Aggrey Sam's Monday mailbag

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Aggrey Sam's Monday mailbag

Happy New Year, everybody. For once, I don't have to make the trek from the city to the Berto Center for a shootaround -- or a much easier commute to cover a visiting team's game-day morning walk-through -- since the Bulls host the Bobcats in a holiday matinee affair, so I already have a good feeling about 2013, especially since I won't be trudging out of the United Center in the midst of all the revelry late in the evening.
Anyway, I hope everybody has an enjoyable and safe holiday. On to the mailbag:
From Jose: How do you think Derrick Rose will adjust to the new-look Bulls when he returns?
Jose, there will likely be a learning curve for both Derrick and his new teammates when he gets back on the court, but the fact that there are few holdovers on the roster -- Luol, Joakim, Carlos, Rip, Taj and Jimmy, not to mention Kirk, who Derrick played with during his first two seasons -- should help him make the adjustment.
Although it will probably take some time before Derrick returns to his previous form, his ability to push the tempo, create for his teammates and manufacture offense for himself should immediately benefit the team, particularly new additions like Marco, who will be able to spot up more, and Nate, who I could envision playing off the ball in certain situations, with Derrick defending opposing shooting guards.
But having teammates who already know his game and vice versa will be a boon for Derrick, especially as he's observed the likes of Luol and Joakim specifically raise their level of play in his absence and showcase the playmaking aspects of their respective games more with him out of the lineup. Jimmy and Taj will also benefit from his ability in transition, while Rip and Kirk, like Marco, should have easier, uncontested opportunities on the perimeter.
Aside from Marquis and perhaps Nate, who typically drives looking to score more than be a setup guy, the Bulls often struggle to get into the paint off the dribble, which just happens to be Derrick's strength, so regardless of his brilliance, it isn't as if another player on the roster duplicates what he brings to the table.
From Mario: Given the production of Omer Asik and Kyle Korver, are Gar Forman's and John Paxson's jobs in any kind of jeopardy?
Mario, not that the Bulls haven't taken notice of the season that Omer, in particular, is having, but when the decision was made not to bring back the majority of the "Bench Mob" over the summer, it wasn't as if the front office totally underestimated what they were capable of doing individually this season.
It's been well-documented that Omer's offer sheet from the Rockets, which included a poison-pill in third year of his contract, was structured in a way that put the Bulls in a tough financial position, but it's not like they didn't make any effort to keep him. I know that with his performance in Houston's Christmas Day win at the United Center, it probably seems as if they dropped the ball, especially given Taj's struggles this season, but hindsight is 2020 and an average salary of more than 8 million, let alone 15 million in the third year of his contract, is a lot of money to pay a backup center. Let's also keep in mind that Joakim is having a tremendous season and if Omer had stayed in Chicago, either we wouldn't be seeing that because his minutes would be down or Omer would be a very high-priced limited-minutes player, one who, if I recall correctly, many Bulls fans didn't believe would develop into a competent offensive threat.
As for Kyle, he was the lone "Bench Mob" member who I thought the Bulls should have held on to -- Ronnie's departure opened up minutes for Jimmy and love Nate or hate him, he's at least the equal of C.J. Watson and John Lucas III as a scorer, while Derrick's eventual return will further solidify the backup point-guard spot -- because of his elite shooting ability and while that's still not a strength of the team, Marco's emergence this month has helped improve that deficiency. Kyle has been good in Atlanta, one of the early-season surprises in the league, but I wouldn't say he's done anything out of the ordinary and I know that there were also some concerns about him physically.
Regardless, the Bulls' management won't be judged too harshly for not re-signing any of the players who left over the summer, no matter what the circumstances were, and with the current roster playing solid basketball without Derrick in the lineup, they've actually, along with Thibs for his coaching, earned some praise around the league as of late.
From Andrew: Would the Bulls package Rip Hamilton and Nazr Mohammad for Sam Dalembert's expiring contract? Maybe send Kirk Hinrich to play alongside his old buddy Skiles?
