K.C. Johnson on the Bulls

It seems to me that in the past when a young NBA player was going to make a big splash, it was done pretty early in a career. Do Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry have a realistic chance of becoming solid NBA stars after four years, or are we nearing the time to start planning the next rebuilding program? Curry, in particular, reminds me of more than a few ex-players, that came in with a big reputation, bounced around for a few years, and then disappeared. --Larry Siegel, Manteno, Ill.

I'll answer that two ways, optimistically and pessimistically. Optimistically speaking, Jermaine O'Neal averaged 4.1, 4.5, 2.5 and 3.9 points in his first four years in Portland. Now, he's a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate. Don't get me wrong: I'm not comparing either Curry or Chandler to O'Neal. I'm merely saying that there is precedent for a young player breaking out after four seasons. Pessimistically speaking, even O'Neal biggest detractors in Portland said that his lack of playing time wasn't an issue of his skill, attitude or work ethic, but merely the personnel in front of him. That's not the case with Curry and Chandler. I predict the Bulls give up on one of them via a trade before the end of the season.

With all the recent criticism of Eddy Curry, I can't help but get the impression that Kirk Hinrich is getting a free pass. He did not impress in the preseason and only shot 38 percent last year. We should expect (fans, media and Bulls management) and demand the same improvements from him as Eddy, shouldn't we? --Mike Thuresson, Culver City, Calif.

I think what happens with Hinrich is he does so many other things well---defend, pass, run the team---that his shooting percentage often gets overlooked. But I think this is an excellent question because Hinrich's shooting percentage is a valid concern. He worked hard on his jumper this offseason, and there's nothing wrong with his form. It's picture perfect. But I think he sometimes has trouble shooting when the defense pressures him, like a lot of pure shooters. He rushes his form, so to speak. I'd look for Hinrich's shooting percentage to rise this season, although you're right: In the preseason, he stayed right at 35.4 percent.

Why couldn't the Bulls trade Eddie Robinson to recoup at least a part of his salary? --Steve, Oak Brook, Ill.

That's Salary Cap 101. Nobody wanted his contract unless they unloaded a horrible one of their own.

What is your take on Jerry Krause? Was it luck that he got Pippen for Olden Polynice? With everything after the championships, his legacy is taking a hard hit. --Scott Hilliard, Plymouth, Ind.

My take on Krause begins and ends with this: As Bulls general manager, he won six NBA championships. Yes, he alienated plenty of people. Yes, he had misses to go with his hits. But he served as general manager for a franchise that won six titles under his watch. I've always been amused by how that isn't enough for a championship-starved city like Chicago.

What's the story with the highly touted #3 pick in last June's draft, Ben Gordon? Did the Bulls make a major misjudgment or are his horrid performances really all tied into his shooting slump and confidence? Are the Bulls satisfied with his work ethic? --Joe, Chicago

Wow. It's the first week and you've lumped three questions into one. Making me work already. We'll start with his work ethic. It's fine. The coaching staff is still working with him to make sure he doesn't take possessions off because he has a gentle demeanor at times on the court. But his work ethic is fine. As for his exhibition season, he shot terribly. I've covered rookies who had great exhibition seasons and then flamed out, and vice versa. It's way too early to judge the drafting of Gordon.

I know you're an Evanston grad, but where's the love for the New Trier Bombadeer? I have yet to see one article focused on the greatest prospect to come out of Illinois in the past 10 years, Matt Lottich. This guy is Mr. Clutch, just the guy the Bulls need to get over the proverbial hump and win 40 games to sneak into the eighth playoff slot. I saw him play against Darius Miles, Quentin Richardson and Corey Maggette, and he held his own in high school and college! --Stephen Noh, Berkeley, Calif.

Ah, you Trevians. Always bragging about something, unlike us Wildkits who grew up on the hardscrabble streets of Evanston..... Lottich is a nice player. He is scrappy. I saw him play at the NBA pre-draft camp and liked his game. But I don't think he'll land in the NBA. And the esteemed Sam Smith covers that beat for our paper, not me. I'm all Bulls, all the time.

What do think of Jared Reiner? Does he have a chance to make an impact this year or next? --Scott Ehler, Parkston, S.D.

Absolutely. He's a nice combination of size and skill. He's far more fundamentally advanced than most big men. I think he'll be in the league for a few years, even if he doesn't stick with the Bulls. And FYI: From now on, I will only answer questions about Jared Reiner from South Dakota if you South Dakotans form an official Jared Reiner fan club.

Management continues to make a clear statement: no malingerers, malcontents or self-absorbed mama's boys allowed. What does the salary cap look like for next year? Assuming we sign Chandler and let Curry walk (we know he can't run), would we have room for a full boat free agent? --Pippen Fan, Council Bluffs, Iowa

The Bulls are at about $33.6 million of payroll for next summer, including qualifying offers for Curry and Chandler and not including a first-round draft choice, which they may not have. They would have to let Curry walk for nothing---which won't happen---in order to sign a full boat free agent, although we have no idea what a full boat free agent will mean after the next collective bargaining agreement. The Bulls are in even better shape financially in the offseason of 2005-06. That's when they can really make a splash in the free-agent market.

Thanks for your questions. It's good to be back in the saddle.

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