The Bulls begin the preliminary stage of preparing for the 2009-10 season today with the tip-off of summer-league play in Las Vegas.
With first-round draft picks James Johnson and Taj Gibson alongside a cast of roster hopefuls, the Bulls take the court against rookie sharpshooter Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.
“We’re looking for any guys who stick out,” Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said. “This is a real good time to get a good look at our rookies and get them [familiar] with the terminology … try to get them to grasp that as soon as possible.”
As is the custom with most NBA head coaches, Del Negro will watch summer-league games from the stands. Assistant coach Bob Oceipka will run the squad.
The coaches’ top priority is to help Johnson and Gibson become familiar with the Bulls’ playbook and a brand of basketball that is roughly NBA caliber.
“I just don’t want to lose,” Johnson said. “That’s the main goal, just win as many games as we can. Drive, kick, getting everybody else open and scoring well.”
Other roster members will try to earn an invitation to training camp in October.
Three players spent time with the Bulls last season – guards Anthony Roberson and DeMarcus Nelson and forward Linton Johnson.
Others, too, have pro experience. Center James Augustine played on Illinois’ national runner-up team before spending two seasons with the Orlando Magic.
Taurean Green, a guard, was a member of Florida’s 2006 national championship team alongside Bulls center Joakim Noah.
Julius Hodge, a swingman, is a former first-round draft pick of the Denver Nuggets.
Regular-season roster spots will be scarce because the Bulls cannot sign more than one player without entering into luxury-tax territory. But players get a chance to audition for a spot somewhere.
“That’s why I’m playing,” said Augustine, who spent last season playing in a Spanish league. “Just to show other teams that I’ve become a better player.”
The Bulls will be keeping an especially close eye on Johnson and Gibson, both of whom impressed the coaches during last week’s mini-camp at the Berto Center.
“James has a nice feel,” Del Negro said. “For his size, he handles the ball better than you think. I thought he made some good passes, a couple of real nice passes underneath.
“He can move his feet when he wants defensively. Now he’s got to get in better condition and learn every day.
“Taj is long, runs the court pretty well, blocked some shots, got some nice putbacks around the basket. They’re still young and make mistakes, but they’re good guys and are going to improve.”
Johnson and Gibson, both forwards, have been working out together since soon after the draft and seem to have developed a rapport.
Their chemistry was evident during intra-squad scrimmages.
“He threw me some great passes and it worked well,” Gibson said. “We hooked up well with one another.”
“His game is above the rim and he’s explosive,” Johnson said. “He’s easy to pass to. He gets himself open a lot.”
SCHEDULE (all games in Las Vegas)
Today, 5 p.m. vs. Golden State
Wednesday, 3 p.m. vs. Milwaukee
Friday, 5:30 p.m. vs. Oklahoma City
Saturday, 3 p.m. vs. New York
Sunday, 3 p.m. vs. Minnesota
2 Bryan Mullins G Rookie, Southern Illinois
3 Josh Shipp G Second-year pro
5 Anthony Roberson G Fifth-year pro
6 Chris Davis G Rookie, Southern
11 Taurean Green G Fourth-year pro
14 Lorenzo Mata-Real C/F Rookie, UCLA
16 James Johnson F Rookie, Wake Forest
21 DeMarcus Nelson G Second-year pro
22 Taj Gibson F Rookie, USC
25 Julius Hodge F/G Fifth-year pro
32 Brandon Costner F Rookie, N.C. State
35 Tyrell Biggs F Rookie, Pittsburgh
40 James Augustine F/C Third-year pro
42 Nick Lewis F/C Rookie, San Diego
44 AD Vassallo F/G Rookie, Virginia Tech
50 Luke Zeller C Rookie, Notre Dame
54 Linton Johnson III F Seventh-year pro