Gar Forman

Bulls mailbag: How can the offense improve? Is a big trade coming?

Bulls mailbag: How can the offense improve? Is a big trade coming?

January in the NBA can be filled with dog days. Fittingly, then, your questions had some extra bite this week:

Q: One player on the Bulls gets to take an offensive leap. Kris Dunn finds his 3-point shot. Lauri Markkanen takes advantage of his newfound muscle and gets a good post-up game. Wendell Carter Jr. gets to use his passing ability and runs the offense from the elbow. Zach LaVine levels up his court vision/passing. Tomas Satoransky becomes an isolation threat. Otto Porter Jr. stays healthy. Which one do you choose to unlock the Bulls offense? – Tristan C.

A: This is in the team picture for best question I’ve ever received — and I did my first Bulls mailbag for the Chicago Tribune back in 1996. Seriously, this is just a really good question and hard to answer. For me, it’s between Satoransky and LaVine and here’s why:

The Bulls, as they are playing offensively and with this roster, desperately need a point guard who can beat defenses off the dribble, get into the lane and spray out to shooters. That would put defenses into scramble mode, which rarely happens when the Bulls are in halfcourt offense. Satoransky is a wonderful player, the kind of guy any team would want. He’s versatile, selfless, makes the right play more often than not and can shoot enough to keep defenses honest. But he’s not an isolation player or someone who consistently breaks down defenses.

As for LaVine, the NBA is a star-driven league. And, as the Bulls are currently constructed, he needs to be their No. 1 star. I read your “court vision and passing” and broadened it to decision-making. LaVine is an excellent scorer. If he improved his decision-making to elite status, it would benefit the offense.

I’d probably give the slight edge to Satoransky — or any point guard — becoming an isolation threat because that would also benefit LaVine. Too often, defenses load up on him, particularly in big moments, because the Bulls lack shot creators.

Q: Why does Jim Boylen sub out Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen at the same time? It’s evident that one of the two should remain on the floor as much as possible. For example, in the last five games, the lineup of Satoransky-Coby White-Kris Dunn-Thad Young-Daniel Gafford has a minus-17.5 net rating. What am I missing? – Nick W.

A: He has stopped doing this as much, staggering starters minutes to keep at least one of them on the floor. LaVine and Markkanen are both in five of the six most-used five-man units this season. But you’re right that the offense is (even more) of a train wreck when both are off the floor. Against the Pelicans, the Bulls were minus-7 in the close to four first-half minutes they both were off the floor.

I’ll say this and have been saying this awhile: Markkanen needs to play more. Perhaps his minutes are down a bit in the Pelicans game because he’s fighting through that sore left ankle. But otherwise, he should be at 34 minutes, minimum, nightly.

Q: Do you think the Bulls will make a move at the trade deadline? – Hamza B.

If you’re asking do they move one of the identified core pieces of the rebuild, I’d say no. If you’re asking do they move a Denzel Valentine or possibly Thad Young, I say yes — if, obviously, the right deal materializes. They’re not looking to give away Young. But if he brings back the right return, they’d move him. Valentine has fallen out of the rotation again, so he’s certainly available. Teams looking to make deep playoff runs are always looking for shooting. I could see a team like the 76ers kicking the tires on a trade for Valentine.

Q: Everyone is begging for more Daniel Gafford minutes, which is likely now with Wendell Carter Jr.’s injury. I hear that. But two years ago, we were desperate for more Lauri Markkanen minutes. Last year we were desperate for more Carter minutes. Both those bigs have failed to progress. Why can't the Bulls develop their bigs? And in general, development seems stalled across the board. Some of that is on the players, but any insight in how position coaches are working with our bigs? It’s really frustrating to watch. – Casey A.

I’d disagree that Carter has failed to progress. Obviously, until his ankle setback, he had benefitted from staying healthy. His rookie season got cut short to 44 games because of thumb surgery. But he has become a more willing shooter and his defense, while strong last season, has taken another step as far as IQ and court presence. He also has 17 double-doubles and is almost averaging a double-double. His rebounding is up 2.9 per game.

