If the Bulls lose two straight in Florida, don't blame me. I'll be visiting the in-laws in Michigan and renewing my man crush on Ben Gordon.
Before I leave, let's tackle your frustration, er, I mean questions. And I have one question for you: Where the heck has Cleetus been?
OK, I get it. The Bulls are playing for next year. Management traded with the Bobcats and Bucks, both of whom look poised to boot us out of the playoffs. Coupled with injuries, it looks like we are going to have a rough March and April. As a fan, give me two reasons to keep watching this team. I'd say three, but "watching Derrick" is too obvious. Tanvi, Waukegan
Well, for me, beyond the fact I get paid to do so, it's because the NBA is the best professional league in the world, where we are privileged to watch amazing athletes perform wondrous feats on a nightly basis. If that's not enough for you, I'd suggest that the Bulls have become fairly habitual at proving people wrong. I'm not saying that for sure will happen again--and, quite frankly, doesn't affect my job one way or the other if they do or don't--but they do play Charlotte twice in April so I think this playoff race will be fun.
With LeBron likely to end up somewhere other than Chicago, there has been talk of the Bulls signing Joe Johnson. Would that make the Bulls contenders? Atlanta is the third- or fourth-best team in the East and doesn't Johnson arguably already have a better supporting cast around him with Josh Smith, Al Horford and Marvin Williams? Ian, Washington D.C.
I touched on this a bit in last week's mailbag but from my perspective, the ONLY free agent who instantly makes the Bulls a title team is LeBron. Even adding Wade I think the Bulls fall short. But the biggest point about free agency is you have to spend the money while you have it and at least add one or two pieces you believe can help you moving forward. Winning an NBA championship takes a ton of luck along with talent. You need to stay healthy, have good chemistry, collect some breaks along the way. So there's no guarantee the Bulls win a title even if they do add good pieces. But you have to accumulate talent when you can.
Please put on your headgear, backpack and 3D "Avatar" goggles for your best prediction powers. Now tell us please: Three to five years from now, on March 20, 2015, where will this Bulls team be in the Eastern Conference standings? A) Middle of the pack, just like today; B) Among the Eastern Conference elite; C) Rebuilding around a core of youthful talent; D) Looking to jettison expiring contracts, salary and emotionally-fatigued coaches after the latest rebuilding failure. Please add your reasoning. Terry Tyrpin, Schaumburg
I am to sports predictions what Dick Vitale is to subtlety, so take the following with that perspective. (Although I'm digging my August 2009 prediction of 38-40 victories and battling for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, which drew considerable vitriol from readers at the time.) But I actually think the Bulls will be among the Eastern Conference elite. Rose will be 26 and, barring injury, on multiple All-Star appearances. Even if the Bulls add, say, Joe Johnson and a spare part this summer, they will improve their team and personnel moves become aggressive when a team is on the upswing. See Ben Wallace signing after initial mild playoff success.
When Rose was drafted, why didn't Chicago try and fit him with a starting shooting guard? They knew Gordon wasn't a shooting guard, or Salmons, and Kirk is the worst of the three. Keith, Chicago
So what's BG, a center? Of course he's a shooting guard. Now you can make that argument that he and Rose form too small a backcourt to be effective over the long haul. But Gordon is nothing if he's not a shooting guard. Salmons is better at small forward than shooting guard, although he's playing the latter fine with the Bucks and had rebounded a bit with the Bulls following his disastrous start. And the Bulls absolutely have a chance to add a legitimate scoring shooting guard this offseason in free agency. So I'm not sure I follow your question.
Why did the Bulls shut Noah down for three weeks? The doctors told them in the beginning that Noah needed six weeks of rest but now, three weeks after trying to play spotty minutes, we are approaching the six-week time frame Noah could have used to become completely healthy. Why not just sit him for six weeks from the get go? Jon, Champaign
It's easy to second-guess. And, yes, there's a chance Noah could be fully recovered and conditioned had the Bulls done so. But there's no guarantee as this is a very fickle condition. Plus, Noah gets woefully out of shape when he doesn't play. Finally, it's not like doctors weren't involved in every decision throughout this process. They initially sent him home from the Philly-Atlanta trip in early February and rested him for two weeks. I was as surprised as anybody Noah returned on Feb. 20 at home against Philadelphia, particularly because the Bulls were in a stretch of games against mostly-inferior competition. But they played him limited minutes early until the overtime victory over Portland. My guess is that's the last time we'll see Noah as a dominant force this season, which is a shame given how much work he put in last offseason and given how well he played that night.
What are the Bulls' long-range plans, if any, for Joe Alexander? I saw him play at West Virginia quite a few times and really liked his game. He was athletic and had a decent outside jumper. Going as high as he did in the draft leads me to think there may be something there. I heard he fell out of favor with Plymouth's very own Scott Skiles in the time it takes to tie one's shoes. Have you heard anything about his future? Jack Taylor, Plymouth, Ind.
