Silva: KD is Not Nice — True Stories

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The first time I met Kevin Durant was the morning of Oct. 29, 2008, at the team’s first regular-season shootaround inside the Ford Center.

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Silva: 10 Things You (Probably) Don’t Know About the Thunder

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So much has been written about the Oklahoma City Thunder throughout these NBA playoffs that it’s difficult to find any new nuggets of information about the team and its city that aren’t already in cyberspace.

But I’m going to give it a shot.

I had the good fortune of working for the Thunder as its Web site writer from 2008 up until last season’s All-Star break, so I have my share of memories and experiences, both first-hand and from the reporting I did for both thunder.nba.com, its quarterly magazine, Thunder Magazine, and the game night programs found in the arena.

Most of this might not be news to Okies, who know their Thunder inside-out, but since the nation’s 44th largest media market is about to go global for these NBA Finals – they’ll be broadcast in hundreds of countries – I figured I’d take a stab at listing 10 things you might not have known about the Thunder and Oklahoma City. Or rather, these are just 10 of my favorite things about the Thunder – facts, memories, stories, stuff you might find interesting.

Here you go:

1. Kevin Durant is who he appears to be. The young man does not put on an act in front of cameras or fans. I’ve never seen a more gifted athlete with such a cool demeanor and selflessness about him than I have with Durant. He’s as genuine as they come. Anyone who’s spent time around him can surely attest to that, so this really isn’t news. (Now, the bond Durant has forged with the home fans, especially those he visits with before games, and how accessible he is, is a whole other story.) But it still impresses me that someone of his stature, who has been on a meteoric rise, can remain so humble and down to earth. I’ve seen it behind closed doors, whether it’s during a break at one of his summer camps in Oklahoma City or in a van after a Foot Locker event in Harlem, or even on the loading dock of US Airways Center in Phoenix during All-Star Weekend in 2009, after Durant set a Rookie-Sophomore Game record with 46 points. He wasn’t on Cloud Nine nor was he trying to downplay the feat. He was just….collected. One of my favorite Durant stories came from his college coach, Texas’ Rick Barnes, who told me a few years ago about the summer of 2010, when Durant came back to campus for summer classes and to work out with fellow Longhorns. Barnes recalled how Durant spent that summer sleeping on two air mattresses on the floor of his old college roommate’s apartment because he thought that staying in a hotel would be a waste of money. As renowned trainer Idan Ravin, also known as the Hoops Whisperer, once told me about Durant, “He is the most unassuming superstar I’ve ever met – and I’ve had a chance to work with many of them.”

2. Russell Westrook might have the best offseason workout partner in the league. Maybe you’ve read it before, maybe you haven’t, but ever since he entered the league Westbrook has spent each offseason working out with Chicago Bulls point guard and former MVP Derrick Rose back home in California. Westbrook, from Lawndale, and Rose work out together in Santa Monica. While in-season practices, games and a stable of coaches who have been there, done that (See: former point guards Scott Brooks and Maurice Cheeks) have certainly helped Westbrook’s maturity and development as a player, working out against and alongside another insane talent in Rose on a daily basis has only helped the Thunder point guard.

3. Speaking of offseason workouts….I remember the early mornings of the first few days of training camp back in 2009 and 2010, how the entire Thunder basketball operations staff – video coordinators, coaching staff, players, media relations people, even GM Sam Presti – would carpool over to strength coach Dwight Daub’s home, just a short drive from the Thunder’s former practice facility in Edmond. Daub lived in a nice community and had one helluva hill in his backyard that plateaued into some neighbor’s yards. Every member of the team would line up and run sprints, up and down that hill, non-stop, until they were gassed. To see the looks on the faces of anyone who was hanging at the nearby neighborhood park and pool was priceless: six foot-plus tall men coming out of SUVs and working out in someone’s backyard doesn’t happen anywhere else in America. But what impressed me the most wasn’t the size of the hill or the number of repetitions but how everyone from the front office partook in the exercise. When they left, their work day had only begun. Now, I would have asked to join the run but I wasn’t the most coordinated guy back then.