This is a new staff. Roy Rogers is working a lot with the big men. He received some credit for Clint Capela’s rise in Houston.

Q: With Gafford about to get more playing time, is it time to add "...to Daniel" to your Twitter bio alliteration?

Watching Luka Doncic singlehandedly control Monday's game was incredible. What a difference a true superstar makes in the NBA.  Hoping Zach or someone else on the roster takes that next step eventually.  I guess it's a futile question. But if the lottery balls bounced differently and the Bulls ended up in the Kings spot, would they have taken Luka or Marvin Bagley III at No. 2? - Brendan G.

A: I’m sticking with “. . . to Denzel” for my final “D” until Valentine is gone. Thanks for reading so closely through.

Yes, Doncic is something, one of those generational talents that, if healthy, should keep the Mavericks relevant for a decade or more. He’s fun to watch. Remember when the Bulls had those guys?

The Bulls, like all teams, scouted Doncic heavily. They also were enamored with Bagley and Trae Young, who they had in for predraft workouts. My guess is they would’ve gone Bagley. Most of my reporting, then for the Chicago Tribune, leading up to that draft centered on them focused on big men. They wanted someone to pair with Markkanen. They also liked Jaren Jackson Jr. Maybe that would’ve changed if they had landed the No. 2 pick and done more work on Doncic. It’s impossible to say.

I do know this: He’d go No. 1 in the redraft.

Q: Do you think John Paxson, Gar Forman, and Jim Boylen will be back next year? What needs to happen this year for there to be changes? – Tim G.

A: You can’t do a Bulls mailbag without a fire GarPax question. I do think Paxson and Forman will return, though Forman’s title could change. He’s heavily into scouting now and doing so almost exclusively.

As I’ve written previously in this feature, I can see the Bulls adding to the front office next offseason and bringing in a respected, veteran voice. I can also see them adding to their scouting staff. They’ve actually slowly made changes to the front office over time, adding duties for Brian Hagen and Mike Wilhelm, and bringing on Doug Collins as a consultant.

As for Boylen, his relationship with ownership and management remains very strong, and he just signed an extension. So, yes, I expect him to return. The extension is small enough money-wise that if things became disastrous, that could lead to a scenario where the Bulls move off him. But even though it’s not showing up in the standings, the Bulls have played more competitively since Dec. 1. And management is pleased that Boylen is trying to establish a style of play at both ends, which, for now, is manifesting itself in improved defense.

Q: The Bulls’ real test in January has not gone well so far. They are now 1-15 in games against winning teams, and I see no reason for that to change. Could a super-long losing streak cost Boylen his job? It’s not all on him, but his poor coaching stands out more in these close losses/“moral victories”. If not, please tell me the team is open to re-signing Cameron Payne to command the Tank down the stretch. – Nick P.

A: That’s some solid humor at the end there. I’ll try some, now: I have as much a chance of replacing the injured Max Strus on a two-way contract as Boylen does of getting fired during this season.

Q: If the Bulls do decide to clean house this offseason, what do you think of the possibility of hiring B.J. Armstrong to replace John Paxson? Besides being a former Bulls player (Jerry Reinsdorf loves bringing back Bulls alumni), Armstrong worked under Jerry Krause in the Bulls front office before Krause resigned in April 2003. In addition, Armstrong could follow in the steps of other player agents who turned into front office executives, such as Bob Myers, Rob Pelinka and Arn Tellem. – Dan B.

A: Never say never in professional sports. But this is close to that. Armstrong and Reinsdorf have a solid relationship. But Reinsdorf’s respect for Paxson has only grown since he picked him over Armstrong back in 2003. I actually think Armstrong would be good in an executive role should he choose to pursue that again. For now, he’s dabbling some in media while still representing Derrick Rose.

