Aggrey Sam's Christmas mailbag


Aggrey Sam's Christmas mailbag

Every Monday Bulls Insider Aggrey Sam will sit down and answer the team's most pressing questions, presented by you the fans. If you have a question for Aggrey, visit the Ask Aggrey page, tweet it to him at @CSNBullsInsider or use AskAggrey on Twitter.
In the spirit of Christmas giving, Aggrey extended his mailbag this week.
Jordan:Do you see the Bulls being active at the trade deadline this year?
As always, the Bulls' front office will be scouring the rest of the league for potential trade scenarios that could benefit the team at the deadline, just like every other organization. The team holds an option to re-sign Rip Hamilton next season, making him the equivalent of an expiring contract due to the low guaranteed money, and since the summer I've heard that they would be receptive to offers for him and have even dangled his name a bit.
However, with his recent injury, that could be hard to pull off unless he makes an impressive return in the month or so leading up to the deadline, so it might not be possible to move him. Actually, I'm sure they could find a taker -- Phoenix, for one, is a team that I've heard has some interest -- but at this stage of his career, Hamilton and his representatives might not be open to playing for a non-contender, even for half of a season.
The Bulls wouldn't want to take back much, if any salary, as the goal would be to avoid the luxury tax -- it isn't assessed until after the season, not the beginning -- something that shedding his 5 million contract would allow them to do this season, according to my calculations. Other than Hamilton, I don't see any other players on the roster potentially getting moved, though injuries and simply a deal that management feels they can't turn down could change things.Eric:What do you think about the Bulls potentially starting Marquis Teague?
Barring multiple injuries in the backcourt simultaneously, I don't think there's any chance that Marquis starts a game this season. Although he's displayed remarkable poise for a 19-year-old, this season was earmarked as a developmental year for him, similar to what Jimmy Butler experienced as a rookie. The difference is that without Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich's various injuries, the minutes have been there more frequently for Marquis. Regardless, he's made a lot of progress in a short period of time, as many observers thought he could even log a stint in the D-League when the season first began.Conor:With Luol Deng leading the league in minutes and Jimmy Butler's noticeable improvement, should Thibodeau give Butler minutes at the 3?
By now, it's a given that Luol will see a heavy workload at small forward, something he isn't necessarily opposed to -- the man is human and he does get tired, but he's prepared for those big minutes -- which doesn't leave much time for Jimmy at his most natural position. But given the fact that many teams in the copycat league have gone to small-ball lineups to emulate the Miami Heat's success, there are times where Luol plays power forward and, with Thibs' defense-first mentality, Jimmy can slide in at the other forward position.
Other than that or an injury to Luol, Jimmy has to get the scraps at small forward. Thibodeau has used Jimmy a lot at shooting guard and he's the best defender on the team at that position, along with offering increased athleticism, size and rebounding ability at the spot. For now, Jimmy's role and spot in the rotation as a defensive specialist is set. And while he's certainly made strides this season, he's not exactly a dynamic breakdown ballhandler or consistent outside shooter yet, so in the effort to balance the floor on a team not known for lighting it up from deep, it's hard to justify more than his current minutes over the likes of Marco Belinelli and, when he returns, Hamilton.
If this was a lottery-bound team, things would be different, but even Jimmy isn't complaining about seeing meaningful, if not extensive, playing time.Brian:Would the Bulls consider trading for JJ Redick?
I'm sure they would, but the question is who would they have to give up to get him? Redick isn't a star, but he's a hot commodity as an elite shooter. And while he isn't dynamic at any other facet of the game, he's a smart player who has really rounded out his all-around game as a bit of a one-trick pony, similar to Kyle Korver. Orlando, which has gotten off to a surprising start in the post-Dwight Howard era under first-year head coach Jacque Vaughn, would likely want a significant player in return. As I previously mentioned, the Bulls could be open to dealing Hamilton, but unless the Magic simply want to free up more cap space -- which is a possibility, as they certainly don't have a title-contending roster at the moment -- I don't see them biting on that swap. I'm sure there's a temptation for fans frustrated by Taj Gibson's inconsistent play thus far this season to mention his name, but I don't think the Bulls have lost patience with him and again, I don't see Orlando taking on more money unless it's a relative star-caliber player.
Redick makes reasonable money, the Bulls chased him in free agency two years ago, his shooting would fill a void and his team defense is actually underrated, but I don't know how actively the Magic are really shopping him in the first place. He certainly wouldn't be a bad fit if he somehow ended up in Chicago.Jack:Where does Joakim Noah rank among the NBA's best centers when everyone is healthy?