4. Serge Ibaka is one fast learner. The third-year forward from the Congo has been on a rapid ascent to becoming the league’s premier shot blocker. The Thunder probably saw this kind of potential in Ibaka from Day One. Not only will the organization praise him for his work ethic, but his ability to adapt might be more impressive. Consider this: by the age of 19, Ibaka had lived on three different continents, learned three different languages and adapted to the NBA game to where he led the league in blocks this season. After leaving the Congo for Spain, Ibaka’s coach at the time, Jaume Ponsarnau, said he became fluent in Spanish within three months without any formal language lessons. “I remember his eyes, they were of an intelligent person,” Ponsarnau told me a few years ago. “He was trustworthy, and I really wanted to work with him. He had the intelligence and the virtue to understand things.” When Ibaka got to the Thunder, he barely spoke a lick of English. The team had an English teacher, who was from his native country, come to the practice facility for English lessons in the media workroom after reporters had left for the day. To the media, Ibaka spoke broken English during his rookie year, and while he wasn’t comfortable in front of cameras, I can’t recall him turning down an interview. If he was insecure, he never showed it. A year later, his confidence, both on the court and with a new language, shot up tenfold. Ibaka’s got an amazing story.

5. Cliche alert: Nick Collison is a true student of the game. I hate cliches more than the next guy, but there’s no other way to describe Collison, who is the son of one of Iowa’s most respected high school basketball coaches. Collison grew up in the gym. As a first grader he studied high school game film alongside his dad. Collison’s college coach, Roy Williams, told me for a story that Collison is the most fundamentally sound player he’s ever coached. And before he got to the NBA, all Collison ever did was win. His high school basketball team went 74-1 throughout his career, and Collison experienced so much success at such a young age that his father, Dave, wanted to teach him some humility. So he had Nick run on the junior varsity track team, which put him in the third heat of the 4 x 100 meter relay. Out of 37 other runners, Nick said he was probably the 36th fastest. Needless to say, he hated it. His father, Dave, told me this for a story, “I think it was really good for him because it was something he wasn’t good at. He was pretty good at everything else he did….There were times he complained about it and I said, ‘Well, now you know what it’s like for those other kids who play basketball and struggle a little bit. You keep that in mind when they miss a shot or throw the ball away and you realize that they’re doing their best.’”

6. Thabo Sefolosha found his niche early in his career. Julien Guerineau, the editor and chief of Basketball Magazine, the official publication of the French Federation, saw Sefolosha at the onset of his pro career in 2002. Guerineau told me for a magazine story I wrote on Sefolosha that the Thunder guard played maybe three minutes total during his first season with the elite Chalon-Sur-Saone club in France. Sefolosha’s coach at the time told him that if he wanted to earn playing time he’d have to carve himself a niche. Sefolosha said he put all of his effort into becoming a lockdown defender, and by the following season he earned a rotation spot for his ability to defend four positions, leading to the nickname Swiss Knife.

7. Presti is a consummate leader. I’ve never been around someone with Presti’s work ethic. And I’ve never worked for anyone who’s been so confident in a plan of action that he stays the course no matter how rocky the road might get (remember that 3-29 start?). That’s obviously a huge reason why the Thunder has developed at this pace; Presti never deviated from his plan. Of course, it’s been just as important to have an ownership group that allows the basketball minds to make basketball decisions. I’ve never seen Presti address the team but every once in a while he would gather the business office for a meeting, whether it was to explain why the team made a certain transaction or to make sure everyone was on the same page. Making sure everyone was on the same page seemed important to him. I’ll always remember this one time he brought in a guest speaker for the entire organization at a meeting in the downtown library. The speaker was Jon Gordon, author of The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work and Team With Positive Energy. Enough said.