Q: Wanted to get your take on this, the elusive winning mentality. Obviously, the Bulls don't have it. And when you look at the roster, really only Thad Young has played in and won big games in the NBA (including those overachieving Sixers who knocked out the Bulls after Derrick Rose got hurt). Maybe Tomas Satoransky if you count international play. So when the game is tight, they lose, partly because they collectively don't know how to get it done. How do they get there? I'm not convinced Jim Boylen knows what he's doing at all. But I think of the Thibs teams and, more accurately, the Skiles teams, and how hard they played and how they got over that hump and learned how to win games. A .500 NBA team is still a pretty good team, and they couldn't keep it up, especially without superstar talent. And you could tell they got burned out and started losing and then Skiles was gone. Because it's hard to win games in the NBA. But the Bulls clearly have the talent. Some guys had success in college but not Zach, the best player, and his T-Wolves teams got beat up all the time (still take him over Wiggins). Even Vinny Del Negro was .500 over two years. – Elijah H.

A: This question gets asked, oh, at least twice every postgame: How do you let the repetitive losing not creep into the mental state and become habitual? Players say the right things, but there’s certainly merit to your question. LaVine talked consistently during training camp about how he’s never played for a winning team and learning how to win was the next step for his progression. Thad Young and Tomas Satoransky were supposed to contribute to the Bulls overcoming this dynamic, but the issues go well beyond them. The Bulls, quite simply, are one of the league’s biggest stories as far as underachieving.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Bulls mailbag: Who is the real Lauri Markkanen? Could Kris Dunn be extended?

Bulls mailbag: Who is the real Lauri Markkanen? Could Kris Dunn be extended?

The Bulls didn’t play on Christmas Day for the third straight season, all the more time for you to fill up the inbox with questions.

When is Lauri Markkanen coming back to the team? – John K.

Right out of the gate, I sense sarcasm.

You mean the same Markkanen who is averaging 17 points on 50.3 percent shooting, including 39.8 percent from 3-point range, in 12 December games? And this is while Markkanen still is only averaging 32 minutes per game and taking 12 shots. Maybe that’s what you meant: When he is coming back to the team enough for his teammates to start looking for him? (It’s my turn for sarcasm now.)

Markkanen is averaging just 11.9 shots, his low for his young career. Even in his rookie season, he attempted 12.7 shots. Coaches have been staying on Markkanen to run the floor more aggressively and cut with more purpose in halfcourt sets. So some of it is on the mild-mannered Finn. But the Bulls absolutely have to do a better job of utilizing Markkanen, both in terms of playing time and attempts.

Is Otto Porter Jr. enough to turn this dumpster fire around? He'd probably be their second-best player right now with Lauri Markkanen’s regression. – Andrew D.

With all due respect to Porter, he can’t be the Bulls’ second-best player. The entire rebuild is centered on Zach LaVine and Markkanen reaching stardom. That said, Porter is a very high basketball IQ player on a team often lacking in the department. And he’d certainly help because of his ability to space the floor and his defense. But he’s nowhere close to returning.

Porter is still wearing a walking boot and is just two weeks into the latest four-week window for reassessment of his injured left foot, which now has a small fracture. Let’s say in best case scenario, he’s cleared to start doing on-court activity in two weeks. He’d need at least a week or two to get ready for a return. So he’s minimum three to four weeks from returning — and that’s best case scenario.

Have the Bulls entertained the thought of moving Denzel Valentine to a point forward role with the starters? - Cee J.

There’s no chance of this happening. And Valentine’s 5-minute stint in Monday’s loss to the Magic shows that he’s not completely off Jim Boylen’s short leash. Valentine missed four shots, some of them ill-advised, and didn’t play in the second half after his poor rotational turn.

Plus, starting Valentine would take Kris Dunn out of the lineup. Dunn’s ascension to a starting role has played a significant part of the Bulls posting a .500 record this month. Valentine at least has carved out a rotational role with his shooting and playmaking, although it will be intriguing to see if it continues if Porter and Chandler Hutchison ever are healthy again at the same time.

I’m a 10-year season ticket holder here and appreciate your coverage of the Bulls.  I read an article that suggested the Bulls might be close to pulling Gar Forman from the general manager job and moving him to a different front office/management role.  Do you think that’s a possibility? If so, I think it’s a scapegoat move and Michael Reinsdorf and John Paxson should know that fans will see through it.  This is clearly Paxson’s team and he should take full responsibility for its failure.  I don’t think this team’s core can be turned into a winner and I don’t think any free agents want to play for Paxson.  - Matt C.

