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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.

Underdogs? Not so fast: Reliving the Bulls' dominance over the Raptors

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USA TODAY

Underdogs? Not so fast: Reliving the Bulls' dominance over the Raptors

Here’s something you’re going to hear quite a bit this season: the Bulls are underdogs tomorrow night. The official start to the rebuild begins as the Bulls travel to Toronto to face the Raptors tomorrow night on NBC Sports Chicago. Pregame Live begins at 6 p.m. with Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill.

The Raptors bring back Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and a host of other talent that helped Toronto earn the No. 3 seed in the East last year. They’ll be there this season, so the Bulls open the season with a daunting opponent. But fear not! The Bulls are underdogs, but there’s no opponent they’ve had more success against the last four seasons than the Raptors. The Bulls have won 11 of their last 12 games against Toronto, including 11 straight victories before last season’s late loss in Toronto.

Take a trip down memory lane and see how they did it, and then check back tomorrow night and see if they can get back to their winning ways against Dwane Casey’s group.

1. Feb. 19, 2014 (94-92)

The streak of 11 straight wins begins with an almost-awful collapse. The Bulls lead by as many as nine in the fourth quarter before a frantic comeback from Lowry and DeRozan, who combined for 14 points in a 4-minute span to pull within two points late. But DeRozan can’t close the deal, missing two shots in the final 3 seconds, securing a Bulls win.

2. Nov. 13, 2014 (100-93)

A back-and-forth first half includes five ties and nine lead changes. Then the Bulls decide in the third quarter they don’t care much for see-saws and take over. They close the quarter on a 17-5 run and lead by double-digits until late in the fourth quarter. The Raptors pull within five in the final minute but five Bulls free throws ice the game. Pau Gasol (27), Jimmy Butler (21) and Derrick Rose (20) combine for 68 points.

3. Dec. 22, 2014 (129-120)

Let’s just cut right to the fourth quarter. That’s when the Bulls erupt for a franchise-record 49 points to take the come-from-behind win. Ironically they miss their first three shots of the period. After that? Tom Thibodeau’s group goes 14-for-17 and also makes 16 free throws. Derrick Rose goes 6-for-6 for 15 points in the stanza. Who said Thibs’ offenses don’t score?

4. Mar. 20, 2015 (108-92)

The two teams enter this late-season matchup just one-half game separating them. But the Bulls make a statement, taking the lead late in the first quarter and holding it the rest of the way. Rookie Nikola Mirotic continues to put a bow on his remarkable month of March, scoring 29 points on 11-for-21 shooting and grabbing 11 rebounds. He even blocks a career-high four shots in the win.

5. Mar. 25, 2015 (116-103)

The Bulls continued pulling away in the East standings less than a week later. Mirotic is solid off the bench, scoring 15 points, but it’s reserve Tony Snell who makes the most noise. He erupts for 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting in just 18 minutes, including nine points in a fourth quarter that sees the Bulls outscore the Raptors 39-21 to secure the win.

6. Dec. 28, 2015 (104-97)

The Bulls’ bench continues to star against the Raptors. This time Snell, Bobby Portis and Aaron Brooks combine for 51 of the Bulls’ 104 points. The five starters score 53 points. The trio of Snell/Portis/Brooks shoots 20 for-37 from the field, outscoring the Raptors’ reserves, 51-27.

7. Jan. 3, 2016 (115-113)

Jimmy Butler struggles in the first half, scoring just two points. But the second half is a different story, to say the very, very, very least. Butler scores a franchise-record 40 points after halftime, leading the Bulls all the way back after they trailed by as many as 14 midway through the third quarter. When you play for the Bulls and accomplish a scoring feat that Michael Jordan never did, that’s says something.

8. Feb. 19, 2016 (116-106)

Doug McDermott can't match Butler’s heroics, but he puts together a career night nonetheless. The sharpshooter goes off for 30 points, making 13 of 17 from the field in 31 minutes. Fourteen of those points came in the fourth quarter, his last coming on a 3-pointer after the Raptors had cut the deficit to just three.

9. Mar. 14, 2016 (109-107)

Dwane Casey begins having nightmares of Doug McDermott (probably). That’s because the Creighton legend goes off once again, scoring 29 points on 9-for-11 shooting and somehow getting to the free throw line eight times. The Bulls nearly collapse (just like their first win in the streak), but DeMar DeRozan is blocked by Jimmy Butler in the closing seconds (just like their first loss of the streak).

10. Jan. 7, 2017 (123-118)

Jimmy Butler lives at the free throw line in the only overtime game of the streak. The Bulls, like plenty of these games, make a wild comeback in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Ratpors 33-21 to force the extra period. Butler plays hero with seven points in overtime, and Jerian Grant ices the game with a pair of free throws.