First of all, let's say Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum are performing at their pre-injury levels, since it would be too soon to write them off as shells of their former selves -- Bynum hasn't played a game this season and in the wake of back surgery, Howard clearly isn't as explosive as he was just a year ago, regardless of the Lakers' chemistry -- until we see how their ongoing recoveries go.
I'd put those two a notch above Joakim, as they're superior low-post scorers; a healthy Howard is the game's dominant interior defender and arguably top rebounder, and Bynum's physical presence, deft touch and comparable rebounding, when we last saw him play, made him a top-shelf player at the position. I won't include the pseudo-centers, such as future Hall of Famers Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, as well as Utah's Al Jefferson and Miami's Chris Bosh, though the latter would be above Joakim, like it or not; Jefferson is a close call, but his lack of defensive ability downgrades him a bit with Joakim's improved scoring and better all-around game. Those guys are nominally centers, but everyone knows they're really power forwards.
I don't put Joakim's former Florida teammate, the Hawks' Al Horford, in that category, simply because he's been doing it for his entire NBA career, but I'd rank Joakim ahead of him also, despite Horford winning the head-to-head matchup in Saturday's brutal loss at Atlanta. If Golden State's Andrew Bogut was healthy, that would be another tough decision, but Joakim's improvement, coupled with the fact that Bogut has been hurt so much over the past few seasons that it's impossible to know what kind of player he'll be moving forward gives Jo the nod in the case, too.
DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers has a ways to go on offense; Brooklyn's Brook Lopez has a ways to go as a defender and rebounder. Minnesota's Nikola Pekovic is underrated, but doesn't have enough polish or affect games above the rim enough to beat out Joakim; if this was last season, Indiana's Roy Hibbert would have had me convinced, but his inconsistency, offensive regression, mediocre rebounding and lack of foot speed has him trending the other way.
Detroit's Greg Monroe is another often-overlooked center, but he's also more of a natural power forward and his defense has room for improvement; DeMarcus Cousins might be the most talented guy at the position, but aside from his current issues, the fact that he's another defensive liability and hasn't made the Kings better hurts his case. Cleveland's Anderson Varejao and the Knicks' Tyson Chandler are two players with similar skill sets, but Joakim's ballhandling, passing ability and much-improved jumper sets him apart from Chandler. And as good as Varejao has been this season, Joakim is a better scorer and on a Bulls team that isn't overwhelmingly talented, he puts up similar numbers on a team that actually wins, as opposed to Varejao's frequently empty stats.
But there is one other center I'd rank ahead of Jo right now: Marc Gasol of Memphis, who's a big-time rebounder despite the presence of teammate Zach Randolph, an adept low-post scorer, possesses a solid mid-range jumper, is the equal to Joakim as a passer and although he isn't the same level athlete, has used his toughness, strength and size to become a good defender.
Long story short, I'd say Jo is the fourth-best true center in the league right now.Bonus:I occasionally get questions from some of my followers on Twitter and I know that I'm not overly responsive on social media, so I wanted to answer some of the recent inquiries I've received. Here are five more responses:From @msh67:When will the Bulls sign the 14th player that they can sign?
I don't see the Bulls signing another player unless an injury to a key rotation player (read: Lu, Jo) occurs and that player will be out for a while. The way the team is set up, there's a suitable replacement for all of the other players on the roster, with a backup poised to play at least spot minutes in Thibodeau's "next man up" philosophy. Even if Carlos or Taj were to go down, the seldom-used Vladimir Radmanovic would be expected to play, and if he couldn't get the job done I'd wager that Luol would see a lot of minutes at power forward, with Jimmy playing more at small forward. Now, Nate Robinson's non-guaranteed contract has been a hot topic as of late, so if he was waived I'd imagine that the Bulls would sign a veteran backup point guard, like a Jannero Pargo, but those moves would likely occur at the same time, still giving them 13 players on the roster.From @D_Greene6:You think from what @marquisteague25 showed last night that Thibs may give Hinrich a little time off to heal up?
This question came after Marquis' game against the 76ers, a Bulls road win in which he played well against Jrue Holiday, an All-Star candidate, an outing he followed up with a nice evening against Brooklyn's Deron Williams in another victory. Kirk has returned to the lineup since then, but with all of his bumps and bruises this season, it's not unreasonable to think that he could get hurt again. While Kirk wasn't 100 percent when he came back, Thibodeau isn't the type to force a player to sit based off the performance of another player. The decision to return starts with the team's medical staff and the player himself, but Marquis certainly proved that if called upon, he has the potential to be a more than capable replacement.From @iroient:What would Bulls brass have to give up for Kevin Love?From @J_Escobedo30:You hearing anything at all regarding a Kevin Love trade?From @w18wheeler:What are the chances that Minnesota moves Love? Can Da Bulls get him or is that a long shot?