There’s a lot to unpack here. Let’s start with the story.

The Sun-Times reported that Forman’s job may be in jeopardy. Our reporting suggested that while everything would be on the table after this season should the team’s fortunes not change, Forman would more likely than not keep a job, if not his title.

The title largely is ceremonial these days anyway. Paxson, as you point out, drove the rebuild and became the face of the franchise again. Forman is almost fully scouting now and rarely is around the team. His role has changed.

One scenario I could see happening is the Bulls adding someone with power to the front office, though I don’t think anything has been fully decided yet and this person would still fall under Paxson. As for Paxson taking responsibility, that’s exactly what he said in recent interviews with various media outlets. He said everything starts and ends with him, although he also indicated he still has belief in Jim Boylen and this core.

As for free agents not wanting to play for Paxson, the Bulls acquired their top two targets last offseason. Granted, Thad Young and Tomas Satoransky aren’t top-tier players. But if the Bulls ever started winning again, there’s plenty to sell. The practice facility is one of the league’s best. The city is attractive. The tradition of the franchise is too.

After the Derrick Rose injury of seven years ago and the Jimmy Butler trade of close to three years ago, what has stopped the Bulls from creating a winning culture? Is Paxson aware the fan base's patience is wearing thin? -Ed

Yes, he is and, again, he acknowledged as much in his round of interviews. That’s absolutely the difference to this season. The Bulls pointed to this season as one the team would become relevant again. The vision was to field a team the fans would get excited about again. That’s why, to this point, the inconsistent play and blown games have made this season feel so flat.

When will they find a player to pair with Zach LaVine that can get his own shot and create for others? I don’t think Coby White is there yet. Lauri can’t create and I think that’s why he’s inconsistent. Can’t throw it to him in the post either; that’s not his game. Thoughts? - Tyler B.

This absolutely is an issue. As solid as Satoransky has been, he’s not someone who consistently breaks down defenders off the dribble and turns defenses into scramble mode. White really is the only other player besides LaVine who can do this. And it’s telling that in some of the bigger fourth quarters this season — the road victory at Memphis, the home victory against the Knicks — White played a huge role and closed with LaVine.

I know this: LaVine is a big fan of White because of the defensive attention he demands.

Kris Dunn, Ryan Arcidiacono, Shaq Harrison, Denzel Valentine and Coby White. Which three stay with the Bulls next season? SportyGuy, via Twitter

White and Arcidiacono have guaranteed deals so, barring a trade, they’re here. I’m going with Dunn as the third. He and Valentine both are restricted free agents. I don’t see either player commanding that significant of a contract in free agency. Dunn, to me, has created a future for himself here with his toughness, defense and role acceptance.

As crazy as it is to ask, what do you think an extension for Dunn this summer looks like? For the right price, he could be a valuable rotation piece. And he seems to be a leader on and off the court.  – Nick P.

As you can see from my answer above, I don’t think it’s crazy at all. And I agree with your assessment that he’s a leader. He’s very well liked in the locker room. He’s very supportive of teammates and is back to his upbeat, humorous ways behind the scenes after a sullen period last season.

Dunn makes $5.3 million this season and has a qualifying offer of $7.1 million. Marcus Smart and Patrick Beverley, two players with whom Dunn has drawn mild comparisons to, each make $13 million annually. Dunn isn’t worth that much in my world, but those numbers give you an idea of the range. I’d guess a three-year deal in the $27-30 million range could be realistic.

Thanks for all your questions. Talk to you soon.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Bulls mailbag: Where do the Bulls go from here?

Bulls mailbag: Where do the Bulls go from here?

The Bulls might lead the league in moral victories. Unfortunately for them, those don’t count in the standings. And so a season that began with playoff aspirations has led to a flooded inbox.

The Bulls have consistently been one of the top teams in attendance across the league, albeit with one of the largest capacities among NBA arenas. With the recent reporting on the dip of attendance at the United Center, do you see this metric getting through to the Reinsdorfs on the current state of the Bulls? Is it a measure being talked about internally that could lead to change? - Hugo M.

