Bulls' Felicio has found his game after slow start to season
After the Bulls re-signed Cristiano Felicio to a four-year, $32-million deal on July 1 last year, Felicio's game seemed to paddle up the Amazon River and disappear.
The native of Pouso Alegre, Brazil struggled early in the season and saw his playing time disappear with barely a trace. On Saturday, Felicio was honest about what happened.
"I think I was a little bit out of rhythm," he said after Saturday's loss to Brooklyn. "Niko (Mirotic) didn't play the first (23) games and Bobby (Portis) was out, of course, and then they came back and they got my minutes. That kind of frustrated me a little bit and got into my head."
After his slow start, Felicio's playing time basically disappeared from Dec. 1 through the all-star break. When the Bulls committed to using different players after the break, Felicio got another chance and is starting to resemble the player that showed promising skills last season.
Since the all-star break, Felicio has averaged 7.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and shot 59 percent from the field, which is closer to what the Bulls expected for the money spent on a backup big man. He scored in double figures over five straight games in March and collected a double-double against the Nets on Saturday.
"At some point I had to go in my head that I had to get working no matter what because my opportunity was going to come," Felicio said. "I think my family talking to me (helped), the coaching staff talking to me and helping me get my mindset right to get out of that frustration and just keep working. They knew my time was going to come and they're just trying to keep me positive about it."
The Bulls saw Felicio as a playerwho could fit well against smaller lineups, since he moves his feet well and can run the floor. He seemed to have a nice connection last season with Dwyane Wade on alley-oops. But after signing the new contract, he couldn't duplicate that performance early this season with a different Bulls roster.
"If he can roll to the rim and take guys with him on those forceful rim rolls, it's going to open up your offense," coach Fred Hoiberg said. "Cris, I think, has done a solid job as he's gotten in better shape and he's gotten this opportunity with Robin (Lopez) sitting out.
"I'm proud of Cris for staying with it and continue to go out and try to work and get better. He put a lot of time in when he wasn't playing. Every day he was one of the first guys in (the gym)."
Considering the three years left on his contract, the Bulls don't have much choice but to hope next season that Felicio can pick up where he left off. The team might have to thin out some players, especially if they draft a big man, but Felicio isn't likely to have much trade value.
He said he was planning to work out in Chicago most of the summer and will join the Brazil national team for a stretch in late June.
"I know I have to keep playing the way I'm playing now, being strong, getting rebounds, get my opportunities to take my shots," Felicio said. "I have to go out there and just play hard every game for that situation that happened in the beginning of the season to not happen anymore. That's what I'm trying to do."
• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls