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Ask Aggrey: Will Gasol, Howard be dealt?

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Ask Aggrey: Will Gasol, Howard be dealt?

ORLANDO -- On my way back to the Windy City from the Sunshine State, where Tom Thibodeau had to suffer through a defense-less game, LeBron James came up short in the clutch, Luol Deng didnt play 40-plus minutes and all of the talkbesides Derrick Roses new adidas contract -- locally was focused on the fate of Magic center Dwight Howard, I wanted to take a quick break to answer your questions after a hectic weekend, albeit a breather from the weather back in Chicago. Hey, I was with you in spirit, if not in layered clothing. With no further adieu, heres another edition of Ask Aggrey.

Besides the Miami Heat, which team in the East scares you the most? -- Mark

Mark, the team that personally scares me the most is Charlotte because I dont know how that franchise can get any worse, but I believe its somehow possible. Ill assume, however, which team poses the most threat to the Bulls. Im tempted to say either Philadelphia or Indiana, but Im going to go with New York instead. Yes, Jeremy Lin isnt completely infallible, Carmelo Anthony has to blend in better and Amare Stoudemire needs to rediscover the form that made him an early MVP candidate last season, but their talent is undeniable. If Mike DAntoni -- for all of his perceived faults as a coach, the man was heralded as an offensive innovator just a few seasons ago in Phoenix -- can find a way to make it work, the Knicks are a team nobody, including the Bulls and rival Miami, want to face in a first-round series.

I noticed that when D-Rose misses games, he has his warmups on instead of a suit like most players. Do you know why? -- Kyle

Kyle, Derrick isnt too big on wearing suits outside of press conferences and with him being termed day-to-day during his absences, the Bulls arent required to list him as inactive. Thus, according to league policy, hes allowed to sit on the bench in Bulls gear, rather than wear a suit, as NBA rules dictate for inactive players.

Do you think the Lakers are going to trade Pau Gasol before the trade deadline? And how about Dwight Howards future? -- Tyler

Tyler, I believe the Lakers will trade him if they think they can legitimately improve in the future, address needs like the point-guard situation, remain a contender and possibly free up cap space, but Im afraid that with Jim Buss, the son of longtime owner Dr. Jerry Buss, now apparently calling the shots, their perception of a good deal might differ from yours or mine. The latest scuttlebutt has them pitching a swap of both Gasol and All-Star Andrew Bynum to the Magic for Howard, point guard Jameer Nelson and high-salaried veteran Hedo Turkoglu. Im not sure how much better that makes them -- or how happy Howard would be, as he reportedly didnt take well to the idea of supposedly waiting his turn to be the Lakers superstar until Kobe Bryant retires -- but Nelson would give them a former All-Star at point guard (albeit one whos having a miserable year, possibly due to the Howard trade talk and the notion the Magic needs an upgrade, like Deron Williams or as recent rumors have it, Steve Nash, at his position) and acquiring Howard would be palatable to the franchises fan base. That said, Gasols name has also been mentioned in connection with Minnesota, though thats probably more the Timberwolves wishful thinking, and conversely, the false rumor about Derrick wanting him in Chicago likely emanated from Gasols representatives, so theres certainly a lot in motion at the present time, though that doesnt directly answer your question. Id say its 50-50 right now, if I had to make a semi-educated guess.

Regarding Howard, I think he ends up staying in Orlando for the remainder of this season. The aforementioned Lakers deal could intrigue the Magic, but I believe their management is more focused on trying to add a piece, such as Nash, to get back to contending status themselves before the playoffs. At this point, theyre likely gambling that Howard isnt willing to walk away from the 30 million that hed lose if he left Orlando as a free agent. Maybe a sign-and-trade scenario presents itself in the offseason -- as Ive said before, Id keep my eye on Dallas, as money is no object to Mark Cuban and the Mavericks have enough assets, excluding Dirk Nowitzki, to possibly wrangle another team into making a three-way deal; dont be shocked if they try to get both Howard and Dallas native Deron Williams -- but for now, I think Howard understands the grass might not be greener elsewhere if a trade occurs this season.

If you could make one change to All-Star weekend what would it be? -- Casey

Casey, just one change? Other than making things a lot easier from the perspective of a member of the media -- logistics were a bit of an issue here in Orlando, as was the frantic nature of player availability sessions and actual seating in the arena, at least for me -- Id say putting more at stake for the dunk contest. Prior to last nights game, I would have said making the All-Star Game itself more competitive by way of financial incentive, but even with the lack of competitiveness in the first half, the fantastic finish made up for it. However, while I understand that the league wanted to showcase some fresh faces, the fact is, the dunk contest hasnt been relevant in years. Offering a million-dollar prize or a massive donation to the winners charity of choice might encourage the likes of LeBron, Russell Westbrook and others (I doubt Derrick would do it, even with a tantalizing incentive; its just not his thing) to participate before fans finally give up on the event.