I also received a question via Twitter from T.K. asking if Mr. Reinsdorf is “feeling the pressure” from the dipping attendance. Pressure may be overstating matters, but it absolutely is being talked about internally. It has caught the Reinsdorfs’ attention. How could it not? The Bulls have finished first or second in attendance in 16 of the previous 19 seasons. This season also is the third straight they’ve ranked outside the top-10 in capacity, which hadn’t happened since 2003-04. Coincidentally, that’s the first season in which John Paxson had taken over for Jerry Krause, whom most fans thought Reinsdorf would never touch. But five seasons of rebuilding and two straight in which the Bulls ranked ninth and fifth in attendance — and 13th in capacity —  finally led to change.

Will it happen again? Only the Reinsdorfs know. Obviously, if the losing and sagging attendance continues throughout the season, changes would be on the table.

When will the Bulls make a change at head coach and the front office? Will they ride this out the rest of the year or do something midseason? Because they have to do something, right? – Tim G.

This season does feel different because everyone from ownership to management to Jim Boylen publicly stated progress would be made. Playoffs were even publicly set as the goal. And at the very least, competitive basketball was to be expected. At least the Bulls finally are showing signs of that. However, playoffs certainly feel like a longshot.

I’ve heard no talk of in-season changes. The Bulls just tried that last year. And remember: They’re still paying Fred Hoiberg this season, although his $5 million salary is offset by almost half thanks to him landing a job with Nebraska. Boylen is one of the lowest-paid coaches in the league. So if ownership and management concluded after this season that he’s not the right fit anymore, his salary isn’t prohibitive to swallow. But I wouldn’t expect such determinations to come from ownership on management and management on coaching until after the season.

In your sitdown with team president Michael Reinsdorf earlier this year, he stated that he doesn't like the term "GarPax" and that Gar Forman and John Paxson are "individuals" and have "different roles.”  However, his quotes in the article don't really spell out the differences and in fact he says "Gar and John" twice.  Can you help clarify?  I ask because at some point, the Bulls will need to make a coaching change (god bless Jim Boylen and his lame coaching speak, but the writing is on the wall). And I presume at some point, the Reinsdorfs will say to themselves: “We can't let the same people pick a third coach?”  Is the hiring of a coach a Gar decision?  A Pax decision? Somebody actually makes the decisions right?  Constant change (see Knicks) is ridiculous and unproductive, but at some point the fans do need some change, even if it’s for change's sake. Grasping for some kind of hope here, but will they ever get new blood in the front office ever? Or is this it? This can't be it can it? This is probably it. - Nit B.

Your angst, and humor, is palpable.

Also, I’m not sure where you’re getting picking a third coach. This management team has hired five, although Vinny Del Negro was largely seen as an ownership hire after a tortuous process that featured top choices Mike D’Antoni and Doug Collins not working out for various reasons.

The reason Michael referred to them as “Gar and John” is that, while their day-to-day duties are different, all major organizational decisions are made with input from all the top decision-makers. Forman focuses on scouting and talking to agents and other executives throughout the season. Paxson focuses on setting the culture, big-picture items and is around the team more.

For coaching hires, it’s my understanding that the two Reinsdorfs, Forman and Paxson all talk it out and reach a consensus. That said, Hoiberg is largely viewed as endorsed and pushed by Forman, while Boylen had strong support from Paxson and ownership.

You asked a lot of questions but to answer one: Yes, somebody actually makes the decisions. And those largely are reached by debate and discussion and consensus. As for new blood, let’s see how the season concludes. As mentioned above, if this losing and sagging attendance continue, changes have to be on the table.

You’ve been around the block a few times. Where does Boylen rank in terms of hatred from the fanbase? There’s been a few incompetent coaches this franchise has had. - Jay R.

As Louden Wainwright III once sang, “hate is a strong word/I wanna backtrack/the bigger the front/the bigger the back.” But I digress.

It’s always difficult to paint with broad brushstrokes. Yes, I receive plenty of dislike for Boylen via emails or @s on Twitter. I also see some support. At least in my little world, the dislike outweighs the support. But to answer your question, I’m now up to eight head coaches covered, not counting the other Jim Boylen who served as an interim head coach.

