Ask Aggrey: Boozer, Stoudemire trading places?

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Ask Aggrey: Boozer, Stoudemire trading places?

It's the second round of the playoffs and I don't have a flight to catch, a hotel to check into, a morning shootaround to attend or a daily commute on the Edens Expressway to the Berto Center. For the last part, I'm especially thankful, but watching the second round of the playoffs, it feels strange to already be back in Chicago for good. I'm not complaining about being able to sleep in my own bed for consecutive nights, but I had prepared both my mind and body to be going through the daily grind of the NBA's second season into June or so.

Even after Derrick Rose got hurt, I thought the Bulls had a good chance to get back to the conference finals and after Joakim Noah's injury, I figured a conference-semifinals appearance was still possible. But all that's in the past and while I'll still be covering the happenings of the Bulls throughout the offseason, things will definitely slow down and until training camp, this mailbag will become a monthly occurrence, instead of weekly.

Don't be a stranger, as I'll still be here to answer your questions about free agency, potential trades, the upcoming draft, the Olympics, summer league and even the other teams still in the playoffs. By the way, the Professional Basketball Writers Association, a group yours truly is a member of, recently announced the winners of their annual awards, minus the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, which will be released later in the week.

Phoenix's Steve Nash won the Magic Johnson Award for the player who best combines on-court excellence with cooperation with the media over Minnesota's Kevin Love, San Antonio's Manu Ginobili and Chris Paul of the Clippers, Boston's Doc Rivers won the Rudy Tomjanovich Award for essentially the same qualities in a coach over Denver's George Karl, Orlando's Stan Van Gundy and Rick Carlisle of the Mavericks, and the Milwaukee Bucks won the Brian McIntyre Award for the league's top media-relations staff over fellow nominees Oklahoma City, Memphis and none other than the Bulls. On to this week's mailbag:

Could there be any talks between the Knicks and the Bulls about a Carlos Boozer for Amar'e Stoudemire deal? -- Eric C.
Eric, as much as Bulls fans are down on Carlos right now, like Rip Hamilton, it's highly unlikely that he's going anywhere this summer. Look, it's no secret around the league that he doesn't have a great contract, particularly if he declines as a player toward the end of the deal. The Knicks know this and while they've had issues meshing Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, Carlos doesn't necessarily help them get better, as his jump-shooting, face-up game mirrors Stoudemire's, minus the athleticism and with less post-up play. Also, while Stoudemire might be somewhat of an upgrade, he's also injury-prone and if the Bulls passed on him in free agency two years ago, they aren't more likely to take a gander on him now, with all of that uninsured money left on his contract.

Do you think that the Bulls can get O.J. Mayo this off-season? -- Irron C.

Irron, I know that since Mayo's name came up as a potential Bulls target before last season's trade deadline, he's been discussed amongst fans and media alike as a potential addition. However, I'm pretty sure that ship has sailed for a number of reasons, foremost being that the Bulls already have a starting shooting guard for the upcoming season in Rip. Furthermore, assuming Memphis' asking price hasn't changed, Omer Asik or Taj Gibson are not even remote possibilities to be dealt in any type of sign-and-trade scenario.

Mayo's reputation has improved since he so willingly accepted and thrived in a reserve role after his ill-fated team plane card-game fight with teammate Tony Allen, but the Bulls value character so highly, the front office would be hard-pressed to bring in a player who could even potentially disrupt the team's chemistry. Lastly, the Bulls have little financial flexibility, so unless the restricted free agent's market value is far less than expected, it's unlikely that he'll end up in Chicago.

There's been a lot of talk around the NBA about players flopping (cough LeBron cough), do you think it's becoming a bigger problem? -- Tyler E

Tyler, I don't know if flopping in the NBA is more of a problem than it's been in the past, especially when I think back to the heyday of the Sacramento Kings a decade or so ago, when several of their players, most notably Vlade Divac, took it to a new level. I actually think this season's playoffs have been pretty physical thus far, though I may be biased from watching the Bulls, a team that almost never exaggerates contact, play all year. That said, I have taken notice of some of the obvious flopping by some of the other playoff teams, including the Heat. I'm no Jeff Van Gundy, but I do agree that it should be officiated somehow and maybe penalized with a delay of game as a warning, then subsequent technical fouls.

