In the empty space between meaningless and meaningful games involving the Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks, I thought I'd share a conversation I had with Bucks forward Richard Jefferson following Friday's preseason finale at the United Center.
To set the stage, Bulls rising star Derrick Rose was shaken up in the first quarter when fouled by Jefferson. Rose was driving to the basket, fell awkwardly after the foul, then left the game with a hip flexor strain that turned out to be minor. Jefferson committed a solid foul, designed to prevent Rose from making the layup, but there was nothing dirty or unnecessary about it.
Later in the first half, though, Jefferson drove to the basket and was chopped across the arms by Bulls forward Andres Nocioni. This time, tempers flared. Jefferson went back at Nocioni with a chest bump, Kirk Hinrich shoved Jefferson from behind and then Bucks guard Luke Ridnour body-checked Hinrich before order was restored and 3 technical fouls were distributed.
After the game, I asked Jefferson for his take on the incident. Did he think Nocioni's foul was retaliation for the one on Rose? Keep in mind that this conversation was good-natured all the way through. Jefferson was not upset or angry and it was nice to hear a player of his caliber open up.
“How long have you been following the Bulls? What type of player do you think Nocioni is?" Jefferson answered. "Don't ask me a question if you already know the answer."
Needless to say, Nocioni has a history of rough play, but in my opinion he rarely crosses the line into what would be considered dirty tactics. I told Jefferson that I didn't think his foul on Rose was anything but a foul and wanted to get his opinion of what happened later.
“You know my take by the question I'm asking," he replied. "I know it's your job to ask questions, but that doesn't mean we have to answer them or we can't ask you questions. You could bait me into saying something stupid or talk trash. We've got to play them first game of the year. But you know the type of player Nocioni is, so let's leave it at that.
“I've never hurt anybody, never been accused of being dirty. Derrick Rose, I went up after the ball, he got fouled. I'm not trying to hurt the young fellow. I'd never disrespect anybody. But Nocioni, can you say the same thing about him?
“I went up after the ball on Rose. I didn't try to knock him down. I didn't try to go after the body. I went up and tried to block it, he fell down. If they want to take that like that's something wrong... I played in almost 80 playoff games in my life. That's a good foul and that's a good attempt at the ball. It ain't a hack, it ain't a throw, it ain't a grab, a wrap-up. I went after the ball. Watch the tape and see if I went after the block. I have a lot of respect for a lot of people.
“It's like if Bruce Bowen gets into a scuffle, are you surprised? If Ron Artest gets into a scuffle, are you surprised? OK, that pretty much sums it all up, then."
Jefferson was smiling when he said that last part. We shook hands and went our separate ways.
In the Bulls locker room, Rose laughed when it was suggested that Nocioni might have had his back, so to speak, after the injury, but the soft-spoken point guard didn't say much. I didn't ask Nocioni about it because I knew he wouldn't have much to say ("It was a foul and that's it.")
"It happens," Hinrich said. "Preseason or no preseason, it's competitive out there."
Nocioni did have a good line about playing 44 minutes against the Bucks on Friday because Luol Deng and others were out with injuries.
"If I play 44, it's going to be a tough season," Nocioni said.
The regular season begins in less than 72 hours. Rose has already added life to this upcoming Bulls campaign. Things could be far more interesting than people realize.
Ben Gordon, Luol Deng and Tyrus Thomas all practiced Sunday, so the Bulls should be very close to full strength for Tuesday's season opener at the UC. Larry Hughes was not wearing his shoulder sling and expects to be ready for game action in about two weeks. Hughes dislocated his right shoulder last Wednesday in a game at Minnesota.