Lucas Grateful For Opportunity From Bulls, Ready For New Challenge With Raptors
Looking back, all John Lucas III needed was opportunity and the knowledge an NBA team wanted his services. Lucas bounced around professional leagues from Italy to China for years seeking a chance and a stage to prove himself. This time when his big break finally came with the Chicago Bulls in his second stint with the franchise, he knew it was time to take control of the opportunity.
Spending almost two complete seasons in a Bulls uniform, Lucas embraced the city of Chicago and his teammates. He emerged as a viable contributor last season, but all along he understood the business side could lead him elsewhere this summer when he became a legitimate free agent option for the first time in his career.
“I loved Chicago as an organization; the city, the fans were all great,” Lucas told RealGM in a phone conversation on Sunday from his home in Houston. “[The decision] was something that I sat down with my team - my family and my agent – to see what was best for me.”
Ultimately, Lucas settled on the Toronto Raptors, signing a two-year contract worth just over $3 million. Due diligence was thoroughly done, however, with several teams – including the Bulls – expressing interest in the 5-foot-11 guard. As much as Lucas wanted to remain with Chicago, the front office never budged from its one-year offer and couldn’t match the Raptors’ proposal, both in terms of basketball and finances.
Along the way, lifelong memories were created while with Chicago, Lucas said. Yes, he was a little surprised that the Bulls not only parted ways with him, but also other critical “Bench Mob” members such as Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson, Omer Asik and Ronnie Brewer. But being the son of a former player, coach and front office executive, Lucas wasn’t caught completely off guard.
Mostly, Lucas will cherish the experiences of putting on a Chicago jersey and being part of the Bulls’ locker room. He put up career-highs across the board a season ago, averaging 7.5 points and 2.2 assists before scoring 8.6 per game in the playoffs. Lucas scored 18.3 points per 36 minutes and finished in double-figures in 15 of his 49 appearances.
While he admitted the season did not end the way he expected, Lucas believed the ideal situation was in place for him with the Bulls: A locker room where everyone got along, a coach in Tom Thibodeau for whom he has immense respect, a designated role on a nightly basis, and the winning tradition he was proud to represent.
“It was crazy, things I will never forget,” Lucas said. “I’m going to miss my teammates – everybody from one through 14, especially the Bench Mob. Those guys are like my brothers, like my family, and it’s rare that you come across a team where everybody gets along. It’s just hard seeing the bench gone for the most part.”
On a personal level, he seemed to play with a chip on his shoulder no matter the night or the opponent. In a role laid out by Thibodeau, Lucas understood his responsibility was to provide an offensive spark off the bench whenever he was called upon. As he has stated repeatedly, Lucas has been a scorer his entire life. Making shots and burdening a strong team-first mindset were the most important traits that elevated him into the NBA, and it has now made him a mainstay. And still, performing as a key cog on a squad that racked up the most wins in the league over the last two seasons assured Lucas of his standing.
“It was a great opportunity,” he said. “I always knew I could play in this league and contribute in a lot of ways. I just haven’t had the opportunity to show it and it was just time for me to get the opportunity and make the most of it.
“I improved a lot and we were the No. 1 team over the past two years. This year was tough for us, but it showed I can come in, play and contribute. … I just did exactly what Coach Thibs wanted me to do. He knows my game better than anybody else other than myself. I’m a scoring [point guard] but can distribute the ball as well.”
Throughout the free agency process, Lucas understood wherever he chose to sign, it would be almost impossible to top the sports environment built in Chicago. Although he was the target of criticism at times – “I got a lot of grief sometimes for [my offensive mindset], but then again, I had to do exactly what my coach and my teammates wanted me to do,” he said – Lucas enjoyed conversing with fans as well as helping embody the city’s culture.
“One thing I liked about Chicago was it was such a sports fan and I love being a fan,” Lucas said. “You could tell when you walk around the city, [fans] love the Chicago Bulls just like they love the Blackhawks, the White Sox and the Cubs. … When you step out on the court, you’re not just playing for yourself and your teammates, you’re also playing for the city of Chicago.”
The journey of his basketball career has tightened Lucas’ humility and appreciation for the game. He consistently harps on the fact that he’s blessed to play the sport he loves and has devoted his life to. Lucas is also gracious to the Bulls for the chances they provided, but he stresses excitement as he enters a new realm with Toronto, where he expects a more fulfilling role.
“[The Raptors] told me to play my game and bring energy,” said Lucas, who will wear No. 5 with his new club after sporting No. 15 for the Bulls and Houston Rockets. “They’re thinking about playing me more at the one and the two, so it’s going to be interesting.
“I can’t wait because it’s a new start, a new beginning for me, starting a whole new chapter in my career.”