8. Rob Hennigan. Remember that name. If I was a betting man – and I’m not – I would place money on Hennigan one day running an NBA front office. When you have a successful organization like the Thunder it’s only a matter of time before your front office gets poached. Rich Cho, a former Thunder assistant GM, is already on his second GM post, this time with the Charlotte Bobcats. I’m sure that Troy Weaver (who as an assistant coach at Syracuse was responsible for recruiting Carmelo Anthony) and Hennigan will get their chances soon enough. I bring this up in large part because of Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, who reported last week that the Orlando Magic had interest in the two. While I’m not sure how strong there interest is in Hennigan, I can see why he would land on someone’s radar. He’s quietly worked his way up the ladder. When I first met him he was the team’s Director of College and International Player Personnel. And to think, he could have been an ink-stained wretch like myself and my media brethren. Hennigan got his degree in broadcast journalism from Emerson College – the same alma mater as Presti – where he also became the basketball program’s all-time leading scorer.

9. Oklahoma City has a crazy local fan base. You’ve seen the way the entire Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd wears those white or blue playoffs t-shirts in unison. You’ve seen the way they stand until the Thunder scores its first basket of every game. And you might recall how they gave the Thunder a rousing standing ovation a split second after its season ended at home in Game 6 of a first-round playoff loss to the Lakers back in 2010. But those aren’t the first thoughts that come to mind when I think of how prideful Okies are. What comes to mind is something that only occurred during the Thunder’s inaugural season, back in 2008-09. Before every home game, a local (presumably a season ticket holder) would stand atop a platform off the corner of the court, waving this giant Oklahoma state flag as the state song blared from the arena’s sound system while players were about to take the court. Everyone in the building would be standing and clapping to the beat of the song. At first, I didn’t understand it, but over time it became my favorite part of the in-game entertainment. It’s more than just team pride for Oklahomans; it’s a civic pride. How many people have that for their state?

10. Cheever’s Cafe. If you’re ever in Oklahoma City, you must eat here. It’s billed as contemporary comfort food and in my opinion it’s the best place in town. Whenever friends, family or out of town writers came to Oklahoma City this is where I’d take them. It’s a pretty nice walk from downtown Oklahoma City, right on the other side of the historic Heritage Hills neighborhood. Sunday brunch is a must. The fried chicken and waffles and croissant french toast do not disappoint, as does the queso chihuahua appetizer. If you’re headed there for dinner, the chicken fried steak will fill you up. It’s a rather small joint, a former flower shop, with a homey atmosphere and local artwork adorning the walls. You’ll likely need reservations. The place is owned by A Good Egg Dining Group, which has a handful of other stellar restaurants and even a gastro pub, and this is the same company that caters all of the Thunder’s meals at its practice facility.

Chris Silva, former Pistons beat writer for the Detroit Free Press and Kevin Durant’s de facto biographer for thunder.nba.com, covers the Chicago Bulls and the NBA for SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter at @silvawriter or email him at christopherbsilva@gmail.com.

Silva: Thunder Has What It Takes To Win Championship

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The more I watch the Oklahoma City Thunder rack up wins and inch closer to the league’s best record, the more I question my preseason predictions.

Can the Thunder win the NBA title this season?

Back in December I said no, although I did have them facing the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. After watching the Thunder cruise to a 40-12 overall record thanks to Sunday’s 92-78 thrashing of the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls, and putting the rest of their season into perspective, I don’t see why Oklahoma City cannot win the title this season.

Full disclosure: I’m a former Thunder employee, having worked for the franchise during its first 2 1/2 seasons in Oklahoma City as their in-house beat writer.

So I was there for that 3-29 start in 2008-09, a 50-win season that followed and almost three-fourths of last season’s 55-win campaign.

I saw them struggle, never quit, continue to improve and stay humble throughout it all.

I’ve seen them mature, all right, and continue to mature faster than few people outside that organization would have expected.

Being resilient in the face of adversity and staying humble in victory are two of the most often repeated phrases within that organization, and the players have followed them to a T. No, they do not have the years of playoff experience that the Spurs, Lakers or Mavericks have, but those Thunder young guns arrived in Oklahoma City with a certain level of maturity and understanding that few others in their draft class possessed.

The Thunder prides itself on bringing in high character, high basketball IQ players, and players like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka are all prime examples. For all the room they have to grow as players and individuals, they’re already wise beyond their years.