Andrew, I don't see this happening. Rip and Nazr also have expiring contracts -- Nazr is on a one-year deal and the Bulls have a team option, which is unlikely to be picked up, for Rip next season, with only 1 million guaranteed -- so I don't know if Milwaukee would be all that eager for that scenario, regardless of what seems like a bad match between Dalembert and the Bucks.
Even though the Bucks could use some size at guard, I don't know where Milwaukee would find minutes for Rip as the starting backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis plays heavy minutes, with backup point guard Beno Udrih also in the rotation to provide more of a floor-general presence. As for Kirk, I think the ship sailed on his reunion with Skiles this summer, when he chose returning to Chicago over taking more money to sign with Milwaukee.
From Mario: What is the likelihood the Bulls would pursue a trade to get Tyreke Evans to play with Rose?
Another one from Mario; I might be partial to your questions because I have a sports-fanatic uncle with the same name in New Jersey, though I know you can't be him because your inquiries aren't centered around the Knicks or Nets, let alone Giants and Jets or Yankees and Mets.
Anyway, with Sacramento's current issues -- even in the wake of Sunday's blowout win over Boston -- the ongoing DeMarcus Cousins saga, as well as other, less-publicized problems the Kings are experiencing have overshadowed the chatter surrounding the organization moving the former Rookie of the Year, who was not one of the fourth-year players that signed a new contract extension at the outset of the season.
Reading the tea leaves, it appears that longtime Kings general manager Geoff Petrie is in Evans' corner, but Petrie's job is rumored to be in jeopardy and either way, with Sacramento's ownership preoccupied with Cousins and the franchise's future home, either moving him or keeping him in the fold seems to be on the back burner for now. Still, I'm hearing that Kings have been very active in trade talks and although Evans has had injury problems and there have been issues on how to best utilize his considerable talent, he's a name that garners some interest from rival executives.
That said, Sacramento's asking price for him (and Cousins) is supposedly higher than other teams are willing to pay at the moment, and I can't see the Bulls making a move to get him that will cost them a significant piece in the middle of the season with Derrick's return on the horizon.
Now, I am intrigued by the possibility of those two, who are represented by the same agency, pairing together in the backcourt, as Evans, though he lacks a consistent outside jumper, has great size and versatility, is a natural scorer and has the ballhandling and playmaking ability to both complement Derrick and add a new dimension to the Bulls, as well as potentially developing into an age-appropriate running mate "second star," due to his youth and upside. Assuming he isn't traded this season, doesn't want to return to Sacramento, the feeling is mutual (the Kings can match any offer he receives during free agency) and a lucrative offer doesn't immediately materialize in free agency, perhaps the Bulls could be a player for him in the summer, especially if he's willing to take an O.J. Mayo-like, "show-and-prove" short-term deal for less money to be in a better position to both win and show what he's capable of doing in the right situation.
From @DaChizzzz (via Twitter): How will the protected pick from the Bobcats affect the Bulls at the trade deadline?
Now that the Bobcats, who the Bulls host this afternoon in a matinee New Year's Eve game, are again who we thought they are -- losers of 18 straight after coming out of the gates with a better-than-expected, above-.500 start to the season under first-year head coach Mike Dunlap -- that future draft pick is an increasingly more significant asset. But just like the rights to 2011 pick Nikola Mirotic, don't expect the Bulls to part ways with it unless they can bring back something significant in return.
For a team currently paying four players (Derrick, Carlos, Luol and Joakim) eight-figure annual salaries, as well as Taj's new deal set to kick in next season, a high future pick, whether they wait it out or include it in a trade before they cash in via the draft, is extremely valuable, especially when it doesn't look like Charlotte will turn things around very soon.
Of course, other teams are also aware of this, so it wouldn't be surprising if some forward-thinking front offices inquired, dangling the requisite trade bait, but if the Bulls can't hook a big fish -- and at this year's deadline, I don't know if that's how management is thinking, as Derrick's return is the primary focus -- or there's a deal to be made that's a no-brainer, I believe they're best served by waiting until next offseason or the following one to possibly include it in sign-and-trade free-agent scenarios.

