NEW ORLEANS — Coming out of the All-Star break, the Bulls should be encouraged by the solid performances of Joakim Noah and Luol Deng in the East’s loss Sunday night in Houston, the status of Noah’s right foot, Kirk Hinrich’s return to the lineup and the hope that the hiatus allows the team to refocus and potentially remedy the offense’s recent turnover woes, as well as spark a consistently greater intensity moving forward, particularly on the defensive end of the floor.
[MORE: After 'great experience' in Houston, Noah ready to work]
Instead, Derrick Rose’s participation in Monday afternoon’s practice, including five-on-five drills, is at the center of attention, especially on the heels of the former MVP’s interview in USA Today and subsequent comments made to beat reporters in Boston about his willingness to miss the entire season, if that’s what’s necessary to fully recover from his torn ACL.
[RELATED: Rose participates in 5-on-5, but what does it mean?]
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau unsurprisingly downplayed the situation, as he and the organization as a whole have done throughout the process.
“I don't think it should be a big deal. The big deal is probably the fact that he was speaking, which he hasn't done since the first day of training camp and basically, he's saying what he's been doing all along, which is why we've taken the approach that we've taken,” Thibodeau said Sunday afternoon, when he was a guest on 670-AM The Score. “He's doing everything that he can, but we don't want him to come back until he's ready and we understood from the summer that this is going to be a process and it still is, so nothing really changed.”
Thibodeau also elaborated about what should be expected upon Rose’s return, specifically how the Bulls would reintegrate him into the lineup, then reiterated the team’s stance on the ongoing comeback effort.
“The big thing when someone's coming back is to fit in first and when you have a team that's familiar with each other, you should be able to handle that. Then, of course, you're going to be looking at minutes restriction when you bring a guy back off an extended injury. There's going to be some rust, so you have to work your way through that, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there,” he explained during the radio appearance on a program co-hosted by yours truly, live from the Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place. “You can be assured that he's doing everything he can to come back. I think he made that clear and it's important to us. We don't want him to come back based on how he's doing. It's when he's ready, whenever that is. We're not going to rush him and we wouldn't rush any player to come back from this type of injury. It's when they're ready and again, he's not on anyone else's timetable, he's not being measured against someone else's comeback or whatever. It's when Derrick's ready and when he's comfortable. We feel good about that as an organization and that's the way we want it to be.”
[RELATED: Thibodeau, Bulls look to get intensity level back]
Long story short: Despite the flurry of activity over the last week, not a whole lot has changed, besides our expectations.
On to the mailbag:
Adam: What is your take on the NBA's rule of staying at least one year in college before heading to the NBA?
I hate the rule. If you can vote and fight in the Armed Forces, there’s no reason you should be prevented from making a living. I understand that the NBA wants more mature players — and is trying to help out the college game, too — but it’s not like four-year college players haven’t made mistakes, both on and off the court, upon arriving in the professional ranks. Furthermore, I think college basketball is overrated as a teaching tool, simply because of NCAA restrictions on how much time coaches can spend with their players. It’s also disappointing that education is used as a pretense with elite prospects, who, barring injury — such as the one recently suffered by Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel, who could have been learning his future occupation in the NBA, rather than jeopardizing his chances at even making it to the league — won’t even complete the second semester of their freshman year, in order to prepare for the draft. If the NBA was serious about ensuring kids are mentally and physically ready for the next level, there would be a screening committee to evaluate top high-school players and for those who don’t qualify to make the prep-to-pros leap — the panel should rule them all as legitimate first-round prospects in a given year — a mandatory two years of college should be the rule.
Michael: Taking Kevin Durant's hot start and LeBron's recent historic run into account, who gets your MVP vote just over halfway into the season?
Obviously there’s still a lot of basketball to be played and the candidate who finishes in the strongest fashion typically gets the bulk of the votes. That being said, I’d give the MVP to LeBron right now. Durant is an amazing scorer and has taken strides to diversify his game, particularly with the loss of James Harden, but LeBron’s efficient shooting numbers are remarkable. It’s not over yet and I’d also put Chris Paul in the discussion, but it’s LeBron’s award to lose at this point.
Robert: Whose improvement in the season's second half would be most important to the Bulls' continued success?
I don’t know about improvement, but as far as consistency and health, I think Kirk Hinrich is extremely important for the Bulls. Nate Robinson has done an admirable job as a fill-in starter, but he’s best utilized as an energetic, instant-offense scorer off the bench. Kirk’s return will provide the team with much-needed backcourt depth and a more traditional floor general to run the offense, putting Nate in a preferable change-of-pace role, as well as improved defense at the position, due to Kirk’s size. Of course, I could have went with Jo and Lu staying healthy, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson remaining consistent, Jimmy Butler and Marco Belinelli playing with confidence, Nate staying under control and Rip Hamilton becoming more of an offensive presence once again.
[MORE: Hinrich will play Tuesday vs. Hornets]
Nicholas: With the trade deadline looming, *should* the Bulls make a deal, in your opinion? And *will* they make a deal?
I don’t believe the Bulls will make a deal this week. It’s the NBA, so never say never, but I don’t view the front office as desperate to make a trade. I know some fans have been clamoring for the team to move Rip, acquire an upgrade from Nazr as a backup center and shed Carlos’ contract, but I don’t think any of those options are likely occurrences. Now, would they make a deal, if a favorable one presented itself? Probably. But I’m not hearing that opposing teams are exactly beating down the Bulls’ door about any of those players. With the deadline coming Thursday, I’m sure the rumor mill will be in full swing, but I expect the Bulls to stand pat, unless it’s a minor move, such as helping to facilitate a trade between two other teams.
Bill: Should Jimmy Butler have played in the Rising Stars Challenge? If yes, who should he have been selected over?
Based on how he played in Lu’s absence, Jimmy definitely should have been in the game. Unfortunately, that was probably too small of a sample size and occurred too late for him to warrant inclusion. As far as talent and being a solid rotation player on a playoff-bound, veteran team, I’d say that Jimmy is one of the more well-regarded second-year players in the league. But unless you’re a lottery pick, starter or seized on a opportunity created by trade or injury — think Taj’s second season, when he started for much of the early campaign because Carlos was sidelined — it’s hard to put up the numbers or get enough attention to be selected. When watching the game, however, I thought Jimmy was even more deserving, especially with his athleticism in an up-and-down game. But it’s hard for me to say who should have been left off — maybe Orlando’s Andrew Nicholson, who isn’t exactly a key contributor for the Magic, one of the league’s current bottom-feeders and a squad where young players do get opportunities to produce; it should be noted that Nicholson, who does possess some talent, was a replacement player for the injured Andre Drummond — and when you look around the league, Jimmy wasn’t the only snub in a game that hopefully won’t be the biggest moment of the actual participants’ NBA careers.
@joecaster3: Do you think the Bulls need a serviceable big man, to solidify Taj, Jo, Booz to make a legitimate ring run?
Heading into the season, I did make the case that the Bulls could use some additional post depth. I stayed silent on the subject when it became clear that Thibs was committed to a three-man rotation, using Taj at both big-man spots and occasionally going small with Lu at power forward. But when both Carlos and Jo went down, and Thibs didn’t turn to Nazr Mohammed, all of a sudden, it became an issue. I don’t know if a backup big will make the Bulls a contender, but adding even a 10-day contract type would be something to consider. I’m just not sure if a player added this late in the season, with the exception of Kurt Thomas, who isn’t going anywhere, would be able to earn Thibs’ trust.