Except for the fans of Miami and San Antonio, this is a time for dreaming about this month's draft, next month's free agency, next season, the long-term future. Here in Chicago, aside from the faction that's still harboring irrational resentment against the Bulls' best player (which will disappear as soon as he steps foot on the court in an actual game), it should be a time of contentment. Even the Heat and Spurs, depending on the result of the ongoing NBA Finals, could face a crossroads of sorts.
For the Bulls, things are a bit more cut and dry, partially based on the organization's financial predicament, but also because standing pat no longer seems like such a bad thing. I still get plenty of questions about trades for various "second superstars," but if the injury-riddled postseason showing didn't prove it, then maybe the playoff run of Central Division rival Indiana -- certainly a good team, but far from a juggernaut -- was evidence that this summer is no time to panic. Forget what the Bulls should or shouldn't do in what's likely to be a quiet offseason; just look around the league. Every roster is flawed and although one can never say never in the NBA due to the punitive nature of the luxury tax, there doesn't seem to be a lot of wiggle room for the top teams to get much stronger. Which means that the Bulls' returning personnel, buoyed by one of the league's top-three coaches, is solidly positioned to return to contending status. Of course, you never know if and when that injury bug will bite. On to the mailbag:
Do you believe Derrick Rose will be "himself" again next year?
There could be an adjustment period early in the season, which would be expected after such a long layoff, but I fully expect Derrick to get back to an elite level next season. That was the point of taking off this season, right? Seriously, with his work ethic, drive, skill level, underrated knowledge of the game and youth, while it remains to be seen if he'll be quite as relentless attacking the basket, I think he'll be an All-Star in 2014. I just wonder if he'll get enough votes from fans to be named a starter, assuming there's a residual effect from the anger so many people seemed to have from his absence.
Do you think Joakim Noah can improve any more offensively?
I think we saw at various points of the season the full scope of Jo's offensive game. Without Derrick, he was more of a primary ballhandler and showed that he's arguably the best passing center in the league, though Memphis' Marc Gasol would probably quibble with that statement. There were moments when he seemed to be getting in a groove with his elbow jumper and times when he looked more comfortable in the post, but I think he established both his ability to beat opposing big men off the dribble and his passing, two things that are somewhat connected, as his bread and butter. I know he'll continue to work on gaining consistency and polish at a traditional, back-to-the-basket low-post game, but I don't know if it will ever truly be his strength offensively. Still, as unconventional as his offensive game is, I believe that this season will give him some confidence that he can be a nightly double-digit scorer moving forward, even if it's not always necessary. At the same time, he's 28 now and at this stage of his career, it would be unrealistic to expect him to make a big leap offensively, particularly on a team where his role is set.
What position will the Bulls go after in the draft?
It would make sense for the Bulls to target a center to back up Jo with their first-round pick and there should be some quality available at No. 20. Louisville's Gorgui Dieng, Duke's Mason Plumlee and Kansas' Jeff Withey are a few names that could make some sense. However, it wouldn't surprise me if they took a shooter like Cal's Allen Crabbe to improve their outside shooting. I also wouldn't be shocked if they went the best-available player route, depending on who's still available and where they have players ranked on their board. Just to give myself an out, I wouldn't put it past them to trade the pick either. I'm also curious to see what they do with their second-round pick.
What are the chances of the Bulls signing O.J. Mayo or J.R. Smith? Or trading for Kevin Love?
James, the odds of the Bulls signing O.J., J.R., CP3 or any other coveted free agent, whether they go by their initials or not, are virtually nil. Due to their salary-cap situation, the Bulls simply won't be able to acquire free agents for more than the veteran's minimum (yes, they could use the taxpayer's mid-level exception, but that's not enough to attract the caliber of player you mentioned) and I don't envision any sign-and-trade scenarios for an instant-offense type. As far as Love, unless Flip Saunders is on a quest to top predecessor David Kahn in a bizarre transactions contest, I don't see him leaving Minnesota before his deal is up.
Is Jimmy Butler a better fit individually for shooting guard or small forward?
Jimmy is more of a natural small forward on the offensive end of the court, but with that said, he's always been capable of guarding both wing positions. As long as he continues to make strides as an outside shooter and ballhandler, I don't think his position really matters. In fact, his versatility is a beautiful things for the Bulls, both in the present and future. For next season, Jimmy and Lu should combine to be one of the league's best defensive wing duos and if Lu isn't back after next season, it gives the Bulls some flexibility in finding a replacement wing.