Ask Aggrey: Watson a pleasant surprise

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Ask Aggrey: Watson a pleasant surprise

Another Monday, another edition of the mailbag. As I get ready to head back to Chicago from Boston after more than two weeks on the road, I feel compelled to answer your most pressing questions. But before I get into that, Ill share some of the good and the bad of the nine-game trip.

First, lets get the bad out of the way: living out of a suitcase, airport security and having to harass Derrick Rose about whether or not hes playing on a nightly basis. Now, for the good: Miamis weather, po-boy sandwiches in pre-Mardi Gras New Orleans, cheesesteaks in Philly, lobster rolls and clam chowder in Boston, hitting three of the cities where I used to live (New Orleans, Philadelphia and Washington) and the dancers for the Heat, Wizards and Bobcats, in particular. On to your questions:

I hear Nikola Mirotic is tearing it up in Europe. I know he's a few years away from coming to the NBA, but what kind of player might he be once he finally puts on a Bulls uniform? -- Ben G.

Ben, great question. Indeed, Mirotic is playing at a very high level in the Spanish ACB league, regarded by most as the top league outside of the NBA. While he wont be crossing the waters for at least another couple of years, the Bulls front office is very pleased with the rapid progress that hes made and are even higher on him than they were on Omer Asik, who surprised many with his readiness to contribute upon arrival in the NBA. Mirotic is seen as a face-up power forward, with the ability to stretch the defense with his long-range shooting, but he brings more than just that skill to the table. While he needs to get stronger, Mirotic is viewed as highly skilled, possessing the ability to put the ball on the floor and with enough toughness to bang inside and snatch some rebounds. Even at his young age, hes a strong candidate to play for Spains loaded national team he has dual citizenship, as one parent is Spanish and the other is from Montegnegro in the Olympics this summer, though with the likes of the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka, he might not see a lot of minutes on the front line. However, while he was seen as a steal in last years NBA Draft (other teams passed on him because of his buyout), if he was candidate in this years draft, regarded as one of the most talented in several years, Mirotic may well be a lottery pick.

Do the Bulls have a "Dunk Policy?" Seems they go for the lay up when other teams usually dunk. -- @jjpetrusa

JJ, thats pretty funny. When the Bulls are in transition, Ive also noticed that theyll often play it safe and go for a layup the majority of the time. Even Derrick, when slashing to the basket against a set defense, hasnt been throwing it down much this season, though some of that can be attributed to his injury woes. But when you think about it, besides Derrick, Taj Gibson and Ronnie Brewer who fails to convert on enough of his dunks that laying it up more often could be a good idea for him how many big-time leapers do the Bulls really have? For all of his talents, Luol Deng would much rather take the sure two points and conserve his energy (especially with all the minutes Tom Thibodeau plays him) than dunk most of the time. As far as big men, while Taj and Omer Asik have their fair share of flushes, but Carlos Boozer doesnt have a lot of lift these days, though now Joakim Noah seems to be in rhythm, hes been throwing it down more. It might not be an actual policy, but somewhat of an unwritten rule, as even rookie Jimmy Butler seems to take the cautious route when hes had opportunities.
What do you make of the 'Lin-sanity' that is sweeping the nation? -- Rachel

Rachel, Im a big fan of Linsanity. I actually wrote a short magazine piece on Lin when he was a star at Harvard and then saw him play in the NBAs summer league in Las Vegas where he had a strong head-to-head matchup with No. 1 pick John Wall prior to his rookie season. While many people saw him as a novelty as a Warriors rookie, assuming Golden State picked the Northern California native up to cater to the areas Asian community, I knew he was a legitimate NBA-level talent. That said, I certainly didnt anticipate his incredible rise to stardom. People often compare Linsanity to the NFLs Tim Tebow phenomenon, but Tebow was a first-round draft pick, former Heisman Trophy winner and national champion at a major football power. Lin was in the absolute right place at the right time, as the Knicks simply dont have a healthy point guard on their roster veteran Baron Davis is on the shelf, while Toney Douglas and rookie Iman Shumpert just arent natural floor generals and in Mike DAntonis system, having a high basketball I.Q., being able to flourish in a pick-and-roll offense and having good court vision are huge advantages. Additionally, the Knicks are winning games, so when Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire (the latter should be fine, as he played under DAntoni in Phoenix with Nash and looked like an early MVP candidate with Raymond Felton at the beginning of last season) return to the lineup, it will be interesting to watch if Lin is still allowed so much free reign with superstar scorers to pass to.
Are you at all worried about D-Rose's rash of injuries of late? -- Wyatt H.