Something related that I think needs to be watched more closely is offensive players intentionally drawing contact on "rip-through" moves and also using pump fakes to get their man in the air, then drawing contact with no actual intention of making the shot, the former of which was supposedly a point of emphasis for officials heading into the season.

When do you think we will see D-Rose next on the court? I've heard everything from February of next year to him missing a whole season. -- Evelyn T.

Evelyn, the timetable for recovery from ACL surgery can vary from athlete to athlete -- I remember seeing current Houston Rockets guard Kyle Lowry bounce back from the same injury and play at a high level in summer leagues in four months while he was a college player at Villanova -- but after Derrick's procedure, it was reported that he should be back in 8-10 months and back to the court by early December at the earliest. Personally, as bad as I can imagine Derrick is aching to play basketball again after the rough season he had, I'm guessing that no part of the process is rushed and he actually starts playing for the Bulls again around the All-Star break, though he could certainly start working out and then practicing long before that. Ultimately, his body will dictate his return, but I guarantee you that all attempts at caution will be exercised by the team, no matter how the Bulls are faring at the time.

Taj Gibson really impressed me, especially when Joakim went down. Will we see him have a bigger role next season? -- Marty H.

Marty, Taj really rises to the occasion in the playoffs, doesn't he? From last year's postseason, particularly in the conference finals against Miami, to this season's first-round series against Philadelphia, he's truly stepped his game up on a national stage, which should result in the Bulls having to pay a high price to keep him when he hits free agency next summer. But as far as him getting a bigger role, while I believe Tom Thibodeau really trusts him, especially on the defensive end of the court, the Bulls simply don't have enough frontcourt scoring with both him and Joakim on the court together for an extended period of time.

With Derrick and possibly Luol Deng out to start next season, the Bulls will have to rely upon Carlos (and Rip, for that matter) for scoring, which means Taj's role will probably stay the same, though a slight bump in minutes wouldn't shock me. Now, if he can continue to develop his mid-range jumper and back-to-the-basket game, he may have more of a featured role while he's on the floor, which would really benefit both Taj and a potentially retooled "Bench Mob" when he's playing against second-unit players.

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Jack Aho

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Jack Aho

Jack Aho is the reigning state champion in Class 2A and recently shattered a course record at Warren High School. 

But beyond posting some of the area's fastest times, cross country is also a family affair for Aho.

See why he was named this week's Wintrust Athlete of the Week in the video above.

Football takes a back seat as Griffins honor PFC Aaron Toppen on Salute to Troops night

Football takes a back seat as Griffins honor PFC Aaron Toppen on Salute to Troops night

“Football is life. Until it’s not.”

That message Lincoln-Way East head coach Rob Zvonar relayed to his team in the week leading up to the Griffins’ Week 5 tilt against Thornton was an important one. For the 115 student-athletes who make up a team with legitimate state-title aspirations, high school football can feel like a life-and-death situation. Until it’s not.

Private First Class Aaron Toppen, a 2013 Lincoln-Way East graduate, was 19 when he was killed in Afghanistan two years ago. And on that June 9, 2014, a country lost a hero, a family lost a son, a brother and an uncle, and a community lost a friend who had walked through the halls of Lincoln-Way East High School and drove his famous pick-up truck through town just a year earlier.

So when the Griffins held their annual Salute the Troops night last Friday night, before blowing out the Wildcats 42-6, Aaron’s surviving family was an easy choice to join the team as honorary captains. Aaron’s mother, two sisters, uncle, grandmother and niece were recognized before the game, all in loving memory of a fellow Griffin graduate who gave the ultimate sacrifice to his country.

“Aaron’s passing was a big deal to our community,” athletic director Mark Vander Kooi said. “And we wanted to embrace his family and let them know that we cared about them, loved them and appreciated the sacrifice they made.”

When Lincoln-Way East principal Dr. Sharon Michalak contacted Aaron’s sister, Amy, about honoring her brother last week’s football game, the family jumped at the opportunity. Aaron and his family had been honored at a game in 2014, just months after Aaron’s death. And with the Griffins hosting “Salute to Troops” night, and that coinciding with the annual 5k run held in Aaron’s name the following day, the family accepted the invitation with open arms.