Here are your requested (subjective) rankings, from beloved to frustrated: Phil Jackson; Tom Thibodeau; Scott Skiles; Bill Cartwright; Fred Hoiberg; Vinny Del Negro; Jim Boylen; Tim Floyd.

Some brief elaboration: The first three won so they should be self-explanatory. Cartwright was such a decent man and had some leftover goodwill from winning three titles as a player that he ranks ahead of coaches who directed playoff teams. The reason Hoiberg, who had one playoff season, ranks ahead of Del Negro, who had two, is because a lot of the fan feedback I received during Hoiberg’s tenure is that he wasn’t given the proper personnel to fit his style. Boylen and Floyd have lost a lot, so they should be self-explanatory, too.

One last thing about coaching: The NBA is a players league. Coaching is important, obviously. But a lot of success or failure comes down to the rosters. Give Floyd a roster with Michael Jordan and maybe he doesn’t rank so low.

How bad does it have to get for the Bulls to realize they have no chance at making the playoffs? If the realization comes, then what? I don’t see any sort of path forward for this team that involves a title or even competing in the near future. Could they really blow it up again? It seems to be the only way towards a title but I’m thinking that would take the Reinsdorfs clearing house. Unfortunately, it is a bleak future and a long road no matter how you look at.  - Ben V.

This dynamic has my antennae and intrigue up as well, less so for coaching or management changes and more for the roster. If the Bulls don’t right the ship and at least start playing more competitively in the next month, are they active sellers at the February trade deadline? Remember: They traded Jimmy Butler and fully believed at least two of the three players they received in return could approach All-Star status. To this point, that hasn’t happened.

Through a very soft part of the schedule, the team is on pace for 26 wins. There have been no meaningful improvements from our vaunted “core” and from a cap perspective we are basically locked into this roster through the 2021 season when OPJ (he will 100% pick up his option, you can’t convince me otherwise) and Felicio are off the books  Can ownership in good faith really run this front office, coaching staff, and roster out there for 100 more games over the next season and a half? How many front office groups get a chance to rebuild from their own disastrous attempt at a rebuild gone fully off the rails? - A frustrated fan on the edge, Nick, Glen Ellyn

This ties into management’s future and is again a dynamic that has me intrigued. As I’ve reported countless times, the reason ownership has so much faith in this management team is because it watched it flip over a roster inherited from Krause (save for two players) and turn it into the well-liked and perennial playoff teams of Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng and Ben Gordon. Then, after one disastrous season, management walked into Derrick Rose and had that team on track to compete for titles until Rose’s torn ACL. So whether fans like to hear it or not, ownership believed in management’s ability to construct a competitive roster when starting over. That’s why this season has been so disappointing to this point. And it’s also why, if this disappointment continues, it will be fascinating to see what comes next. After all, ownership, management and Boylen all are on record as saying this season would be different.

With how pathetically thin the Bulls are on the wing, why hasn’t Boylen tried Thad Young there? It seems like he would be quick enough to make it work in spots and Young absolutely needs more minutes than the 21 or so he is averaging per game this season. – Nick P.

Boylen said he and his staff discussed this possibility and that Boylen also talked to Young about it. But it hasn’t happened. Dunn has played well as a starter and Denzel Valentine has revived his rotational role. But Young is playing the second-fewest minutes of his career. And while he knew he didn’t sign here to start because of Markkanen, he also thought he’d be playing more. Young is as professional as they come, but he has shared his desire to play more with several in the organization. He logged a season-high in minutes on Wednesday.

