Aggrey Sam's Monday mailbag: Will Bulls be active at trade deadline?

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Aggrey Sam's Monday mailbag: Will Bulls be active at trade deadline?

A belated Happy New Year, everybody. Since there was no mailbag last week, I'm answering 10 questions this time, including a few from Twitter.

These questions were submitted prior to both Friday's win in New York and Saturday's home loss to Phoenix, so luckily, I didn't get any NBA Finals or draft lottery inquiries. Depending on the night, this Bulls team can appear destined for either. Anyway, on to the mailbag:

Kyle: What would it take for the Bulls to get Rudy Gay from Memphis? How would he fit as a No. 2 scorer to Derrick Rose?

I don't believe that the Bulls are even interested, but to answer your question, Luol Deng would have to be involved. He makes less than Gay (but still close enough that the numbers work), probably fits the Grizzlies' post tandem of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph better as a cutter and shooter, and his former agent, Jason Levien -- who has been always been a big fan of Lu and was interested in acquiring Lu during his past NBA personnel stops -- is now supposedly running the Memphis front office after the ownership change.

Still, the Bulls understand Lu's value and while Gay is a flashier player, he's not more complete. Also, Thibs might have a heart attack if that occurred. Seriously, I don't think management looks at Gay, who has more years left on a bigger contract, as a true upgrade and with Lu having another year on his deal after this season, it doesn't strike me a plausible scenario.

As for the your second question, I do think Gay's ability to create for himself is something that could help the Bulls and benefit Derrick, but not at the expense of losing your best defender. While many observers harp on outside shooting as an area of need for the Bulls, I think a player who can create -- at shooting guard, though -- is an issue to address in the offseason.

John: What is Tom Thibodeau's reputation around the league as an offensive coach? (Known as a defensive whiz, what do coachesexecs think of his offensive schemes)

Thibs isn't necessarily viewed as an offensive mastermind, but with the personnel he has at his disposal, he's certainly seen as more than competent. Obviously, as you mentioned, he's known as one of the top defensive minds in the game, but offensively, I think his greatest strength is coaching to the strengths of his team.

When Derrick is healthy, it's easy to dismiss Thibs as simply putting the ball in the hands of one of the league's top talents and letting him figure out the rest. But as we've seen this season -- and last year, when Derrick missed long stretches -- the Bulls' selflessness, ability to keep all five players involved, whether they're scoring or not, and on a nightly basis, the knack of various, often unexpected, players on the roster elevating their games, illustrates not only their coaches' creativity, but prowess in keeping everybody engaged, not an easy task in the NBA.

When Thibs talks about having a "five-man offense," he's right, as it mirrors the defense, with each player not only having a responsibility on every trip down the floor, but especially without an individual talent like Derrick available, a necessity to precisely execute in order for the possession to be successful. I'd be curious to see how he'd adapt to players with less defensive ability or desire to play on that end of the floor, but more individual offensive abilities.

Blake: Do the Bulls' coachingtraining staff actively try to improve individual player skills during practice?

They definitely do, particularly the training staff, which has the players do extensive stretching to prevent injuries and encourage flexibility, as well as treatment sessions before and after both practices and games. The coaches obviously focus on game planning and overall team improvement, but from individual workouts before practices and shootarounds, to briefer sessions after practices and before games, a lot goes into players' skill work.

That doesn't even account for coaches and video coordinators being on call virtually 24 hours a day for players who want to shoot at the Berto Center and even on the road, whenever there's some down time. I can't speak for every team in the league, but the Bulls' combination of mostly highly-motivated players, from starters to reserves, and ever-willing staffers are always in the gym.

Kelvin: As a hypothetical, what are the chances the Bulls amnesty Carlos Boozer in the offseason and sign Paul Millsap (or any FA forwards, for that matter)?

I think it's highly unlikely that the Bulls will amnesty Carlos this summer. Additionally, I don't see them being major players in the free-agent market, though that could certainly change. If anything, I expect management to again seek out one-year rentals, perhaps re-signing a player or two from this season's roster if the price is right and there's mutual interest.

The summer of 2014, however, is a different story. Carlos will only have one year left on his deal, making it more palatable to eat his contract, and they'll also have to make a decision on Lu by then, not to mention the anxious countdown for Nikola Mirotic's arrival probably will have started. But with the way Carlos has been playing recently, I'm surprised to get an amnesty question at all these days.

To sneak in a question I received via Twitter from @BPspeak, if Boozer can maintain his high activity level -- not necessarily the production, as the numbers won't always be there -- and effort on the defensive end, what should be monitored is his trade value. Regardless of what many fans think, Carlos, while having an onerous contract, isn't viewed universally as a bad player. It just takes one rival executive with a need and the cap space to make something happen.

I'm not saying a trade is likely or even that the Bulls are shopping him, but in the NBA, never say never. Remember, people thought Joe Johnson's contract was impossible to be traded, too.

Tasos: Do the Bulls regret not keeping JR Smith?