Wyatt, if you asked me that before Sunday, I would have said no. Derrick is an individual capable of playing through pain and while I didnt doubt how much his back was bothering him prior to the Celtics game while most people reference him getting stretched out on the sidelines in the middle of the Bulls nine-game road trip at Milwaukee, I witnessed him being stretched out on by the training staff on the sidelines against Washington, the second game of the trip I figured skipping the Charlotte game Friday was a way to get extra rest before Boston. However, with him admitting before the game how much pain he was in throughout the entire trip and missing a showdown that he badly wanted to play in, I have to say that Im a bit concerned. Well see how his visit with a specialist goes Monday, but at 23, having these back issues isnt a good sign. Just know that if he can play through it, he will for better or worse and with the history of a star player holding grudges against management for sitting him due to injury, theres no need for people to act like Thibs put a gun to his head and forced him to play.
What has surprised you the most with this current Bulls team? -- Johnny Y.

Johnny, with Ronnies recent shooting struggles he started out the season shooting from the perimeter like he stole Kyle Korvers identity Id say C.J. Watson. I know he hasnt shot the ball well in his last few games, but from coming back early from injuries to stepping up with huge performances when Derricks been out of the lineup, C.J. has really taken his game to another level this year. From my perspective, hes one of the leagues upper-echelon backup point guards and there are a number of teams for instance, the pre-Linsanity Knicks that he could start for. Working out in his hometown of Las Vegas, C.J. had a great offseason, really took to heart the things the coaching staff asked him to work on and embraced his role after struggling with it early last season, following his stint in Golden States run-and-gun style, in which he also played more minutes. His defense, ball security, shot selection and passing have also been much improved, making him a major reason the Bulls have one of the leagues best benches.

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.

It sure sounds like Jimmy Butler regrets being labeled as the face of the Bulls franchise

It sure sounds like Jimmy Butler regrets being labeled as the face of the Bulls franchise

Jimmy Butler didn't come close to following in his trainer's footsteps, but Mr. G. Buckets Unplugged still proved enlightening.

Following a wild Thursday, Butler hopped on the phone Friday afternoon from Paris to chat with Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times about the deal that sent the former face of the Bulls to rejoin Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota.

Butler wanted to be labeled as the face of the franchise, but his comments seem to reflect the old adage "be careful what you wish for."

"It doesn't mean a damn thing. I guess being called the face of an organization isn't as good as I thought. We all see where being the so-called face of the Chicago Bulls got me. So let me be just a player for the Timberwolves, man. That's all I want to do. I just want to be winning games, do what I can for my respective organization and let them realize what I'm trying to do.

"Whatever they want to call me... face... I don't even want to get into that anymore. Whose team is it? All that means nothing. You know what I've learned? Face of the team, eventually, you're going to see the back of his head as he's leaving town, so no thanks."

Whoa.

Butler also spoke about trying to block out all the trade rumors while on vacation in France:

"I mean, I had so many people telling me what could possibly happen, but I just got to the point where I stopped paying attention to it. 

"It's crazy because it reminds you of what a business this is. You can't get mad at anybody. I'm not mad - I'm not. I just don't like the way some things were handled, but it's OK."

Butler doesn't have to be the sole face of the franchise in Minnesota on a team that has two of the top homegrown young stars in the game in Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

Bulls have emerged from a ball of confusion to parts unknown

Bulls have emerged from a ball of confusion to parts unknown

The big red button was pressed and Jimmy Butler was ejected from the Chicago Bulls’ present and future as they finally made the decision to rebuild after two years of resisting.

Trading Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the ability to draft Lauri Markkanen represents the Bulls committing to the draft lottery and fully going in on the Fred Hoiberg experience for the foreseeable future, as the prospect of trying to improve through shrewd moves in the East while also facing the likelihood of Butler commanding a $200 million contract wasn’t palatable to their pocketbook or their sensibilities.

On one hand, making a decision — any decision — can be applauded on some levels after years of their relationship with Butler being complicated at best. But the idea of rebuilding and the application of it are often two separate ideals, because the evaluation of a rebuild can often be as murky as the land the Bulls just left.

“What we’ve done tonight is set a direction,” Bulls Executive Vice President John Paxson said. “We’ve gone to the past where we make the playoffs, but not at the level we wanted to. You know in this league, success is not determined that way. We’ve decided to make the change and rebuild this roster.”

