for the Rockets, for a minimum salary to fill out the bench.
Brooks could start for NBA teams; he could also be out of the league, which he almost was after kicking around with four teams the last four years with two stints in Houston and a season in China.
“I didn’t know Chicago was interested,” said Brooks, who was upbeat about being with the Bulls and laughed, saying things are good if you are in the NBA. “When they did call, I was excited about being here. Great coaching, great players; they always seem to get it done. Derrick is back. It’s an exciting time.”
Brooks was a high school and college scoring star growing up in Seattle and playing at the University of Oregon, friends with area former Bulls Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson. Brooks was a late first round pick by Houston in 2007 and after a season the Rockets traded starter Rafer Alston to open a space for Brooks, who became one of the most popular players in recent Rockets history. In his Most Improved season, Brooks became one of the only players ever with more than 200 threes and 400 assists.
But luck went against him the following season as he was heading perhaps toward being an NBA All-Star.
He suffered a serious ankle injury landing on Manu Ginobili’s foot early in the 2010-11 season. He was out about six weeks, and by then Kyle Lowry had taken the starting spot. So much for that not losing your job injured thing. Shortly thereafter, Brooks was traded to the Suns for Goran Dragic.
The Suns were in decline and hanging onto Steve Nash’s last seasons and Brooks didn’t fit in much.
Then came the NBA lockout and Brooks became one of the unusual victims.
He went to China to play. Some other players, like Deron Williams, also went overseas. But Brooks’ contract had a clause not enabling him to return to the NBA if his team was still winning. Brooks was so good, an All-Star, that his team got to the league finals and he missed a chance to return to the NBA after the lockout ended.
“I got fat,” Brooks said about life in China. “I wasn’t eating right over there. I didn’t know what to eat over there. I was eating hot dogs and McDonald’s. Just not adjusting, not being in the right situation. I don’t want to talk about that, but I probably just went to the wrong situation. Just trying to get back on track (now). This will be a better situation.
“I think the deadline was like March 13, so if we would have lost the second round I could have come back and played,” said Brooks. “But unfortunately, fortunately, we made it to the championship. We had a good team, so 22 points (averaging) wasn’t too bad.’’
Though his team lost the title to Stephon Marbury’s team.
“I don’t want to talk about that; it’s a sore subject,” Brooks said. “They shot 51 free throws in the championship, so I think the fix was in. I better not go back to China.”
Brooks signed with the Kings for the 2012-13 season, but they were the usual mess and he played only about 18 minutes with more than a dozen DNP-CD’s and was waived in March. He decided to return to the Rockets, but he couldn’t recapture the magic with the team playing Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverly. Brooks agreed to a release late in last season when Denver had injuries to get playing time. In a few seasons basically no fault of his own he found himself forgotten about.
But reserve guards like Augustin, Robinson and C.J. Watson have enjoyed success with the Bulls under Thibodeau and Brooks is hoping to be the next one to reclaim a prominent role. Which would only enhance a strong Bulls backcourt.
“Who doesn’t know Nate?” laughed Brooks, whom teammates over the years have enjoyed for his upbeat ways. “He always talked about (Chicago). Even when we were in Denver together. He said he had a good time in Chicago and the fans were great. He has a lot of pride. He loved it here. I talked to Jamal a lot too about it. Jamal said it’s a good place to play. Just the opportunity. You don’t want to go to a place that’s not used to guys like myself.
“I bring a different dynamic than Kirk,” added Brooks. “Kirk’s a great player, very solid veteran. I think I’m different, and different games are going to call for different stuff. As far as playing, if I do my job, work hard, and show what I can do there’s going to be an opportunity there. I’m Aaron. I don’t know particularly their game. I’m just me. That’s it.”