“It’s just amazing. The support never stops, and to hear that they want to keep Aaron’s name alive and honor him, it just really makes us feel wonderful,” Aaron’s mother, Pam, said. “It’s a way we’re getting through it, is through the support of everybody.

Many of the Griffins know the Toppen family – Amy and Amanda are also graduates – but for those unfamiliar with Aaron’s story – like the student-athletes who transferred from North – head coach Rob Zvonar made it a point to relay that message during practice week. Before the team dressed Friday night, all 115 players watched a pair of video tributes to Toppen in one of the school’s classrooms.

“It’s awesome playing in his honor,” senior Sam Diehl said. “We understand football’s just a game and that (Aaron) made the ultimate sacrifice, giving his life for our country, that we have more to give than just football to our community, that there are people out there we need to be more thankful of.”

Once the pregame festivities ended the Griffins put on a worthy performance. They scored touchdowns on their first six drives of the game into the third quarter. Jake Arthur threw three more touchdown passes, wide receiver Nick Zelenika topped 100 yards and the Griffins’ offense averaged better than 4.5 yards per carry.

Devin O’Rourke tallied five tackles for loss and two more sacks – he has five in the last two weeks – and the Griffins defense limited the Wildcats to only a late touchdown in the final minute. The Griffins first team defense has allowed zero points in its last six quarters and appears to be putting its early-season struggles behind them.

But the night belonged to the Toppen family and Aaron’s legacy. The night coincided with homecoming weekend, and it brought back more than a handful of Aaron’s old classmates. One of them, current Illinois offensive lineman Nick Allegretti, spoke highly of Aaron and the impact he left on the school and community.

“I always enjoyed talking in class sitting with him,” he said. “Any person that’s going to go out and fight for our country and fight for our freedom, I have unlimited respect for. So obviously it’s a sad thing to remember, but I think it’s awesome seeing the support we have out here, from the community to the school to the administration.”

The following day each member of the Griffins and the coaching staff traveled to Mokena to participate in the third annual Our Fallen Hero 5k run in Aaron’s memory. Zvonar and the seniors joked about the aches and pains they’d feel running the 3.1 miles less than 12 hours after a football game, but they also understood the importance of showing up, honoring a fellow Griffin and raising money for the Pat Tillman Foundation.

“We’re able to run if we have to, walk if we have to, do what we have to to get it done,” running back Nigel Muhammad said. “Because it’s not about us.”

Added the 285-pound Diehl: “We’re more than happy to run the 3.1 miles. Even us offensive linemen don’t mind.”

More than 600 people were expected to show up for the fundraiser run, which had raised nearly $50,000 in its first two years.

“Aaron would probably say, ‘Mom I don’t like attention, what’s going on here?’ Because he was never that type,” Pam said. “But such a tragedy has brought together a community, and like Amanda said we’re blessed to be a part of this community…We just love seeing everybody.”

Football is life. Until it’s not.

It would have been enough for Zvonar and the coaching staff to speak about who Aaron Toppen was, and the impact he left on a school, a community and a country. The Toppen family could have simply been honored at halftime. Attending the 5k could have been optional for the team to attend.

Instead, football took a back seat for a night in Frankfort. The Toppens were gracious enough to be placed front-and-center to remember a young man who gave his life to protect the freedoms of each one of the thousands in attendance that evening.

“You think back to Aaron Toppen, who a few years ago was walking the hallways of this school and in the same classroom as these guys, and going to the same homecoming dance, and this was just a little bit ago,” Zvonar said. “A young man that’s barely older than these guys and then he goes off and serves his country and fights for the rights for all of us, and pays the ultimate sacrifice. You certainly don’t let that go by unnoticed.

“You want to really make sure that that’s pointed out, that freedom doesn’t come free. And these young men have an opportunity to come out and play this great game tonight. And all these things they’re allowed to do because of the bravery of young men like Aaron Toppen. One of those situations where I know as long as Coach Vander Kooi and myself are here we’ll do everything we can to stop and talk about him.”