If there is a team that will break the mold of past NBA champions – that is to say, a team comprised of grizzled veterans – it’s the Thunder.

This Thunder team has an identity, one of an explosive offensive unit that, when it chooses to, can also employ one of the league’s best team defenses. For proof, look no further than last Sunday’s impressive win over the Miami Heat, when Oklahoma City’s defensive rotations were as on-point as they have been all season. And having a roster where each player accepts and fulfills their roles, as mentioned above, is crucial. Role players James Harden and Nick Collison will be the most called upon reserves this postseason, and both had stellar showings a year ago.

What Durant will give the Thunder in the playoffs is a given, as the league’s two-time leading scorer is as automatic and as difficult a matchup as they come.

But come playoffs, this won’t be the same Westbrook we saw a year ago, when he was chided for his decision making and made national headlines for a heated exchange he had with Durant on the bench during Game 4 of their first-round series against Denver. This year, the argument could be made for Westbrook being the league’s best point guard. He’s improved that much, and he’s going to be the biggest difference for the Thunder this postseason.

Harden, meanwhile, has developed into the most dependable third option and bench scorer in the league while remaining an underrated playmaker.

Two months ago, columnist Jan Hubbard wrote on this site about how he wasn’t sold on this Thunder team. One of his arguments was that the Thunder still hadn’t defeated a playoff team seeded in the top four.

That will change this postseason, but even so it’s not something I need to see to be convinced they can win it all right now.

From a 23-win season to 50 wins and a near upset of the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, to a run to the Western Conference Finals last year, the Thunder has been on a meteoric rise. It’s also been an unconventional one at that, which proves there really is no recipe for reaching the top.

Maybe this Thunder team doesn’t need to endure years of playoff frustration like Michael Jordan did; maybe they don’t need a complete veteran supporting cast that Tim Duncan had when he won his first title at age 22.

Over the last four years, this young Thunder team has had its share of veteran players pass through their locker room, all brought to Oklahoma City to lead by example and contribute whatever they could on the court, and it happened without stunting the growth of its core players. Having a veteran locker room presence is something that cannot be overlooked.

Two years ago it was journeyman Kevin Ollie. Last season, Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed were brought on board. This year it’s Derek Fisher. Their impact isn’t always accurately measured in box scores, but if the Thunder wins the whole thing this year, those veteran teammates both past and present will have played a part in them reaching the pinnacle.

I believe the Thunder has the makeup to win both now and in the immediate future.

By makeup, I’m talking about talent, maturity, role players and intangibles. It all boils down to execution, but I’m saying that the current Thunder roster is good enough to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Right now, all the Thunder can do is take care of business and surge past the Chicago Bulls to take the league’s top record by the end of the regular season. No team will want to play at Chesapeake Energy Arena in the playoffs.

Having the road to the NBA Finals come through Oklahoma City is another reason why this could be the Thunder’s year.

Chris Silva, former Pistons beat writer for the Detroit Free Press and Kevin Durant’s de facto biographer for thunder.nba.com, covers the Chicago Bulls and the NBA for SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter at @silvawriter or email him at christopherbsilva@gmail.com.

Bulls defeat Heat behind John Lucas III

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CHICAGO — It’s impossible to watch a Bulls-Heat game without daydreaming about an Eastern Conference Finals rematch. Ever since the two teams played that five-game series a year ago, it has to be the first thought that comes to mind whenever they’re on the same court.

The media treats it that way, the United Center on Wednesday night had a postseason buzz, and if you were to give a dose of truth serum to players from both teams, you’d surely get them to share those very sentiments.

You didn’t need a sports shrink to read between the lines from the jargon and body language that came from the Bulls’ locker room on Wednesday after they handled the Heat, 106-102, in their second meeting of the season. Let’s just say there were plenty of wide smiles, cheerful chatter and emotions that seemed to be reined in.

“You know, it’s a big game, it’s a big game,” Luol Deng said. “I’m not going to tell you it’s not.”

“I think the city of Chicago wanted this matchup more than we did,” Taj Gibson said. “They were amped up all week even before we played the Heat. They brought a lot of loudness to the game.”