You have to remember that at the time, Smith was still a young player and while it was always clear that he had plenty of potential, many worried that his lack of maturity would prevent him from reaching it. He feuded with Byron Scott in New Orleans and with the Bulls, both then and in the present, placing a heavy emphasis on high-character players, they weren't willing to take that chance.

Even today, as much as he's matured both on and off the court, I don't know if Smith would be their first choice, though I could be wrong, as talent often overwhelms other concerns in the NBA. Still, to give you the short answer, I don't think the Bulls have any regrets and I doubt Smith, a New Jersey native, thinks twice about his extremely short stint in Chicago, given his success in New York and the season the Knicks are having.

James: Will Tom Thibodeau's decisionnecessity to keep playing Joakim and Luol 40 minutes a night lead to exhaustion down the stretch?

One thing I don't think a lot of people realize is that while players do get tired over the course of games, let alone a season, it isn't as if they're taken by surprise by playing heavy minutes. Scant playing time, maybe, but in the cases of Jo and certainly Lu, they knew that they would be logging a serious workload this season. Lu is used to it, but Jo saw it coming -- and even wanted it; who believes he was happy being taken out at the end of games the last two seasons? -- with Omer's departure over the summer.

Players use the offseason to get themselves into shape and with players that get big minutes, they know that they have to prepare for the long haul, then maintain their conditioning and bodies during the season. That said, I suppose being on the court more makes them more susceptible to injuries and breaking down in general, but it's not like players can't get hurt on the practice court or even away from basketball.

Also, let's not forget that we're not talking about Tim Duncan and Steve Nash. These guys are still relatively young players, so if they don't play a lot now, when will they? As long as they don't get hurt, I don't foresee any problems down the road and since nobody can predict injuries, there's no reason to cut back on the minutes of the two players who are currently the most indispensable members of the team.

Salvador: Will the Bulls be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline?

I don't believe they'll be much of either, to be honest with you. While the front office will always keep their eyes and ears open to improve the team, the focus of this season, besides winning games on the court, is Derrick's recovery. Sure, he's never played with many of his current teammates, but the hope is that he can be integrated into the active roster fairly seamlessly whenever he's ready to play, so I don't see them making any drastic moves that would make that process more difficult.

If a deal arises that they can't pass up -- for instance, taking Rip off their hands without taking back much salary -- that's a different story, but even in that example, after Marco played so well as a starter, that wouldn't be seen as rocking the boat too much, especially since Derrick and Rip haven't actually spent that much time on the floor together. By the way, at this point, I'd predict that Rip makes it past the trade deadline, though things can change very quickly in the league.

From @ilovemybyers: How much better do you think Derrick will be when he returns and do you think the Bulls can make a deep playoff run?

I don't think Derrick will be "better" when he immediately returns, but as I've written in the past, I do think he'll eventually equal his previous form and likely surpass it, although his game could change a bit, in a good way.

This time away has allowed him to focus on strength training, something he acknowledged wasn't such a priority before, given his natural gifts, as well as honing his jumper and watching more film. He already has a very underrated basketball I.Q., so expect him, when he gets the rust off, to be even more of a cerebral player.

Regarding your second question, it's anybody's guess. The East, to me, is pretty wide open. Miami has to be considered the favorite, but their small-ball approach has weaknesses and every other playoff contender in the conference also has flaws. It all depends on seeding, matchups and health, so if the Bulls can figure out how to regain their home-court dominance, continue playing defense up to their usual standards and get a boost from Derrick, even if he's not at a league MVP level, they have as good of a chance as anybody.

From @camkinley13: Do you see Cook cracking the rotation for serious minutes? Or is this another Rasual Butler type signing?

I think you hit it on the head with your latter question. Daequan has some ability, specifically in an area where the Bulls could use some help, three-point shooting. But despite his outside marksmanship, Thibs is big on loyalty and hesitant to play a newcomer ahead of players who have been toiling for the team all season.

As in the case of Rasual, Cook will need to prove he fully understands the system before earning minutes, which will be tough to do, barring multiple injuries on the wing. Unlike Rasual, however, Daequan has youth on his side. He has an expiring contract, so if there's mutual interest, I wouldn't rule out him returning to Chicago, although it's still too early to tell. I'd imagine he'd get some interest from other teams, but if that doesn't occur, he could be a summer-league possibility, though most players who have been in the league for some time feel they're above that. In the increasingly unlikely scenario that Rip is traded, maybe there could be some spot minutes for him this season.

From @tgstgstgstgs: Is DWade no longer a great player? He's looking older and slower.

First of all, what a difficult Twitter handle. It's true that Wade doesn't appear to be the same player that he was even two years ago, which is probably an effect of both age and injuries. He is coming off offseason knee surgery, after all. Whereas in LeBron James' first season in Miami, they were a true one-two combo, with Wade being more of the aggressor and even primary scorer, having led the league in that category not long ago, James seized the role of the team's alpha dog last postseason, making Wade the second option on offense.