11. Feb. 14, 2017 (104-95)

The Raptors do not ask Doug McDermott to be their valentine. That’s because he once again goes off, scoring a team-high 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting. Jimmy Butler adds 19 (with 15 coming on free throws) and adds 12 assists and five steals in the wire-to-wire victory.

Lauri Markkanen will start in his NBA debut; how have other Bulls fared doing so?

Lauri Markkanen will start in his NBA debut; how have other Bulls fared doing so?

One of the fallouts from the fight between Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic is that it unfortunately leaves a void at power forward for the Bulls.

Mirotic suffered a concussion and multiple facial fractures, while Bobby Portis was suspended for eight games on Wednesday. Both players will be out until the calendar flips to November, opening up minutes at power forward.

In the short-term, at least, the starting role will be filled by Lauri Markkanen, Hoiberg said.

Markkanen will join a list of eight other Bulls who started in their NBA debuts. Before Markkanen takes the floor tomorrow in Toronto, here's a look at those other rookies fared.

1983: Ennis Whatley, PG

The first underclassman selected in the 1983 NBA Draft (13th overall), Whatley scored six point on 3 of 6 shooting and tallied eight assists and two steals in his debut. He committed four turnovers but it didn't hurt the Bulls in their 104-97 win over the New Jersey Nets. Whatley wound up setting the Bulls rookie record for assists in a year (662; 8.3 per game) but was traded after two seasons due to substance abuse.

1984: Michael Jordan, SG

The highly anticipated debut of the Bulls' future was inauspicious. Jordan scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, but he did stuff the box score: he added six rebounds, seven assists, two steals and four blocks in a team-high 40 minutes. The Bulls, led by Orlando Woolridge and Quintin Dailey, cruised to a 109-93 win over the Bullets. Jordan bounced back nicely, though, averaging 28.2 points in the following 14 games. You know the rest.

1999: Elton Brand

Brand debuted against the Knicks on Opening Night, scoring 14 points on 3-for-11 shooting. He went 8-for-10 from the free throw line and added to his line with eight rebounds and two blocks in 35 minutes. The Bulls, entering some of the uglier days in franchise history, lost to the Knicks, 84-74. Brand wound up splitting Rookie of the Year honors with Steve Francis, averaging a double-double (20.1 points, 10.0 rebounds) for the 17-65 Bulls. He was traded for high school star Tyson Chandler a year later.

2000: Khalid El-Amin

The only second-round pick on this list, El-Amin started at point guard against a Kings team that wound up winning 57 games. El-Amin held his own in the 100-81 loss, scoring 11 points and handing out three assists in 27 minutes. He shot 4-for-7 and connected on his only 3-point attempt. It was one of 14 games El-Amin started before being replaced by none other than Fred Hoiberg. It was El-Amin's only season in the NBA.

2002: Jay Williams

What could have been. The No, 2 pick in the 2002 NBA Draft shined in his NBA debut, going for 13 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists in 33 minutes. The Bulls topped the eventually playoff-bound Celtics, 99-96. Williams played 75 games as a rookie, averaging 9.5 points and 4.7 assists. A motorcycle accident that following offseason derailed his career far too soon.

2004: Andres Nocioni

Nocioni signed as an undrafted free agent in 2004, and the 25-year-old was ready to play out of the gates. His 17 points were the most of anyone's debut on this list, but he shot 5-for-19 and committed five turnovers in 42 minutes. It wasn't all bad, though, as he grabbed 14 rebounds and had two steals before fouling out in the final minute of double overtime against the Nets. The Bulls fell, 111-106. Nocioni struggled in his rookie season after that, finishing with averages of 8.4 points and 4.8 rebounds.

2004: Ben Gordon

Not exactly the greatest debut for the 3rd pick in the 2004 NBA Draft. Gordon missed all six of his shots from the field and made three free throws in 17 minutes. That was it outside of one turnover and one personal foul. And there's some irony in the fact that Gordon started this game; he only started two other games that rookie season, and was named the Sixth Man of the Year after averaging 15.1 points on 40.5 percent shooting from deep.

2008: Derrick Rose

It was a quiet debut for the eventual Rookie of the Year. Rose, the overall No. 1 pick that June, scored 11 points on 3-for-9 shooting and handed out nine assists in the Bulls' win over the Bucks. Rose went on to average 16.8 points and 6.3 assists in 37.0 minutes that season, and he'd be named an All-Star the following three seasons after that. Ah, the good ol' days.