Derrick Rose missing this game with a groin injury changed everything.

Had he played, win or lose, this game would have been put under the microscope for the next 48 hours. But without him, as was the case, it was probably a big story only if the Bulls won, which they did, because they had to overcome adversity to do it, and who doesn’t love a feel-good story? Had the Bulls lost without Rose? Well, I’ll argue that they would have gotten a free pass. The results would have read “inconclusive” – Rose injured, Deng coming back from injury, too many injuries, it’s only the regular season, yada yada.

So let’s be honest: this game didn’t tell you anything you didn’t already know about the Bulls-Heat matchup, nor was it revelant to what’s ahead should they appease the ratings gods with a postseason rematch. Because really, come postseason, John Lucas III probably will remain glued to the bench, the rotation will be shortened and the Bench Mob’s impact for the Bulls will have to be done in shorter spurts of playing time.

Lucas stole the headlines on this night, the son of a former NBA player who’s been cut from his share of teams (including Miami) and has seemed to have carved himself a nice role with the Bulls. He’s animated, passionate, undersized and extremely confident. His 24 points off the bench paced Chicago, a performance Joakim Noah deemed was “tough” and possessed plenty of “swag,” which really was emblematic of the way the entire reserve unit performed.

But if you must take something from the second of four regular season meetings between Chicago and Miami it should be that the Bulls have the superior bench. The Bulls’ subs outscored the Heat’s, 56-15, while shooting 18-of-33 from the field. Another key stat from the win: Chicago’s 21-7 advantage in second-chance points.

But back to the bench. If you remember, way back when I wrote about the Bulls being better suited to beat the Heat this postseason because I think it has the deeper bench. While Wednesday was just one game, it backed up my belief. Omer Asik was active on the offensive glass. Kyle Korver was being Kyle Korver, draining a pair of threes. Gibson brought the high energy. Rookie Jimmy Butler played meaningful minutes and didn’t turn the ball over when he touched it. Again, when the playoffs get here there’s a good chance Lucas and Butler won’t see the court. C.J. Watson will be coming off the bench and presumably so will Ronnie Brewer, only if Richard Hamilton can get healthy.

The stats geeks would have you believe it’s not like the Bulls have a sizable advantage over the Heat when it comes to the reserves.

According to hoopsstats.com, the Bulls rank 23rd in bench scoring at 28 points a game while Miami is 26th with 25.2 points a game. I just think they have such a comfort level, such high expectations of themselves and have bought into the team concept, that intangibles like those might set them apart. Whether the Bulls are shorthanded or full strength, the bench comes with the same mentality and energy level.

“Guys on our team are the right guys,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “They have the right attitude and the right approach and there is a belief that we can win when we’ve had guys out because the next guy steps up and does the job.”

If that doesn’t make you think about how messed up the Bulls could be if management pulls off some blockbuster trade for, say, Pau Gasol, then you’re not looking at the big picture. I really think in the short term it would screw this team up.

But back to reality. I can’t imagine that a win like Wednesday’s, even without Rose, will give the Bulls more confidence because they have enough as it is. Winning a game like this simply feels good. Noah might have said it best: it’s okay to get excited but not overexcited.

“The beauty of sports, man,” Joakim Noah said in describing the total team effort. “You guys would have never thought, man….But we believe in each other. That’s why it feels so good. Nobody would have ever thought we’d win a game like this, especially without Derrick. I’m not going to lie – it feels great.”