At the same time, Wade has shown flashes of his old self occasionally and with his playoff track record, I wouldn't be surprised if he raises his level of play, if not every game, then when he senses that the Heat need him to shoulder more of the burden. I've wondered for a while that if he was traded, if he'd be able to still thrive as 25 point-per-game scorer and on a team that felt they needed that one true go-to guy, such as Indiana or Denver.

Getting back to your question, Wade is still a great player, but no longer in the 48 minutes, 82-game sense. I'd put him slightly above a player like Paul Pierce, in that everybody knows how dangerous he can be if he gets it going, but not only does he not have to carry the load every night, nobody's surprised when he has a relatively pedestrian outing anymore.

Fred Hoiberg, Jimmy Butler rave about Rajon Rondo's voice, basketball IQ

Fred Hoiberg, Jimmy Butler rave about Rajon Rondo's voice, basketball IQ

With one Bulls practice in the books and one more to go in the night session, it was evident from the primary parties that Rajon Rondo has earned instant trust and credibility with his play.

Or more pointedly, his brain and his mouth.

“He’s got the best voice on the team,” head coach Fred Hoiberg said. “When you have point guard out there who can get you into something and talk the way he does, that sets the tone for everybody.”

Apparently the ultra-intelligent point guard has been a galvanizing force since the team starting convening last month for informal workouts, as Hoiberg believes Rondo has grasped his system instantly and brought some of the younger teammates along.

“The biggest thing that I’ve been most impressed with with Rajon is the minute he stepped on this floor when he got back here in August is he pulled everybody together,” Hoiberg said. “If you have a guy not only offensively getting you into something but defensively making sure guys are pointing and talking and making sure guys are pointing and talking and getting back and matched up in transition, that’s where it starts. He’s been here. He’s been great. He’s a guy who you can watch film with in September before we got rolling here in camp. He got us off to a great start.”

Needing Rondo to be vocal will be a plus for Hoiberg considering the coach’s soft-spoken approach, and those two being on one accord will be a key considering Rondo’s history with coaches over time.

Rondo’s intelligence, which most consider to be genius-like, has already come in handy and will help with the perimeter adjustment of fitting himself, Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade together.

“Like I always say, when you put good basketball players out there on the floor you just go,” Butler said. “Everything just falls into place, falls into line. You don’t have to worry about too much of anything. And with him he’s an incredible leader. He just wants everybody to be successful. He’s going to put you in position to be just that.”

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Rondo has led the league in assists three times and his career 8.7 assists-per-game average is third among active players behind Chris Paul (L.A. Clippers) and John Wall (Washington Wizards).

“He has been around the league a long time,” Hoiberg said. “He studies the league. If he sees a small guy guarding Jimmy, he’s going to find a way to get him the ball on the block. The more you can have those guys recognizing things on the floor---if Robin Lopez is coming down and I have to yell, ‘Get the ball to Robin’ then we have issues -- and Rondo obviously will be a big help with that.”

So yeah, he’ll have the ball in his hands plenty.

“He’s super-smart. He really sees things before they even develop out there on the basketball floor, so it makes everybody’s job a lot easier," Butler said. "And not only is he leading the team on offense, but he’s constantly talking on defense, so he’s letting everybody know where they have to be. Wade’s the same way, so he makes everybody’s job easier as well, and you learn from that, so you just follow suit for the most part.’’

Butler joked that there will often be times where a Rondo pass zigs while he’ll be zagging early in camp while chemistry is developing, saying “I’m sorry, Rajon, because you’re going to definitely get a turnover from me one game,” and that he won’t be opposed to Rondo getting on him or anybody else in the meantime.

“I’m good with that,” Butler said. “I’ll challenge him right back if I see something that he’s not doing correctly. I want him to hold me accountable, me hold him accountable, everybody holding everybody accountable, because then everybody is going to learn from their mistakes and not to it again.”

Stan Bowman mum on Artemi Panarin contract talks

Stan Bowman mum on Artemi Panarin contract talks

In July, when asked how contract talks were going with star forward Artemi Panarin, general manager Stan Bowman said he wouldn’t negotiate through the media.

He reiterated that on Tuesday.

“Obviously Artemi's a big part of our team. We're excited for the season he had. We're looking forward to him building on that as well. Then the negotiations will be what they are between his agent and myself,” I respect Tom [Lynn, Panarin’s agent]. He's a very knowledgeable guy, and Artemi put a lot of faith in him. And Tom and I will work to get something done.”

Panarin is entering the final year of his current contract and is coming off a monster rookie season in which he recorded 77 points and took home the Calder Trophy. Panarin took home plenty of bonus money thanks to that season, too.

The 24-year-old could certainly command a hefty price, which would once again be a major concern to the cash-strapped Blackhawks. The salary cap is at $73 million for this season, a small increase from 2015-16 ($71.4 million). Factor in another likely small increase next season and the large contracts the Blackhawks are already doling out – Brent Seabrook’s eight-year deal with a cap hit of $6.875 kicks in this season – and could Panarin be another one that gets away?

But Bowman remains optimistic.

“We're always confident,” he said. “You go into a negotiation expecting to get a deal done. That's the way I've been in the past and that's the way I am now.”