K.C. Johnson's Bulls mailbag

Good to be back in the saddle for this feature after my friend and mentor Sam Smith occupied this seat for the past few seasons. I started doing this for fledgling Trib site back in 1996 for Bulls playoffs and here we are in 2008. And how cool is this for Bulls fans? You can e-mail Sam questions too at www.bulls.com. That's two outlets now where you can express your frustration with Tyrus Thomas.

Hey, K. C., Vinny Del Negro obviously is not the best in-game strategist at the moment. That said, I remember hearing Joe Dumars comment this summer that being a good NBA coach is far more about demonstrating character and leadership than drawing up a great inbounds play (so long Flip Saunders, hello Michael Curry). Now that you've had a chance to watch training camp, preseason, and a couple weeks of the regular season, what's your take on Del Negro on that front? And do you think the other things will come eventually -- you know, things like adjusting to a basic pick-and-roll sometime before LeBron uses it to drop points 40 and 41 on your head? Also, most of our guys have been around a few years now, but they still look and act like an overmatched college team, a group of boys in a man's league. Flipping around League Pass the other night, I was taken aback by how small--physically and mentally-- the Bulls seem compared to most other teams in the Association. Do you see anything that leads you to believe someone on this roster will ever man up and take ownership in getting a defensive stop? I know it's still a young squad, but this is about more than just age---Portland gets this kind of leadership from Brandon Roy, Chris Paul and Deron Williams are both younger than guys like Deng and Hinrich, and Kevin Love is already bringing it in Minnesota. Thoughts? Thanks. --Jason Mitchell, Seattle

Since you wonderfully referred to the league as "the Association," you, Jason Mitchell, get the first answer of "Ask K.C. Johnson" for the 2008-09 season. Consider this no small honor, particularly given that I'm rising above any lingering bitterness for "the Association" leaving your incredible city and moving to, ahem, Oklahoma City. But I digress.

First, Del Negro. I go by what players say and what players say is he's very communicative, open and honest with them. It's funny: I just had this conversation with a team official yesterday in Portland about how coaching in the NBA really is less about Xs and Os than handling personalities. Everybody at this level can draw up plays. It's not to say in-game adjustments aren't important because they are. But handling egos and dealing with playing-time issues and trying to reach and develop players is really, to me, the crucial element of coaching in this league. Particularly for a young team like the Bulls.

As for your second point, my thoughts are you're dead accurate. Did you see the lefty finger roll Kobe dropped in as he waltzed down the lane during the second quarter in Los Angeles? Embarrassing. You just can't have that. They treated him like he was royalty or something. Leadership has been an issue with this team for awhile and this season doesn't appear to be much different. Losing Hinrich hurts. He's not the best or most natural leader but anyone who is around the team consistently saw a more vocal and demonstrative Hinrich during training camp as he tried to mentor Rose. I think Gooden is showing leadership by trying to play through a sore ankle, but he might not be on the team next year. And the Bulls have nobody with the cut-your-heart-out mentality that the great ones had except for Rose. And as a rookie and at just 20, he seems a bit more deferential to his veteran teammates in this department for now. I think that will change. And I think then you'll have your answer.

K.C, don't you think it's kind of a red flag when Joakim Noah says he needs to be more aggressive? Isn't his aggressiveness the biggest reason he's in the NBA? Shouldn't it already be at 100 percent, no matter what kind of shape he's in? If it's not, John Paxson drafted the wrong guy, because most of Noah's contributions are a product of his relentless aggressiveness. Thanks, K.C. I enjoy your write-ups. --Mark Potash, Arlington Heights, Ill.

No fair. Only my second question and you answered it yourself: Pax drafted the wrong guy. Just kidding. Kind of. Though I haven't heard much clamoring lately for Spencer Hawes.

