Ask Aggrey: Asik, Rip hot topics

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Ask Aggrey: Asik, Rip hot topics

Having just arrived in my current home after leaving one of my former residences, it occurred to me that one of the reasons I love both cities Philadelphia and Chicago is that both are extremely passionate places.

One thing Ill give Chicago the edge in is consistency, as the Bulls were among the NBAs best in attendance even in the post-Jordan era.

Philadelphia, on the other hand, while equally passionate about the game of basketball, shows its disenchantment with the Sixers when the team isnt doing well, which made it good to see a raucous crowd in the Wells Fargo (not Wachovia, as it was during my college days) Center last night.

I was reminded, however, of how over-the-top the city can be on my way to the airport this morning, when my cab driver, a nice fellow who was chatting with me about his journey from Lebanon to Philly, got into it with a cyclist. After getting flipped off by the cyclist, he sped up, almost ran him off the street, cut him off, jumped out of the cab and proceeded to threaten the poor guy with bodily harm.

Just another day in the City of Brotherly Love, but since thats neither here nor there, Ill show my appreciation for the Windy City by answering another round of your questions.

What do you attribute the regression of Omer's play to this year? Do you think he still has "starter" potential in the NBA? -- Benjamin

Benjamin, I believe Omer was more adversely affected by the lockout than perhaps any other player on the Bulls. After suffering a fractured left tibia against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, he had very little time to rehab the injury before playing for Turkey in last summers FIBA EuroBasket event.

While he appeared to make some progress on the offensive end in that tournament, he also played heavy minutes and didnt get much rest until it was over, causing him to delay the conditioning process for the upcoming season. Ive heard that if the lockout ended up causing a cancellation of the regular season, he had no interest in playing professionally overseas.

That said, I believe Omer still has a chance to be a starter in the league, though not ahead of Joakim Noah. Omer is regarded as one of the NBAs premier defensive centers already and as the saying goes, you cant teach size. If he was playing for Miami, for example, would he not be an upgrade from Joel Anthony?

Omer certainly has weaknesses, but as a second-year pro, I believe he has plenty of time to correct some of his deficiencies. In fact, now that Luol Deng has ascended to All-Star status, I believe Omer and C.J. Watson are the most underappreciated Bulls.

Who (or what position) do you think the Bulls will target in this summer's draft? I know it's early but I really love everything related to the draft. -- Anthony

Anthony, the draft is always tricky for teams like the Bulls, who are deep, relatively young, yet still experienced. Like every other team in the league, theyre constantly evaluating talent, but when the draft comes around, they understand they might not have access to who they could be targeting, simply because of their low position.

Another thing to keep in mind is only certain players make sense for the system and personnel that they have. I remember last spring, when a lot of fans were clamoring for MarShon Brooks, whos having a solid debut campaign in New Jersey. Brooks is an excellent scorer, but unlike Jimmy Butler, hes not exactly a stellar defender, which wouldnt have gone over too well with Thibs.

Also, not to say Brooks is better than Jimmy or will be better in the long run, but where, exactly, would the Bulls find room for him with Rip now healthy? While Thibs did play Omer as a rookie, his hand was forced by Carlos Boozers early-season injury, then Joakim getting hurt.

But to answer your question, I cant say the Bulls have locked in on any one player, in particular its still somewhat early and with college conference tournament season here, scouts and executives all over the league are watching for breakout players though I can see them focusing on adding a defensive-minded big man, with the possibility that Omer or Taj Gibson leaves in the future.

Of course, another shooter couldnt hurt as long as Derrick is in town and theres always a chance they use a pick as an asset to include in a trade. I could give you some names now, but Im positive that list will be different in a month, so check back in with me in April and I can give you a clearer picture then.

Why don't the Bulls just sit Rip Hamilton for the next month or so to make sure he is healthy by the time the playoffs come? -- Tyler

Tyler, Rip is aware of the widely-held opinion out there that the Bulls should be even more cautious with him, to guarantee his health when the postseason arrives. Hes not sensitive about it, but doesnt agree with the notion. I told him that there are worse things for people to say about a player and it only reflects his reputation as a winner, but his argument is that the regular season is also important, as its always better when a team is rolling heading into the playoffs.

The organization is respectful of Rips significant experience 13 years in the league, multiple conference finals with Detroit, two Finals appearances and a championship as well as his knowledge of his own body, especially with his reputation as one of the leagues best-conditioned players, so it mostly defers to his judgment.

Personally, I think its the best course of action and since hes been back in the lineup, its clear that his mere presence has really opened things up.
Which team scares you the most for an opening round series in the playoffs? I'm personally very afraid of playing a much-improved Pacers team. -- Kiersten

Kiersten, Indiana indeed is a team to be reckoned with, as is Philadelphia, the Bulls opponent in the first half of the back-to-back, but neither is likely to be a first-round foe. In fact, both the Pacers and Sixers are in line to host an opening-round series of their own, meaning that either could face the Bulls (with the other likely looking at Miami) in the second round.