Since I got multiple variations of the same question, I'll respond all at once: Kevin Love isn't coming to Chicago, at least not this season. Down the line, due to his opt-out clause after the third year of his extension (big mistake on Minnesota's part, but that's another story), maybe it's a possibility, given the fact that, like a lot of players in smaller markets, he probably would like to maximize his earning potential and it doesn't hurt that he has a relationship with Rose, based off them working out together in California in the offseasons.
Minnesota could opt to deal him before he can opt out, likely during that third season, 2014-15, but his recent comments will have no bearing on a trade in the present, unless they severely affect team chemistry or impede the development of becoming an upper-echelon team in the West.
Also, with Ricky Rubio back in the lineup, the Timberwolves wouldn't break up a team that was in playoff contention last season until injuries messed up their chances, so if anybody is moved on the roster -- and I'd say anybody not named Love or Rubio on that roster is fair game, as I'm sure by now you've heard of Minnesota's rumored pursuit of Pau Gasol, Rubio's Spanish national team comrade -- it won't be either of those two.
But just to play along, to acquire Love, it would probably take some combination of Joakim, Luol and maybe Taj, which I don't think would make the Bulls a better team and would hurt the defense, which has been the squad's strong suit under Thibodeau. Before I'm asked why I didn't include Carlos Boozer, even if the Timberwolves would take back his salary, just like Love, he's not exactly a strong defender and he wouldn't make Minnesota more athletic on the interior, which is the current problem with the pairing of Love and center Nikola Pekovic, who's an underrated player but not much of a shot-blocking threat.
Sorry to say, but any Love-to-Chicago rumors are just wishful thinking for the time being.From @mcalogero1:Remember when people questioned Lus toughness? Just insane; the guys a warrior?From @mikedilla88:Is @LuolDeng9 really off his game or is he just tired from playing so many minutes?
I probably sound like Thibodeau here, but the thing about Luol is that even on nights when he's not scoring, he's usually going to play high-level defense and if the Bulls need help with rebounding andor playmaking, he'll make his presence felt in those areas, too.
He's not the typical NBA go-to scorer in the sense that he doesn't hunt down shots and sometimes he'll wait a bit too long to see if his teammates have it going offensively before asserting himself. However, it's very rare that he's in a prolonged slump. With all that said, of course the heavy minutes are taking a toll on him -- that's natural because after all, he is human -- but there aren't many players, if any, more prepared to deal with his nightly workload. He's coming off a subpar outing Saturday against the Hawks, but the entire team played poorly and he has a bit of an excuse, after suffering that left-shoulder injury the previous night in New York.
Speaking of that wild Knicks game, it pretty much summarized all you need to know about Luol. He matched up with one of the league's elite players in Carmelo Anthony, matched him point-for-point and even after hurting his shoulder, he came right back into the game to help the Bulls hang on for the win. He told me afterwards that it was a true game-time decision -- not like when Thibodeu says it -- but he just wanted to play so badly that he wouldn't sit out, especially because he couldn't further damage his shoulder. On top of all that, on a team without Rose and so many newcomers in the fold, his leadership is more visible this season. Pencil him in for another All-Star berth if he and the Bulls keep it up.From @sdajani50:Do you see when Rip returns he comes off the bench? Saves his health? Strengthens bench? Keeping Marco rolling?
Rip will definitely step right back into the starting lineup when he comes back. Thibodeau isn't the type of coach that demotes players because they got hurt, even if their replacement, as in Belinelli's case, is playing well. We forget that Rip was playing well when he got hurt, averaging 14 points per game, and as good as Marco has been recently, it's not like he played well enough during training camp, the preseason or prior to Rip's injury to make a run at the starting job.
I do think Thibodeau will continue to be cautious about Rip's minutes, which has the added benefit of keeping Marco's confidence up and back in a reserve role, he could really energize the second unit as a scorer. When that takes place is still yet to be determined, but it looks like Rip is recovering along the lines of the full month original prognosis for his injury. I've heard that he's starting to really ramp up his workouts and there are whispers that he could be back as soon as Wednesday's game at Indiana, though that seems like a long shot right now.

Another big loss wears on Bulls’ Zach LaVine: 'It doesn’t make a lot of sense'

Another big loss wears on Bulls’ Zach LaVine: 'It doesn’t make a lot of sense'

The Bulls were obviously fighting an uphill battle from the start in Saturday night’s game against the Miami Heat, being without center Wendell Carter Jr. and having lost 9-straight games coming into the matchup. But things went from bad to worse as the Bulls had yet another second half collapse that led to a double-digit loss, and some reasonable frustration from guard Zach LaVine.

After heading into the half up by 2 points, Chicago completely fell apart at the start of the third quarter, in which they were outscored 28-19. The Bulls got to the free throw line seven times in the third--a rare occurrence for them--but could not close the gap due to an absolutely dreadful 29.4 percent shooting from the field.

In the second half, the Heat went 10/17 from the 3-point line, raining down triples on the scrambling Bulls defense.

Some of the Heat’s 3-point makes throughout the game were extremely difficult. Like the play where Lauri Markkanen played great defense, only to be thwarted by better shot-making from Dwyane Wade.

Others were completely inexcusable, where the Bulls got sucked into the paint too deep on Miami drives, leading to wide-open shots with poor closeout efforts.

And while the Bulls defense initially had some renewed energy under Boylen, it now ranks 26th in the league in efficiency since he took over on December 4th. The offensive woes are well-documented, but if the Bulls aren’t putting up a fight on D, there isn’t much to keep them in games.

And that is why Zach LaVine’s statements from Saturday hold so much weight.

“Something is obviously wrong. We weren’t losing by double digits earlier in the season.”

It is not the fact that his quote could be looked at as coaching criticism that makes it interesting. It is the fact the numbers back up his claim completely.

The Bulls have not been meaningfully better in any way since having their full complement of players back, and that is concerning.

While Boylen is a defense-first coach, he obviously has some input on the offense.

The Bulls have taken 23.6 3-point shots per game under Boylen. In 24 games under Fred Hoiberg, Chicago was shooting 29.3 3-point shots per game. That precipitous drop in 3-point attempts is simply nothing short of bewildering when you consider that Boylen has had Markkanen under his tutelage during his entire stint.

The Bulls may be tougher in terms of collecting paint points on most nights, but they have actually shot 3.3 less free throws per game under Boylen as well.

And on night’s like Saturday where the Bulls actually held an advantage at the free throw line--21/26 for the Bulls compared to 14/23 for the Heat--unimaginative offense made it impossible to hold on to what was once a 9-point Bulls lead.

Lauri Markkanen ended the first quarter shooting 4/7 from the field but finished the game 7/19 from the field. Kris Dunn finished 3/14 from the field, but more important is the fact the he only took one 3-pointer. He is shooting a career-high in terms of 3-point percentage but has regressed in terms of how much opposing defenses respect his perimeter shot.

Dunn is not a great threat on the perimeter, but ignoring that part of his game completely is unlikely to help Dunn or the Bulls offense in the long-term.

And Jabari Parker--who finished with his fourth-straight game of double-digit scoring on 50 percent or better shooting--still received less than 20 minutes of playing time. Interestingly enough, Parker received less than two minutes of playing time in the third quarter, where the Bulls offense fizzled out completely, going 5/17 from the field.

Obviously, not all of the Bulls issues are directly attributable to Boylen. But many are. And in a season of development and many changes, evaluating Boylen is just as important as evaluating the roster.

Since Boylen took over, the Bulls are 5-17 and one of two teams averaging less than 100 PPG in that span.    

Coming into this season, Bulls fans were prepared for losses but also prepared to gush over the meshing of the talents of LaVine, Dunn, Markkanen.

But so far, the three core players received in the Jimmy Butler trade have been underwhelming as a group, without much as of late to indicate that they are getting more comfortable on the floor together.

So LaVine is correct when he says something is obviously wrong, even if he can’t quite pinpoint the root of the issues.

“I don’t know. We’re a better team now and we’re getting blown out. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Something has to change for the Bulls. Because as the season wears on, it becomes more and more clear that plopping a top 5 draft selection in this lineup is unlikely to be some all-healing salve. Stability within an NBA organization is built through a great relationship between the front office and head coach, and a clear and effective playing style that maximizes the talents of your roster. The Bulls seem to have the former but it will be tough to stay in games against any level of competition until they get a better grasp on the latter.

All stats used via NBA.com

Dwyane Wade’s Chicago basketball dreams come full-circle in Saturday farewell


Dwyane Wade’s Chicago basketball dreams come full-circle in Saturday farewell

It’s impossible to tell Dwyane Wade’s basketball story without including Chicago.

