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Forman: Top priority for Bulls from Day One is defense

Bulls GM addresses his team’s offseason as training camp gets underway, Derrick Rose’s development, Luol Deng’s return from injury, and why Chicago will be an attractive option for the free agents of 2010.

Top priority for Bulls from day one is defense


Derrick Rose "We believe he can be one of the best in the league, just because of who he is," Bulls GM Gar Forman says of Derrick Rose. "Derrick has got such a wonderful make-up and character, and he’s driven to be great. He has the tools and the talent to do whatever he puts his mind to. His ceiling is whatever he wants it to be."
(Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images)

Gar Forman Forman

Bulls GM Gar Forman will be checking in at Bulls.com twice a month to share his thoughts on the team now until the end of the 2009-10 season.

Related audio--Bulls Radio's Chuck Swirsky catches up with Forman:

Bulls.com: What kind of commitment did you see from the roster this offseason?

Forman: “I thought our guys, pretty much across the board, made great progress. For the most part, all of them were in here for large portions of the summer. Tyrus [Thomas] and Joakim [Noah] both worked on their skill level, and they’ve gotten bigger and stronger. Derrick [Rose] has worked on shooting, and during the USA trials, it looked like he has extended his range. He’s also getting more confidence. Luol [Deng] has absolutely lived in [the Berto Center]. He started the summer around 225 pounds and 10 percent body fat; now he’s up to 235 with five percent body fat. He literally lived in the gym. He’d bring his dinner and eat it in the player’s lounge inbetween his afternoon and evening workouts. The rookies have been here pretty consistently since summer league. Even veterans like Brad [Miller] and Lindsey [Hunter] have spent a lot of time in the gym. Kirk [Hinrich] has had the best summer since he’s been with the Bulls. He’s in great condition and he’s very motivated to have a good year. John Salmons is another guy who works on his game, his body and his conditioning all of the time.”

Bulls.com: Despite not making any major free agent signings or trades in the summer months, the Bulls shook things up in February, making three trades in two days just prior to the deadline. How do you look back on those deals now?

Forman: “When we added John [Salmons] and Brad [Miller], we knew it would take away some of our flexibility this summer. At the time, though, we also felt it was an opportunity to get two guys we really liked. The way we finished the season, in those last 20 games and the playoffs, it showed that they were really good additions. Brad’s skill level and knowledge of the game and John’s ability to score helped, and they both gave us some more veteran leadership in the locker room. That move will carry over now, when we have them in camp from the get go.”

Bulls.com: Given the departure of Ben Gordon for the Pistons, how will the team make up for his scoring and offensive production?

Luol Deng "He started the summer around 225 pounds and 10 percent body fat; now he’s up to 235 with five percent body fat," Forman said of Luol Deng. "He literally lived in the gym."
(Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)
Forman: “It will have to be as a unit. We have talented players with the ability to score the ball, but it will have to be a collective effort with everyone chipping in. Derrick will continue to grow. Traditionally, players take another step forward between their first and second year. John Salmons will provide us with some scoring and Luol will be there as well. As a team, we will make up for those points.”

Bulls.com: Do you envision Kirk Hinrich having a greater role? Will the Bulls guards be better defensively without Gordon?

Forman: “Leaving Ben out of it, we like our guards a lot. When you have Derrick, Kirk and John, and even Jannero, who we added, we’re very positive about our guard rotation. John will give us a little more size at the two than we have had; Kirk was a second team All-NBA defender [in 2006-07], and I do expect his role to increase from a year ago. He’s a quality player that brings it on both ends of the floor, and again, he had a really good summer. I think he is going to have a really nice year for us.”

Bulls.com: Derrick Rose surpassed almost everyone’s expectations with a very impressive rookie campaign. What can you say about Rose’s offseason and what do you think he’ll bring to the table in his second year?

Forman: “He spent a lot of time on his shooting this summer, and he has become more confident in taking that perimeter shot. I think there will be a natural maturation and growth to his game given his experience. Derrick has been around the block once now and he knows what to expect. We even saw it last year; he grew as the season went on. Obviously, a lot of what we do is centered around Derrick. He’s our point guard who has the ball in his hands a lot and has great playmaking ability. We believe he can be one of the best in the league, just because of who he is. Derrick has got such a wonderful make-up and character, and he’s driven to be great. He has the tools and the talent to do whatever he puts his mind to. His ceiling is whatever he wants it to be. Our job is to continue to surround him with players who fit his style of basketball, and to provide him with all the support he needs, both on and off the court, so he can have as much success as he can.”

Bulls.com: After playing only 49 games last season due to a stress fracture, is Luol Deng now 100 percent? How do you envision his role this year?

Forman: “He says he is ready, and the doctors have given him a clean bill of health. He feels good, and he’s been working, running and playing. We expect him to return to when he was in top form the year before last, if not better. Luol is only 24 years old, but this is his sixth year in the league and he has become a veteran. We need him to become a leader also, and our expectations are very high for him.”