I would assume he'd play for the Bulls' summer-league team although, as an unrestricted free agent, he can do what he wants. I know the Bulls at least wanted to take a short-term look at him. I'm assuming in practice since he won't play much unless maybe the Bulls fall out of playoff contention. He is a mystery given how well he tested athletically at the NBA predraft camp and that great end to his college career. I've heard he plays the game a bit "nervous" and may be a better one-on-one player than someone who thrives in a team setting. I don't watch much college basketball, but I was told he was allowed to get the ball near the elbow at West Virginia and pretty much create on his own. That doesn't work in the NBA.
How sweet is the life of an 11th or 12th man in the NBA? Think about it: You get paid about a million dollars basically just to scrimmage at the end of blowouts. You never have any pressure or scrutiny heaped on you. You get to travel all over the country, stay in the best hotels, eat great food and you get great seats for 82 games to watch the greatest players in the world. Tell me that there is a better or easier "job" out there. And with that, I say hats off to the Trenton Hassells and Tyronn Lues of the world. Jake Knight, Paris, Texas
Don't forget Rick Brunson. And this is where the really smart ones are revealed. Guys like Hassell and Brunson figured out exactly what you speak of and bought into the team concept of practicing hard, not worrying about minutes, filling a role to enjoy the lifestyle you mention. It makes you appreciate those types all the more and roll your eyes at people like Aaron Gray, who acted like they were Michael Jordan when they should've been thankful to be in the league.
What player in the NBA do you look forward to watching live? Edie Sedgwick, Chicago
There are many and obviously LeBron is one of them. Sometimes, this gets lost in the hype but the dude is as big as Karl Malone with the athleticism and quickness of much smaller players. He's a physical freak. I loved watching Iverson in his prime because of the physical pounding his body took and his ability to always bounce back. I consider it a privilege to get to watch DRose on a nightly basis. I also enjoy watching people who appear to have maximized their gifts, players like Steve Nash and Brandon Roy. But my absolute favorite player to watch is Kobe. Having been fortunate enough to cover the Bulls' second three-peat, I got a courtside seat for Jordan's unparalleled combination of physical talent and step-on-your-throat competitive mentality. Kobe is the closest to that. I think watching sports dominance is fascinating. It's another reason I've always enjoyed watching Tiger play golf--and will again despite however I feel about his personal life. That ability to be the best but not act like it and chase the thrill of winning--to push yourself higher even when you've been to the pinnacle--is fascinating to me.
It seems like many are lobbying for Chris Bosh as our main offseason target. My only qualm with this would be benching Taj Gibson. I would be much more comfortable keeping our young frontcourt intact and adding a pure scorer, as in LeBron, Wade or Joe Johnson. Obviously, none of these players would solve our post-scoring issue but all get to the basket when needed. What's your take on this? Matt Pappas, Watauga, Texas
You detail the exact argument I used when I originally said shooting guard would be the position I'd address first. Particularly since I don't think the Bulls have to have conventional post scoring with the way Noah, when healthy, can rebound and run the floor and Rose is best in transition. (I do think you slightly overvalue Gibson, who has been a wonderful player but certainly can be upgraded on in the sense that he'd be a great bench player too.) I have waffled on this, mostly because Bosh has really changed my opinion on him this season. I think he's become an even better offensive player and demands a double-team, which should be the main prerequisite for anybody they add.
As much as I would like the Bulls to make the playoffs, I think they might be better off missing and having an opportunity to draft a player like Kentucky's DeMarcus Cousins or Georgetown's Greg Monroe to solidify our frontcourt. Both players are interchangeable at power forward and center. A Noah/Gibson/Cousins or Monroe frontcourt would be solid and much more inexpensive than signing Bosh. Another player I would love the Bulls to deal for on draft day would be Ohio State's Evan Turner, whom I think is going to be special. Rocky, San Diego
I can't say this clearly enough: The Bulls need another young player like I need more caffeine. (You don't know me, but the rumor is I'm a bit high-strung at times.) Always make the playoffs. Always. Look at what it did for Noah's development. This team has plenty of young players. Make the playoffs. Now.
I can't help but notice how John Salmons and Tyrus Thomas are thriving in their new settings. What's your take on this? Stan Histand, Goshen, Ind.
Neither is a surprise, probably not even to Bulls management. Salmons had mostly returned to form after his disastrous start but it's clear he's more effective as a starter. That just didn't work with Hinrich solidifying the starting lineup. Salmons is filling the same role for the Bucks he filled for the Bulls last season and they're giving him a ton of freedom to be the primary scorer. The Bulls needed to move a contract to have the flexibility to offer a max contract this summer in free agency and they knew they were giving up the best player in their two trades when they did so. As for Tyrus, it's been well documented he'd likely be the type of player who would flourish in his second stop. The same pattern of inconsistency--both from his playing and his playing time--had happened for too long with the Bulls. It will be interesting to see what happens for Tyrus this summer, when he's a restricted free agent.
