Chicago Bulls' Gasol: In the end, defense makes a difference
Pau Gasol can understand the Chicago Bulls' decision to fire coach Tom Thibodeau. But when it comes to the more offensive-minded style expected with new coach Fred Hoiberg, the veteran forward isn't buying in yet.
"Offense wasn't too much of an issue last year," Gasol said Thursday. "We can work on our offense all we want, but defense is going to make a difference in how we're going to beat other teams."
Gasol spoke via a conference call from Johannesburg, South Africa, where he'll participate in the NBA Africa Game 2015, an exhibition featuring NBA players with roots in Africa against a world team. The contest will air live on ESPN at 8 a.m. on Saturday.
Former Bulls forward Luol Deng and Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo are among those scheduled to play for Team Africa; while Gasol's brother Marc, Clippers guard Chris Paul and Washington guard Bradley Beal are some of the players set to join Gasol on Team World.
Gasol said he has been in touch with Hoiberg by phone and electronic message, so there's a preliminary understanding of what Hoiberg has in mind. One of the main challenges for the Bulls is navigating a league trending toward more scoring and smaller lineups, with a roster heavy on big men.
"We have a great opportunity," Gasol said. "We have a very strong team. There were very few changes made as far as our roster and our players. We can build on what we had last year, so we have all the tools to be a much stronger team than we were and learn from our mistakes from last year.
"I think we have to understand we have talent offensively and we have to play with a better flow offensively. I think we're going to have more freedom to play in transition and exploit our abilities as individuals. As long as we understand that defense is what wins championships and makes the difference … we should be fine."
Last year when he shopped for a new home as a free agent, Gasol said yes to a Bulls team coached by Thibodeau. The Bulls fired Thibodeau after a 50-win season and five straight years in the playoffs, and Gasol was diplomatic about the controversial decision.
"It's always a difficult time and a hard time when you see a coach released or let go of his duties, especially after Tom had invested a lot of years in the team," Gasol said. "At the same time, you understand why it happened. The organization had to make a decision. It was a difficult one.
"At the end of the day, they're trying to give the team a better chance to win a championship and improve. That comes from the top. The players have really nothing to do with it and you accept those type of decisions and then you try to make the best out of them. We're going to try to work hard to fulfill our goals and be a better team next season. That's all we can do."
In a few weeks, Gasol will join the Spanish national team, which is expected to include second-year Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic. They'll take part in the European championships in September and try to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.
Gasol thinks the experience will help build his relationship with Mirotic and put both players in a good rhythm by the time Bulls training camp begins in late September. Gasol already has a couple of goals in mind for the upcoming NBA season.
"We were an up and down team (last year)," he said. "Even though we finished third in the conference, we still had a lot of games, I think, that we weren't ready to play; too many games we gave away against teams we were supposed to beat. At the end of the day, we paid the price for that. I guess (it was) a lack of urgency and giving importance to those moments in the regular season.
"I think we played at a pretty high level in the postseason. We fell short in the end. I think having home court advantage is a big deal when teams are so close."
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