Instead of dwelling on something negative, such as the Bulls being down five important players due to injuries at this juncture of the season, let's focus on a positive, like Monday's night's exhilarating NCAA championship game in Atlanta, in which Louisville topped Michigan.
I know it seems like I'm directing your attention to something other than the Bulls or the NBA in general every week now, but disregarding my love of the college game, it was the type of contest where even casual fans could get wrapped up in the drama.
From Chris Webber coming to the game to support Michigan, the first-half heroics of Northwest Indiana native Spike Albrecht and the brilliance of teammate Trey Burke --the national player of the year -- to the shooting exhibition of Louisville reserve Luke Hancock -- the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. Followed by coach Rick Pitino hilariously ducking during the postgame handshake like actual gunshots were being fired in the Georgia Dome and the injured Kevin Ware getting to cut down the net in his hometown. It was one of the more entertaining championship games in recent memory.
One can only hope that the upcoming NBA playoffs will be as exciting as March Madness, which was filled with upsets and unheralded teams advancing beyond what the vast majority of observers predicted.
The NBA postseason seeding’s aren't quite set with a week and some change left in the regular season, but the playoff picture is becoming clearer, with some intriguing matchups beginning to take shape in both conferences.
On paper, the Western Conference could have more interesting first-round pairings, but in the East, many observers are quietly eyeing the Bulls as a spoiler, regardless of who they face.
This isn't college basketball and the Bulls are no Florida Gulf Coast, but I guarantee that they're a team no opponent wants to face in the postseason and if the remainder of the regular season affords their walking-wounded to be relatively healthy heading into the playoffs, Chicago could be in store for a thrilling "second season" of hoops.
On to the mailbag:
- How much success do the Bulls need to have in the playoffs to consider the season a success/not a failure?
Colin, the way a large faction of people came into the start of the season, you'd think that simply making the playoffs would comprise a successful season. When I talked to players about their expectations early in the season, they talked about trying to win a championship, but that's probably due to a combination of pride, expecting Derrick to return at some point and the fact that every team that's been a contender or is touted as a team on the rise has the same belief. Realistically, I'd say advancing past the first round would make the season a successful one and getting to the conference finals would exceed expectations, particularly considering how short-handed the Bulls have been all year.
- Can you explain the background on the Bulls' pick with Charlotte, and would they be better off keeping the pick or using it as trade bait?
Eugene, as part of the 2010 trade that sent Tyrus Thomas to the Bobcats, the Bulls received a future draft choice from Charlotte. The pick is top-12 protected in June's draft, top-10 protected in 2014, top-eight protected in 2015 and unprotected in 2016. With the new CBA, first-round draft choices -- especially those in the lottery -- have greater value, so it can be considered a significant trade asset. Depending on who is available, the Bulls could certainly include it in a deal, but without knowing exactly how strong the 2016 draft class will be, I'd hold on to it. By that time, whoever remains from the Bulls' core will be more experienced players and an infusion of high-quality youth could be in order. But as I said, if a trade for an impact player presents itself before that time comes, I wouldn't hesitate to dangle it as bait.
- Is a backup center or a young shooting guard more important to the success of the Bulls in the future?
Jim, that's a good question. Given the strides Jimmy has taken this season, I'd pencil him in as the starting shooting guard for next season and beyond, though his natural position is small forward and if Lu isn't resigned when his contract expires, Jimmy could feasibly shift over to small forward. I also believe that while the Bulls should still further address shooting guard in the offseason -- a scorer with the ability to create or a respected spot-up shooter, even if it's a bench player, will be important -- that player doesn't necessarily have to be a young player. Assuming Nazr isn't back, a center to back up Jo will also be important, but I think they'll have some options in free agency, as far as minimum-salary veteran types. If they chose to draft a center, there are also some options and if they looked at a defensive-minded big man that could make sense, as Thibs is more likely to give a young player who plays defense to his satisfaction an opportunity over a scoring-oriented player. The short answer to your question is a backup center, especially considering Jo's injury problems.
- If the Bulls could do it over again would they keep Omer Asik?
Carson, they never wanted to let Omer go in the first place, but I know what you're getting at. Nobody can predict the future, so after he took the summer off to recover from the ankle injury he suffered in last year's playoffs, the expectation was that Jo would be healthy this season. He certainly validated the Bulls' trust by becoming a first-time All-Star, but his ongoing bout with plantar fasciitis simply isn't something anyone could brace for. Seeing the season Omer has had in Houston definitely adds insult to injury, but financial considerations and luxury-tax issues aside, I tend to agree with Thibs' view that without Jo's increased minutes -- a product of not having to yield playing time to Omer -- we would have never seen what Jo could do as a true featured player. Looking back, it would be nice to have Omer and because he wasn't due big money until the third year of his current deal, he could be traded before reaching his real pay day -- though it could be argued that, like Jo, if he wasn't in a featured role, his potential wouldn't be quite as evident -- but I've always believed that it's very difficult to commit to paying two players at the same position so much salary, particularly when Carlos and Taj are both under long-term deals.
- Would Derrick return just for the playoffs or do you think Thibs would require him to get his legs under him during the regular season?
Matt, I believe Thibs when he says that whenever Derrick is ready to play, he'd put him right in the lineup. Practices aren't games, but he's been going full speed for a while now, and with the first unit, so even if there was a minute’s restriction, he would be immediately join the starters. Do I see that occurring? No, but stranger things have happened and if Derrick's return indeed took place in the playoffs, Thibs would be obligated to give the Bulls their best chance to win.