It turns out the first call Bulls General Manager Gar Forman made to start his coaching search could have been his last. Just five to six days into the process, Forman reached out to Tom Thibodeau, who on Wednesday was named the team’s 18th head coach in franchise history.
“All of us know about his defensive credentials, but as we went about the process and we talked with other people who have worked with Tom, the thing that really became apparent to us is that he’s got a very, very creative offensive mind,” said Forman. “We really liked some of the ideas that he presented as far as using the talent we have on the offensive end of the floor.”
Forman cited two players specifically who had developed quite successfully under Thibodeau—Houston center Yao Ming and Boston point guard Rajon Rondo.
“The feedback that we got is that Tom is a terrific communicator and a terrific teacher of the game,” said Forman.
Forman called Thibodeau a “perfect fit” for the Bulls, something which became evident after several conversations with other candidates for the job.
“The biggest thing that we got out of it as we met with Tom and visited with him and a number of people he has worked with and around the league is that Tom Thibodeau is a winner,” added Forman.
Audio — General Manager Gar Forman and Head Coach Tom Thibodeau meet the media at the Berto Center (Parts I & II – 06.23.10):
So why did the Bulls waive Jerome James and sign Notre Dame’s Rob Kurz with four games left in the season and perhaps some more games for the playoffs?
I asked Vinny before Friday’s game whether it was a plan to fool the Nets and start Kurz and completely mess up the Nets scouting report on the Bulls.
We both then agreed that probably wasn’t the reason.
It’s not likely Kurz, a 6-9 shooting swing forward, will play for the Bulls the rest of the regular season. But there are two good reasons to make the signing now.
One is if the Bulls are able to sign a major free agent with their salary cap money they’ll have to sign several minimum salaried players and this is a chance to get a look at Kurz and involve him in the team’s system and have him on their summer league team.
Perhaps more significantly, you need players in the eventuality of a potential sign and trade deal for a major free agent whom you can sign for a year at a minimum salary and trade. Adding Kurz thus gives the Bulls another player like that along with the likes of, say, Chris Richard, to give the team better flexibility given the various scenarios that could occur this summer. A team would be unlikely to take on James in a similar circumstance.
Plus, Kurz is represented by Mark Bartelstein, one of the major free agents of top free agents, like David Lee, and it’s always good to continue relations with those top agents as they often like to have multiple clients on the same team.
“I understand they’re in a playoff race and hopefully we’ll make the payoffs and have a run and I can help the team anyway I can whether in a game or practice,” said Kurz, who played for former DePaul coach Joey Meyer in the D-league in Ft. Wayne. “Going forward I feel I can help an NBA team and hopefully show the Bulls I can be part of the team.
“I’m obviously a three point shooter,” said Kurz, “and with Derrick (Rose) and their scorers I can space the floor with my shooting. The best thing I do is take other power forwards away from the basket. There are a lot of stretch fours around the league and I feel I can be of value to any offense.
“It’s a good opportunity for me and hopefully in the summer they can see my work ethic and how I work every day and they’ll want me around,” said Kurz, who played briefly in Ft. Wayne with fellow new Bull Joe Alexander. “I couldn’t be more thrilled to join an organization like this.”
Kurz said he worked out last week for the Celtics before signing with the Bulls.
Said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro: “He just got here. We don’t have time to practice. The front office liked what he was doing and we’ll have him on our summer league team and go from there.”
The story of Ronald Murray’s NBA life has been the same. It seems teams just don’t give a Flip.
Having come to the Bulls in the Tyrus Thomas trade, Murray has made journeyman an art. The Bulls are his eighth team in eight NBA seasons, reading this way: Milwaukee, Seattle, Cleveland, Detroit, Indiana, Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago.
No wonder you never see the guy smile.
“It’s a business,” shrugs Murray, who has been flippin’ good lately for the Bulls with back to back 23-point games. “A lot of times a team (in a trade) wanted to get something back. A lot of times when trades got down I’m in the mix. I don’t look at it like they’re trying to get rid of me. It just seems I’m one of the guys who goes when teams want something back.