As far as scary first-round teams, Id have to go with New York. A lot could happen between now and the end of the season, but assuming the Knicks dont make another big push and none of the teams slightly ahead of them take a second-half nosedive, both the Bulls and Heat are probably crossing their fingers that they face the aging Celtics in the first round instead.

New Yorks athleticism and offensive firepower are formidable, and now that they have a legitimate point guard whether you think Linsanity is overblown or not, the kid can play; Baron Davis willingness to contribute in a backup role also doesnt hurt to distribute to Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, shooters like J.R. Smith and Steve Novak and defensive-minded role players such as Tyson Chandler, Jared Jeffries and rookie Iman Shumpert, a Chicago native, even surviving a series Mike DAntonis run-and-gun bunch could take a lot out of a team.

How did you get to become the Bulls beat writer? What did your road there consist of? -- Marcus

Marcus, becoming the Bulls beat writer here at CSN Chicago took a lot of hard work, a little luck and of course, payoffs. You wont get anywhere in the world without bribing someone.

Seriously though, I went to Temple University in Philadelphia, where I majored in journalism. After graduation, I was hired as a copy editor at a small paper in the city, where I interned as an undergrad. The paper also gave a handful of story assignments in my free time, though to my extreme frustration, I wasnt given very many basketball stories to write.

I ended up leaving to become a copy editor at a slightly bigger suburban paper, where I went through a similar experience before meeting a staffer at SLAM, the basketball magazine, through a former colleague at the first paper. I e-mailed this guy, now a close friend, regularly first politely, then increasingly insistent that I deserved a shot and months later, I was given my first assignment for the magazine, ironically on erstwhile Bull JamesOn Curry, who was a high school player at the time.

Over the next few years, I wrote for a variety of local publications, but consistently for SLAM, specializing mostly on prep ballplayers, many of whom are in the NBA today, although I also wrote about pros, college players and even stars in the womens game. Ive been blessed to write about some relatively high-profile athletes, as well as some sleepers at the time who became stars, but the most valuable part of the experience was developing contacts at different levels of the game and having the opportunity to see talent develop from the grassroots level; for example, I wasnt even living in Chicago, but I saw Derrick Rose play and lose, ironically for Simeon in person, so I had a reference point going way back, beyond what I saw on television and heard from others.

Anyway, I continued to write for SLAM (and still do, time permitting) and was freelancing in Chicago (mostly focusing on high school hoops, which I truly enjoy) when a friend of a friend told me about the opening at CSN. I expressed my interest and the rest is history, so youre stuck with me for now.

Keep the questions -- whether theyre about the Bulls, the rest of the NBA, other levels of basketball or life in general -- coming. Youll get a much better explanation, though not as instant, than you would via Twitter with only 140 characters. You can submit a question by commenting on this article below or by clicking here.

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NBA Buzz: In wake of trade deadline, Bulls again caught in the middle

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What the Bulls are getting in point guard Cameron Payne

NBA Buzz: In wake of trade deadline, Bulls again caught in the middle

NBA Buzz: In wake of trade deadline, Bulls again caught in the middle

Thursday's trade with Oklahoma City points out the problem with trying to stay in playoff contention while also rebuilding the roster with more young and athletic players.

The Bulls obviously hurt their postseason chances by dealing locker-room leader and rock-solid pro Taj Gibson and their best 3-point shooter in Doug McDermott. And, at first glance, the players they got back don't look very impressive.

Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson made it clear that one of the objectives in Thursday's deal was to free up playing time for his last two first-round draft picks, Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis. He also made it clear that newly acquired point guard Cameron Payne would play a lot over the final 25 games of the season.

So, how does Fred Hoiberg now deal with an unwieldy number of players expecting to get minutes? If Payne is going to play, that probably means Rajon Rondo is out of the rotation. But will Rondo sit by quietly so the Bulls can preserve his $14 million salary slot for possible trades this summer? Or will the front office be forced to offer him a contract buyout?

And what about the other two players acquired in the Oklahoma City deal? Long-range specialist Anthony Morrow is suffering through one of the worst seasons of his career, hitting just 29 percent of his attempts from 3-point range. Will he get the minutes previously given to McDermott, or is he a candidate for a buyout? Paxson cryptically said Morrow's role is "still to be defined."

Joffrey Lauvergne, a 6-foot-11 center, has some ability, but he's a restricted free agent at season's end and it's hard to project him getting any meaningful playing time behind Robin Lopez and Cristiano Felicio.

So let's add it all up. Hoiberg now has four point guards — five if you count Isaiah Canaan — and three centers to juggle, plus he'll have to find minutes for Valentine, Morrow and Paul Zipser at the wing spots behind Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade.

How will Portis fare as the new starting power forward? And what to do with Nikola Mirotic? His fading confidence is probably at a new low after the team's failed efforts to find him a new home before the deadline.

It will be fascinating to see if this team can manage to hold onto a playoff spot after losing Gibson and McDermott, to say nothing of the maddening inconsistency we've witnessed over the first 57 games of the season.

