INDIANAPOLIS—Sorry for the lateness of this mailbag; as Thibs would say, no excuses.
In light of the short-handed Bulls playing so valiantly as of late, I should definitely feel chagrined, but to quote another Thibs-ism, I can’t look backwards.
Anyway, not that I’m happy about Joakim, Carlos and Kirk getting hurt, but it does feel a little strange to be focused on injuries unrelated to Derrick.
But at the same time, it also feels like a blast from the past—at least last season—as the Bulls are emulating the success they had a year ago, with contributions from unexpected sources propelling them on a tough road trip against stiff competition.
With their recent play, it’s no surprise that many observers—myself included—have the Bulls penciled in to make a playoff run, particularly with Derrick’s looming return.
However, Thibs would also caution me not to look ahead, so on to the mailbag:
What are the Bulls chances of finishing in the top two of the Eastern Conference?
Sarah, I was raised to be a gentleman, so ladies come first in this week’s mailbag. With the way they’re playing at the moment, I’d have to say that I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bulls were the first or second seed in the East heading into the postseason. However, it also wouldn’t shock me if they were the fifth or sixth seed come playoff time. The conference is so underwhelming this season that almost anything’s possible, in terms of how the standings wrap up, but if the Bulls can survive their recent spate of bad health, Derrick has a somewhat seamless return to the lineup—I mean how he’s integrated, not getting back to his old self immediately—I’d wager that they could host a first-round series.
Which team is a bigger threat in the Central Division -- the Pacers or Bucks?
Conor, at the risk of sounding biased because of my present location, I’d say the Pacers. Indiana’s size, coupled with All-Star swingman Paul George’s breakout season, as well as Danny Granger’s eventual return—Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said that the target date for his return to the lineup is before the All-Star break—makes them extremely dangerous. Milwaukee, which has played superbly since Bucks interim head coach and former Bulls coach Jim Boylan took over, should be regarded as a threat, but the Pacers, in my opinion, have more staying power over the second half of the season.
Is Joakim Noah or Luol Deng more important to the Bulls' future success?
Jake, that’s a tough question. I’m of the belief that Jo and Lu, as well as Taj and even Jimmy, are intertwined as part of Derrick’s supporting cast for the prime years of his career. But because Jo is a center, which is much harder to replace than an All-Star small forward, and because Lu only has a year on his current deal after this season, it would easy to say go with the big man. Conversely, if the Bulls were to attempt to make a major acquisition, one could argue that Lu—at least his contract—is more important and even if re-signs in Chicago, the financial commitment of a long-term pact then supersedes Jo. But again, their actual value on the floor, individually, is such a big part of the team’s collective culture that I can’t even separate the two.
Are the Celtics still contenders in the East without Rondo? Will the Lakers make the playoffs?
Brian, I can’t see Boston truly being a factor at season’s end, despite the Celtics’ inspired recent play. Rondo is just so important to them in all aspects of the game that I can’t see them, barring a major trade, maintaining their status near the top of the conference, especially without another true point guard on the roster. As far as the Lakers, if you asked me that question a month ago, I’d have a definitive answer: No. But now, just going off Kobe Bryant’s determination and the possibility of some fringe playoff teams in the West fading down the stretch, I’ll give them a miniscule chance to make the postseason.
Who would you have picked to replace Rajon Rondo in the All-Star Game?
Sarah, I’ll also end things with you this week. I can’t really argue with Brook Lopez, whose been the Nets’ best player this season, as the backcourt of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson has performed below expectations. Carlos wouldn’t have been a bad addition, based on the Bulls’ success and his dominant play in January, but he probably came on too late to sway coaches. To be honest, I would have given the nod to Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings, simply because of the Bucks’ success, and though the Hawks have been inconsistent and at times, uninspired, Atlanta’s Josh Smith, despite his one-game suspension putting him in a negative light, was also deserving.