Noah has been a big mystery thus far this season given how well I thought he finished last season after the Ben Wallace trade. Then, he seemed to concentrate on what he does best--using his length and energy to disrupt players defensively and really do some damage on the offensive glass. I'm not sure where that element went. It's obvious his conditioning wasn't good and then he suffered the eye injury during training camp that set him back more. But there's really no excuse for him not playing aggressively or with energy. This is his job.

I thought he at least showed some flashes to the way he finished last season during Wednesday's game in Portland, though foul trouble obviously affected him. The inconsistency of Noah and Tyrus Thomas has really hamstrung Del Negro with an already thin frontcourt. Might it be Michael Ruffin time? And I say that only half-jokingly.

K.C., I love the Gordon and Rose starting thing, especially now that Rose has earned some major respect in the league. The big question, as it has been for years, is how do we get a legitimate post player? Please toss up a trade scenario or two as I am now even looking to Zach Randolph as a trade in desperation. --Chris, Australia

Sorry. Sam took his wacky trade proposals with him when he left the Tribune. I'll be happy to answer questions about the plausibility of rumors or comment on proposals readers make. (This will be easy: No to Zach Randolph!) But in honor of Sam, I'll retire the wacky trade proposals.

Randolph, to me, makes zero sense for this team. He's someone who pounds the ball a lot in the post and doesn't run the floor that well. It's revisionist history, but LaMarcus Aldridge would've been a good fit for this team--not a great scorer but a big body who can occasionally post up but also run well to complement Rose. It's easy to second guess, isn't it?

Compare and contrast: Joakim Noah and Brad Sellers. --Joseph J. Claude, Chicago

This question needs no response. It's included merely for its sheer brilliance.

Hey, K.C. Do you see Dirk Nowitzki being moved if the Mavs don't improve? Could the Bulls get him, maybe for Deng/Thomas? I'm thinking if Mark Cuban helps Reinsdorf improve the Bulls, Reinsdorf might support Cuban's plan to buy the Cubs. --Chris Feldman, Dubuque, Iowa

Word around the league is no way Mark Cuban trades Nowitzki, no matter how bad things get. That, of course, can change. And it certainly appears as if the Mavericks window has closed.

Here's the problem with the Bulls and any trades: Their young players haven't developed and their core players all now have signed contracts that are probably a bit overvalued and/or have several years remaining on them. That's not to say there wouldn't be interest in Hinrich or Nocioni or possibly even Deng. It's more to say that chances for landing a superstar via trade probably passed when Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol moved. (Although you have to question whether Gasol is a superstar.)

For now, the Bulls' best bet is to be financially prudent to be in position to land free agents in the incredible class of 2010. Sure, LeBron coming here is a major, major, major, major (I should write this 23 times, his number, for emphasis) longshot. But stranger things have happened. Maybe Dwyane Wade comes home. Who knows? The point is: I don't see the Bulls landing a big-time player via trade.

Hi, K.C., once Kirk is back, which inside scoring big man do you think we can get for him? Al Jefferson? Al Horford? Or is it next to improbable, if not impossible? --Abram, Phoenix

Atlanta isn't trading Al Horford. I haven't heard Jefferson's name come up either. You want Al Harrington to hang around the perimeter and pretend he's a small forward in a power forward's body? I don't. Legitimate big men are hard to acquire.

Why did the Bulls sign yet another guard ( Lindsey Hunter) when their loses this season have come from the sore play of the front line, not the guards? Is Paxson going to pull a trade this season for a big man or just wait until next season to see who plays the best with Rose? --Shawn, Glendale, Ariz.

I'm tired from a 5:30 a.m. wakeup in Portland and flight to San Francisco, but even I can sense a theme through my grogginess. Let me see . . . fans want a trade for a big man!

Your two questions actually go hand-in-hand. This season--in every way, shape and form--is all about Derrick Rose. Signing Hunter gives the Bulls someone to throw out there as a backup point guard so that Rose doesn't turn 30 before he turns 21 and we all don't have to watch Ben Gordon handle the ball.

