D.J. Augustin saved the Bulls, and the Bulls saved D.J. Augustin

BY JOE COWLEY Staff Reporter

March 11, 2014 10:55PM

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Updated: March 12, 2014 11:59PM

Joakim Noah believes the Bulls’ season was saved with the arrival of D.J. Augustin in mid-December.

Augustin believes his career was saved by coach Tom Thibodeau and a locker-room culture that he had never experienced in his five previous NBA seasons.

Are you listening, Carmelo Anthony?

“This is probably the most comfortable I’ve felt in a long time, maybe since my Charlotte days,’’ Augustin said Tuesday.

“Being out there playing and playing through mistakes. [Thibodeau] gives you the opportunity to play through mistakes, and that just helps a player’s confidence level.’’

Augustin had more than a few coaches who didn’t give him that room for error.

“With Thibodeau, it doesn’t matter,’’ Augustin said. “He sticks with you and lets you play through your mistakes and your rough patches.

“I’ve played for coaches that if you miss two shots or make a mistake, a turnover, they take you right out of the game. So that’s hard for any player.’’

It’s that kind of talk that makes the Anthony speculation so intriguing.

If Anthony truly wants to start winning and reach his potential, as has been reported more than a handful of times this season, he should check out all the Bulls who have improved — and quickly — under Thibodeau. Augustin is just the latest beneficiary.

Augustin said it’s not only Thibodeau, but the culture he has established in the locker room, a culture Anthony has yet to experience in his 11 seasons.

“I think it’s everything,’’ Augustin said. “Thibs, he’s very intense, especially as far as defense, and playing with guys like Joakim, you can’t go out there and play lax with a guy like that who’s bringing energy.

‘‘You have to bring the same amount of energy, especially on defense, and that’s what we do.’’

Anthony reportedly wasn’t thrilled that he wasn’t consulted about former Bulls and Lakers coach Phil Jackson being offered the keys to the Knicks’ front office.

And while Anthony would be leaving at least $30-plus million on the table if he opts out of his contract and becomes a free agent, the situation in New York could push him in that direction.

High praise

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich admitted that he was shocked to hear that Thibodeau had coached more games without Derrick Rose than with him, and that’s why he went out of his way to give Thibodeau credit.

“He’s a competitor of the highest degree, he demands it and he wins the battle with players,’’ Popovich said. “He’s persistent in what he’s going to do in practice and week-to-week. He has standards, and that’s where it begins.

‘‘He’s fortunate enough to have character guys, like I do, that allow themselves to be coached and try to do what’s instilled each day.’’

Around the rim

Guard Jimmer Fredette’s streak of sitting out ended at three games Tuesday, when he came in late in the first half against the Spurs.

Taj Gibson said the flu symptoms that have slowed him down have passed.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

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