Here’s a recap of what else went on in the NBA last night:

  • Dwight Howard said he is staying in Orlando for this season and next season —  a stunning development that could have all sorts of trickle down effects throughout today in the hours leading up to the 3 p.m. EST NBA trade deadline. Howard made his comments to Jarrod Rudolph of RealGM.com, and nominations for scoop of the year are now closed. Take a bow, Jarrod. On the court, it was not a good night for the Magic as they played one of their worst defensive games of the season in losing 122-11 to the San Antonio Spurs. Tony Parker had 31 points and 12 assists, and Tim Duncan had 21 points and 13 rebounds. Parker, averaging 29.8 points in his last four games, was serenaded by chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P!” in the closing minutes.
  • Mike Woodson won by 42 points in his debut as head coach of the New York Knicks following the firing resignation of Mike D’Antoni. Carmelo Anthony, who denied wanting a trade or having friction with D’Antoni earlier in the day, had 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting and tied a season high with seven assists. Amare Stoudemire finished with 17 points and shot 8-of-10 before both stars sat out the fourth quarter. The Knick had their highest point total of the season, getting 23 points from J.R. Smith and 20 from Steve Novak. They made a season-high 19 3-pointers, one off the franchise record. As for the chances that Phil Jackson will eventually coach the Knicks, read Mark Heisler’s take. He is tight with the Zen Master.
  • For the second consecutive night, the Los Angeles Lakers climbed out of a double-digit hole in the second half to force an extra period. On Tuesday night, they came back from 17 down to win at Memphis in double overtime. They also trailed New Orleans by as many as 17 late in the second quarter and 15 in the second half, but Kobe Bryant scored 33 and Andrew Bynum had 25 points and 18 rebounds in a 107-101 victory.
  • Kevin Garnett scored 12 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, including a tiebreaking jumper with 5.1 seconds left that led the Celtics to a 105-103 victory over the Golden State Warriors. Rajon Rondo had 14 assists for the Celtics, who have won eight out of 10 following a five-game losing streak.
  • In a matchup of teams vying for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, Drew Gooden had 15 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists for his second career triple-double — getting it before the third quarter was complete — as Milwaukee defeated Cleveland 115-105. The Bucks, who had 38 assists — the most by any team in a game this season — have won four straight. Monta Ellis will likely make his Milwaukee debut in — of all places — Oakland on Friday night.
  • Mo Williams scored 25 points and Eric Bledsoe added 14 on a relatively quiet night by Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, leading the Clippers to a 96-82 victory over the Hawks. Atlanta finished 2-4 on its longest road trip of the season.
  • Indiana shot a season-best 57 percent from the field and outrebounded the 76ers 37-26 in a surprisingly easy 111-94 victory over Philadelphia. ”This game had more meaning than probably most people realized,” said Danny Granger of the Pacers, who became only the seventh team to reach 100 points against the Sixers this season.
  • Rodney Stuckey scored 35 points and Greg Monroe matched his career high with 32 for the Pistons, who had a season-high point total in a 124-112 victory over Sacramento. Despite opening 4-20, The Pistons (16-27) are only three games out of the eighth and last playoff spot in the East.
  • Look who is rising in the West. It’s the Phoenix Suns, who tied the Utah Jazz in the standings (20-22) with a 120-111 victory. Phoenix has won six of its last seven games at home and in each of those games, the Suns trailed by double digits before coming back.In what may have been his last game for the Rockets, Luis Scola had 23 points in a 107-87 romp over Charlotte. Scola expects the team to make a deal of some kind before the deadline. ”I think I’m going to be here,” he said. “I just don’t know what’s going to happen.”
  • Kris Humphries had 16 points and a career-high 21 rebounds and Gerald Green matched his season high by scoring 20 of his 26 points in the second half as the Nets defeated Toronto 98-84. Question of the day for the Nets: What will they do with Deron Williams now that Howard has committed to the Magic for this year and next? Should help make for an interesting day.

Chris Silva, former Pistons beat writer for the Detroit Free Press and Kevin Durant’s de facto biographer for thunder.nba.com, covers the Chicago Bulls and the NBA for SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter at @silvawriter or email him at christopherbsilva@gmail.com.

 

Silva: Bulls haven’t lost a step with Watson in starting lineup

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CHICAGO — Derrick Who?

For now, the Bulls starting point guard is a fifth-year player who has spent his entire career coming off the bench, where he’s carved a niche for himself as a dependable role player.

In his second year in Chicago, he’s garnered his share of praise from coach Tom Thibodeau for his heady play, low turnover rate, serviceable defense and game management. He’s also seen his minutes reduced, and rightfully so, because he’s playing behind the game’s  reigning MVP.