Taking into account the way the Bulls have been playing, and now the news that Otto Porter Jr. is going to be out at least another month, it looks like this season is going to be a total disaster. It’s beginning to look like the Bulls should throw in the towel and try to salvage the season by readying itself for next season. Since we won’t be able to attract any top free agent next year, it seems the next best thing would be to move some of our players who don’t show any signs of being well-balanced players. That includes Ryan Arcidiacono, Shaq Harrison, Kris Dunn and Kornet. Is it possible to trade any or all of those players for an early second-round pick next year? We’d be far better off if we lucked into a player who can make as much of an impact on the game as Daniel Gafford is now doing. I’m not suggesting that we move any of the core, but I’m not necessarily against it if it brought us one true All-Star player next season. Perhaps Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen for a top 10-20 type player. It’s evident that the Bulls will have to make some moves soon to move the franchise in the right direction. The status quo will not work. Especially if management stands behind Boylen. - Rick L

Only Kris Dunn would have any value of the non-core players you mentioned (and as an aside, wasn’t he recently part of the core?). And his value would be minimal. Over the summer, it was even less but he has played well and might be able to bring back a back-end rotation player or a heavily-protected first-round pick. LaVine and Markkanen wouldn’t bring back an All-Star level player.

And therein lies the rub: If Porter opts in, which is likely, this roster almost certainly will look similar next season. The Bulls have little flexibility next offseason. This is why the Bulls banked on LaVine and Markkanen taking big jumps that, to this point, haven’t happened.

It’s been good to see a more aggressive Lauri Markkanen the last few games. How much do you think his struggles have been on him versus the system Boylen wants to play? – Matt A., Australia

Why can’t it be both? I do think Markkanen struggled early with being mostly relegated to a stationary 3-point shooter. He also missed a ton of open looks, which is on him. With the equal opportunity, multi ball-handler system, Markkanen often faded to the shadows. Again, that’s on both him and the system. Then it became somewhat mental for him. To Boylen’s credit, he has used sets designed to get Markkanen on the move more of late and Markkanen has started to respond.

In your last mailbag, you answered two questions to someone who endured being a ballboy during the Ron Mercer days. I am the same age, and I'm hoping I can get a couple questions answered myself because I survived those days as well as a fan---without the benefit of being the ballboy. It feels like those years all over again right now. The roster might be a little better, but records aren't much better between the teams. “Through thick and thin” was the slogan I remember growing up with as a Bulls fan having just missed the Jordan years. So many things that can be asked about the year so far, so I'll stick to just two for now.

It seemed like Boylen might have let it slip about Lauri having an oblique issue. Lauri's well-documented struggles have been one of bigger storylines I feel Bulls have had this year, and Lauri has been able to keep quiet for the most part it seems on his end. His responses in postgame questions from the meeting haven't generated as much buzz as some of LaVine's interviews. Did Boylen let it slip about his injury, or is there something different to how the Bulls are handling injuries this year?

Secondly, what should fans ACTUALLY make from the struggling attendance? Videos/pictures of empty upper bowl are becoming aplenty on Twitter. Social media makes it easy to gather fans ready for a drastic change within the organization, but how can we expect the organization to respond, if at all, to the struggling attendance at home games?– J. Boa

Anyone who remembers THAT slogan gets two questions, although I already answered your second above. I barely remember that slogan and I covered that era.

Markkanen's oblique issue never landed on the injury report. The injury report is a sensitive topic because most every player has some sort or bump or bruise at this point of the season. Do you list everybody and then list them as probable? That's the approach the Bulls seemed to take last game as nine players landed on the report, including most with minor ailments and listed as probable. Markkanen has four 20-point games this month. He's coming around and the oblique talk will be in the background here.

What does the K.C. stand for? Steven R., via Twitter

Kenneth Carl. But you can call me K.C.

Actually, I don’t mind Kenneth Carl and my college basketball teammates call me Kenny Carl. But I’ve been called K.C. my entire life. My parents were hip to the initials from Day One.

As this "improved" roster has scuttled through the light part of the schedule at basically the same winning percentage as last year (8 wins in 25 = .32, 27 of 82 in 2018 = .329), how likely does it seem that the Bulls will actually win less games this year? Mike K., via Twitter

Can they play the Hawks more? That would be something if it happens, particularly after how widely praised their offseason moves were and the public posturing for improvement by the organization. I still think the Bulls are better than their record indicates. I picked them for 36 wins before the season. But, yes, any way you analyze it, this season has been a disappointment.

Thanks for all the questions. Talk to you soon.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.