No Carmelo, so Bulls get versatile

CHICAGO -- Pau Gasol didn't pick the Chicago Bulls for the money. He certainly didn't pick the Bulls for the winter weather.

Gasol, the Spanish post player with two Finals rings, is a Bull, he says, because they have a very good chance to win the NBA title next season.

"Money obviously wasn't the priority here," said Gasol, who was introduced by the Bulls on Friday at the United Center, along with rookie forward Nikola Mirotic. "I turned down bigger offers and I prioritized being on a championship-caliber team and being in a position where I can hopefully put that team over the top with my game as well. I felt that here I was going to have that opportunity, and now it's just a matter of getting to work."

He's also a Bull because they couldn't get Carmelo Anthony to leave New York.

But Gasol's not a disappointing backup free agent for a team that could be the favorite to win the Eastern Conference, provided the LeBron-led Cavaliers don't land Kevin Love in a trade. Even then, Gasol, along with the other offseason additions, make the Bulls a versatile threat.

The Bulls still have only one dynamic scorer in Derrick Rose, but once this team jells, it could be quite potent offensively. Yes, we're talking about the Bulls.

While he doesn't have Anthony's unique ability to score and -- most important to this team's weakness -- create shots, Gasol is a versatile offensive player who can play inside and outside, and help create offensive opportunities for a team suddenly rich, er, upper-middle class, in shooters.

Get ready for a flood of stories about the Bulls sharing the ball and playing "the right way."

This is a copycat league, and certainly everyone saw how the San Antonio Spurs picked apart the Miami Heat by sharing the ball. According to a June 15 story on NBA.com, the Spurs passed the ball in Games 3 and 4 of the Finals in Miami, on average, 4.21 and 4.54 times a possession. In the clincher, they had 25 assists on 37 baskets.

Norman Dale would be proud.

With Rose out last season, coach Tom Thibodeau moved Joakim Noah into a hybrid point-center role. Noah averaged 5.4 assists from all over the court. Now you add Gasol, who averaged 3.4 assists last season, right around his average, and rookie Doug McDermott, whom Thibodeau credits for his playmaking off double-teams -- not to mention, you know, Rose, who can whip passes into the post with the best of them.

"McDermott knows how to get shots and how to make plays," Thibodeau said. "He knows how to make quick decisions. Pau does the same thing. He's a very quick decision-maker."

Getting these guys on the same page will take some time, but the continuity from last year's holdovers should help the newcomers.

Gasol said he had a productive meeting with Noah and encouraging phone conversations with Rose and Mike Dunleavy. The humility of Noah and Rose impressed him, as did their apparent hunger to win.

"I want to be part of a hungry team that will do whatever it takes," Gasol said.

Gasol brings a wealth of IQ, basketball and otherwise.

While it's fun to talk about what book Gasol is reading ("Quiet" by Susan Cain, a book about the power of introverts, which I guess is Rose homework) or his interest in medicine, the Bulls didn't sign him to be a veteran mentor to Mirotic. He's here to play a major role.

"I think any time you can add a player like that is great," Thibodeau said. "Because one thing is, Pau is terrific in the low post with his back to the basket. He can face up, pass out of the low post. He's excellent in the pick-and-roll, he can read how defenses are playing pick-and-roll and he knows which area to go to. He's instinctive. He's also very effective in the elbow. There are a lot of different ways we can use him."

Thibodeau laughed when a reporter noted that the Bulls would be deeper than last season. It would be impossible to be more shallow.

But now he has some interesting lineup choices to make. Taj Gibson played like a starter last season, averaging 13 points and 6.8 rebounds in 29 minutes a game. With Boozer gone, he expected to start this season, his sixth in the NBA.

Now, you figure the Bulls start Gasol and keep Gibson in a familiar role anchoring the second unit defensively, but Thibodeau wouldn't bite on that question. He said they'll be "interchangeable."

"I don't know how it's going to unfold," he said. "Who will be starter, who's finishing. Maybe we change as we go. We're going to see once we get everyone there together. We're always going to do what's best for the team. One thing I would say is, I know all three will have a significant role. I told Pau that when we went to visit with him."

He has 96 minutes to split between those three, not to mention Mirotic. The 34-year-old Gasol admitted he's around the age where they should start to watch his minutes. Last year, he averaged 31.4 minutes in 60 games and the year before that, 33.8 in 49 games. In his first four full seasons with the Lakers, he averaged 37 minutes a game.

"It should be good," Thibodeau said. "Pau is conflicted. One minute he wants short minutes, one minute he wants long minutes. We'll find the right amount."

Thibodeau loves to needle reporters about our obsession on his minutes allocation. "Do some more digging," he'll say as he ticks off all the NBA greats who play big minutes. But he welcomes the depth up front, not to mention the return of franchise hero Kirk Hinrich, who re-upped again to back up Rose.

You can probably pencil, not pen, Mike Dunleavy into the starting small forward spot, which he manned when Luol Deng was traded. McDermott will press for time there.

Jimmy Butler should start at the shooting guard, with Tony Snell swinging between that spot and small forward.

As for Mirotic, a 6-foot-10 "spacing 4," as general manager Gar Forman called him, he'll be one to watch early in the season. The Bulls are high on his potential, but there's no true sense on how quickly he'll adapt to the NBA. Mirotic thinks his ability to shoot the 3 will be beneficial to getting on the floor. Thibodeau compared him to Omer Asik, who was a rookie in 2010-11 and averaged about 12 minutes.

"He's played in a lot of games," Thibodeau said. "To me, it's similar in some ways to Omer. Omer was not your typical rookie. He'd been in a lot of big international games. Same thing with Nikola. He's going to have to get used to the speed and strength of the NBA games."

Gasol isn't known for his defense, but in Thibodeau's "pack the paint" defense, he thinks the 7-foot Gasol will be a valuable deterrent, along with Gibson and Noah, the reigning defensive player of the year.

"The thing I love about all three is they have great length," Thibodeau said. "Defensively you're going to always have two 7-footers on the floor. If you get by the initial one, there's always going to be second one by the rim. It's going to be very difficult to get shots in the paint."

Gibson is 6-foot-9, but he has a ridiculous 7-foot-4 wingspan and can guard scorers without much help.

Thibodeau said you can probably forget about a "jumbo lineup" featuring all three big men.

"In the '90s, you could've gotten away with it, but it would be very hard offensively to play like that," he said.

The days of bulldozing teams are over. Now it's all about versatility and creating matchup problems on offense.

Anthony would have given the Bulls that second scoring star that they lack. But if Mirotic and McDermott adapt quickly to the NBA and Gasol stays healthy, they give the Bulls a different look and more options.

If they're healthy, we know the Bulls will win a ton in the regular season, but we'll see how Plan P works in the playoffs.

If the Bulls can truly emulate San Antonio, they'll have a fighting shot to get out of the Eastern Conference.