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Skies beginning to brighten for Bulls

Good vibes, good energy abound in second day of training camp

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By Sam Smith | 9.30.2015 | 10:10 p.m.

The stormy skies and clouds that hovered Tuesday began to recede, bringing some much needed relief and brightness.

And, yes, the sun came out in Chicago, also.

But it was the Bulls who got some much needed clarity and cheer Wednesday with the disclosure that Derrick Rose’s surgery for an orbital fracture sustained in the first minutes of the first practice Tuesday went well. The Bulls reported Rose should be “able to resume basketball activities in two weeks.”

That would mesh with coach Fred Hoiberg’s optimism after practice early Wednesday that Rose could play in the season opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers Oct. 27. As an aside, the Cavaliers’ roster has sustained even bigger setbacks than the Bulls’ as Iman Shumpert went out up to three months with a wrist injury. Kyrie Irving is out at least a month into the season from last season’s surgery. Kevin Love and Timofey Mozgov also are coming off surgery, Anderson Varejao is returning from Achilles surgery and Tristan Thompson has been away from training camp in a contract dispute.

“No, no,” Hoiberg said when asked if Rose playing opening night has been ruled out. “We hope (he can play). Again, It’s still too early to tell. The surgery did go as expected. He’s in great shape. We don’t know how much he’ll be able to do even while he’s in his recovery mode, but he’ll still be here (at practice) learning. In talking to Derrick last night, he’s still in great spirits. He had a really good day going until he took a really unfortunate elbow. He made a great baseline drive, made a good kick out to the corner, and one of the bigs caught him. He just went up contested and came down with the incidental elbow. It looked at first that it was his nose, but you could tell right away it was very painful. The great thing is it’s not structural damage to keep him out. As soon as he’s healed, ready to go, he’ll be able to get back in there 100 percent.’’

And so the season that was supposed to have no drama with the departure of former coach Tom Thibodeau for Hoiberg, no substantial personnel changes and no one coming off any significant surgeries concluded Day 2 of All My Young and Restless and Bold and Beautiful Bulls.

“First play, takes an elbow, goes down,” lamented Joakim Noah, troubled last season after his offseason surgery. “But it’s not the end of the world. He’ll be back in no time. I texted with him last night. It is what it is. We’re good. This team is in good spirits. Things like that happen. I know he’s really hungry to come in and help lead this team. I think he’s good (regarding his attitude). I mean, as good as can be. It always sucks to be injured and not be able to play the game that you love. But he’ll be all right.”

And so it sounded a bit better for the Bulls after a media day in which Rose was condemned for mentioning when he becomes a free agent in 2017 and then the news Tuesday of Rose’s injury in the team’s first practice under Hoiberg. NBA rankings and reviews change like the weather. So the Las Vegas oddmakers who had the Bulls tied for fourth favorite and 10-1 odds to win the title last June now have them 20-1 and tied for seventh. Duel over that.

But this is a veteran Bulls team that obviously has been through much greater distraction. So it was more a shrug-of-shoulders reaction from players than any woe-is-us reception as has been seen before.

There wasn’t much other news other than some spirited three-on-three games and shooting contests late in practice when reporters were allowed in for the last 15 minutes. Noah, predictably, was the loudest and most active, shouting encouragement—or other things—during the games and competitions.

Actually, that’s a bigger piece of news for the Bulls, that Noah is as he and teammates have said, looking active and “bouncier,” energized, more like the Noah of Defensive Player of the Year in 2013-14 rather than the defensive Noah of last season.

And not so fast to accept a role off the bench as so many have speculated given Hoiberg’s mandate of a faster, more open game with lots of perimeter shooting.

“I think we should give it an honest evaluation while I’m healthy,” Noah said with some attitude. “Last year, I wasn’t healthy. Let’s see how it goes and then coach is going to make a decision from there.

“I feel great,” Noah emphasized. “I worked really hard for this. Just really excited to be here right now, ready for camp, healthy and just proving myself. Enjoying the moment, enjoying working with my teammates. I couldn’t be happier to be here right now, focusing on learning a new system, new philosophies. There are really good vibes in here. It’s definitely different. There’s a lot of positive vibes in here, good vibes, good energy. It’s the second day of camp. It’s supposed to be like this.

“I’m worried about this moment right now,” Noah said when asked about this being his final contract season. “I’m worried about camp. I’m so happy to go out there and move the way I want to move. That’s something I’ve kind of taken for granted in the past. I’m just excited to come into camp and show what I can do. I don’t want to talk about the past. I worked really hard this summer to get where I am now. I just feel bouncier, lighter on my feet. Just waking up in the morning and moving good, that’s a good feeling. Doing a lot of yoga every morning before I come in. Just taking care of myself a little different. This isn’t my first rodeo.”

The Bulls are now getting ready to ride.

Hoiberg said Taj Gibson again went through practice successfully on his repaired ankle and wasn’t concerned about the point guard position for now.

“We’ll get a lot of guys a lot of reps at that position,” said Hoiberg. “They are guys that have played in this league a long time. You know Aaron (Brooks), E’Twaun (Moore) and Kirk (Hinrich). Jimmy (Butler) has obviously talked a lot about being a facilitator and being a guy with the ball in his hands. There’s a lot of guys that can handle that until Derrick gets healthy.

“We’ve still got a job to do,” said Hoiberg. We can’t hang our heads or feel sorry for ourselves. It’s about getting these guys prepared to go out and play. Injuries are a part of this game and guys have stepped in during the past for this team and given great minutes when key guys have been sidelined.

“I’ll say this, they’ve (players) all been really good,” said Hoiberg of his early impressions. “Jimmy was phenomenal. I thought he’s been absolutely terrific. You know Tony (Snell) had a very good practice. Pau (Gasol) and Niko (Mirotic) are in great shape coming off the European Championship. Kirk, E’Twaun, really, you can’t just say one guy. I will say that Jimmy had an excellent first day.’’

It’s been clear Butler with the pressure off him after signing his contract extension and making the All-Star team has been a more relaxed and positive player than any time in his Bulls tenure. He’s obviously been impressive, and the news that Rose’s injury is not that serious—if obviously painful and perhaps requiring wearing a mask to protect his face—was uplifting.

Gasol even revealed he had his own Bulls initiation with minor sinus surgery after the season.

“In June,” Gasol confirmed. “I’m OK. It worked out really well. I’m breathing better. I’m running well. I just had chronic sinusitis the last two years. I had different infections. It was limiting me at times. I missed the game against Minnesota because of it last year. Now it’s all better, it’s all clear in there. So hopefully that will make a difference.”

It can’t hurt, and the questions should finally begin to be about basketball, about who starts, who plays with whom, the potential emergence of Doug McDermott and Snell, the new bench brigade and time for rookie Bobby Portis, whom Noah reiterated looked impressive and wiser and talented beyond his years.

But it’s Noah, the guy who never seemed like he would grow up or cared to, who is the veteran now, going on 31 and quietly—or as quiet as he can be—this season becoming the eighth most senior Bull in franchise history regarding seniority.

“Yeah, he looks bouncier,” Gasol said about Noah. “He looks fresh. He looks like he’s in really good shape, has worked hard during the summer. Now he does feel and look bouncier. It’s great to see him that way. The day and a half I’ve seen him, he looks really good.”

And so there is some sun in Chicago in fall, or despite a fall.

“There are always highs and lows,” said Noah. “You lose Pooh the first play of practice. Overall, I feel like this group is in a good place. You’ve got to stay positive. We’re living out of our dreams. We play for the Chicago Bulls for a living. Things could be a lot worse.”

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