"The Bulls on Monday opened the 2014-15 NBA season with their orientation, media day, during which a former league Most Valuable Player, a two-time NBA champion and four-time All-Star and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and first team all-NBA center expressed optimism about the coming season," writes Smith.
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Bulls unveil a Big Three of their own

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By Sam Smith | 09.29.2014 | 8:20 p.m. CT | asksam@bulls.com | @SamSmithHoops

Hey, everybody, it’s a Big Three!

Perhaps it’s not Bird, McHale and Parish; Magic, Kareem and Worthy; or even LeBron, Wade and Bosh.

Or maybe it could be.

The Bulls on Monday opened the 2014-15 NBA season with their orientation, media day, during which a former league Most Valuable Player, a two-time NBA champion and four-time All-Star and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and first team all-NBA center expressed optimism about the coming season.

Sure sounds like a Big Three.

Derrick Rose: “We know we have an opportunity ahead of us. It may not be this year, it may not be next year, or whatever, but I know that we have one. I know that I’m going to win a championship soon, so I’m not worried. I just want to be healthy. That’s the only thing I’m worrying about right now. I can care less about the rewards, I can care less about any of the accolades or whatever. I just want to go out there and win games. And if winning games gets me to any of those awards that’s cool. But my biggest award is just winning a championship.’’

Joakim Noah: “Potentially, definitely (this is my best Bulls team). But we all know potential doesn’t mean anything. Now we’re trying to do something that’s bigger than potential. To do that, there’s really not much to talk about. I’m just excited to get on the court and see what we can do. The sky’s the limit for this team. For it to be that way, I think we have to be humble. Sacrifices are going to have to be made in a lot of different areas. But if we have the right mindset of trying to improve every day, the sky’s the limit. I think we have a great team. We just have to find ways to click. There are a lot of different pieces. It’s going to be interesting to see how Thibs uses everybody. But for me personally, the only things I can control is coming in early, getting my work in, getting my lifts in, getting my reps in on the court and helping this team move in the right direction. The sky is the limit, especially when you bring a guy like Derrick back. Not only what he means as a talent but what he means to this city. I love to be a part of that. It’s always special to have that guy that the city loves. It just feels great to have him back, especially with all the adversity he and we went through. I think that’s going to make us stronger and that much sweeter when we get it.”

Pau Gasol: “I felt like it was time to be in a different position, to be in a position where I had a chance to explore my talents and act to the quality and value of the team I would join. I'm excited to be a part of this team, this franchise. I feel energized. I feel rejuvenated and I feel like I can't wait to jump on the floor and play with the guys. It's something I love feeling. It was hard for me to make a decision to move on from a team that I'd been a part of and been through so much with the Lakers. Then after that, where do I want to play? Where do I see myself playing and where do I see myself fitting the best and where will I be happiest, as a player and as a person? So I put everything in balance and I thought Chicago was going to be the best fit for me. I definitely see the potential and I have the belief we can get to that level. But we have to prove it, we have to work for it. It has to be earned. I definitely see the potential.”

Optimism is the slogan of pretty much every team’s media day, the 76ers’ definition being the exception since theirs is to acquire more players unable to play this season. Monday was the opening media day for the majority of NBA teams after a few teams were allowed to begin camps sooner as they were traveling out of the country for preseason games as the Bulls did last season.

Basically, everyone still is undefeated at this juncture, so the possibilities are not limited. For the Bulls, however, those possibilities are more realistic with the return of Rose after two years of knee surgeries, the addition of Gasol and the presence of Noah coming off his career season.

It’s not to belittle the presence of veteran NBA players like Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Kirk Hinrich, Aaron Brooks and Jimmy Butler, newcomers like Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic and holdovers like Tony Snell and Nazr Mohammed.

And there are questions to be answered, like Rose’s continued health situation and strength of his knees, Noah coming off the first knee surgery of his career after last season and Gasol changing teams and coming to the Eastern Conference for the first time in his career at 34.