Bulls.com: Joakim Noah made some significant strides as a player last year, and averaged a double-double in the team’s historic playoff series against the Celtics. What is the key for Joakim to continue his development and improvement?

Forman: “One of the biggest things, as far as this summer was concerned, was that he continued to get stronger. He has addressed that, putting on some good weight. He just needs to continue to gain confidence in what he’s doing out there on the floor. Offensively, he has to keep working on his skill level. We want him to be a threat to score the ball. He has worked on his shot, and in some of the games they have been playing, I’ve seen him knock down some 15-footers. But the biggest thing for Joakim is that he gained a lot of confidence towards the end of last year. He knows that he belongs and can be a player that brings a lot to our team, day in and day out. He was at a disadvantage a year ago because he had sprained his ankle in the summer and missed six weeks, and then he had the eye injury in camp. Not only could he not practice or play, but he couldn’t do any of his cardio work for quite some time. Those things hurt his conditioning. A big part of Joakim’s game is the energy that he brings, and he’s got to be in top shape to do that. I think he is in very good condition as we go into camp.”

Bulls.com: Is Tyrus Thomas ready to shoulder the burden of being a reliable option in the low post?

Forman: “We think he is, and more importantly, he thinks he is. He continues to work on his skill level and his shooting, and he continues to work on his body. Tyrus has got such great natural tools, and people forget how young he was when he came into this league. There was still a lot of growing and maturing that he needed to go through. But he has made strides every year he has been in the league. He gets labeled as having so much potential, and he does, but people get disappointed when he doesn’t reach a certain level. I can see that in some senses, but I’m more concerned that he continue to makes progress, and I think we’ll see another step forward from Tyrus this year.”

Tyrus Thomas "Tyrus has got such great natural tools, and people forget how young he was when he came into this league," said Forman. "But he has made strides every year."
(Randy Belice/NBAE/Getty Images)
Bulls.com: The Bulls finished the season 17-11 and got a boost from the acquisition of Salmons and Miller. Where do those two fit in the plans for the future?

Forman: “We think of them both as a part of our core. They both fit in different ways. They brought us leadership and a level of maturity in the locker room. Brad is a very skilled player and a terrific passer, and he allows us to do a lot of things with Derrick. John’s ability to create not only for himself, but others, off the dribble is a fit for us. Having them for a full training camp will be a nice benefit for us all.”

Bulls.com: How do you feel Vinny Del Negro’s experience in his first year as Head Coach has prepared him for another season?

Forman: “There is now a familiarity between him and his players, his staff, and management. That’s going to be a positive. He’s been through a season and around the league once, and he’s got a better understanding of what other teams are doing. We talked a lot this summer about areas where we can improve, and defense comes up a lot. In order for us to get to where we want to get, we need to have a defensive mentality as far as how we play. Everyone from the coaches to the players must commit to that. We talk about our younger players, and Vinny continues to grow, too. He made a lot of progress last year, and I know he’s looking forward to working with basically the same team we ended with last year from the very beginning this year.”

Bulls.com: Obviously there are a lot of priorities to address as camp begins, but would you say that defense is the top priority?

Forman: “It really is. We have got to have a defensive mentality about how we play, and that’s got to start on the first day, Saturday, when we open up camp. It’s our goal to have a defensive base as to how we play on that end of the floor. That’s got to be from the first man to the thirteenth man on the team. With that comes maintaining our energy level, not only throughout a game, but throughout the season. Whether it is in practice or in games, when we approach things, the players are going to be held accountable to that defensive mentality. It’s a huge point of emphasis as we start the season.”

Bulls.com: The 2010 speculation started long ago, and as the trade deadline in February approaches, the talk will only increase. What is your outlook with respect to next summer’s crop of free agents and why might the Bulls be an attractive option to a top-tier free agent?

Forman: “One of the most important things in this league when you are putting a team together is how you manage your salary cap. You have to address short-term needs, but also hold on to long-term flexibility. We are going to have flexibility moving forward, whether it is via trade or free agency. It’s a good time to be in that position in that there are going to be a lot of attractive free agents on the market as we move forward. I think, and of course I’m biased, that we have a great market with incredible fans. We play in a beautiful facility, the United Center. But perhaps what is most important is that we have a group of players we feel can be part of something special. Those are the things that we hope will attract other players as we move forward.”

Bulls.com: This season represents your first as General Manager. From a personal and professional standpoint, how has the transition been?

Forman: “The transition has been good. Everything that has to do with basketball operations, I’ve worked hand in hand with John [Paxson] over the years, and we continue to do that on a daily basis. We have very open communication and there is a trust level in place. When I got the job in May, I talked about what drives all the decisions we make, and that is the philosophies behind the Chicago Bulls and who we want to be moving forward. I really have enjoyed it.”