And while just about all of Bulls nation remains focused on every bit of news there is surrounding Derrick Rose’s case of turf toe on his left foot, how bad the injury is and when he might return, rest assured that the Bulls’ offense has been in safe hands with Watson running the show in the interim. So say the results.

With Rose sidelined indefinitely, there’s no better player on the roster to fill his void than Watson.

“The point guard position has been fine, and the rest of the team has stepped up,” Thibodeau said before Saturday’s 95-89 win over the visiting Charlotte Bobcats. “We like our depth and these guys have been putting their work in….For us, it doesn’t change how we play regardless of who’s in or who’s out. We’re going to defend, rebound, try to keep our turnovers down, inside-out, share the ball. That’s what we like to do every day.”

Twice during his pre-game availability, Thibodeau said some variation of: “I’m good with who we have. I think we have more than enough.”

And Thibodeau said so knowing that not only Rose but also forward Taj Gibson (ankle), Joakim Noah (ankle) and John Lucas III (groin) are tending to their own injuries.

Simply put, the Bulls aren’t going to bring back Rose prematurely, and they’re confident that Watson, along with veteran Mike James and John Lucas III, can get the job done.

Say what you will about the competition – the Bobcats have won just two games this season – but  the 36-year-old James was spry and on-point in his most minutes as a Bull, as the veteran guard recorded nine points and 10 assists in 17 minutes backing up Watson. James has always been a scorer, but he’s also effective in pick-and-roll situations and did a fine job of keeping the Bulls in a rhythm. James only adds to the Bulls’ depth and is also a proven winner. He won a NBA title with teammate Rip Hamilton and the Pistons in 2004, and was with the Houston Rockets when Thibodeau was an assistant there, so not only is he familiar with the Bulls’ system but also with what makes a championship-caliber team.

“It’s not just the starters that make a championship roster,” James said. “It’s everyone from 1 through 15. So you have to be able to step in if your number’s called, you have to be able to play your role and that’s all I was trying to do.”

The same goes for Watson, who isn’t going to give the Bulls anything that Rose can’t although that’s not the point.

What’s important to know is that Watson, who’s good enough to start for a majority of teams, has developed a comfort level that has come with more leeway from Thibodeau. For a regular backup to have complete trust from the coaching staff is no given for all teams, but Watson has proven himself worthy after coming into the abbreviated training camp in top shape and a season with the Bulls already under his belt.

“Thibs lets me call plays and he just lets me go out there and command the team, and play, really,” Watson told CSNChicago.com after Friday’s win in Cleveland. “So, I just go out there and have fun. I guess he trusts me a little more.”

Thibodeau said that if anyone has been deserving of more minutes it’s been Watson, who has averaged 21.2 minutes through nine games this season, up nearly eight minutes from last season. He finished with 11 points, nine assists and just two turnovers on Saturday night and entered the contest shooting 43.5% from the field, up from 37.1% a season ago, and 52.4% from behind the arc.

He’s dishing 4.5 assists this season and has had a pass-first mentality with Rose out. Against the Bobcats, Watson never forced anything early on and instead ran the offense through Luol Deng (six points in the first) and also went to Richard Hamilton, who continued to post up rookie Kemba Walker, on other possessions. And Watson has done a fine job of upholding the Bulls’ transition game whenever opportunities present themselves.

Watson has averaged 16.3 points, 7.0 assists and a combined five turnovers in his three starts this season. He’s done all this after an elbow injury sidelined him for nine games earlier this month.

“C.J.’s playing great,” forward Luol Deng said. “He’s running the team, he’s making shots, he’s playing defense. C.J. is a good player and he’s been like that when he was in Golden State and right now with Derrick hurt. We have full confidence in him. We’ve been playing with him. I play a lot with the second unit so I’m familiar with his play.”

Chris Silva, former Pistons beat writer for the Detroit Free Press and Kevin Durant’s de facto biographer for thunder.nba.com, covers the Chicago Bulls and the NBA for SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter at @silvawriter or email him at christopherbsilva@gmail.com.