And the reason I think no trade will be made this season, beyond the low value of the current roster, is because this season will be all about evaluating who plays well with Rose and then they will attempt to make moves next summer or the following.

Is it just me or does Tyrus Thomas have the worst shot selection on the team? If Tyrus quit hoisting up clankers out of his range would he see more minutes or is the coaching staff encouraging him to look for shots he wouldn't have taken last year? --R.F. Stapel, Carbondale, Ill.

I wrote about this recently after asking Del Negro directly if it wouldn't be smarter for Thomas to concentrate on hovering right near the rim, maybe play like a poor man's Rodman. Del Negro answered that Thomas worked hard on his jumper during the offseason and didn't want to take that aspect away from him and/or affect his confidence.

Survey says . . . wrong answer. (Also in honor of Sam, I'll drop obscure references to dated concepts like the Richard Dawson-hosted "Family Feud.") If I coached, I'd have a rule that Thomas can't shoot anything outside of 15 feet unless a) the shot clock is about to expire; b) he's ridiculously wide open c); everybody else on the team had fouled out. For good measure, I'd add this rule: He never can shoot anything outside the paint if he had dribbled first.

While the Bulls are playing relatively well early in the season, it is hard not to pay attention to all of the free agent talk of 2010. What financial position will the Bulls be in when that time comes? I know both Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden will be off the books but will the Bulls have to make some other moves (trading Hinrich for expiring contracts etc.) to be in a position to sign Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh or LeBron James? --Evan Garbison, Valparaiso, Ind.

No. The Bulls have about $24 million of salary commitments towards seven players that summer. This includes qualifying offers for Tyrus Thomas and Thabo Sefolosha and who knows what their status will be then. This doesn't include salaries for draft picks or salaries to fill out a minimum roster. But the point is: They currently are structured to be under the salary cap that summer.

Do you think the Bulls would trade Larry Hughes for Chris Kaman? It could help solve the Bulls guard jam and give them another low-post option. --Matt Griswold, Aledo, Ill.

Do I think the Bulls would trade Larry Hughes for Chris Kaman? Faster than one of Hughes' ill-advised shots. Do I think the Clippers would trade Chris Kaman for Larry Hughes? Possibly when I start playing defense, which, if you ask my Division III college coach from the late 1980s, never will happen.

I'm not sold on the theory the Clippers will move Kaman anyway. But even if they do, they'll want an All-Star in return. There are none of those on the Bulls' roster.

After watching 11 games can you honestly say that other than Rose that there is any player off-limits for a trade, including Deng? From my armchair, I think Paxson should dangle Deng, Gordon, and Tyrus Thomas for Nowitzki. --Dave, Chicago

I covered the Nowitzki angle above. But I included this to answer your first question: I can't. Because nobody other than Rose is off limits.

The Portland game is the one I hate to see every year. Be it Noah instead of Oden, Sefalosha instead of Roy and directly Thomas instead of Aldridge, do you think John Paxson and the ping-pong balls conspired against the Bulls as a payback for Jordan versus Sam Bowie? -- Michael Green, Fort Worth, Texas

Hmmm. I think most fans would take the tradeoff of six championships and the arrival of Rose.

The Bulls have no current superstars. They have 10-12 players of equivalent talent. They need to practice and play as two teams. Team A gets 24-26 minutes and Team B gets about 22-24 minutes. Team A: Rose, Hughes, Noah, Gooden, Deng. Team B: Hinrich, Gordon, Nocioni, Thomas, Gray. Sefalosha can fill either guard or small forward spot on either team for foul trouble or injuries. Play intense defense and run other teams ragged. --Tom, Dayton, Ohio

I love the creativity, not to mention the early-season desperation. I'd do this on two conditions: Rose plays 40 minutes a game and the Bulls hire Charles Oakley as an assistant to mock the five-man substitution out of habit.

Thanks for all the questions. Talk to you next week.


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