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Bulls' Scalabrine a gold mind

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Brian Scalabrine came to the Bulls knowing coach Tom Thibodeau's system.


When the Bulls signed Brian Scalabrine last month, right before training camp, more than a few people around the NBA asked the same question:

Why-

The Bulls were loaded at power forward. Free-agent acquisition Carlos Boozer was expected to start and play the bulk of the minutes there, backed up by Taj Gibson, who started 70 games last season and was a member of the All-Rookie Team. Kurt Thomas was an option, and starting center Joakim Noah also could swing over to play some power forward.

To understand why new Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau pushed for Scalabrine to be signed, all you had to do was observe the Bulls' 110-103 preseason victory Wednesday at Toronto.

With Boozer (broken hand) and Noah (flu-like symptoms) out, Scalabrine stepped in to play 31 minutes off the bench, finishing with 14 points (on 6-for-7 shooting) and four assists.

''[Scalabrine's] a solid veteran; he gives you veteran leadership,'' Thibodeau said. ''He's been in a lot of situations like that.

''[On Wednesday] we were short-handed, and that's why I like him. He stays ready to play. You put him out there, and he can guard people, and his defense is very good. Offensively, he's smart. He keeps the ball moving and knows where the mismatches are. He knows who's hot and how the play is being defended. You can count on him.''

That's something you can't say about most end-of-the-bench guys. Sitting for a stretch of games and then getting an opportunity and producing isn't a role many players can handle -- but it's the only role Scalabrine has known in the NBA.

''From the time I was with the [New Jersey] Nets and Kenyon Martin would go down with an injury or get booted out of a game or something like that, I'd have to be ready,'' he said. ''My career has been interesting because I've always been on good teams. The good teams are going to have good players -- I've backed up Kenyon Martin, Kevin Garnett and now Boozer and Joakim, [and] those guys are all very good basketball players. I'm not going to be a player that's going to battle those guys for minutes. It's all about having an opportunity and stepping in and trying to take advantage of it.''

Thibodeau saw Scalabrine's value up close with the Boston Celtics the last three years. When the Celtics let him go in a numbers game after signing free agents Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal, the Bulls signed him to a non-guaranteed deal.

Some doubted whether he would make the opening-day roster, but that's virtually a sure thing now. In the three-plus weeks of training camp, the other players have grown to appreciate Scalabrine, especially because of his knowledge of Thibodeau's system.

''He's the other coach on the floor,'' guard Derrick Rose said. ''When Thibs doesn't know, like, what to run, Scal's always in his ear. If we don't know what to run, Scal is always helping me and the other point guards, telling us where to go.

''That's what we need, just everyone talking on the floor.''

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