“We’re gonna remain patient and disciplined. The development of our young players is important. The coaching staff has done a phenomenal job. We’re gonna continue down that path. We’re not gonna throw huge money at people.”

The Bulls aren’t exclusive to this territory, the land in which they’ve inhibited for the last couple seasons, which makes the Butler trade about more than one thing.

Not equal parts but part basketball, part fiscal, part narrative and finally, masking some mistakes that have been made over the years but are not as easily rectified. Trading Butler seemed to be the easiest vessel used as an elixir to wash away missteps. Trading a star in Butler is also the easiest way to get heat off a coach or front office in today’s NBA, because few franchises like to make wholesale changes midstream or early in it.

Trading Butler — along with shipping their second-round pick in a box marked for the Bay Area — was also financial, considering many felt if he made it through the tumultuous evening that he would finish his career as a Bull, raking in a hefty sum of cash on the back end.

It’s because of these factors that the evaluation of this trade and subsequently, a painful rebuild, cannot be in a vacuum. (Note: No rebuild is painless, it’s the size of the migraine a team can endure that determines the type of aspirin necessary).

Just taking a look at the players the Bulls got back in the Butler trade illustrates the gray area they’ve now immersed themselves into. The Bulls fell in love with Dunn before he came to the NBA, and aren’t as bothered by him being a 23-year old second-year player who struggled mightily in his rookie year.

Zach LaVine is an explosive athlete who can put up 20 every night — when he’s on the floor. Recovering from an ACL injury is no given, as evidenced by a young phenom who once graced the United Center hardwood before his body betrayed him.

And Lauri Markkanen is a rookie with promise, but nobody can make any promises on what type of career he’ll have, or if he’ll fulfill that promise with this franchise in the requisite time.

“There’s always risk in anything,” Paxson said. “But here’s a guy that’s 22 years old and averages 20 a game (LaVine). He can score the basketball, he can run. He can shoot the basketball. He shot over 40 percent from three. That’s an area we’re deficient in. Markkanen shot over 40 from three in college. Again, it’s an area where we’re deficient. It’s trying to find the type of player that fits the way that we want to play going forward.”

[RELATED: Jimmy Butler bids emotional farewell to Chicago]

General Manager Gar Forman stated after the announcement of the trade that the Bulls would have to hit on their next few draft picks to stop this rebuild from being elongated, but even then there’s no guarantee.

The Sacramento Kings drafted a rookie of the year, then two future max contract players in the same year, followed by another player who’ll command close to max money very soon. But nobody remembers Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, Hassan Whiteside and Isaiah Thomas leading the Kings from the wilderness and into glory, unless recent memory has been scrubbed away from everyone.

Inconsistencies in organizational structure combined with multiple coaching changes and an inability to develop the right young players kept the Kings on the dais of the draft lottery every April.

The Timberwolves, heck, nobody could say they missed when selecting LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns and getting Andrew Wiggins in a trade for Kevin Love. It’s because it takes more than the right draft picks, or in the Sacramento Kings’ case, the right infrastructure and environment, to foster an atmosphere of winning.

The Bulls were ready, despite their claims that this was a decision that came across their table right before the draft, because common sense has to be applied. No team makes knee-jerk, franchise-altering decisions that will have reverberations for years to come on the whim of a trade offer from Tom Thibodeau. This was likely decided when the Bulls went out with a whimper in the first-round after shocking the NBA world in the first two games against the Boston Celtics, when their fortunes changed on the trifle of Rajon Rondo’s broken wrist.

It was decided that Hoiberg, the man who endured chants calling for his firing in the second half of the decisive Game 6 loss, needed to have the right type of roster to be accurately judged as a successful hire or failure, and Butler couldn’t be part of those plans.

And just as Hoiberg has been dealt an uneven hand, Butler wasn’t given the type of roster that would accurately judge how he could flourish as a leader, max player and face of the franchise — and probably had less time to show one way or the other relative to his coach.

The longer Butler stayed, the more empowered he would become as his individual accomplishments would rack up because of the dedication he applied to game, the drive he had to place himself in the upper echelon of NBA players.

The better Butler got, the more pressure Hoiberg would be under to mix and match his roster and to foster a relationship with Butler he might’ve been ill-suited to fix. The better Butler got, the more pressure the front office would be under to maximize a prime it didn’t see coming, a prime they can’t truly figure when there’s an expiration date on given Butler’s unlikely rise to stardom.

So getting rid of Butler was the solution and the Bulls have now chosen their path, definitively and with confidence. Emerging from a ball of confusion to parts unknown, from one land of uncertainty to another.