Good health will be critical, with the team's two best players, Butler and Wade, each enduring some bumps and bruises in the final weeks leading up to the All-Star break. We've seen what the Bulls look like without Butler, and it's not pretty. They're 1-5 in the games Butler missed because of illness and a right heel contusion.

The story is different when Wade has been out. The Bulls are 5-4 in the games he's missed because of illness, injury or just plain rest. Still, the 12-time All Star has shown the ability to raise the level of his play when the games matter most, and you can expect he'll be a big factor for the Bulls down the stretch. Don't forget, Wade almost single-handedly took an undermanned Miami team to within a win of the Eastern Conference Finals last season with a turn-back-the-clock playoff performance.

Hard to gain much from looking at the remaining schedule. Only 11 of the remaining 25 opponents have winning records, but we've all seen how that's gone in the past. If the Bulls can head into April around .500, they should be in position to make a strong closing run with a pair of matchups against the NBA's worst team, Brooklyn, along with games against the Pelicans, Knicks, 76ers and Magic to close out the regular season.

Of course, since Hoiberg has been told to give significant minutes to Portis, Valentine and Payne the rest of the way, it's possible making the playoffs isn't quite as important as it was at the start of the season. Questions about Butler's future will start up again as we approach the NBA Draft in June since Paxson wouldn't commit to trying to build around the three-time All Star, and if Butler goes, it's a pretty safe bet that Wade follows him out the door.

Life's never easy in the NBA when you're stuck in the middle. Maybe the trade with Oklahoma City is the signal we've been waiting for that a full rebuild is on the horizon.

[MORE BULLS: What the Bulls are getting in point guard Cameron Payne]

Here are a few stories from around the Association that have caught my attention.

Off to see the Wizards

The Wizards have been on fire since Dec. 12, putting together a 25-12 record. In case you haven't noticed, fourth-year forward Otto Porter is among the league leaders in 3-point percentage, shooting 46.5 percent to go along with 14.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. It's going to cost the Wizards a small fortune to sign the restricted free agent this summer.

Washington's backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal is finally starting to reach the potential everyone saw when the Wizards upset the Bulls in the first round of the 2014 playoffs. The two are combining for an average of 45 points and 14 assists per game, with Wall now a perennial All Star capable of taking over games with his scoring and playmaking. Beal probably should have made the Eastern Conference All-Star team as well with his 22.2 points per game scoring average, shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from behind the 3-point line.

The Wizards also made an under-the-radar pick-up, getting Bojan Bogdanovic from Brooklyn for a first-round pick in this summer's draft. You probably haven't watched a lot of Brooklyn Nets basketball over the last couple years, but Bogdanovic is a good 3-point shooter who can also score off the dribble, averaging 14 points a game this season, while shooting 44 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from 3-point range. Bogdanovic will be a major upgrade for a Wizards bench that's struggled this season.

Moving to Canada

Toronto made two good moves before the deadline, acquiring a starting power forward in Serge Ibaka and a backup small forward in P.J. Tucker. Ibaka's ability to block shots and stretch the floor from the 3-point line should help the Raptors on both ends, while Tucker gives them another strong perimeter defender to go along with DeMarre Carroll in a possible playoff series against LeBron James and the Cavs.

LeBron loading up

Speaking of the Cavs, they're expected to add former Illini star Deron Williams to their bench once he clears waivers and completes a buyout with Dallas. Williams gives Cleveland the additional playmaker James has been demanding for the last couple months and sets up a potentially epic Finals matchup against Golden State. Williams gets a chance to compete for a championship late in his career, and he's still capable of being a difference maker in big games, averaging 13 points and seven assists per game. Cleveland is now loaded in the backcourt with Kyrie Irving, Williams, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and swingman Kyle Korver.

No luck for the Celtics

The one contending team that didn't make a move at the deadline is Boston. Danny Ainge talked trade with the Bulls about Butler and with Indiana about Paul George, but in the end he wasn't willing to give up those precious Brooklyn first-round draft picks he's been hoarding for years. Keep in mind the Celtics reportedly love University of Washington guard Markelle Fultz, who's expected to be the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, and they'll have enough cap room to make a run at free-agent swingman Gordon Hayward, who played for Brad Stevens at Butler.

Even with the addition of Butler or George, the Celtics might not have been able to take down King James and the Cavs in this year's playoffs, but they are still lurking as the rising power in the East. Now, we'll all have to wait to see what Ainge does in the days leading up to the draft.

Quote of the week

Gibson gave the Chicago media one last lengthy session before boarding a private jet with McDermott to their new home in Oklahoma City.

On his time in Chicago: "Every day I came to the locker room just seeing my name on the back of a Bulls jersey was a dream come true."

So what will it be like to join a new team after eight and a half seasons in Chicago? "I'm like a kid going to a new school. I don't know where to sit on the bus."

Something tells me Russell Westbrook and the Thunder will let Gibson have any seat he wants.

Good luck in Oklahoma City, Taj (and Doug). You will be missed by Bulls fans and media.