Still, a formula for ultimate success in the NBA long has been to have a so called Big Three, which the Bulls can rightfully claim, even if the results obviously have to come on the basketball court.

“I’m excited about our team,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “I really am. Obviously, when you add a guy like Pau it’s a huge plus for us. Nikola and Doug are two guys we are happy we got. There’ll be a period of adjustment for them as well. There’s a big jump coming into our league. When you look back through history you see there hasn’t been two rookies in a championship rotation for a long, long time. You have to be patient and give them an opportunity to grow and learn, but I like the way they fit. I think they are a good fit for us. Aaron Brooks is someone who comes in and has averaged 20 points in a season. That tells you what he is capable of doing. Of course having the guys we do have coming back, Joakim, Taj, Mike Dunleavy, Kirk, Jimmy, they did a great job for us. A lot of teams would have quit. They didn’t. They fought. Now that we’ve added more people and getting Derrick back, the challenge will be how quickly we can get everyone onto the same page, get ready for the season and are we willing to make the type of commitment to prepare and work the right way to give ourselves the best chance?

Everyone knows having watched Thibodeau work with half-filled rosters some of the recent seasons the commitment and purpose will be demanded.

Beyond that, the Big Three answered the questions they’ll face.

The biggest, of course, is with Rose and his health after basically missing the last two seasons with knee injuries. But Rose was healthy for the nine games in 16 days with USA Basketball this summer. He knows he’ll constantly be questioned about his health and understands.

“With these two types of injuries, of course, that question is just going to keep coming up,” Rose agreed about media and fans questioning his durability. “I’m not worried about that. I don’t care about when people ask me the question. I know that it’s always going to be there. I know I’m going to have to answer this question for the rest of my career, so I’m not worried about that. For the Bulls fans, I can sit here and say a million times, ‘I’ll be fine.’ But I think the only way to answer all the critics and everyone asking about me is to actually be on the court and to actually be playing.”

And Rose is going to play. There are all sorts of theories about resting Rose or limiting his use to prevent more injuries. But Thibodeau doesn’t seem like he wants any governor on his high speed engine.

“We’ll see,” Thibodeau said regarding Rose playing time in what became his answer to many specific issues. “We’ve got to get him into rhythm; he has to work, he has to play. Most guys over the course of the season there’s a difference between soreness and being injured. If he’s injured, he’ll sit. If he can play, he’ll play. It’s two years now with the ACL. I think he’s gotten the confidence back in that knee. But he’s got to shake a lot of rust off.

“There’s no guarantees with anything,” Thibodeau added. “Basically, the only way you can guarantee someone not getting hurt is to not let them play. And so whether it’s praise or criticism, it shouldn’t really matter to Derrick because the important thing for him is to do the right things. If he’s doing the right things, he’ll have good fortune at some point. He’s had misfortune. The two injuries have been two tough injuries. He’s shown a lot of resolve to get past them. They’re seeds of growth for him. Mentally, he’s a lot tougher. You have to be in order to get through that. And just continue to work. Other guys have overcome injuries, not quite like that, but I think back to a guy like Grant Hill, the things he overcame to resume his career. It’s happened before and I think Derrick will be fine.”

Rose agreed, and, frankly he seemed one of the healthier players.

“My confidence in my body period is very high,” said Rose. “I know all the work that I’ve put into the offseason, getting back into the shape I’m in right now. This is a new journey for me and I’m just trying to take it all in. I’m not worried about that (poor shooting in Spain). I try to take every negative aspect in my life and make it a positive. To me, it was probably a good reason why I couldn’t catch a rhythm with that (different) ball. I tried every night to go out there and shoot it, but it just didn’t go down. Just part of basketball. I get to come here, stay with a solid team and I’ll be able to shoot 20-25 shots a night if I choose to. So within those 20 shots, I think I should be able to find a little rhythm. So I’m not worried about that. With the rules of the NBA, you’ve got to be in that lane for three seconds and then you have to be out. I think I’m pretty fast. I think I’m good enough to get in that lane no matter who’s guarding me.  