Why wasn't JR Smith added with Rip Hamilton never playing? Ryan

Ryan, if theres one thing the Bulls value more than talent, its chemistry. Smith is clearly a talented offensive force and one of the best instant-offense scorers in the league, but his ball-stopping, isolation style of play simply wouldnt fit in Chicago. Hes earned a reputation as a selfish player and that fact that he considers defense optional wouldnt have endeared him to Bulls players and coaches. Additionally, the organization also prides itself on having high-character players and fairly or not, Smith has also been cast as a malcontent. For the Knicks and even the Clippers, who didnt get him, he might have been worth the risk, but the Bulls, already a true contender, didnt need to take that chance. As far as Rip, the team believes hell be back in action soon and ready to contribute at a high level in the second half of the season and especially the playoffs. Rip showed that he blended in extremely well in the limited action hes seen this season and offered the Bulls a different element than what they already had. Plus, with Ronnie Brewer playing well in his absence, though his play tailed off a bit after a while, they kept winning, so it wasnt like they were desperate.

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.

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

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USA TODAY

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban conceded his team was playing for draft lottery position last season, but insisted it would be a one year only strategy.

Dallas finished tied for the league’s third worst record, but fell to fifth after the lottery.

So, Cuban and the Mavs’ front office decided to make a bold move on draft night, trading their 2019 first round pick to Atlanta to move up two spots for a chance to select international sensation Luka Doncic.

Early in the season, Doncic has more than lived up to the hype, showing the creativity and flair that made him such a fan favorite on the European professional circuit. Through the Mavs’ first two games, Doncic is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while giving Rick Carlisle’s team a much-needed boost in transition.

Doncic and second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. will give opposing teams nightmares in the open court all season long. They led the offensive onslaught in the Mavs’ 140-136 win over Dallas Saturday night, combining for 45 points. Doncic finished with 26 points, while Smith scored 10 of his 19 in the 4th quarter, including a tie-breaking three-point play with six seconds left.

Veteran swing-man Wesley Matthews added 19 against the Timberwolves, and his 3 point shooting helps the Mavs maintain floor balance in half-court sets.

The Mavs also strengthened their front court in the off-season, signing veteran center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. Dallas was overmatched in the middle last season, with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell giving up size in the post, but Jordan will provide rim protection and an alley-oop threat when Doncic, Smith Jr. or veteran point guard J.J. Barea drive to the basket. Jordan had a big game in the home opening win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots.

Nowitzki, starting small forward Harrison Barnes and backup guard Devin Harris all missed Saturday’s game because of injuries, but Barnes and Harris are considered game-time decisions against the Bulls.

Here’s what the Bulls will need to do to get their first victory of the season Monday night.

1. GET BACK ON DEFENSE! Doncic and Smith Jr. are deadly in the open court, capable of making spectacular plays to bring the home crowd to life. The Bulls’ players have to sprint back on defense after missed shots to cut off transition opportunities, or it’s going to be a long night. The Mavs are averaging 128 points through the first two games.

2. CLOSE OUT ON 3-POINT SHOOTERS This will be a familiar theme in my keys until the Bulls start doing a better job of matching up in transition and closing out on three point threats. Detroit’s win at the United Center on Saturday came down to the Pistons’ 18-40 shooting from three-point range, and Dallas has even more players capable of doing damage from beyond the arc.

3. LET DUNN DO IT Getting Kris Dunn back from paternity leave should make a big difference on both ends of the court. Dunn has the athleticism and physicality to match up with either Doncic or Smith Jr., and his defensive skills will be critical in keeping the Mavs from turning this game into a track meet.

On the offensive end, Dunn need to be patient and get the ball into the hands of the Bulls’ top scorers, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. Even though Fred Hoiberg wants his team to play at a fast pace, they’ll need to pick their spots on when to run against the explosive Mavs.

As always, turn to NBC Sports Chicago for the very best pre and post-game coverage. Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join me for Bulls Pregame Live at 7 p.m/, and we’ll have expanded post-game analysis when the action goes final in Dallas. You can also stream the shows live on the brand new My Teams by NBC Sports app.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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USA TODAY

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”