ORLANDO — In light of Monday’s tragic events at the Boston Marathon, basketball seems very trivial right now.
Still, sports are something that often help people get past sadness, or at least provide a distraction, so let’s proceed, though we should keep the victims, their families and the city of Boston in our minds and hearts.
[More: Thibodeau offers condolences to victims of Boston Marathon bombings]
With Kobe Bryant’s season-ending Achilles injury, for the first time all season, Derrick Rose isn’t the most talked-about recovery subject in the NBA, though the process of the Lakers superstar’s comeback will inevitably be compared to the Chicago native’s.
While Bryant’s competitiveness is legendary, a big difference between the two is that, although the future Hall of Famer’s declarations via Twitter that he’ll be back on the court as soon as (in)humanly possible is admirable, Rose is at a much earlier stage in his career.
Knowing what we know about Bryant throughout the course of his career, as hard as it is to imagine him being sidelined all season if he was injured in the same fashion as a young player, sans championships, I’m quite sure the Lakers’ brass wouldn’t have wanted him to rush things if he was in the same situation.
Of course, this is all speculation, but Bryant and Rose have very different personalities — as evidenced by mutual grudging acceptance of Twitter, but Bryant’s eventual wholehearted embrace of the social medium, compared to Rose, well, being Rose — and that has probably framed public opinion of their various ordeals.
One thing to remember: Rose and Bryant will both be back by next season — for the faction that isn’t ruling out a playoff return to the Bulls’ lineup, even sooner than that — and while Bryant’s comeback will be inspirational because of his age, Rose’s performance will dictate his.
I, for one, am shocked at the undercurrent of backlash, given how young Rose is, his hometown-hero status and what he’s already accomplished, but I won’t at all be surprised when — not if — those same folks questioning his commitment right now jump back on the bandwagon when he starts doing things we’ve seen in the past next season.
Either way, it’s days like this, when children’s games that grown men are paid millions of dollars to play don’t matter as much, that hopefully puts things in perspective.
On to the mailbag:
Is Nate playing himself into a starter's role next year outside of Chicago, and will the Bulls make a play for him?
Bob, Nate Robinson would probably love to be a starter, but I think he understands that he’s pretty much been pigeonholed as an instant-offense scorer off the bench. That said, if another team made a serious commitment — read: multi-year deal — to him, he would jump at the opportunity, but otherwise, I think he’d love to be back in Chicago. I believe the Bulls will explore their options on the free-agent market, but if they can’t find a better fit, Nate returning is a possibility, as long as he’s willing to again likely take a minimum-salary contract.
What's keeping the Bulls/Derrick Rose from giving a real update on his injury or just announcing he's out for the year?
Darius, the reason there’s no comprehensive update on Rose’s injury is that the Bulls just don’t know if or when Rose will return. The updates up to this point — skipping ahead to him practicing every day at full speed and even dominating in practice — that were accurate weeks and months ago still hold to this day. I know a lot of fans find the whole situation disingenuous by now and while I stand by my belief that he won’t play this season, I wouldn’t be thrown for a loop if Rose decided that he’ll suit up for the first game of the playoffs, as he told me and other members of the media before the Bulls’ shootaround in Detroit. But if he isn’t ruling out playing, neither can the organization. Sure, the entire situation probably could have been handled better by a lot of people — Rose’s camp, the Bulls and even (especially?) the media — but as I mentioned earlier, when he starts playing again, all will be forgiven, particularly if the Bulls eventually win a title, but even if he simply returns to his previous level and hopefully exceeds that.
[More: Submit a question to next week's Ask Aggrey mailbag]
Is Tyreke Evans a legitimate option for next year if the Bulls choose not to make Luol Deng a part of their future?
Chase, I don’t think so. Evans is a bit of forgotten man these days, a product of playing for a pitiful Kings team, his injuries, being shifted between positions, seemingly not progressing as much as observers hoped and being overshadowed by an excellent talent in DeMarcus Cousins. But I believe he has a lot of upside and in the right situation, with coaching that fits him, he can thrive. While I think the Bulls would be interested in his talent, after not signing an extension last fall he’ll be a restricted free agent, so Sacramento can match any offer he receives, not to mention that the Bulls’ salary-cap situation precludes them from being able to sign him outright. A sign-and-trade scenario could work, but I don’t know if the Bulls value him enough to trade Deng for him, especially with Rose returning next season and Jimmy Butler emerging as potentially the starting shooting guard of the future. Butler could obviously play some small forward, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bulls at least give it another run with the current core and add lower-salaried role players over the summer.
If a low-seed wins the NBA Championship (6, 7, 8) how does that affect their draft positioning?
John, it would have no effect on their draft position. The draft order for non-lottery teams are determined by regular-season records, so if, for example, the Bucks won the title this season, they’d keep their mid-first-round pick.
[More: Bulls' inconsistency doesn't bode well for playoffs]
Which player on the Bulls is the best trade bait that could return a player of higher value?
Cole, besides Rose — I’m assuming you don’t mean him and even if you did, I’d ignore you; just to humor that possibility, approximately 25 teams (the ones without point guards named Paul, Westbrook, Irving, etc.) would jump at the possibility, even without knowing what he’ll look like after returning to the court — in order, I’d say: Joakim Noah, Deng, Taj Gibson and Butler. Noah because this is the NBA and size still rules, not to mention he’s a center with a fairly reasonable contract. Deng would be next because of his expiring deal, as well as his actual ability. Then, Gibson, again because he’s a big and has a contract that people wouldn’t turn up their nose at, which is a major consideration under the new CBA. Lastly, Butler, who is still under his rookie deal and while some observers would like to see a bigger sample size, I can tell you that opposing teams are already doing extensive scouting work on him, in the case that he somehow became available in the future, which I don’t see happening anytime soon.
[More: Noah, Gibson make positive returns, add depth to Bulls' lineup]
Is Luol Deng a Chicago Bull next year?
Todd, I do think Deng will be in a Bulls uniform next season. Beyond that, I’m not positive. Obviously he’s established himself as an upper-echelon player at his position and a two-time All-Star, but it’s hard to say how the Bulls will look to reward him for that accomplishment. If another team comes along and offers him a deal out of their price range after next season, next season could be his last in Chicago, if they don’t sense that’s the case in advance and seek to trade his expiring deal to avoid losing him for nothing.
Who is your pick for most improved player in the NBA? Does Jimmy have a shot to win?
Kevin, since I’m not officially voting on that award this season, I can be completely transparent answering this question. As much as I’d like to see Butler have a shot at the MIP, I think his emergence occurred too late in the season for him to gain enough support to win. But I do think the season he’s had defines the award, as he combined both actual improvement with opportunity, as opposed to the likes of Houston’s James Harden, Indiana’s Paul George, Philadelphia’s Jrue Holiday and even Noah, all first-time All-Stars who undoubtedly have gotten better, but we all expected to be good and just had better showcases to display their talents. But to be honest, I’m a bit torn on who should take home this award. Looking around the league, there’s the likes of Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic, Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders,
Marquis Teague’s big brother Jeff in Atlanta and our old friend Omer Asik down in Houston. Tough decision, but if I’m forced to choose, I’d probably go with Asik, who has developed a relatively reliable offensive game and has been a low-post anchor for the playoff-bound Rockets. But if you ask me tomorrow, I might have a different pick.