Tonight on CSN: Bulls shoot for five straight wins as they battle Nuggets

Tonight on CSN: Bulls shoot for five straight wins as they battle Nuggets

Watch as the Bulls take on the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

1. A pair of playoff teams....really. The average basketball fan thinks Bulls vs. Nuggets and doesn't necessarily think of a pair of playoff teams. But the Bulls have won four straight and are tied for sixth in the East, while the Nuggets have surprised the league and gone 25-31, good for eighth in the West. The Bulls opened as three-point favorites, meaning this one could go either way. And when it comes time for the playoffs this is one both teams may look back on as A) a helpful win or B) one the loser really could have used.

2. Going for five straight. The Bulls have won four straight for the second time this season. That fifth game the first time around was a seven-point loss to the Clippers. The Bulls won six in a row last season in December and January, so this is an opportunity to pick up a five-spot for the first time in more than a year. Currently the Bulls are tied with the Spurs for the longest winning streak in the NBA.

3. Cameron Payne getting involved. Expect to see more and more of the second-year point guard who came over in the deal from the Thunder. Payne got just a handful of minutes on Saturday against the Cavaliers but looked good, going for 6 points on 2-for-3 shooting in 12 minutes. There's a logjam at point guard to be sure, but the Bulls dealt for Payne because they want to see what he can do in extended minutes. He has a good matchup against Denver in Jamal Murray and Jameer Nelson, and could do some damage when he gets in.

4. What could have been. When the Bulls traded the Nos. 14 and 19 picks in the 2014 NBA Draft to the Nuggets for Doug McDermott, Denver used one of those picks on Michigan State guard Gary Harris. The 6-foot-4 guard has turned into one of the better young under-the-radar players, averaging 14.2 points on 48 percent shooting and providing solid defense in 29 minutes a night. Who knows if the Bulls would have selected Harris with one of those picks, but he sure would look good on the perimeter next to Jimmy Butler.

5. Bobby Portis momentum. With Taj Gibson out of the picture the starting power forward job is officially Bobby Portis' to lose. Portis has been impressive in his last five games, averaging 11.4 points on 48 percent shooting, 5.4 rebounds and is shooting 36 percent from deep. He'll get a difficult test against the Nuggets' frontline, but these are the kinds of games that can help the young forward's progression.

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Bobby Portis relishing his chance as starter

Bobby Portis relishing his chance as starter

A milk carton was a more likely place to find Bobby Portis than on a basketball floor playing big minutes for the majority of his second season.

He could often be found in the locker room before games and listening to the older players talk to the media afterward, trying his best to fight off the frustration and admitted confusion that comes with the regression of not getting playing time.

When Portis did play, he looked nothing like the confident and borderline cocky rookie who often referred to himself in the third person in interviews. He didn't know when he would play, how long he would be out there or even worse, what was expected of him.

The trade of Taj Gibson at the deadline — preceded by the temporary benching of Nikola Mirotic — put Portis back in the spotlight and he's intent on making the most of it during the last 23 games of the regular season.

"It's fun. You know go out there every day just to know that it's another day I'm going to play," Portis said. "That's the biggest thing for me. I feel like that's already a confidence builder right there, just coming into every game knowing that I'm in the rotation. It's great fun to go out there and play."

It's no secret the front office the Bulls want Portis to succeed and not add him to the ledger of some of the first-round disappointments that can be recalled in recent memory.

The trade of Gibson was certainly underlined with the mantra that Portis should play and the way was going to be cleared for Portis, one way or another. Scoring 19 with eight rebounds against the Celtics on national TV right before the All-Star break probably gave Portis enough validation considering he was thrust into the starting lineup at power forward soon after.

"I don't care about nobody judging me," Portis said. "At the end of the day I'm going to play basketball. That's my job. I'm going to go out there and do the things I do well. I feel like sometimes people misconstrue just because you don't play and they can say some things like that. I don't really care about anybody judging me at this point. At the end of the day I'm still going to be Bobby Portis at the end of the day."

Well, clearly, the third person thing hasn't left the second-year forward, but he said he stayed in the gym waiting on his opportunity, even through a quick but confusing stint to Hoffman Estates to the D-League.

"Just being hungry. Humble and hungry," Portis said. "You know one thing I always strive off of is being humble and hungry. That kept me sane. My mom, I talked to her a lot. She kept me grounded. It's kind of tough not playing and going through the season knowing that some games you might play, you might not play. You know it's about waiting your turn, but at the same time you have to keep working."

Being the fifth big in Fred Hoiberg's rotation didn't leave him a lot of room for Portis to get much run or even find a rhythm, and like many others who've found themselves out of the rotation unexpectedly, it was without much of an explanation.

"Nah, I didn't really know what I could do to get minutes," Portis said. "The one thing that I know that I always do is just come in here every day, work as hard as I can, let the dominos fall how they fall. Every day I come in here, just bust my butt for some minutes, but sometimes it wouldn't work."

Now that he has found himself into Hoiberg's good graces, his improving range has allowed both units to play similiarly.

"I think Bobby has done a real nice job," Hoiberg said. "He was a huge part of our win against Boston in our game right before the break. He just goes out and plays with so much energy. What I really like about him right now is he has no hesitation on his shot. He's stepping into his 3 with good rhythm."