LOS ANGELES—Since everybody feels the need to chime in on what Derrick “should” do, I feel somewhat obligated to share my opinion: Continue to rehab and play whenever he feels ready to do so.
I understand the attachment to the hometown hero, especially since so many Chicagoans in particular have been inundated, not due to anything concerted effort on his part, with stories about his background, personality and game since he was 15 years old or so.
But despite Derrick being a civic treasure in the Windy City, that doesn’t mean residents—I know, plenty of people around the country, both fans and the media, have made their feelings known, too—“should” expect him to play because he can help the Bulls right now, they want to see him on the court again or are just tired of the entire circus, which is more media-driven than anything else.
Believe me, I’m tired of the will-he, won’t-he drama as much as anybody—not to mention the mini-updates, which instantly evolve into major stories by the media, myself included—but at this point, unless Derrick chooses to open up about the whole ordeal (which he shouldn't feel the need to do), the next story in the saga, at least in my mind, is when he plays in an NBA game again, whether that’s this season or the next.
I can’t remember another athlete’s recovery from an injury that’s fairly common—that rules out the likes of Peyton Manning, for example—that’s been as heavily scrutinized as this one, without much actually changing or deviating from the norm, but I guess that’s what comes with being a true superstar, especially one who doesn’t say much and is pretty much universally liked and respected.
I just write about the man, and not a day goes by when I don’t get asked about his eventual return, so I can only imagine what it’s like being in his shoes (in particular, his left one) these days, especially in Chicago, where it seems like people feel that they have a personal stake in his career.
On the bright side, knowing Derrick, even as he remains pleasant, cordial and as regular as anybody could be during this process, it will only serve as motivation to beat the odds, get back to the level we’re used to seeing and then, exceed that, meaning that hopefully in a few years, not only will it all be worth it for him, but for everyone who’s been waiting, patiently or otherwise, for him.
On to the mailbag, including a couple of bonus questions from Twitter:
When do you see the Heat losing next?
Tim, based on Miami’s upcoming schedule—home Tuesday at Atlanta, then a five-game road trip to Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Toronto, Boston and Cleveland—I’d guess that the Heat’s next loss is to the Celtics. It’s the NBA, so never say never, but I can’t see them falling to either the Hawks or Sixers, two presently reeling teams. Some observers see them losing to the Bucks, a tough matchup for anybody, because they beat the Heat earlier this season, but that should just serve as more motivation to win. I’d rule out the Raptors due to the talent disparity, but the Celtics, even without Rajon Rondo, have so much pride that I can’t see veterans like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce letting Miami continue their streak against them.
Since money may be tight, will the Bulls look at a center in the draft (instead of free agency) before any other position?
Darren, I could see the Bulls targeting a center this year, but even though they’ll likely pick a bit higher than the past few drafts, since they won’t have the league’s best regular-season mark, I expect the front office to focus on getting the best available player left on the board. This year’s draft class is regarded as weak by many observers, but I think it’s just not as top heavy and there’s some good value in the middle of the first round. Heading into the summer, they’ll be at least two-deep at point guard (Derrick, Kirk, Marquis), small forward (Lu, Jimmy) and power forward (Carlos, Taj), so unless there’s a shooting guard that management is enamored with, a center would make sense. Players like Kansas’ Jeff Withey, Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk and Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng could be decent fits.
Luol seems tentative to shoot lately/not shooting as much? Are the Bulls running fewer plays for him or is he trying to save himself to be rested late in the game?
Randall, it’s neither. With Kirk out of the lineup, the Bulls’ shot distribution hasn’t been as ideal and given that he and Lu are very familiar with each other, I think he finds himself a little out of rhythm at times. Nate has always been a scoring point guard, so it would be unrealistic to expect him to change his game at this stage of his career, but it does occasionally result in other starters not getting the ball in their comfort zones.
What is the Bulls' best offensive lineup? Best defensive lineup?
Evan, there are plenty of sites that can give you the stats on what five-man units function the best for the Bulls on both ends of the floor, but I’ll give you my opinion. Offensively, I like Kirk, Marco, Lu, Carlos and Jo, for the deep shooting Marco brings to the table, the fact that he and Kirk can alternate ball handling responsibilities and the relative scoring balance. Defensively, I like Kirk, Jimmy, Lu, Taj and Jo, for the perimeter ball pressure, two lock-down wings and the shot-blocking, length and rebounding inside.
If the Bulls could only keep Hinrich or Nate next year, who should they keep?
Ricky, since Kirk has another year on his deal and Nate is on a one-year contract, it’s not much of a debate, but I’ll play along. I’d go with Kirk, as he can play alongside Derrick and has already experienced having to move to the bench to back him up, as well as the defensive mentality, quiet leadership and floor-general qualities he brings to the table. Nate also has his strengths, but it’s the nature of the NBA for talented individual bench scorers to bounce around throughout their careers.
What's your thoughts on Okafor?
@mhouse, I assume you’re referring to Jahlil Okafor, the Whitney Young junior center, and not Emeka Okafor, the Wizards veteran. Jahlil is an excellent player, as evidenced by him winning the city player of the year award over Simeon’s Jabari Parker. It should be noted that Jabari was hurt to begin the season and is just now rounding into form, but Jahlil was definitely deserving. I got the chance to see the two play on an off day last week—can’t say I regretted not seeing the Bulls eke out a home win over Utah—and although Jahlil didn’t have a great night, I’ve seen him before, so I wasn’t too judgmental. He has great hands, footwork and shooting touch for his size (in the 6-foot-10, 260-pound range) and I think he has all the makings of an NBA starting center in the future. Like all kids, he has some things to work on—demanding the ball more, dominating the boards every night, conditioning and being a consistent defensive presence are the few things I’ve gleaned from seeing him play on multiple occasions—but he’s a nice kid (ran into him at Midway when I was headed to a road game and Whitney Young was going to a holiday tournament in Florida), I’ve heard he’s a great student, he has good upside, seems to be a team-first player and as long as he keeps working hard, Chicago could have back-to-back lottery picks if he and Jabari are both one-and-done college standouts, as many expect.
Why don't people like Jo, honestly?
@CallMeAndyV, with your Twitter handle, I’d guess that you’re a fan of Cleveland’s Anderson Varejao, another polarizing NBA player. Like Varejao, Jo is the type of player that, if you’re a fan of his team and especially his teammate, you love the guy. Everybody else can’t stand him. I definitely understand opposing fans not appreciating his game or demeanor, but he’s won the respect of his peers and coaches, as evidenced by his debut All-Star appearance this season, and these days, I get less and less questions from visiting media about his unorthodox shooting stroke and more about where he ranks among the league’s upper-echelon centers. At the same time, he doesn’t help his case on the road with his exuberance, but Jo relishes the role of being the villain, something I’ve witnessed during his days at Florida. I’m pretty sure the over-the-top comments he hears from hecklers—and they’re not pretty—pale in comparison to the venom spewed at him by SEC fans.