Bulls weren’t the team for Thabo Sefolosha, but Thunder certainly is
BY MARK POTASH email@example.com June 16, 2012 5:46PM
Thabo Sefolosha’s shooting has improved significantly; his defense has made him a player to fear. | Jeff Roberson~AP
Heat vs. Thunder
Series tied 1-1
All games on Ch. 7, 1000-AM.
G1: at Thunder 105, Heat 94
G2: Heat 100, at Thunder 96
Sunday: at Heat, 7 p.m.
Tuesday: at Heat, 8 p.m.
Thursday: at Heat, 8 p.m.
x-June 24: at Thunder, 7 p.m.
x-June 26: at Thunder, 8 p.m.
Updated: July 18, 2012 6:19AM
MIAMI — Thabo Sefolosha has no regrets about his career in Chicago that never took off. Just one big thank-you-very-much to John Paxson for putting him in the right place at the right time.
‘‘They traded me to a team that had a lot of potential,’’ said Sefolosha, who was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Feb. 19, 2009, for a first-round draft pick the Bulls used to take Taj Gibson. ‘‘In Chicago, my position was pretty stacked. So I was happy to move out of Chicago. But at the same time, I was thankful for what they did — drafting me and giving me an opportunity there. And trading me to a team that had a bright future.’’
The timing could not have been better for the native of Switzerland. The Thunder had a solid foundation with Kevin Durant in his second season and Russell Westbrook in his first. But it still was far from a playoff team when Sefolosha arrived — 12-43 after a 3-29 start in its first season since moving from Seattle.
That, at least in part, allowed interim coach Scott Brooks to give Sefolosha — an excellent defender but a poor outside shooter — the consistent minutes that Vinny Del Negro either couldn’t or wouldn’t. The Bulls were a borderline playoff team with not only Derrick Rose but Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich and Larry Hughes. The Thunder was in much better shape to live with a poor shooter on the floor.
The 6-7 Sefolosha, a first-round draft pick (13th overall) acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2006, constantly was yo-yoed in and out the starting lineup in his two-plus seasons with the Bulls. He averaged 5.4 points and shot 43 percent from the field, 31 percent on three-pointers. He was a good player whose defense on Dwyane Wade as a rookie helped Scott Skiles’ Bulls upset the Heat in the playoffs in 2007. But it was the classic bad fit for a team still finding its way.
‘‘Exactly,’’ Sefolosha said. ‘‘We had coaching changes and player movements. I don’t blame it on nobody but myself. Maybe I could have done something differently. But it is what it is, and I’m happy to be where I am today.’’
With the Thunder, Sefolosha is a long-armed defensive specialist who has guarded both LeBron James and Wade already in the NBA Finals — a good fit for a team with plenty of firepower in Durant, Westbrook and James Harden. He has four steals and three blocked shots in the first two games of the Finals.
And, though he’s only 1-for-5 on three-pointers in the Finals, Sefolosha is a better shooter than he ever was in Chicago. He made 31 of 71 three-point attempts (43.7 percent) in the regular season. Last year, he made 28 of 102 (27.5 percent).
He said he still keeps in touch with former teammates Joakim Noah and Luol Deng and former coach Ron Adams. But except for those old friendships, he has moved on.
‘‘Good days,’’ he said of his time in Chicago. ‘‘That’s where it all started for me. But I’m happy where I’m at today. I don’t think too much about what could have been or should have been with the Bulls. I got traded and tried to make the best out of the situation.’’
THE CHICAGO CONNECTION
The Bulls aren’t in the NBA Finals, but Chicago has plenty of representation — from starters Dwyane Wade and Thabo Sefolosha to Thunder assistant coach Maurice Cheeks to ESPN radio broadcaster Jim Durham. The list:
Dwyane Wade, Heat guard
The former Richards High School star, the NBA Finals MVP in 2006 when he led the Heat to the title, is playing in his third Finals. He was a third-team all-NBA pick in 2011-12, his ninth year in the league.
Thabo Sefolosha, Thunder guard
A 6-7 guard from Switzerland and the European League, Sefolosha has started 264 of 265 games with the Thunder since the Bulls traded him in 2009 for a first-round draft pick they used to select Taj Gibson.
Juwan Howard, Heat forward
The venerable South Sider from Vocational High School and former NBA All-Star, still a Chicagoan at heart, has a chance for his first championship ring in his 18th season in the NBA.
Nazr Mohammed, Thunder center
The Kenwood product, a starter on the Spurs’ 2004-05 NBA title team, already has a rare Triple Crown of titles — the Public League Blue-South, NCAA (at Kentucky) and NBA. He’s in his 14th NBA season.
Eddy Curry, Heat center
At 29, the former Bulls center, the No. 4 pick of the 2001 draft out of Thornwood, is trying to re-establish his career but has played in only 14 games (one start) this season and has not been active for the Finals.
Norris Cole, Heat guard
The Bulls’ first-round draft pick last year, Cole was traded to Minnesota for European star Nikola Mirotic — who is still playing in Spain — and then the Heat on draft night. He has made an impact in brief playoff appearances.
Maurice Cheeks, Thunder assistant
The former DuSable and West Texas State star, who played in three NBA Finals with the 76ers (winning the title in 1983) and coached in another as an assistant to Larry Brown in 2001, is in his third season with Scott Brooks.
Jim Durham, ESPN radio
Native Chicagoan and popular play-by-play announcer for the Bulls in the Dick Motta era through their first NBA title, Durham is calling the Finals for ESPN radio with former Portland Trail Blazers coach Jack Ramsay.
Will Perdue, ESPN radio
The former Bulls center, who had a hand in all six of their titles — he played during the first three-peat and was traded to the Spurs for Dennis Rodman in 1995 — is a rising star as a radio analyst.
Brian Davis, Thunder broadcaster
The longtime Chicagoan, who did it all as sports director/reporter/host at WMAQ and WBBM radio, is in his fourth season as the television play-by-play voice of the Thunder.