Though the 12-time All-Star, three-time NBA champion created a legacy in Miami, his hometown and the first organization he ever cheered for has been intertwined in that story from Day 1. From his early beginnings as child growing up in Chicago to Saturday’s farewell tour stopping at the United Center, Wade’s hometown has played an integral role in his journey from cheering on Michael Jordan to joining His Airness as one of the NBA’s all-time great shooting guards.

He's no longer Flash, the lightning quick, spry shooting guard with unmatched pound-for-pound strength. But the 37-year-old Wade saved some of his best for last in Saturday's win over the Bulls. He finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in 27 minutes. It felt like vintage Wade at times, as the Oak Lawn native scored on a few stepbacks, floaters and cuts to the basket similar to the ones that made him one of the game's best for more than a decade.

Wade's final United Center memory comes 16 seasons after his first one. A 22-year-old Wade was nursing a right wrist and had planned to sit out his first visit to the United Center in December 2003.

That changed when he saw his childhood hero Michael Jordan the night before the game.

“(Jordan’s) like, ‘I can’t wait to see you play tomorrow.’ And I was like, ‘Welp, guess I’m playing,’” Wade said prior to Saturday's game. “And then I end up being in a cast for like two months after that.”

Wade scored just 10 points in 36 minutes that night, but playing was never in doubt. Wade grew up idolizing Jordan, one of the millions of kids who grew up in Chicago watching the 90s Bulls hang banner after banner. He joined fellow Chicagoans like Quentin Richardson and Corey Maggette, and a young Derrick Rose, as inner city kids who looked up to Jordan as inspiration to get out of the city and make something of themselves.

"Growing up in the inner city, to make it out to be a vision of hope for the next generation, we take a lot of pride in that," Wade said. "And to come back and give back and hopefully give others opportunity to be successful,l but also just for people in the city of Chicago to see that it can be done, you can get out. A lot of us had a ball and a dream and that ball has taken us so many places."

After a successful career at Richards High School and a three-year stint at Marquette that included a Final Four run, Chicago basketball took Wade to Miami. Beginning with that first game at the United Center in 2003, the hometown kid became a thorn in the Bulls' side for the next 13 seasons. He knocked the Bulls out of the postseason three different times, including twice on the way to championships in 2006 and 2013, and the famous Eastern Conference Finals in 2011.

That stretch also included Wade spurning the Bulls in the infamous summer of 2011 when it appeared he and close friend LeBron James were close to signing in Chicago. Instead Wade opted to remain in Miami and bring James and Chris Bosh with him. The consolation prize for the Bulls was $76 million Carlos Boozer and a front row seat to Miami's four-year reign in the Eastern Conference that included four Finals appearances and two championships.

Wade signed on the dotted line four years later, inking a two-year deal with the Bulls that was as much financially motivated as it was a chance to play for the hometown team. Wade's fit in Chicago was always an interesting one for both sides that never really worked, and it ultimately ended in his buyout in the months after the Bulls traded Jimmy Butler and entered a rebuild.

But Wade's impact on his hometown team was evident.

In the 70-second video tribute the Bulls ran for Wade during the first quarter of Saturday's game, there was as much footage of Wade doing work in the community with the Dwyane Wade Foundation and Spotlight On as there was highlights of his time on the floor. Though Wade couldn't help push the Bulls to greater heights in his lone year in Chicago, his 18.3 points at age 35 largely go overlooked because of the chaos that went on in the locker room that season.

Wade latched on with James and the Cleveland Cavaliers after his buyout in 2017, and he returned to Chicago in unceremonious fashion, scoring 24 points in a December blowout victory.

That was nothing compared to what Wade experienced on Saturday, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd of 20,926 following the video tribute, and a chorus of cheers each time he entered the game. If not for cheering on a Chicago legend, the fans recognized one of the all-time greats that, for better and worse, has a chapter in the history of Chicago basketball.

Wade has made a dozen farewell tours this season, but none quite like what happened in his hometown. It was the fitting end to a career - a lifetime, really - that has featured numerous Chicago memories.

"I have more of a connection here than anywhere else," he said after the game. "It's my birth city. It's the place where my vision to become an NBA player started, watching my favorite team and watching my favorite players growing up. It definitely felt different than any other city but it was a good different. It was a joyous time for me to be here."

Wade has become the Michael Jordan of Miami. No one will ever wear No. 3 in a Heat uniform again, Wade will have a statue somewhere outside American Airlines arena and he’ll join the all-time greats in Springfield, Mass., as a Hall of Famer in 2024.

He’s created a legacy in Miami, but for so many reasons Chicago will always be part of his basketball story.

“This city, this Chicago Bulls name, it means a lot to me," he said. "It will always mean a lot to me.”