“With the (scoring) threats that we have, I’m going to try and make the game as simple as possible,” said Rose. “I’m not going to try and overuse myself. I think just learning the game, being a student of the game, is actually going to help me become a better player. Learning the offensive sets, learning the defensive sets, and just time management, learning when to score, learning when to get people involved. No disrespect to my old teammates, but I think the team we have right now talent wise is a much stronger team than we had last year. I think guys are focused. Not saying the guys last year weren’t focused, but coming here and practicing in this facility, it feels like a new team.  

“There are so many stages you have to go through to get back to where I am right now,” said Rose. “Just trying to stay positive through all my workouts and all my shooting workouts, keep them behind me so I can stay focused on the future and know that I’m back with the Bulls now and we have a bright future.’’

In theory, there’s probably more concern regarding Noah as Noah admitted with his first knee surgery after last season it’s a slow process as he’ll perhaps be limited in training camp as he was last season when he missed many of the preseason games.

“I’m excited about this opportunity,” Noah said when asked about his knee. “We’re a very talented group. It’s not about talking about it. It’s about living it every day and working hard. I’ve worked very hard to get my leg as strong as possible. It’s going to be a grueling season. Obviously, this is the first time I’ve ever had surgery on my knee. I’m hoping there are no limitations. I just have to be a little bit more cautious. But it’s exciting. I know that this is a long journey we’re about to embark on, and I just want to be as ready as possible. I felt terrible at the end of the year. And I feel better now.

“I’m just excited to be here and trying to live in the moment,” said Noah. “I think we have a great team. We just have to find ways to click.  (I had) a lot more rehab, a lot more boring stuff (in the summer). But the boring stuff is important. Having knee surgery is very real, especially when you’re jumping and playing basketball every day. It’s a very grueling sport. I had knee surgery and now it’s part of my life. I have to do a lot of strengthening and activation and a lot of flexibility. Not that I wasn’t doing that before. It’s just being a little bit more conscious of your body. It’s just new. And I just have to deal with it. I’ll be ready. This offseason, I focused more on just being healthy. That’s usually what happens when you have surgery. I wasn’t able to add one thing in particular. But I’m confident and I’ll figure it out along the way.

“I think the East got better,” said Noah who didn’t, again, vacation in Cleveland. “I’ve definitely followed attentively what’s going on. But it’s not about other teams right now. It’s about us. I think we have a lot of talent here. It’s all about finding ways to gel, getting that space on the offensive end, finding the spots where guys are effective and being the best we can be. That starts with us. What’s going on around the league aren’t things we can control. I wasn’t disappointed at all (not getting Carmelo Anthony). I try to recruit everybody, not just Carmelo. Carmelo is a helluva player. If anybody is a free agent, usually I’m the one making the call. He made a decision that’s best for him and his family. I moved on right away. I love our team right now. If you look at all the talent we have, it’s going to be really interesting.”

In large part because of the addition of Gasol, who effectively completed the first Big Three in franchise history. Apologies to Luc Longley, of course. OK, Rodman, too.  

“He's a very outgoing guy,” Gasol said about meeting Noah in the Bulls recruiting process. “Very forward. He doesn’t sugarcoat much, which I appreciate. I think he was very humble for a guy that was named all-NBA first team. He showed and shared his excitement about the possibility of playing together. What he also told me is that he was, as the rest of the team, very hungry, which I wanted to perceive, I wanted to hear. So that's what I want to be a part of. That attracts me a lot. He wasn't trying to sell anything. Not trying to say the right things. He was just being honest.

“Phil (Jackson) was interested in me coming to New York,” Gasol said about talks with also the Heat, Spurs and Thunder. “I talked to Phil, I talked to Melo, I talked to Derrick, many people during that process. Once I picked Chicago, (Jackson) sent me a text saying I'm going to love Chicago, I was going to be happy here and it was a great choice.”

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