Living on the West Coast, I see lots of Western Conference teams play. I have concluded as a lifelong Bulls fan (I lived in Chicago as a kid) that I think the Bulls would be best off focusing on Boozer. LBJ and Wade are pipe dreams. Bosh and Joe Johnson are coin flips. If the Bulls had a starting five of Rose, Gibson, Deng, Boozer and Noah and Kirk as the sixth man, that's not a bad team to compete in the East. Maybe pick up a reliable bench player and we could have a good run and not kill the cap if another player comes available. Scott, Las Vegas
Well, there is talk that the Bulls intrigue Boozer. And he obviously went on local radio both here and in Miami last summer saying he wanted to play in those cities. So we'll see. I have no doubt the Bulls will sign somebody and will have a good handle on the market and players' intentions as soon as free agency starts. If they think they need to get one of the so-called "second tier" players and Boozer is available, of course he'd help. Although no way would both he and Gibson start.
Who would you rather have for this season, Tyrus or Warrick? What about five years from now? AJ, Peoria
Can I answer Al Harrington? He was available, but the Bulls held out on a Tyrus trade until they found a team that would include a draft pick. As for your question, it's easy to answer with the benefit of hindsight: The Bulls are atrocious defensively right now and even with his inconsistencies and occasional frustrations, Tyrus was a basket protector. Warrick, to me, appears to be one of those guys who if you see just occasionally, you go, 'Wow. I like this guy. Good athleticism. High motor.' But when you see him every game, his weaknesses are on display. He gets pushed around way too easily. And while he's a decent offensive rebounder, he hasn't helped much on the defensive glass and certainly isn't the basket protector Tyrus is. So I'd rather have Tyrus now. And I'd rather have Tyrus five years from now. Warrick isn't a bad player.
We all know that DRose is evolving every year and we've seen that with his consistency in making the mid-range jumper. What do you see him working on this offseason to add to his game? Possibly the 3-point shot? CJ Leynes, Niles
I hope his defense. I think DRose has improved considerably in man-on-man defense and also has limited penetration a bit better. He's still very poor in off-the-ball situations, losing his man consistently. He's too good an athlete and too strong not to be a better defender.
Why don't writers talk about the great moves the Bulls have made? Two come to mind: Rose over Beasley and Ben Gordon leaving. Beasley sits at the end of games and Gordon is a non-factor and exposed as not worth the kind of money he wanted. Gregg Ruskusky, Portland, Ore.
You certainly can mess up No. 1 picks. Look at Oden over Durant. And I remember people ripping Otis Smith for drafting Dwight Howard over reigning college player of the year Emeka Okafor but that one worked out OK. Yes, the Bulls deserve credit for making the right pick. It may look like a no-brainer, but it isn't always. In general, I think the Bulls have drafted extremely well in Paxson's tenure. He missed on Aldridge and Roy in the Tyrus draft but otherwise, there's little about which to quibble. As for BG, that's a fascinating debate. And I'm not sure how much credit you can give the Bulls considering they offered him large-money extensions the previous two summers that he turned down. They clearly wanted to keep him--just not at the Pistons' price and not after they acquired Salmons.
Like you, I usually get burned out watching the Bulls around mid-March. But here's a fun one: Have you noticed that the Bulls win an inordinate number of jump balls to start games? What are the secrets of Noah and Miller? Shawn, Deerfield, Ill.
Don't forget Ben Wallace, who was probably closer to 6-8 and consistently won jump balls. Like Wallace, Miller is the master of the quick jump because obviously he's not going to outjump many people. But, yes, I have noticed and, yes, it is fairly remarkable how many opening tips the Bulls win.
I think you misunderstand how many Bulls fans feel about Luol Deng and why we are so mad. It isn't that we refuse to acknowledge the things he does but that the Bulls so wildly overpaid for his services when they re-signed him to a long-term, franchise player level contract. Accordingly, his value is about nil on the open market. He is a marginally talented guy that puts up decent numbers but he can disappear for long stretches. He never takes big shots at clutch moments. He settles for ridiculous perimeter jumpers rather than dribble-driving or penetration and he turns over the ball a lot. Watching him play is a reminder of how this front office has bungled player drafting, signings, player-retention decisions and how they opt for no-hassle personalities rather than in-your-face guys. The Bulls have blown off Tyrus, JR Smith, Shannon Brown and Ben Gordon and gotten nothing in return. It is hard to watch Luol and not get mad. He is the personification of the bad judgment the Bulls have repeatedly demonstrated since the Jordan era. Tom, Des Plaines
Like all athletes should, I learned long ago not to begrudge passionate fans their opinion. If that's yours, that's fine. People spend hard-earned money on this product and invest a lot of emotional energy following it. Perhaps I'm in the minority, but I always just look at on-the-court production irrespective of contract status. It's not Luol's fault the Bulls paid him what they did so why bother getting hung up on that? Plus, that contract isn't nearly as bad as it sounds; it contains deferred money and incentives that likely won't be reached. Luol has plenty of shortcomings. He will never be the type to take over games. But as far as I'm concerned, he's a viable piece moving forward. You could certainly make the argument the Bulls focused on the wrong player to make the larger offer to when they were trying to re-sign Deng and Gordon. The Bulls opted to keep size and perhaps tired of a smaller backcourt with Gordon and Rose. I've made clear many times I would've re-signed Gordon.
Thanks for your questions. Talk to you next week.
K.C.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun