Aggrey Sam's Monday mailbag: Will Bulls be active at trade deadline?

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Aggrey Sam's Monday mailbag: Will Bulls be active at trade deadline?

A belated Happy New Year, everybody. Since there was no mailbag last week, I'm answering 10 questions this time, including a few from Twitter.

These questions were submitted prior to both Friday's win in New York and Saturday's home loss to Phoenix, so luckily, I didn't get any NBA Finals or draft lottery inquiries. Depending on the night, this Bulls team can appear destined for either. Anyway, on to the mailbag:

Kyle: What would it take for the Bulls to get Rudy Gay from Memphis? How would he fit as a No. 2 scorer to Derrick Rose?

I don't believe that the Bulls are even interested, but to answer your question, Luol Deng would have to be involved. He makes less than Gay (but still close enough that the numbers work), probably fits the Grizzlies' post tandem of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph better as a cutter and shooter, and his former agent, Jason Levien -- who has been always been a big fan of Lu and was interested in acquiring Lu during his past NBA personnel stops -- is now supposedly running the Memphis front office after the ownership change.

Still, the Bulls understand Lu's value and while Gay is a flashier player, he's not more complete. Also, Thibs might have a heart attack if that occurred. Seriously, I don't think management looks at Gay, who has more years left on a bigger contract, as a true upgrade and with Lu having another year on his deal after this season, it doesn't strike me a plausible scenario.

As for the your second question, I do think Gay's ability to create for himself is something that could help the Bulls and benefit Derrick, but not at the expense of losing your best defender. While many observers harp on outside shooting as an area of need for the Bulls, I think a player who can create -- at shooting guard, though -- is an issue to address in the offseason.

John: What is Tom Thibodeau's reputation around the league as an offensive coach? (Known as a defensive whiz, what do coachesexecs think of his offensive schemes)

Thibs isn't necessarily viewed as an offensive mastermind, but with the personnel he has at his disposal, he's certainly seen as more than competent. Obviously, as you mentioned, he's known as one of the top defensive minds in the game, but offensively, I think his greatest strength is coaching to the strengths of his team.

When Derrick is healthy, it's easy to dismiss Thibs as simply putting the ball in the hands of one of the league's top talents and letting him figure out the rest. But as we've seen this season -- and last year, when Derrick missed long stretches -- the Bulls' selflessness, ability to keep all five players involved, whether they're scoring or not, and on a nightly basis, the knack of various, often unexpected, players on the roster elevating their games, illustrates not only their coaches' creativity, but prowess in keeping everybody engaged, not an easy task in the NBA.

When Thibs talks about having a "five-man offense," he's right, as it mirrors the defense, with each player not only having a responsibility on every trip down the floor, but especially without an individual talent like Derrick available, a necessity to precisely execute in order for the possession to be successful. I'd be curious to see how he'd adapt to players with less defensive ability or desire to play on that end of the floor, but more individual offensive abilities.

Blake: Do the Bulls' coachingtraining staff actively try to improve individual player skills during practice?

They definitely do, particularly the training staff, which has the players do extensive stretching to prevent injuries and encourage flexibility, as well as treatment sessions before and after both practices and games. The coaches obviously focus on game planning and overall team improvement, but from individual workouts before practices and shootarounds, to briefer sessions after practices and before games, a lot goes into players' skill work.

That doesn't even account for coaches and video coordinators being on call virtually 24 hours a day for players who want to shoot at the Berto Center and even on the road, whenever there's some down time. I can't speak for every team in the league, but the Bulls' combination of mostly highly-motivated players, from starters to reserves, and ever-willing staffers are always in the gym.

Kelvin: As a hypothetical, what are the chances the Bulls amnesty Carlos Boozer in the offseason and sign Paul Millsap (or any FA forwards, for that matter)?

I think it's highly unlikely that the Bulls will amnesty Carlos this summer. Additionally, I don't see them being major players in the free-agent market, though that could certainly change. If anything, I expect management to again seek out one-year rentals, perhaps re-signing a player or two from this season's roster if the price is right and there's mutual interest.

The summer of 2014, however, is a different story. Carlos will only have one year left on his deal, making it more palatable to eat his contract, and they'll also have to make a decision on Lu by then, not to mention the anxious countdown for Nikola Mirotic's arrival probably will have started. But with the way Carlos has been playing recently, I'm surprised to get an amnesty question at all these days.

To sneak in a question I received via Twitter from @BPspeak, if Boozer can maintain his high activity level -- not necessarily the production, as the numbers won't always be there -- and effort on the defensive end, what should be monitored is his trade value. Regardless of what many fans think, Carlos, while having an onerous contract, isn't viewed universally as a bad player. It just takes one rival executive with a need and the cap space to make something happen.

I'm not saying a trade is likely or even that the Bulls are shopping him, but in the NBA, never say never. Remember, people thought Joe Johnson's contract was impossible to be traded, too.

Tasos: Do the Bulls regret not keeping JR Smith?

You have to remember that at the time, Smith was still a young player and while it was always clear that he had plenty of potential, many worried that his lack of maturity would prevent him from reaching it. He feuded with Byron Scott in New Orleans and with the Bulls, both then and in the present, placing a heavy emphasis on high-character players, they weren't willing to take that chance.

Even today, as much as he's matured both on and off the court, I don't know if Smith would be their first choice, though I could be wrong, as talent often overwhelms other concerns in the NBA. Still, to give you the short answer, I don't think the Bulls have any regrets and I doubt Smith, a New Jersey native, thinks twice about his extremely short stint in Chicago, given his success in New York and the season the Knicks are having.

James: Will Tom Thibodeau's decisionnecessity to keep playing Joakim and Luol 40 minutes a night lead to exhaustion down the stretch?

One thing I don't think a lot of people realize is that while players do get tired over the course of games, let alone a season, it isn't as if they're taken by surprise by playing heavy minutes. Scant playing time, maybe, but in the cases of Jo and certainly Lu, they knew that they would be logging a serious workload this season. Lu is used to it, but Jo saw it coming -- and even wanted it; who believes he was happy being taken out at the end of games the last two seasons? -- with Omer's departure over the summer.

Players use the offseason to get themselves into shape and with players that get big minutes, they know that they have to prepare for the long haul, then maintain their conditioning and bodies during the season. That said, I suppose being on the court more makes them more susceptible to injuries and breaking down in general, but it's not like players can't get hurt on the practice court or even away from basketball.

Also, let's not forget that we're not talking about Tim Duncan and Steve Nash. These guys are still relatively young players, so if they don't play a lot now, when will they? As long as they don't get hurt, I don't foresee any problems down the road and since nobody can predict injuries, there's no reason to cut back on the minutes of the two players who are currently the most indispensable members of the team.

Salvador: Will the Bulls be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline?

I don't believe they'll be much of either, to be honest with you. While the front office will always keep their eyes and ears open to improve the team, the focus of this season, besides winning games on the court, is Derrick's recovery. Sure, he's never played with many of his current teammates, but the hope is that he can be integrated into the active roster fairly seamlessly whenever he's ready to play, so I don't see them making any drastic moves that would make that process more difficult.

If a deal arises that they can't pass up -- for instance, taking Rip off their hands without taking back much salary -- that's a different story, but even in that example, after Marco played so well as a starter, that wouldn't be seen as rocking the boat too much, especially since Derrick and Rip haven't actually spent that much time on the floor together. By the way, at this point, I'd predict that Rip makes it past the trade deadline, though things can change very quickly in the league.

From @ilovemybyers: How much better do you think Derrick will be when he returns and do you think the Bulls can make a deep playoff run?

I don't think Derrick will be "better" when he immediately returns, but as I've written in the past, I do think he'll eventually equal his previous form and likely surpass it, although his game could change a bit, in a good way.

This time away has allowed him to focus on strength training, something he acknowledged wasn't such a priority before, given his natural gifts, as well as honing his jumper and watching more film. He already has a very underrated basketball I.Q., so expect him, when he gets the rust off, to be even more of a cerebral player.

Regarding your second question, it's anybody's guess. The East, to me, is pretty wide open. Miami has to be considered the favorite, but their small-ball approach has weaknesses and every other playoff contender in the conference also has flaws. It all depends on seeding, matchups and health, so if the Bulls can figure out how to regain their home-court dominance, continue playing defense up to their usual standards and get a boost from Derrick, even if he's not at a league MVP level, they have as good of a chance as anybody.

From @camkinley13: Do you see Cook cracking the rotation for serious minutes? Or is this another Rasual Butler type signing?

I think you hit it on the head with your latter question. Daequan has some ability, specifically in an area where the Bulls could use some help, three-point shooting. But despite his outside marksmanship, Thibs is big on loyalty and hesitant to play a newcomer ahead of players who have been toiling for the team all season.

As in the case of Rasual, Cook will need to prove he fully understands the system before earning minutes, which will be tough to do, barring multiple injuries on the wing. Unlike Rasual, however, Daequan has youth on his side. He has an expiring contract, so if there's mutual interest, I wouldn't rule out him returning to Chicago, although it's still too early to tell. I'd imagine he'd get some interest from other teams, but if that doesn't occur, he could be a summer-league possibility, though most players who have been in the league for some time feel they're above that. In the increasingly unlikely scenario that Rip is traded, maybe there could be some spot minutes for him this season.

From @tgstgstgstgs: Is DWade no longer a great player? He's looking older and slower.

First of all, what a difficult Twitter handle. It's true that Wade doesn't appear to be the same player that he was even two years ago, which is probably an effect of both age and injuries. He is coming off offseason knee surgery, after all. Whereas in LeBron James' first season in Miami, they were a true one-two combo, with Wade being more of the aggressor and even primary scorer, having led the league in that category not long ago, James seized the role of the team's alpha dog last postseason, making Wade the second option on offense.

At the same time, Wade has shown flashes of his old self occasionally and with his playoff track record, I wouldn't be surprised if he raises his level of play, if not every game, then when he senses that the Heat need him to shoulder more of the burden. I've wondered for a while that if he was traded, if he'd be able to still thrive as 25 point-per-game scorer and on a team that felt they needed that one true go-to guy, such as Indiana or Denver.

Getting back to your question, Wade is still a great player, but no longer in the 48 minutes, 82-game sense. I'd put him slightly above a player like Paul Pierce, in that everybody knows how dangerous he can be if he gets it going, but not only does he not have to carry the load every night, nobody's surprised when he has a relatively pedestrian outing anymore.

In first game of post-deadline era, Bulls come up with comeback overtime win over Suns

In first game of post-deadline era, Bulls come up with comeback overtime win over Suns

The post-deadline era has begun for the Bulls, with the directives clear on developing their young players and seeing what can be done in the last third of the season.

And while their youth sparked them early, it was the headliners who stepped up late in their 128-121 overtime win over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night at the United Center, as the team was clearly adjusting to life without Taj Gibson, who was traded Thursday.

Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade each had sluggish starts, to say the least. Each looked like he was going through an island-like malaise through the better part of three quarters before waking up.

Butler finally ignored the snooze button at the most opportune time, nearly winning the game in regulation with a tying triple, then a fadeaway 15-footer over Eric Bledsoe to cap off a late comeback that saw the Bulls rebound from an eight-point deficit with a few minutes left in the fourth.

"That's what great players do," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "They step up when you need them the most. Jimmy obviously had a tough night shooting the ball (early). ... What he's been doing all year, taking over the game in the fourth, and tonight was no different."

Then Wade, in one of his few post-halftime mistakes, controversially fouled Suns sharpshooter Devin Booker on a triple with 1.5 seconds left, but Booker missed the last of the three free throws to send the game into overtime.

"I think it was good defense," said Butler before giving a nod to his controversial whistle that went his way a week ago. "We don't wanna go back too far, but a foul's a foul."

Wade and Butler continued the assault into the extra session, with Wade rising for a late flush over Suns center Alex Len and raising his arms in celebration — having put together a 23-point performance after a scoreless first half.

"That dunk he had was unbelievable," Hoiberg said. "I should give him another week off."

In the early stages, Butler wasn't as futile as Wade, but he wasn't much better, scoring just eight before the fourth but being more aggressive and assertive with his moments and jump shots, finishing with 22 to go along with nine assists and four steals.

"Just keep shooting the ball and eventually it'll go in," Butler said. "And they did. Coaches put the ball in my hands, I kept taking the same shots, making the same plays. Then they went in."

The Suns led most of the way, mostly due to their team-wide speed and athleticism, getting out on the break the way they did in the first meeting two weeks ago. Booker scored 27, while Bledsoe, TJ Warren and Marquese Chriss each scored 17. Bledsoe added 10 assists and seven rebounds in 40 minutes.

They dominated the fast-break department at a 27-16 clip, and the Bulls actually countered with 3-point shooting, hitting 12 triples and shooting 46 percent from 3.

Nikola Mirotic was 4-for-7 from deep on the way to a 20-point night, while Denzel Valentine put together his best showing as a pro with 15 points, all coming on five made 3s.

Three straight triples from Valentine pulled the Bulls to within one late in the third quarter. The shots were decisive and confident — perhaps as he knew he wouldn't be removed for anyone at the first mistake.

"I like it, take the shots when you're open. Sometimes when you're not open, still shoot it and we know to get back," Butler said.

There were plenty of mishaps and things to complain about as the Bulls hit a new wave, but at least it started with some positive vibes after a day of uncertainty and confusion.

Chance the Rapper poses with Benny the Bull at United Center

Chance the Rapper poses with Benny the Bull at United Center

Two Chicago legends were spotted courtside before the Bulls tipped off against the Phoenix Suns on Friday. 

Chance the Rapper, recent winner of three Grammy Awards, snapped a photo with Benny the Bull at the United Center.

The south sider is spending a few months back in his hometown before starting a nationwide tour in April. His stop at the Bulls game should come as no surprise, as the "Coloring Book" rapper has become big friends with Jimmy Butler. Tough to name a more talented duo than that. 

Chance was also seen in New Orleans last weekend for the NBA All-Star festivities.

We know he's already a White Sox team ambassador, but are the Bulls next up?