“I’ll take it,” said Murray, sounding somewhat disinterested as he’s obviously told this story before. “I don’t mind. I’m just glad to be able to play basketball.”
Murray figures to have another big role Friday when the Bulls play the Washington Wizards in this desperate playoff run. With Luol Deng due back this weekend but in limited minutes, Murray has been playing more small forward in the role John Salmons excelled at last season with Deng injured.
Murray has been terrific of late and you wondered why in losing to the Suns Tuesday he didn’t have the ball more down the stretch. He is 18 of 26 the last two games and seven of 11 on threes. He’s averaging 12.5 per game in March and 15.2 the last five games and 10 of 17 on threes.
You might say he’s flipped the switch.
“I’ve always been a scorer,” offers Murray. “It’s what I do. I’ve always been able to score the basketball. I feel I can come in the game and score at will.”
He certainly has the mentality.
It would seem this is a short run with the Bulls for Murray given the Bulls larger free agent priorities. It seems unlikely Murray would be a player to accept a minimum salary, which is about the Bulls would have to offer after pursuing the big free agents, as he generally draws interest as a scoring sixth man type and figures to get part of a team’s exception.
“I’m not going to change my game. It’s what I do and what’s kept me in this league, scoring the basketball,” says Murray. “I can’t control what’s going to happen in the summer. I can’t worry about all the free agents. I’ll end up somewhere.”
Just in a different uniform, sort of a Flip flop. Just another audition for the league for Murray so far. And he accepts it as who he’s become. Plus, the hours aren’t bad.
“At times at a young age it was frustrating,” Murray admits. “Because I thought I was able to go out and play better than a lot of dudes getting long term deals. As I got older, I realized the business and there was a lot of meat to it to take care of my family. There’s nothing I can do to control that. All I can do is play basketball.”
Murray did it the best when he burst upon the scene in his second season. He was a second rounder drafted by the Bucks from Shaw College and then a throw in with the Ray Allen trade for local Seattle favorite Gary Payton.
It was not a popular move in Seattle, though the right one as Payton’s game had come apart.
The Sonics would be winning the first game when the teams played right after the deal and Murray called general manager Rick Sund to boldly proclaim, “Rick, it’s Flip. We kicked their tails.” Sund didn’t even know Flip was Ronald Murray.
Starting the next season for the injured Allen, Murray became an NBA sensation scoring at least 20 points in 10 of the team’s first 11 games and averaging about 23 per game in that stretch.
The nickname, by the way, was for gymnastics excellence as a kid.
But Murray was no guy wearing sequins. He came from a tough Philadelphia neighborhood. He’s carried a reputation around the NBA not as a troublemaker, but as a guy with “don’t mess with me” body language. You don’t see him smile much and he isn’t much for small talk or little niceties. Let’s say he’s like the guy whom you bump into and you better not look up and better keep walking. And he isn’t always friendly to reporters and other small animals.
Bulls fans saw a version of that when Murray was with the Pistons. In a playoff series, Murray dunked over Kirk Hinrich and then stood over the fallen Hinrich glaring and muttering something not necessarily about Kansas. It seemed more a Flip response than a flip one.
I asked Hinrich about it the other day and he laughed, “You still look up that stuff?”
Sure, I have nothing much else to do.
I also remember a game winning three against the Bulls Murray hit when he played with the Cavs and which Scott Skiles is still yelling at Andres Nocioni for leaving Murray open in the corner.
I thought with a guy who traveled around so much he’d have favorites and there would be a world according to Flip. But he said there wasn’t much but basketball. He said Italian food was his favorite and he liked the Maggiano’s chain the best and his favorite city was Miami.
“Always got the sunshine,” says Murray. “Can’t beat that.”
After being the only player I can ever think of who’s now played for every team in the Central Division, you can certainly understand his preference.
“The opportunity to play basketball is special to me,” says Murray. “I’ll be able to come back and say, ‘I played in the NBA,’ and played as long as I did and from where I came from, Philadelphia and a small Division II school.
“That’s tough,” says Murray. “It’s a league built for first round players. But I’ve been able to stay in the league and make a name for myself in the league.”
Flip. Yes, they know Flip. Have shot will travel.