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Looking Back at Cartwright's First Week

Bill Cartwright directs his team during a time-out Cartwright: "Our players are great people, nice, almost too nice, and hopefully we can nasty them up a little bit."
January 4, 2002

"A good coach," Cartwright said at the press conference to announce his hiring, "is somebody who's direct, somebody who asks you to extend yourself a bit and is able to get the most out of you. The best coaches I've had in the past are guys who have a definite idea of what they want to do. Hopefully, I can fulfill some of those."

"Our defense, I feel, is going to carry us," the new Bulls head man stated. "No one asks you what you're running if you're winning. No one asks you if you get up and guard. That's what our identity is going to be. We're going to get up and pressure. We're going to guard."

Besides relying on their defense, fans can expect to see a tougher Bulls team under Cartwright's direction.

''Our players are great people, nice, almost too nice, and hopefully we can nasty them up a little bit,'' Cartwright said. ''One thing I want to do is establish an identity in what this team is and was.

''First and foremost, we're a defensive team and will get up and pressure. We're going to make it tough to play basketball offensively.''

When asked about how fans and media could evaluate the new coach's performance, he selected the level of effort the team displays as a good indicator:

''Judge us by how hard we're playing and how hard we're competing,'' Cartwright said. ''I feel we're going to be very competitive and get after people.''

As for the status of Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry, Cartwright says you can expect to see them on the floor:

''We'll get them in,'' he said.

When asked if the two had All-Star potential, Cartwright replied, "Good stuff is coming. It's going to be a tough road. There's going to be a lot of learning. If we're patient, they can get there."

In a classy and respectful move, the new coach had kind words about the coach whose shoes he is filling:

Bill Cartwright confers with Assistant Pete Myers Coach Cartwright's goal is to establish an identity for the Bulls, one that will rely heavily on defense.
''Tim's a fine coach, and I learned a lot from him,'' Cartwright said. ''And what I want to say about Tim is he was at his best when things were at their worst. And that's a rare quality that I don't think many people have. If we had been healthy, I probably wouldn't be here.''

Another change that Coach Cartwright made was getting veteran forward Charles Oakley back into the Bulls starting five. Oakley, whose minutes had been steadily cut throughout the season, returned to the starting line-up on Dec. 29 against the Cavaliers.

''He's going to play,'' said Cartwright said the day before that game. ''Oak's probably our best front-line defender, and we need him to play and play well for us if we're going to have success this year.''

Oakley has responded and seems to be playing with a new lease on this season. He scored a season-high nine points in the Bulls' victory over Milwaukee and was more than happy to split time with Marcus Fizer, who scored 17 and grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds. Coach Cartwright made it clear that Fizer, who has started 11 times in the 2001-02 campaign, still had a prominent place on the team.

''I talked to Marcus about it, and what I wanted him to know is that his role on our team is one that's still very important,'' Cartwright said. ''He shouldn't concern himself with starting because when he gets in there, he's going to be one of our primary focal points offensively.

''This is something that will work its way out. I'm not that concerned about it because I feel he'll have enough opportunity to play to not worry about starting. As of right now, this is our best starting group.''

There is little doubt about the support for Cartwright. Everyone seems happy and excited to have the ex-player in charge. The Chicago fans gave Cartwright a standing ovation when he and his staff entered the United Center before the Cleveland game.

"The fans were terrific," Cartwright said. "I was surprised by the ovation at the beginning, but I really appreciated it. Their enthusiasm set the tone for the game.''

Despite the gracious cheers, a few butterflies that had developed in Cartwright's stomach persisted:

"I haven’t been nervous, and that kind of bothers me," Cartwright said that night. "I don’t know why, but I haven’t. The only time I’ve ever been nervous in front of a crowd was when I had to throw out a first pitch at Candlestick Park. It was after one of our championships, and I remember thinking as I was walking out, ‘I just played in front of a billion people,’ but I was shaking."

Bill Cartwright Cartwright wants the Bulls to be judged on "how hard we're playing and how hard we're competing."
What's the easiest way to calm the nerves? Well, a 23-point victory over the Eastern Conference rivals from Cleveland certainly helps. How big is that?

"It's huge. It's great to win,'' Cartwright said. "Everybody loves to win and this team, I felt, was ready to win. Hopefully we can use this as a stepping-stone.''

The win epitomized the kind of basketball the new Bulls coach wants to rely on.

"Any team can struggle offensively," Cartwright said. "But defensive effort is one thing that always can be consistent. If we can guard with [Saturday's] effort, we have a chance to win. And that's all that you can ask."

After the Bulls captured their second win in as many tries, Cartwright was careful not to be overly excited--with several months left in the season there was still a lot of work to be done and improvement to be made.

"It’s going to be a situation of how we’re prepared to meet challenges through the course of a game and how we adjust," Cartwright said. "The adjustments we make as coaches on the bench will determine the outcome of the game, and hopefully we’ll make the right decision."

Cartwright's winning streak came to an end on Wednesday night, as the Bulls were dealt a 107-97 defeat by the NBA's hottest team, the Dallas Mavericks. The Bulls got within 4 points at the 3:02 mark in the final period but were not able to come away with a win. Turnovers hurt Chicago and Coach Cartwright made it clear how he hoped that would not continue:

"Nineteen turnovers is unacceptable," he said. "Being smart defensively and keeping them out of the lane is something that we need to learn. I felt walking off the court it wasn't so much what they did, even though they shot the ball well, is the things that we did not do well."

A full week into the job, Cartwright will lead his team away from the United Center to face no ordinary foe--they take on Michael Jordan's Wizards in Washington tonight.

"Is it another game? No," Coach Cartwright said on Wednesday. "For our guys, it will be a fun game to play. We just want to be smart. If he's going to score, we want it to be on a tough shot, not a lay-up or not from the free-throw line."

- Adam Fluck, Bulls.com